By Stefan J. Bos
Many legislators in Kosovo's Parliament are happy. The 120-seat parliament voted with all present 107 lawmakers in favor of passing three draft laws to expand an existing 4,000 Kosovo Security Force. They will be turned into a regular lightly armed army. But representatives of Kosovo's Serb minority boycotted the vote.
Most of the people in Kosovo are of ethnic Albanian descent, and minority Serbs claim the move will lead to more ethnic tensions in an already volatile region. Those concerns are shared by the NATO military alliance, explained it secretary general Jens Stoltenberg who spoke with Serbian and Kosovar leaders. "We discussed the plan to move ahead with the transformation of the Kosovo Security Force into an army," he said.
"I stressed that such a move is ill-timed, goes against the advice of many NATO Allies, and can have negative repercussions on Kosovo's prospects for Euro-Atlantic integration," Stoltenberg added.
The West fears more tensions between Kosovo and neighboring Serbia over the formation of the army. On Friday an adviser to the Serbian president already warned that the county could send in Serbian armed forces or declare Kosovo an occupied territory.
However, any Serbian armed intervention in Kosovo would mean a direct confrontation with thousands of NATO-led peacekeepers, including U.S. soldiers, stationed in Kosovo since 1999 following a bloody war for independence.
Kosovo eventually declared independence from Serbia in 2008, but that a move has not been recognized by Belgrade or its ally Russia.
Besides NATO, the European Union — which has led years-long talks to improve ties between the Balkan neighbors — expressed regret that Kosovo decided to go ahead with the army formation.
And U.S. embassy statement in Kosovo's capital Pristina urged Kosovo to continue “close coordination with NATO allies and partners and to engage in outreach to minority communities.”
The new army will preserve its former name — Kosovo Security Force. In about a decade the military will have 5,000 troops and 3,000 reservists, primarily operating as a security force handling crisis response and civil protection operations.
Kosovo's President Hashim Thaci says the new army will be “multiethnic, professional and serve all citizens and peace in Kosovo and the region. He also claims that the new army could also be used in trouble spots elsewhere in the world when asked.