It is not clear, certainly not evident, what Serbia is seeking to achieve by expelling the ambassadors of Montenegro and Macedonia. How is one to understand this reaction by the Serbian government, the Serbian president and the Serbian ministry of foreign affairs? What is their aim? This action is in discordance not only with their stated desire for the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to adjudicate the validity of Kosovo’s declaration of independence – thereby, they have argued, moving the whole problem from the political to the legal terrain – but also with the obligation accepted by all the Balkan countries seeking to join the European Union to foster regional cooperation
There is the further fact that Serbia has normalised its relations with all those countries that had recognised Kosovo prior to the UN General Assembly’s decision to ask the ICJ to pronounce on Kosovo’s independence. Given this, one is bound to conclude that Serbia wants to exert political pressure on the two countries in question. But with what aim?
Let us leave Macedonia to one side. In the case of Macedonia, it is most likely that Serbia’s display of displeasure aims to weaken additionally the country’s political position. There is very little to be gained from this, but although the damage might be small or non-existent, the Serbian rulers believe that a demonstration of power in this case costs them practically nothing.
When it comes to Montenegro, the declarations coming from Serbia’s president and foreign minister point to a far more ambitious aim. They are seeking to destabilize the Montenegrin regime. This is the view not only of the Montenegrin ruling parties, but also of the opposition in Serbia and Montenegro, which likewise see this as the aim of the Serbian move. Others too, including neutral observers, will conclude that is the case, especially when they observe the behaviour of the Montenegrin opposition, and the Serbian government’s reaction to Montenegro’s internal political conflicts. This brings up the question of what the aims of Serbian policy are, not only in regard to Montenegro and other neighbours, but also in a wider context.
The inevitable conclusion, in my view, will be that Serbia is returning to the political (or state) and national interests that used to determine its diplomatic and other aims in the 1990s, thus giving rise to a suspicion as to whether those aims were ever abandoned. And this will open the more important question of trust in Serbia’s political leaders, with respect to their stated declarations on the aims of Serbian international policy, especially in relation to Serbia’s neighbours, i.e. to regional stability.
Suspicion about Serbia’s aims will doubtless lead to a re-assessment of the means it uses, particularly in relation to Montenegro and Bosnia-Herzegovina. The question will be posed of what exactly Serbia’s position is on the use of force, especially towards its weaker neighbours. The suspicion is increased by the ease with which the Serbian public accepts such punitive measures from its diplomacy. By its support it at least incurs grave obligations, whether it is aware of this or not. Just like in the 1990s.
For what exactly is to be gained by the destabilisation of Montenegro, and the possible consequences of this, for example, for the stability of Bosnia-Herzegovina? To put it differently, what will be achieved if Serbian diplomatic pressure on Montenegro proves successful? Nothing would be gained in Kosovo itself. The possible additional destabilisation of Bosnia-Herzegovina would also make no difference when it comes to Kosovo. But all this would means considerable extra obligations for Serbia, above all political but also in the realm of security. Does Serbia really wish to incorporate Montenegro and Republika Srpska? I am not sure that the people in charge of Serbia’s international policy have really thought this through and worked out the cost of the alternative answers.
Such obligations are apparently not being sought at present, which does not mean that they are not being incurred. The aim of destabilisation may be more short-term, but it is equally risky. The proclamation of Kosovo’s independence, and then the UN decision to endorse Serbia’s request for an opinion from the ICJ, had seemed to result in increased and perhaps even lasting stability for the whole region. This might indirectly indicate that the declaration of Kosovo’s independence had a stabilising effect on the whole region. If true, this would have been a strong argument for the political legitimacy of proclaiming and recognising the independence of Kosovo. The judgement seems to have been made, however, that this would have had negative effects for the political ambitions of Serbia’s rulers, and for their political aims in the region. So the measures designed to destabilise Montenegro, and perhaps also Bosnia-Herzegovina, and to make Macedonia’s political position more difficult, are designed to reinforce the argument that Kosovo’s declaration of independence has had negative consequences for regional stability. Unfortunately for the authors of this strategy, however, things will not be seen in this way, and for the reasons mentioned above Serbia will be blamed for causing destabilisation, while the aim of a more serious destabilisation will not be achieved. Unlike, perhaps, the short-term glory and enhanced popularity of certain politicians.
Translated by The Bosnian Institute