After 13 years of Kosovo’s activity in the international sphere, it is reasonable to analyze the diplomatic strategies during these years, and ask if a well-formed strategy has ever existed.
Based on the limited economic and military power, small countries such as Kosovo usually are faced with difficulties in reaching their goals in international negotiations. For this reason, foreign policy strategies are essential in reaching these countries’ goals. In the 2000s, other than the declaration of independence, it is difficult to find cases where Kosovo’s diplomacy has succeeded. But even in this case, the United States has played a decisive role.
There already exists some sort of a consensus among the Kosovar public opinion and policymakers that it is hard for the history of Kosovar diplomacy to be considered a success story. To better understand and explain Kosovo’s diplomatic approach throughout the years, let’s analyze a lecture that Enver Hoxhaj, former foreign minister in two governments and former vice-Prime Minister, gave at the University of Dublin in January of 2014, about the strategy that Kosovar diplomacy has used during his first mandate as a minister.
The lecture is called “Smart Power of Small States: Kosovo’s Approach to Foreign Affairs.”
When I read the lecture, I was surprised that Kosovar politics had built a strategy based on a concept previously theorized, in this case from the policy researcher Joseph Nye. However, I was disappointed by the inability of the lecturer to understand how impossible it is in practice for a country like Kosovo to use smart power as a strategy in foreign policies. It’s not that Kosovo cannot use smart power in an effective way, but it cannot use it at all because Kosovo does not have it.
According to the lecturer, Kosovo’s smart power consists of several main elements — among others, he mentions internal reforms, the normalization of relations with Serbia, and the peaceful resolution of some intrastate issues. Related to the last one, he even states that his model would serve as a solution for other regional problems.
In terms of normalizing relations with Serbia, it is important to state that even now, seven years after that lecture, Kosovo continues to be far from any normalization of relations with Serbia. The current status quo has nothing to do with any of Kosovo’s diplomatic skills, but comes from NATO’s military intervention against Serbia in 1999 and from the organizational and overseer role of the European Union to find a permanent solution between two countries.
At the end, as an element of smart power, Hoxhaj considers the improvement of Kosovo’s image and turning Kosovo into an attractive place for foreign investment. But how attractive Kosovo is for foreign investors shows that Kosovo’s diaspora themselves hesitate, and even refuse to invest in Kosovo.
What does Kosovo lack?
Before we talk about soft power, it is necessary to first explain the concept of power, or the ability to push others to do what you want. There are three forms of known power in political science: Hard power, soft power, and smart power.
The first, military and financial power guarantee that the set conditions toward international countries or institutions are not empty words. The second comes from the radiation of the overall success of the state based on a unique set of values, norms, institutions, lifestyle, and wares. While the third, smart power, is a combination of the first two, neither of which Kosovo has.
It is well known that Kosovo does not have the necessary capacities to defend itself militarily, we cannot even discuss threatening other countries to reach any result from international negotiations. The fact that the country cannot provide security for itself has reduced its negotiating power in all the negotiations it has been a part of. Thus, it lacks one integral part of the “smart strategy,” what is left is soft power.
While the government controls politics, culture and values are embedded in civil society and are cultivated by them.
Some of the main components of soft power are the quality of life, freedom and sufficient opportunities. Then universities like Harvard or Oxford, brands and products like Coca-Cola or Sony, globally known tango music, American Hollywood or Indian Bollywood produced movies, scientific and technological inventions and advancements are very important. Another way that countries use to increase their soft power is by spending a part of their budget to finance various activities in developing countries, a model that is mainly followed by the Scandinavian countries.
In addition, what makes soft power special is that its instruments are not completely under the control of the government. While the government controls politics, culture and values are embedded in civil society and are cultivated by them.
But Kosovo doesn’t have soft power either — a unique radiant model of culture, social and political institutions, laws and norms, as well as the manner it behaves in the international sphere. It also lacks a well-informed democracy, low levels of corruption, rule of law and a trained and motivated bureaucracy.
On the contrary, Kosovo is continually listed among the most corrupt countries in the world, with a high level of organized crime and a politicized public administration. The yearly progress report designed by the European Commission has continually criticized Kosovo for a lack of rule of law. Therefore it is practically impossible for Kosovo to preserve a respected and attractive image for the other countries through its political institutions, because the deplorable conditions of its institutions have been shown.
This is a finding not a criticism — Kosovo’s backwardness cannot be billed to any specific politician. It is among others, a result of the country’s bitter history and the oppression suffered during the dark period of foreign occupation. This way, instead of our politicians dreaming about impossible foreign policies, it would be better to focus on building functional foreign policies.
