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Yugoslavia: UN's 'Virtual' Protectorate In Kosovo

  • Joe Lauria



United Nations, 15 June 1999 (RFE/RL) -- The fact that it's hard to define the UN's proposed civil administration of Kosovo poses many daunting questions about the future for international occupation of the disputed province.

The UN began deploying its team to Kosovo on Saturday to set the ground work for a far-reaching and open-ended civil administration that has few parallels in history.

As NATO peacekeepers entered the province to take military control last Friday, the UN was left with a myriad of unanswered questions about who will perform what functions in the civil administration, how long the mission will last and how much it will cost.

"I think it's safe to say Kosovo is unprecedented in history," said Kevin Kennedy, chief UN spokesman for peace and security matters, as he was packing for the trip to Kosovo. "One really has to stretch to find any legal parallel to what is happening in this operation," he told RFE/RL's UN correspondent in a telephone interview.

Secretary-General Kofi Annan issued a preliminary report on Monday on how he envisions the civilian administration will work. But Louise Frachette, the UN's Deputy Secretary-General said: "Clearly there are a number of substantive points that have to be clarified as to the division of responsibility. Who pays for what? How do we organize ourselves? Who supports what?"

Annan proposed that the UN will run the interim administration of Kosovo, with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees handling the humanitarian operation, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in charge of building new civil institutions and holding elections and the European Union responsible for reconstruction.

The military operation will be run by KFOR, made up of NATO and Russian troops. The dispute between NATO and Russia has only deepened the UN's difficulties. Humanitarian aid is being trucked in because Russia will not yet permit the UN to use the airport in Pristina, said UN spokesman Fred Eckhard.

Part of the UN's problem is that the Security Council resolution that set up the civil mission was drafted by the foreign ministers of the Group of Seven industrial nations with Russia in Germany. It was then handed to the UN with instructions to work out the messy details.

Critics of the UN civilian plan for Kosovo are calling it a protectorate.

Vladislav Jovanovic, Yugoslavia's charge d'affaires, said: "Yugoslavia cannot accept a mission that would take over the role of government in Kosovo...or any form of open or hidden protectorate."

Kosovo will remain nominally part of Yugoslavia, but there is talk that the German mark and the American dollar will in effect replace the dinar. And the future of the province is entirely uncertain, with eventual independence still a possibility though NATO is currently opposed to it.

Ivan Eland, director of defense policy studies at the Cato Institute in Washington, says the civil administration is a "NATO protectorate endorsed by the UN. I think we are going to be bogged down for years, there's no end in sight. The Serbs are hostile, and I don't think the Albanians will disarm entirely."

Technically speaking, the UN is not establishing a protectorate, which is one state taking over the administration of a weak but independent state. In this case an international organization is taking control of a province within a state, with another international organization, NATO, taking military control.

Protectorates go back as far as ancient Rome. Macedonia, for instance, is considered by historians to have been a Roman protectorate. At the end of the First World War the League of Nations established mandates in colonized territories in Africa and the Ottoman Empire.

Britain, for example, was given League mandates over Iraq and Palestine. South Africa was handed the administration of German South West Africa. The mandates were to be exercised until the territories were seen fit for independence. In a protectorate, the administered territory is already independent.

After the Second World War, the UN took over some existing mandates and added others under a similar trusteeship system. Rapid decolonization during the 1960s reduced the number of UN trust territories until in 1994 Palau in West Pacific became the last territory to be administered and was admitted as a UN member.

The end of the trusteeship system came as the UN took on an entirely new type of civil administration in the nineties. The Kosovo administration will draw on the experiences this decade of UN transitional authorities in Cambodia and the Eastern Slavonia region of Croatia, UN officials say, though neither are really comparable to each other or to Kosovo.

The three political and military situations leading to the UN transitional authorities were completely different. Cambodia suffered through a civil war, Croatia won a war of independence but needed the UN to get a remaining territory from the former Yugoslavia and Kosovo has just seen massive NATO intervention to protect its citizens in a civil conflict, but not ostensibly to win its independence.

"I think you will find that Kosovo doesn't neatly fit any category" of prior UN civil administrations, Kennedy said. "Each of them has been a process crafted to respond to a specific set of historical and political circumstances."

The Cambodia and Eastern Slavonia UN administrations also had definable end games in mind before they were launched. Once elections were held in Cambodia in May 1993, the UN Transitional Authority packed up and left within four months. The same happened in Eastern Slavonia.

Still, in the breadth of control the UN will have, Cambodia is most similar to what appears will happen in Kosovo. In Cambodia, the UN took over the entire political, legal, financial, military, police and news media functions of the country. The Kosovo mission will apparently have as far reaching civilian powers.

But unlike Cambodia, the Kosovo administration, which will be known as the UN Mission in Kosovo, or UNMIK, has no fixed end in sight. As well, NATO, and not the UN, will run the military side with a Security Council authority to use force, which the UN troops in Cambodia never had. This further complicates matters for the UN.

"This is a new type of mission for the UN," said Frachette. "The quite innovative feature of this mission is that the military contingent has its own chain of command." The UN has also never worked with other international organizations, like the OSCE and the EU, in a mission before.

Annan said Monday it is "imperative that UNMIK and the international security presence coordinate their activities closely to ensure that both ... operate toward the same goals."

Crucial to that cooperation will be the man whom Annan appoints as his special representative to Kosovo, a post being likened to a governor-general. Annan was supposed to name him last Friday but that was postponed because of European and U.S. differences.

Washington has proposed several Americans, including Jacques Klein, who is deputy administrator of the international mission in Bosnia and led the UN's mission in Eastern Slavonia. Among Europe's candidates are Kai Eide of Norway, head of the OSCE's permanent council, as well as Dick Spring, a former Irish foreign minister.

Sergio Vieira de Mello, the Brazilian UN undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs, was named temporary special representative. Because the Russians control the airport, he arrived by road in Pristina on Monday.
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