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Does Serbia have a foreign policy

Does Serbia have a foreign policy? The reply to this question depends on whether: (1) there are aims to which it aspires (condition of desirability); (2) there are means to realise these aims (condition of feasibility); (3) the aims are mutually compatible (condition of consistency); and (4) there is no insoluble conflict with international factors upon which realisation of the aims depends (condition of balance). Serbian foreign policy meets none of these criteria.

First, the aims. Serbian foreign policy aspires, at least officially, to achieving two most important aims: retaining Kosovo within Serbia, and joining the European Union. The desirability of these aims is not formally questioned by anyone. So the question is whether they are feasible and mutually compatible. On this there is no agreement between those whom we may call the pro-Europeans and the nationalists, even though they verbally agree that both aims can be achieved. The dispute between them lies in the fact that the pro-Europeans argue that Serbia can keep Kosovo only by joining the European Union, while the nationalists argue that Serbia should join the European Union only if Kosovo remains within Serbia.

If one examines their dispute, one can see that it is not obvious that both aims are either desirable or feasible. For the pro-Europeans, EU membership is the means to retain sovereignty over Kosovo, which at least begs the question of whether it is worth joining the European Union if it means giving up Kosovo. For the nationalists, membership in the European Union is not desirable if it means losing Kosovo. This conflict over the desirability of individual aims suggests, in fact, that no clear aims exist, and that Serbian policy is in fact aimless.

The same conclusion can be reached if one considers whether both these aims can be realised, i.e. whether the policy is consistent. One must take into account here the fact that 18 members of the European Union have already recognised Kosovo, and that at least a further three have said they will do so in the near future. Since treaties with the European Union are signed by all member states individually, it is clearly not possible that those member states which have recognised Kosovo will sign a treaty on Serbian membership of the European Union if the treaty in question refers also to Kosovo. Insofar as this is the aim of the pro-Europeans, it is not realisable. Those states are also unable to say that they accept Serbia in borders that include Kosovo, which is the aim of the foreign policy of the nationalists, because they have already recognised Kosovo’s independence.

Since the aims formulated in this way are not feasible, Serbian foreign policy is aimless. This does not mean that it does not create effects. But since the foreign policy formulated in this manner is inconsistent, it prevents all progress in the country’s foreign relations. The inconsistencies of its aims automatically generate conflicts with other international actors, be it other states or international institutions. The conflicts in northern Kosovo are only one manifestation of the aimlessness of Serbian foreign policy.

What about the alternatives? The sorry state of Serbian foreign policy derives from a refusal to choose between pre-European and nationalist policies. What, then, would be the consequence of an acceptance of either the nationalist or the pro-European policy after the current parliamentary elections?

Although there is no serious discussion on this subject, it is not difficult to see what the two opposing parties are seeking to achieve. One can tell what the nationalist want by considering the political initiatives that have followed the recent conflicts in Kosovo. It is a policy of separating Serbs from Albanians. This is only the aim, of course, and there remains the question of how this can be realised and how compatible this is with the other aims, as well as how acceptable it is to other international actors. But it is interesting to see how the nationalists see the implementation of a foreign policy formulated in this way, and what it implies for the other two basic aims of Serbian foreign policy.

The proposal for separation starts from the premise that the European Union has accepted its share of responsibility in Kosovo, and that Serbia should follow suit. The European Union would thus supervise the Albanians’ independence from Serbia, and Serbia the Serbs’ independence from the Albanians. This would be endorsed by the United Nations. Since it is unlikely that the Security Council would approve this proposal, its authors accept tacitly the authority of the General Secretary in this matter. This assumes one of two things: either that this is in accordance with Resolution 1244 or that it is not necessary to respect this resolution. The Serbian leaders’ declarations are not particularly consistent, but it seems likely that the former interpretation is more correct. This would mean that the General Secretary could in principle approve the presence in Kosovo of both Serbia and the European Union. Up until now the latter’s presence has been treated by Serbian leaders as unacceptable, on the grounds that it is not in line with Resolution 1244. Now, however, it apparently is so after all.

