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Senate Defense Bill Expands US Training Assistance to Kosovo Amid Balkan Tensions
The Senate's defense bill would allow Kosovo to engage in U.S.-led military exercises, enhancing its national security forces and promoting interoperability with NATO.
WASHINGTON — The Senate is set to debate the fiscal 2024 National Defense Authorization Act this week, which includes a provision granting Kosovo eligibility for U.S. military training. The move aims to address heightened tensions in the Balkans by enhancing Kosovo's interoperability with NATO forces.
Under the proposed legislation, Kosovo would participate in U.S.-led military exercises, allowing for increased coordination with NATO and NATO Partnership for Peace members. This development comes as Serbia, a rival of Kosovo, regularly hosts the Platinum Wolf military exercises with the U.S. and its NATO allies. Despite ongoing acrimony between the two countries, Serbia intends to host the exercises again this year.
A committee report accompanying the bill commended the Department of Defense for its efforts to support Kosovo's national security forces, emphasizing the importance of professionalization, interoperability, and the ability to respond to external and hybrid threats. Furthermore, the report highlighted the Senate Armed Services Committee's support for expanding cybersecurity cooperation with the Kosovar armed forces. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has been directed to brief Congress on the progress of these efforts by the end of the year.
The Senate Armed Services Committee overwhelmingly approved the bill with a 24-1 vote in June, reflecting broad bipartisan support for deepening U.S.-Kosovar military ties. This initiative aligns with the Biden administration's and lawmakers' shared objective of tempering the deteriorating relations between Pristina and Serbia, particularly amid increasing tensions within Kosovo's Albanian and Serb communities.
Addressing the issue, the House Foreign Affairs Committee held a hearing on July 18, where lawmakers expressed differing views on how to approach the dispute between Kosovo and Serbia. Europe subcommittee Chairman Thomas Kean, R-N.J., emphasized the need for the government of Kosovo to fulfil its commitment made a decade ago regarding the implementation of an association of Serb-majority municipalities. However, he stressed that the United States must ensure that this association safeguards the rights of Kosovo Serbs without compromising Kosovo's authority over its sovereign territory.
Tensions escalated in northern Kosovo's Serb-majority municipalities after the installation of Albanian mayors, who were elected following a Serb boycott. Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic strongly criticized the elections and endorsed the boycott. In response, the U.S. and the European Union called for fresh elections in these municipalities. Deputy Secretary of State for Eurasian Affairs Gabriel Escobar warned that the failure to hold new elections could impact Pristina's aspirations to join NATO and the EU.
During his testimony to the Foreign Affairs Committee, Escobar explained, "Our singular request was that Kosovo not try to install the mayors by force where there were protests occurring. In the meantime, we have been very tough on Serbia." He also revealed that the U.S. had received assurances from Serbia not to oppose the new elections and emphasized that there would be consequences for Serbia should they choose to defy their commitment.
As the Senate prepares to debate the defence bill, the inclusion of Kosovo in the list of countries eligible for U.S. military training marks a significant step toward bolstering Kosovo's national security capabilities and fostering cooperation with NATO. This decision aligns with broader efforts to stabilize the region and mitigate tensions between Kosovo and Serbia while ensuring the protection of the rights of all communities involved.