Hobbesian Peace: Sources of Failure in the Nation Building "Success" Story in Kosovo

November 29, 2006 // 11:00am12:00pm

Staff-prepared summary of the discussion with Whit Mason, Author and Former Pubic Affairs Strategists for the United Nations Mission in Kosovo

Since the NATO bombing of Belgrade in 1999, the international community's efforts at state-building in Kosovo have so far failed to establish a peaceful, stable state. At the same time, Kosovo has absorbed more money and troop deployments than any other recent state-building exercise, which makes it an important case to analyze. If Kosovo represents a high point in terms of international consensus and focus, the shortcomings of the initiative are alarming and deserve attention if the international community hopes to do better in future state-building projects.

Whit Mason contends that the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) failed to bring democratic governance to Kosovo, failed to establish the rule of law and a functioning judiciary and has been unable to create a functioning economy. Moreover, UNMIK presided over a reversal of positions between the Albanians and the Serbs, in which Albanians retaliated against previous Serb aggression, rather than meeting its goal of creating a multicultural society there.

In attempting to explain why the outcome fell short of the international community's goals in Kosovo, Mason suggested that the power "on paper" given to the Special Representative was easily dismissed by locals. Real power remained in the hands of the local political leaders and in the well-entrenched organized crime circles. This meant that UNMIK could not deliver on the promises made by the international community.

Mason presented six sources of the international community's failure in Kosovo. First, there was the mistaken understanding that since Kosovar Albanians were victims, they had European values. Instead, victimization of the Albanians led to their radicalization, which pushed them further away from European norms. Second, the experience in Kosovo disproved the ideology that holds that institutional engineering would be sufficient to bring democracy to Kosovo.

Third, there was no unity between the KFOR troops, since each national contingent had different instructions and limitations for how they could intervene. This was exacerbated by the inability of UNMIK to support KFOR, since its organizational structure was insufficient to the task of coordinating the international community's efforts. The UN initially sent a very small staff and took a very long time to create a fully-staffed organization. This was a consequence of insufficient will by the Contact Group, which Mason contends did not match its action with its rhetoric. Finally, the last source of failure was the short timeframe given to the international mission there. Because the Kosovars knew that the intervention would be short-lived, they know that they could wait-out the demands placed on them by the international community. As a result, nothing significant has changed in Kosovo, even after eight years of international intervention.

Experts & Staff

  • Christian F. Ostermann // Director, History and Public Policy Program; Global Europe; Cold War International History Project; North Korea Documentation Project; Nuclear Proliferation International History Project
  • Emily R. Buss // Program Assistant

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