This would open a possibility that the dispute over Serbia’s adhesion to the EU might be solved by saying that Serbia and the European Union share supervision over Kosovo, which would remove the obstacles to cooperation and association with the European Union. It would also mean, of course, that Kosovo’s independence would be be recognised de facto, since it is clear that the functional separation of Serbs and Albanians would in no way affect the sovereignty of either Serbia or Kosovo. So this would mean giving up the aim of having Kosovo within Serbia; but it would open the possibility of cooperation with the European Union.

The only problem is that this proposal, like all others, fails to take into account the need to gain the consent of the Albanians, now represented by the Kosovo government. This government has nothing against the European Union supervising some Kosovo institutions, but it is not likely that it would permit Serbia to assume any similar authority within Kosovo. It is useful in this context to consider the alternative foreign policy of the pro-Europeans. Judging by their declarations, their idea is to prevent Kosovo’s international recognition in order to proceed to new negotiations, which would stand a far better chance if Serbia were as much as possible integrated into the European Union. It is being suggested that Kosovo would be ready to accept Serbia’s sovereignty in order to join the European Union, because otherwise it would be something like ‘a house suspended in mid-air’.

It is not clear, however, why the Kosovo government would agree to give up sovereignty, when it was unwilling to do this when no one recognised Kosovo. Negotiations of a sort are bound to take place, because it would not be possible for Serbia and Kosovo to join the European Union without normalising their relations. But it is not realistic to expect that these would end with an agreement that Kosovo should remain in Serbia.

It is worth recalling here the tendency to manipulate public opinion by reference to cases that are in fact counter-examples. There is talk, for example, of the example of the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland – which, however, does not take into account the fact that both Ireland and Northern Ireland joined the European Union simultaneously in 1973, even though Northern Ireland remained part of the United Kingdom. If this example could be seen as applying to Kosovo, then it would mean that Serbia would place no obstacles to Kosovo becoming a member of the European Union. There is also frequent reference to Cyprus, which joined the European Union despite the fact that it de facto does not have sovereignty over Northern Cyprus. However, this does not take into account the fact that no member state of the European Union has recognised Northern Cyprus. These two cases are thus counter-examples, so far as the pro-Europeans’ policy towards Kosovo and the European Union is concerned

Finally, the outcome. The aimlessness of Serbian foreign policy becomes even more evident, if one asks what is understood by the slogan ‘Kosovo is Serbia’ in the sense of sovereignty. During the negotiations conducted before Kosovo’s declaration of independence, the Serbian side expressed its readiness to accept Kosovo’s independence in every regard bar membership of the United Nations. It is not realistic to expect that more than this will be sought in the future. This means that all these international and internal conflicts involving Serbia have the aim of preventing Kosovo from becoming a member of the United Nations. The aim, in other words, is not to prevent Kosovo’s independence, but to prevent it from being recognised in the United Nations. The nationalists seek in addition to prevent the normalisation of social and political relations within Kosovo, above all between Serbs and Albanians. And that is all.

In the negotiations that preceded the declaration of Kosovo’s independence, this policy proved impossible to realise, in the sense of being accepted by Kosovo and important international actors. Now, however, it is the feasibility of the nationalist idea of separation and the pro-European idea of Kosovo suspended in mid-air that are being tested. Since it is not to be expected that either of the two will be accepted by the Kosovo government and international actors, a further development of Serbian policy is to be expected. It is possible that this evolution will not result in a more realistic policy, however, since the Serbian public tends to accept aimlessness in foreign policy. The truth is that this can hardly be described as a policy, but rather a need to spite others, to do them injury, to return in kind – as the official justification goes. If the Serbian leaders wish nevertheless to call this a foreign policy, then let it be so. But it is a foreign policy without any aims.

 
Translation from Bosnian Institute

Peščanik.net, 24.03.2008.