Former NATO spokesman, during the Kosovo war, Jamie Shea, in an interview with RTKLive, said that the NATO military presence in Kosovo is still necessary in Kosovo.
“I believe that the NATO / KFOR military presence is still needed in Kosovo. The first reason is quite pragmatic. As long as NATO and many countries contributing military troops are present in Kosovo, they will have Kosovo on their diplomatic radar screens. The NATO Secretary General and the defense and foreign ministers of NATO countries will visit Pristina periodically. They will have an interest in Kosovo and will maintain contacts with the political leadership. They will have a strong interest in the Pristina-Belgrade negotiations and in Kosovo’s security in the region in the future. This is especially true for the United States and those allies that are not members of the EU and that are therefore not formally linked to the Pristina-Belgrade dialogue. “This broad international involvement is in the best interest of Kosovo,” he said.
He stressed that if he were part of the Kosovo leadership, he would focus primarily on building the capacity of the Kosovo Security Force and their ability to undertake various security tasks, improving their equipment as well as trainings and exercises.
Full interview of Former NATO Spokesperson, during the Kosovo war, Jamie Shea:
RTKLive: 22 years after the air campaign against the targets of the Serbian army, which ended the war and resulted in the deployment of NATO troops in Kosovo, do you think that an international military presence is still necessary to maintain peace?
Jamie Shea: Yes, I believe that a NATO / KFOR military presence is still needed in Kosovo.
The first reason is quite pragmatic. As long as NATO and many countries contributing military troops are present in Kosovo, they will have Kosovo on their diplomatic radar screens. The NATO Secretary General and the defense and foreign ministers of NATO countries will visit Pristina periodically. They will have an interest in Kosovo and will maintain contacts with the political leadership. They will have a strong interest in the Pristina-Belgrade negotiations and in Kosovo’s security in the region in the future. This is especially true for the United States and those allies that are not members of the EU and that are therefore not formally linked to the Pristina-Belgrade dialogue. This broad international involvement is in Kosovo’s best interest.
This first element is related to the second reason. The political and security situation between Serbia and Kosovo is still fragile. I do not see any new conflict, but the continued presence of KFOR exerts a mitigating effect and does not allow for any unilateral or extremist acts. Helps both Pristina and Belgrade stay focused on the diplomatic path. It also assures all the people of Kosovo that they have a secure future within the country. I believe that KFOR should stay in Kosovo until Serbia formally recognizes Kosovo as an independent and sovereign state and until relations are fully normalized. I have said before, I do not think that Serbia should join the EU before recognizing Kosovo and supporting its EU candidacy.
The third and final reason is that KFOR assists in the formation and training of the Kosovo Security Force (KSF). They develop partnership agreements between NATO and Pristina. By bringing the KSF closer to NATO standards, they help Kosovo integrate into Euro-Atlantic structures. I hope that soon Kosovo will be a full participant in the NATO Partnership for Peace and have full access to all the tools and cooperation activities offered by this mechanism.
RTKLive: The Assembly of Kosovo has voted to change the mandate of the Kosovo Security Force from an emergency organization to transform them into the Armed Forces in the full sense of the word. NATO Secretary General, Mr. Stoltenberg said recently that “the decision (to change his mandate) was taken contrary to the suggestion of the NATO Council and that NATO will continue to support and develop the KSF only on the basis of the initial mandate, ie, as an emergency organization ”. Do you think that Kosovo should have its own Army?
Jamie Shea: If I were part of the Kosovo leadership, I would focus primarily on building the capacity of the Kosovo Security Force and their ability to undertake a variety of security tasks, improving their equipment as well as trainings and exercises. NATO is an essential partner in this regard. At this stage I would not worry about labels or symbols like “Kosovo Army”, especially because they do not currently help in terms of guaranteeing essential assistance to Kosovo by transatlantic allies. First let’s see how we can maximize the development of the KSF in the existing mandate and make it as interactive as possible with NATO. Tags are less important than: is the KSF able to protect the safety of all citizens of Kosovo in the face of current challenges, such as the Covid-19 pandemic, natural disasters and the sustainability of infrastructure most importantly? A very welcome development is a KSF unit will be sent to Kuwait where it will serve in an international peacekeeping mission. This type of international cooperation should be a priority, as it will give the KSF a valuable experience. So let’s focus on making the KSF capable of internal security, as KFOR is there to maintain external security.
RTKLive: More than two decades after the end of the war and 13 years after Kosovo’s declaration of independence, no agreement has yet been reached, although both countries are negotiating with EU assistance and mediation. Meanwhile there has been an effort by the US administration to speed up the process of mutual recognition. Do you think there will be an agreement between the two states in the near future?
Jamie Shea: I think that the reconciliation between Greece and Northern Macedonia (the latter now within NATO) or the recent recognition of Israel by four Arab and Muslim countries, prove that even the most complex disputes can suddenly melt. So, yes, sooner or later there will be an agreement between Pristina and Belgrade. Kosovo is an independent state and Serbia knows this. So what is the alternative? An agreement is in the overriding interest of both countries and crucial to political stability and economic development in the Western Balkans. A large part of this basis has already been laid in the EU-mediated Pristina-Belgrade dialogue as well as in the agreement negotiated by the Trump administration. US-EU coordination will be of particular importance and the Biden administration is full of experts on the Balkans, who are well acquainted with the Kosovo case and who are willing to work with Brussels to resolve it. The external framework is essential, but what we need is leaders in Serbia and Kosovo who are willing to bargain and have the political courage to sell it to their electorate. Usually this means compromise on both sides and a willingness to put the interest of the state before that of its own popularity.
RTKLive: In the February 14 national elections, Vetëvendosje led by Albin Kurti won almost half of the seats in the Assembly. Kurti does not consider negotiations with Serbia a priority for his government. A few years ago, Vetëvendosje criticized NATO intervention in the former Yugoslavia. How do you see this slide of Kosovo voters towards left-wing politics?
Jamie Shea: My interpretation of the recent elections in Kosovo is that there was a vote of protest against the political parties that have dominated Kosovo politics since independence. Corruption and economic inequality plagued voters. They wanted change at home and not a radical reorientation of Kosovo’s foreign and security policy. We have recently seen in some European countries how frustrated voters have supported populist leaders and parties, and in this respect Kosovo is no different. However, after taking power these populist parties did not do a good job nor did they find real solutions to internal problems. But I will not prejudice and wish good luck to the new Prime Minister and his government. He knows that governance is something other than election campaigns. He will be appreciated for what he does for the good of Kosovo after he is in power. Personally, I believe that Kosovo needs a period of calm, competent governance, building coalitions for internal reform, constructive actions with the state’s neighbors and step-by-step integration into Euro-Atlantic structures. The new government must prove that it is a reliable partner of NATO and the EU and that Kosovo will implement all commitments arising from the Pristina-Belgrade dialogue. There is no reason to say that a left-wing government can not be successful. Was it not the leader of a radical left-wing party in Greece, Prime Minister Tsipras, who reached a historic agreement with northern Macedonia?