If, and for however long smart power has been the policy in Kosovar diplomacy, then Kosovar diplomacy has functioned without a strategy. At the end of the day, keeping in mind the deplorable results that the country has had in international negotiations, this is no surprise.
What are the diplomatic failures?
The two main failures of Kosovo’s diplomacy are about soft power.
First of all, the Kosovar state has failed in convincing the international community that the country’s institutions have the will and ability to protect and integrate minority communities. Public order during the past 15 years in Kosovo has generally been stable. But the echo of the massive protests from 2004 that almost restarted the ethnic conflict has kept some international actors skeptical toward the Kosovar model of governance. As a result of this failure, the international community continues to pressure the governments of Kosovo to create the association of Serb municipalities in Kosovo.
Secondly, Kosovo’s diplomacy has had a generally passive stance in addressing Serbian crimes even during the war of 1998-1999. During the attempts to reach a final agreement with Serbia, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in consecutive governments has been passively positioned in negotiations. The Serbian state has benefited from this passivity and inability of the Kosovar state to effectively address Serbian crimes in Kosovo.
Through coordinated and focused propaganda, the Serbian government has created a situation where someone who has no information about the history of Kosovo and Serbia has difficulties understanding who were the aggressors and who the victims. An uncontested acceptance of the position of Kosovar Albanians as Serbian victims would directly affect the creation of Kosovo’s soft power, similar to the impact that the Holocaust has had on building Israel’s soft power. Serbia has managed to, at least partially, neutralize this element.
This is a crucial issue since European countries like Germany, France and Great Britain have played an essential role in the creation of the country of Kosovo. Even after Kosovo declared its independence, these countries have invested a lot of time and resources to consolidate the statehood of the country. To keep them on Kosovo’s side, the public opinion in these countries should be well informed about the issue, and to separate which state was (and continues to be) the aggressor and which is the victim.
Kosovo has fallen in importance in the eyes of its allies.
In our time, the global understanding and political gaps among generations have caused problems to many governments about their behavior in the international sphere. People who were born during the period the war in Kosovo was happening now have the right to vote, so their governments have to justify to them why they are dedicating time, energy and funds to handle the issue of Kosovo.
Paradoxically, while the Serbian crimes — internationally well-documented — have generally been left uncondemned, Kosovo was forced to form a court that will judge the leaders of the KLA for alleged crimes. Regardless whether the leaders of the KLA will be declared guilty or innocent, the international image of Kosovo is damaged. The results could have been different if Kosovo’s diplomacy had a strategy and if that strategy would have formed any power — be it strong, soft, or smart.
How is power gained?
Kosovo has fallen in importance in the eyes of its allies. As a consequence, Kosovar politics should reflect and not behave like it did when Kosovo was highly ranked in international importance. This way, the leaders of the country should focus on two main points: Establishing state interests and creating new partnerships and alliances.
Establishing state interests is crucial for any country, and especially for Kosovo who aims to reach state interests through international policies. The proposal for a territorial swap with Serbia from the main political actors; the readiness to join an economic zone that opens the market to Serbia with no direct benefits, even with no condition of state recognition; the readiness to sign a deal that gives territory to fulfill one of the conditions of the EU for visa liberalization — all these give the impression of a country that doesn’t have a clear idea where it stands, and even less where it is going.
New friendships, without forgetting the old ones, offer new opportunities and horizons.
The other point is preparedness for a post-American world and even a post-EU one like the one we live in today. The international sphere is becoming more multipolar and the power of the United States and even the existence of the EU are continually questioned. While the alliance with the USA and the EU remains crucial, it’s time that Kosovo seeks new international partnerships in regions such as Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America.
The creation and enforcement of partnerships with other countries other than the EU and USA has been publicly trumped by different politicians and even members of civil society as treason toward these two world powers. But partnerships with countries such as Egypt, Israel, Turkey, Korea, Japan, Argentina, and Mexico — all American allies — would multiply Kosovo’s presence in the international sphere.
The economic, political, and military importance are not the only criteria of the international alliances. The friendship among countries is similar to that among people: They are strengthened with the passing of time and passing temporary interests. New friendships, without forgetting the old ones, offer new opportunities and horizons. This way, a multi-planed and multi-dimensional foreign policy will offer not only friendly ears to listen to the Kosovar version of history but new allies and fewer old misunderstandings.
Feature Image: Atdhe Mulla / K2.0.