Commentary: Kosovo army needs Trump’s support
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The Balkans’ historical propensity to embroil Europe in a wider conflict symbolizes the significance behind Kosovo and Serbia’s ongoing row of words.
Kosovo is a majority ethnic Albanian state that declared independence from Serbia in 2008 after a violent struggle in the late 1990s, preceded by the collapse of Yugoslavia that ended after a NATO intervention. Serbia has not recognized its independence.
Tensions between Kosovo and Serbia simmered again this past January when, according to the New York Times, a train headed from Belgrade to Kosovo with the slogan “Kosovo is Serbian” embedded on it was halted at the border.
Escalation of the crisis was prompted after a Russian donation of arms to Serbian Armed Forces. Russia has historically considered Serbia to be a part of its sphere of influence, given that they are both Slavic orthodox states. In a response to the Russian donation of arms, Kosovo’s parliament is now considering transforming its security services into a militarized army.
If President Trump signals an American approval for a Kosovo military, and offers American material support, it will send a clear message to Russia.
The President’s past statements have raised concern over whether he would commit to responding to potential Russian aggression toward NATO members. When then President-elect Trump was interviewed by the Times of London and Bild newspapers, he said “NATO had problems” and went as far as calling the alliance “obsolete.” Comments such as those not only undermine unity within the alliance, but also embolden Vladimir Putin.
Though Kosovo is not one of the 28 members of the alliance, NATO forces stopped Serbia’s ethnic cleansing campaign of Kosovar Albanians during the Kosovo War in 1999, and have had a hand in establishing order in the state following the conclusion of the war. In other words, Kosovo exists because of NATO. Therefore, there is precedent in American protection of Kosovo’s external sovereignty.
What does President Trump have to gain if he stands up for Kosovo? First, he would show a renewed American commitment to NATO. Moreover, providing material support for the formation of a Kosovo military sends a clear message to Moscow that the Trump administration is not a pushover. It also serves as a direct response to the Russian donation of arms to the Serbian Armed Forces.
Given that the Bush and Obama administrations both failed to respond to Russia’s invasions of Georgia and Crimea respectively, a response to Russia’s aggressions via Serbia allows for America to act as a counterweight to Russian provocations. Additionally, it offers the President an opportunity to reinforce American influence in the Balkans, and counter Russian influence in the region.
Domestically, Trump’s solidarity with Kosovo will help contrast accusation that he is Putin’s puppet, and perhaps call off any Congressional investigation into the Trump administration’s ties with Russia. Brushing off inquiries into his ties with Russia allows for him to concentrate on implementing his Presidential agenda.
A Reaganesque show of strength against the Russians shall serve as a defining moment in President Trump’s administration. Conforming to American foreign policy norms signals to the American public that, while unconventional in his actions, Trump is ready to act more presidential.