“There is no doubt that, in a hypothetical scenario, Kosovo’s integration into the NATO alliance would strain relations between Serbia and the Alliance and further damage the already unfavorable position that NATO holds in the public opinion of Serbia. In the alliance’s headquarters in Brussels, they are aware of this, as they also know that their four members do not recognize Kosovo’s statehood”.
The NATO alliance’s peace mission in Kosovo (KFOR), mandated by the UN, currently consists of around 4,500 soldiers from 27 countries worldwide, which is about one-fifth larger presence compared to the previous year, following recent assessments by the leadership of the North Atlantic Alliance regarding the necessary reinforcements due to the security situation. While official Belgrade insists on a greater presence and engagement of KFOR units in providing security to the Serbian community in Kosovo, Albanian politicians in Pristina emphasize a swift accession of Kosovo to NATO and the formation of their own army with unrestricted powers, despite being contrary to all valid documents.
President of the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo, Ramush Haradinaj, a former prominent member of the paramilitary formation KLA during the war against the Security Forces of Serbia, called on the Kosovo Assembly a few days ago to approve a resolution demanding direct NATO membership. Haradinaj stated that the security situation in Kosovo and the region was serious and that “Kosovo should not seek membership in the Partnership for Peace but should directly join the NATO alliance”.
In certain political circles in the West, Kosovo’s membership in NATO is often discussed as an option for international recognition of the unilaterally declared Kosovo independence, which has been hindered in recent years by Serbia’s principled refusal to accept the secession of the southern province and its accession to the most important global institutions. The complexity of the hypothetical NATO membership for Kosovo is best illustrated by the fact that even four member states of the Alliance staunchly oppose recognizing Kosovo’s statehood.
Kosovo is not a recognized state by Spain, Greece, Romania, and Slovakia, and consequently, it cannot be a subject of discussion regarding NATO membership. This was recently and practically demonstrated during the visit of the “president” Vjosa Osmani to NATO headquarters.
“The NATO Secretary General met with Mrs. Vjosa Osmani-Sadriu from Kosovo. On Thursday, September 7, 2023, NATO Secretary General Mr. Jens Stoltenberg received Mrs. Vjosa Osmani-Sadriu”, reads one of the news articles on the official NATO website, with a clear disclaimer about the official role of the guest from Kosovo.
It is therefore entirely clear that for the political leadership of the Albanians in Kosovo, potential entry into NATO is of exceptional importance. However, the extent to which this is crucial for NATO itself at this moment and the potential consequences of such a scenario are questions that deserve special attention.
Not on the agenda in Brussels
“Whenever Albanian politicians need cheap political points within the voter base, they resort to the tried-and-true recipe of pointing fingers at Serbia and the Serbs. Whether it’s about arms procurement, military exercises of the Serbian Army, displays, or any other activities. The same applies to the topic of NATO membership, with the added dimension of international impact alongside domestic public opinion. This unfulfilled dream of Kosovo Albanians should, as they claim, permanently protect them from the ‘aggression of Serbia’, which, according to their statements, is about to happen. Therefore, the NATO membership topic is a winning combination both for voters at home and for international partners, so it’s not surprising why it is increasingly mentioned”, Vlade Radulovic, a military analyst and President of the Center for Geostrategic Research and Terrorism, points out for Kosovo Online.
On the other hand, he believes that the question of potential Pristina membership in NATO is not only not a topic of any discussions in Brussels but simply, for procedural reasons, does not seem realistic at this moment.
“It has been emphasized multiple times that NATO remains fully committed to the KFOR mission and its mandate within the framework of UN Security Council Resolution 1244. Even during a recent meeting of foreign ministers of NATO member countries in Brussels, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg reiterated that one of NATO’s priorities was peace and stability in the Balkans, along with ongoing support for the EUFOR Althea mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina and KFOR in Kosovo and Metohija. Therefore, despite Pristina’s desires, I would say that the question of membership is not only not “on the table” or at best extremely marginal for them but also senseless at this moment. Especially considering that not all NATO members recognize Kosovo’s independence, and consensus is the beginning and end of everything”, Radulovic explains.
As for the future developments, according to Radulovic, it remains to be seen, and much will depend on the further dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina and the evolving situation on the ground.
“There is no doubt that, in a hypothetical scenario, Kosovo’s integration into NATO would not only strain relations between Serbia and the Alliance but also further damage the already unfavorable position that NATO holds in the public opinion of Serbia. On the other hand, I don’t see how this would negatively impact the security situation in the region. On the contrary, NATO would further solidify its positions in this part of Europe and thus control and prevent any potential escalation of conflicts”, military analyst Vlade Radulovic says.
Serbia in a delicate situation
Long-time journalist, publicist, and expert on geopolitical developments, Sinisa Ljepojevic, emphasizes for Kosovo Online that NATO is primarily a political organization, and only then a military one. It is increasingly a political instrument of both the United States and the European Union.
