rob"o*rant, n. A roborant drug; a restorative or tonic.

UN Success Stories - the world's shortest book

While so many in the Blogosphere are observing the UN's organizational skills in the tsunami crisis, it's interesting to return to the UN's efforts in the Balkans, which aren't getting that much press. The UN is supposed to be overseeing peacekeeping operations (assisted by a variety of others, including NATO), but it's not going so well. Last March, "mobs of over 50,000 Albanians rampaged through the occupied province, destroying dozens of churches and thousands of homes and forcing thousands of Serbs to flee for their lives while the immobilized UN and NATO occupiers looked on in horror". KFOR could evidently do little to stop them. The western press dismissed the violence as "ethnic clashes".

The UN didn't stand still in the face of this violence. They immediately made a plan and released a report:

On 31 March, the United Nations Mission in Kosovo, UNMIK, released a 120-page document setting out an ambitious plan for fulfilling eight key "standards" it wants to see in place before planned talks take place on Kosovo's final status by mid-2005.

They concern institution-building, rule of law, freedom of movement, refugee returns, economic growth, property rights, dialogue between Pristina and Belgrade and ensuring professionalism in the Kosovo Protection Corps, KPC.

Ordinary people, however, fear that this is just another UN sham, that the "standards" may be impossible to meet and will only delay decisions on their final status as a country.

A look at the KFOR home page tells you a lot. There is a chatty little message from French General Yves De Kermabon in charge of the operation, press releases, press events and inane stories about Santa parachuting in to hand out presents. Nothing gets my blood pumping like a picture of 2,000 French paratroopers landing on Kosovo amid a bunch of eagerly waiting reporters. They even have a little webzine, The KFOR Chronicle. From the website, you also get this:

At its full strength KFOR will comprise some 50,000 personnel. It is a multinational force under unified command and control with substantial NATO participation. Agreement has been reached on the arrangements for participation by the Russian Federation. More than twelve other non-NATO nations have also indicated their intention to contribute to KFOR.

So, assuming they have reached "full strength" after more than four years, a UN force of 50,000 couldn't manage to keep the peace when a mob of similar size formed. They can't seem to make the ethnic groups play nice or actually carry out any reforms, either. Unlike Iraq, they're not dealing with heavily armed, well funded terrorists bent on preventing elections. No, they just have ethnic groups that don't get along. You have to wonder, too, how effective such a force can be. How much unity can you have when your soldiers can't even speak each other's language? Can you imagine these guys in a real shooting war?

Unfortunately, the election the paratroopers came to secure in October was unsuccessful at representing ethnic Serbs, only 1% of them voted (imagine the international scorn that will be forthcoming if only 1% of Sunnis vote in the upcoming Iraqi elections).

As recently as November, the head of the UN mission in Kosovo was threatening to get serious with Albanian government officials reluctant to behave:

...use disciplinary measures to ensure compliance by local officials with UN guidelines on security, minority rights, and rule of law. Soren Jessen-Petersen told the UN Security Council on 29 November that ethnic Albanian authorities have made uneven progress in the past three months, but says they can still demonstrate a commitment to reforms in time for the planned mid-2005 review by the council.

Wow, such forceful language. He may have to use "disciplinary measures" to make them "demonstrate a commitment to reforms" because they have in the past "made uneven progress". You can see that this is just going to work perfectly. The Albanians clearly know that the UN is completely without teeth.

On the humanitarian front, the news is even worse. Amnesty International has charged that UN peacekeepers "fuel sex trade" in the area, with women as young as 11 sold into sexual slavery. Of course, KFOR and UN personnel are immune from prosecution in Kosovo, so all that has happened is that a few troops have been sent home (not even "disciplinary measures" are mentioned).

Yes, the four and half years of the UN mission in Kosovo have been glorious. Everything seems to be pretty much the way it was when you got there. It looks to me that, after a couple of more years of doing studies and writing papers, the UN will leave and everything will be back to normal in the good old Balkans. By 2010, US planes will probably be back overhead.

Update: And, two and half years later, in mid-2007, things aren't going any better. Eight years into it (twice as long as we've presently occupied Iraq) and the two groups aren't talking, much less forming a government.

PS. Yes, I'm perfectly aware that the US has some "presence" in KFOR. It's a small presence, however, and one that isn't running the show. Blaming the US here would be like blaming Korea for the situation in Iraq because they have a "presence" there. The UN has set up and run this show since the beginning.

Update: And now it's the end of 2007 and things are no better than before:

But in a sign that many voters see little difference in their ability to improve daily life beyond a declaration of statehood, less than half the electorate of some 1.5 million turned out to vote, the lowest showing since the 1998-99 war.

"This is not about independence. Turnout was low because people are depressed. This is about the economic situation -- no water, no electricity, no jobs," said analyst Berat Buzhala of the daily Express.

U.N. administrator Joachim Ruecker and election commission chief Mazllum Baraliu said turnout was likely to be "between 40 and 45 percent".

Update: And now it's 2008 and we have rioting as Kosovo's Albanians try to split themselves off:

EU foreign ministers today struggled for unity over Kosovo's independence from Serbia despite David Miliband pleading for their support. Spain became the first member country to refuse to recognise the fledgling state - joining Russia and China in claiming the breakaway is an illegal act. The move instantly destroyed hopes of a united front which Mr Miliband said would stave off a new Balkan war. Furious Serbs have been protesting since Albanian majority Kosovo yesterday announced it was splitting from its powerful former master.

It's interesting that Kosovo seems to have its act together more than the European Union, which is all over the map on the issue. In a nutshell, the place is still a huge mess and the UN peacekeeping force has been useless.

Update: And now it's 2010 and things still aren't settled in the Balkans. The UN is drawing down troop levels, but security remains poor. From the link: "Ivanovic has assessed that the Kosmet Police Service is not capable of taking over the responsibility for the security of Serb enclaves and monasteries." Satisfied that they've done enough in the Balkans, the UN is now spreading the love elsewhere: apparently, they've brought cholera to Hati. You go, United Nations!

Update: And now it's 2011 and things are still rocky in Kosovo, but the UN has moved on to new pastures. It looks like the Nepalese peacekeepers in Haiti gave the Haitians cholera, through poor sanitary conditions and the fact that they came to Haiti with cholera to start with (although even now, the UN will only admit that the cholera strains were "similar" and officially, there is no blame assigned to anyone). Another win for the UN!