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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Kosovo: Current Issues and U.S. Policy

Steven Woehrel
Specialist in European Affairs

On February 17, 2008, Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia. On February 18, the United States recognized Kosovo as an independent state. Of the 27 EU countries, 22 have recognized Kosovo, including key countries such as France, Germany, Britain, and Italy. Seventyfive countries in all have recognized Kosovo. When it declared independence, Kosovo pledged to implement the Comprehensive Proposal for the Kosovo Status Settlement, drafted by U.N. envoy Martti Ahtisaari. The document contains provisions aimed at safeguarding the rights of ethnic Serbs and other minorities. An International Civilian Representative and EULEX, an European Union-led law-and-order mission, are tasked with guaranteeing Kosovo’s implementation of the plan. KFOR, a NATO-led peacekeeping force, has the mission of providing a secure environment.

Serbia strongly objects to Kosovo’s declaration of independence. It has used diplomatic means to try to persuade countries to not recognize Kosovo. It has set up parallel governing institutions in Serb-majority areas in Kosovo and urged Serbs there to not cooperate with Kosovo government authorities. However, after a July 2010 International Court of Justice ruling that Kosovo’s declaration of independence was not illegal, the EU pressured Serbia into agreeing to hold direct talks with Kosovo over technical issues. The talks got underway in March 2011.

Kosovo faces daunting challenges, aside from those posed by its struggle for international recognition and the status of its ethnic minorities. Kosovo’s problems are especially severe, as it has had little recent experience in self-rule, having been controlled by Serbia in the 1990s and by the international community from 1999 until 2008. According to a November 2010 European Commission report on Kosovo, the country suffers from weak institutions, including the judiciary and law enforcement. Kosovo has high levels of government corruption and powerful organized crime networks. Many Kosovars are poor and reported unemployment is very high.

In October 2010, Secretary of State Clinton visited Kosovo. She said the United States would continue to aid Kosovo’s efforts to build a democratic country, where the rule of law is respected and ethnic minorities are well-integrated. Clinton said the United States would assist Kosovo in its efforts to join the European Union and NATO. She expressed the United States’ strong support for upcoming talks between Serbia and Kosovo. She stressed that the issues of Kosovo’s sovereignty and territorial integrity are not up for discussion during the negotiations. Instead, she said, the talks should focus on “immediate and practical needs” such as “increasing travel and trade.” She said that they should be “focused,” produce results, and be quickly concluded, noting that Serbia’s next elections are scheduled for 2012. In March 2010, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Countryman told journalists from the region that the U.S. role at the talks would be as a “guest,” not as a participant or mediator.

Since U.S. recognition of Kosovo’s independence in February 2008, congressional action on Kosovo has focused largely on foreign aid appropriations legislation. According to the FY2012 Function 150 Executive Budget Summary, Kosovo received $95 million in aid for political and economic reforms from the AEECA account in FY2010, as well as $2.5 million in FMF military aid, $0.7 million in IMET military training assistance, and $1.07 million in the NADR account for non-proliferation, anti-terrorism, demining and other functions. Congress has not adopted FY2011 foreign operations appropriations legislation so far, instead funding foreign aid with a series of continuing resolutions. Under such legislation, FY2011 U.S. aid to Kosovo may stay at roughly the same levels as in FY2010.

Date of Report: March 9, 2011
Number of Pages: 12
Order Number: RS21721
Price: $29.95

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