European Western Balkans

Ukrainian crisis has revived Kosovo’s long-standing aspirations for NATO membership

NATO headquarters in Brussels; Photo: NATO

According to media reports, the United States welcomes Kosovo’s aspirations for NATO membership and recalls that this is a complex process that requires a long-term and prudent approach. „The best way for Kosovo to show its readiness for the responsibilities of NATO membership is by continuing to actively implement the long-term transition of the Kosovo Security Force (KSF) and not deviating from it“, Radio Free Europe reported.

This message from the State Department came after the letter of the President of Kosovo, Vjosa Osmani to the President of US Joe Biden. Osmani asked him to „use leadership and influence, to support and actively promote Kosovo’s NATO membership process“.

„Since we share the common goal of global security, Kosovo’s membership in NATO has become necessary“, Osmani said in the letter.

She assessed that at the time when all eyes of the world are on Ukraine, „we must not forget the fragile situation“ that region is facing. In a letter to US President Osmani added that Kosovo is exposed to Russia’s constant efforts to destabilize the country and the entire Western Balkans region.

Since Russia started the invasion of Ukraine on 24 February, Kosovo officials have called on Kosovo’s urgent accession to NATO. In early March, the Government decided to establish an inter-institutional working group for Kosovo’s NATO membership.

The Prime Minister of Kosovo, Albin Kurti, said that the main goal of this group would be to improve the NATO integration process, strengthen Kosovo’s presence in regional organizations and mechanisms, international security, as well as cooperation with strategic international allies. Kosovo’s Foreign Minister, Donika Gervala, assessed that Kosovo’s membership in NATO is an „urgent issue“, due to Russia’s military invasion of Ukraine.

The US Special Envoy for the Western Balkans Gabriel Escobar believes that at the time of the crisis, the work on finding a “permanent solution to unresolved disputes the Western Balkans” should be done. ”

“Let us use this crisis to ensure that future generations in the Western Balkans live in peace and EU-integrated countries. We must redouble our efforts to reach a compromise agreement between Kosovo and Serbia, as well as stop actions that threaten stability in Bosnia and Herzegovina”, said Escobar.

What are the obstacles to Kosovo’s NATO membership?

The NATO founding agreement implies that membership in this organization can be obtained by any European country that meets the necessary standards. The decision on organizations’ enlargement is made unanimous. The membership criteria contained in Article 10 that Washington Treaty provide seven steps when it comes to the accession process itself.  The mentioned article states that “the member states may invite any European country which is in a position of this Treaty and to contribute to the security of the North Atlantic area to accede to the Treaty”.

In case one of the NATO member states decides to propose Kosovo as a new member, according to the current accession rules that is impossible. The main obstacle to Kosovo’s membership lies in the fact that four NATO countries (Greece, Spain, Slovakia, and Romania) still do not recognize Kosovo as an independent state. In addition, Pristina at this time, despite its unequivocal commitment to NATO, does not meet other criteria. For example, Kosovo does not have an army while Kosovo Security Forces do not meet NATO standards.

Kosovo Government has shown extensive political willingness to enhance cooperation with NATO and climb up the membership ladder, but to date, there is very limited progress in this regard. On 11 July 2012, Prime Minister Hashim Thaçi submitted a request for Kosovo to join Partnership for Peace (PfP) programme in Pristina, which would establish a formal partnership between Kosovo and NATO.

NATO has been present in Kosovo for more than 20 years. In June 1999, after an air campaign against FR Yugoslavia, NATO established the Kosovo Force (KFOR). KFOR is represented in Kosovo by the international peacekeeping forces led by the Alliance, to maintain order and peace, that is creating security in Kosovo after the conflicts and retreat of forces of Yugoslavia, i. e. Serbia. It derives its mandate from the UNSC resolution 1244 (1999) and the Military-Technical Agreement between NATO, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and Serbia.

The Ukrainian war has revived Kosovo’s aspiration for membership in some other organizations, such as the Council of Europe, as well as for achieving EU candidate status.

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