“NATO is neither the largest nor the most powerful, and as the war in Ukraine has shown, it is in a deep crisis, and its future is uncertain. However, it does not give up on its strategic goals, among which Kosovo is included. The main goal of Kosovo’s potential membership in the Alliance is the connection of land corridors from Albania and Montenegro through Kosovo to North Macedonia and the rest of the NATO bloc. This would completely close the southern space of the Balkans. To achieve this, there is the construction of a road network that would connect the Adriatic with the Black Sea by land. Another goal is the ‘living force’; NATO members do not have enough soldiers, and any additional thousand is important, and it is believed that Kosovo can provide them with several thousand”, Ljepojevic explains.
He adds that it is, therefore, extremely important for the United States and NATO countries to pressure Serbia into any agreement with Pristina that could be presented as a de facto recognition of Kosovo. According to this interpretation, it would pave the way for Kosovo’s membership in the NATO Alliance.
“It is very difficult to predict what the real consequences could be. Serbia is in a very delicate situation as it is under pressure for agreements that could be interpreted as a de facto recognition of Kosovo as a state, which it cannot accept. At the same time, Belgrade is interested in maintaining relations with the NATO Alliance despite everything. In the relations between Belgrade and Pristina, this would mean that Pristina would be strengthened and practically achieve its goal, and there could be certain political shifts in the region, even in those countries that have not recognized Kosovo, such as Romania and Greece, NATO member states that must accept its decisions. Of course, this is all a possible development, and it is still unclear how these NATO plans will further unfold. However, despite this uncertainty, the impression is that NATO will not abandon these plans”, Ljepojevic concludes.
Kosovo does not meet the criteria
NATO, as a defense alliance, applies a 360-degree approach, meaning that it seeks to maintain a political and military presence at all critical points for the security of its members, military and political analyst Darko Obradovic says. He emphasizes for Kosovo Online that Kosovo is far from meeting the criteria for initiating an official application.
“With regard to Kosovo, NATO is a key factor for security in Kosovo, while on the other hand, NATO presence in the Western Balkans maintains the stability of the entire Europe. Regarding Kosovo’s NATO membership, the following facts should be kept in mind. Not all NATO members recognize Kosovo, and decisions in NATO are made by consensus. Second, for NATO membership, a political decision alone is not sufficient; the member must be willing to meet complex criteria. At this moment, Kosovo is far from that. Participation in the Partnership for Peace program has not yet been approved, while the Individual Partnership Action Plan and the Membership Action Plan are still on the long finger”, Obradovic, who is also the Program Director of the Center for Strategic Analysis, emphasized.
In his opinion, it is unlikely that the Alliance will formalize relations with Kosovo, at least not while UN Security Council Resolution 1244 is in effect.
“There would be little concrete incentives and strategic results from Kosovo’s accelerated NATO membership, while on the other hand, such a process would initiate a very complicated political dialogue that could lead to a precedent. Such a scenario is not needed for NATO at this time. Let’s look at the example of Turkey and the ratification of the agreement with Sweden. The Meeting of NATO Foreign Ministers has just taken place, where one of the topics was the political incentive for Turkey to fulfill its obligations regarding accession to the Alliance. The activities and roles of individual NATO members are often confused with NATO procedures in Kosovo”, Obradovic points out.
However, he emphasizes that the hypothetical entry of Kosovo into NATO would weaken Serbia’s international position more than its security position.
A dangerous scenario for Serbia
“The essential strength of a state is determined by the alliances it belongs to. A scenario in which Serbia depends on decisions from Kosovo, especially in the context where Kosovo would be a part of the most powerful political-security alliance and dialogue format, would mean a geopolitical shipwreck for Serbia. This scenario would be particularly dangerous if Serbia were not a member of the EU by that time. In the case that Serbia achieves full EU membership, the security arrangement of Kosovo, which we hypothetically consider, is absolutely irrelevant. Essentially, Serbia would be renouncing the possibility of projecting and protecting its interests within an organization like NATO. There can be a debate about the arguments for this decision, but fundamentally, one must question the purpose of decisions to stay away from NATO membership while all others strengthen their international positions through such membership, influencing the attraction of foreign direct investments through the ‘NATO effect’. If we consider how hypothetical Kosovo membership would affect relations between Serbia and NATO and Belgrade and Pristina, I think it is illusory to contemplate such a scenario. Kosovo in NATO with Serbia outside NATO would be the greatest catastrophe of Serbian foreign policy, signifying a total failure in positioning Serbia in the 21st century, and the consequences of such a scenario would be felt by future generations”, Obradovic warns.
Experienced diplomat Branko Brankovic also shared his views on this topic with Kosovo Online, emphasizing above all that NATO was trying everything to dissuade the Balkans from cooperation with Russia.
“This is not something new. Today, after the fiasco in Ukraine, they are looking for a way to regain their presence in the Balkans. I think NATO, as well as the EU, are in a situation where they are figuring out what to do with themselves. Realistically, there is no chance for Kosovo to join NATO because four member states do not recognize Kosovo. As Europe is in chaos, there is even less unity for such a move. Hungary is also in the mix, and it is a question of how the Netherlands would position itself with a new government announcing an exit from the EU”, Brankovic believes.
However, he warns that Kosovo’s potential entry into NATO would be a serious blow to Serbia’s relations not only with European countries in general but also to Serbia’s further steps towards the EU.
“In the current situation, the European Union needs Serbia much more than Serbia can benefit from EU membership. Kosovo in NATO is, in the near future, just a wish of those who want to realize it”, Brankovic concludes.