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IB DP History Study Notes

5.2.5 International Community's Role in the Kosovo Conflict

The unfolding crisis in Kosovo in the late 1990s and early 2000s garnered significant international attention. The involvement of major international entities was multifaceted, encompassing diplomatic interventions, military campaigns, and post-conflict stabilisation efforts.

International Diplomatic Efforts

Before the Conflict

  • Rambouillet Accords (February 1999):
    • Background: With tensions escalating, international stakeholders convened at Rambouillet, France, aiming to broker a peace deal between the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the Kosovo Liberation Army.
    • Outcomes: Proposals included substantial autonomy for Kosovo under Yugoslav sovereignty and the presence of a NATO peacekeeping force. While the Kosovar Albanians largely accepted the terms, the Serb delegation rejected key points, particularly NATO's involvement.
  • Diplomatic Interventions:
    • Key Figures: Individuals like U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke were at the forefront of these diplomatic efforts, attempting to initiate dialogue between conflicting parties.
    • Results: While discussions occurred, lasting peace remained elusive, with both sides sticking to their entrenched positions.

During the Conflict

  • Contact Group:
    • Composition: This diplomatic consortium brought together the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, and the USA.
    • Objectives and Outcomes: Their aim was to mediate the conflict, although success was limited. Differing geopolitical agendas, especially the West’s and Russia's contrasting views on intervention, hindered cohesive action.
  • Russian Mediation:
    • Reason for Involvement: Owing to historical and political ties with Serbia, Russia played a prominent role in attempting to mediate and find a non-military solution.
    • Notable Figures: Boris Yeltsin and envoy Viktor Chernomyrdin were central to these efforts, pushing for dialogue and cessation of hostilities.

UN's Involvement

  • Security Council Resolutions:
    • Resolution 1199 (1998): This was a pivotal resolution that expressed deep concern over escalating violence, an impending humanitarian catastrophe, and large-scale displacement in Kosovo.
    • Response: The resolution urged all parties to cease hostilities and maintain a ceasefire. However, actionable enforcement, particularly regarding military intervention, was stymied due to geopolitical divisions within the Security Council.
  • Observer Missions:
    • Purpose: In light of escalating tensions, the UN sought to monitor the ground situation through various missions.
    • Activities: Observers reported on the humanitarian situation, instances of violence, and potential human rights violations, aiming to provide real-time information to the international community.
  • Limitations and Veto:
    • The inherent structure of the UN Security Council, particularly the veto power held by permanent members like Russia, meant that collective military action without unanimous agreement was impossible. Russia's alliance with Serbia further complicated matters.

NATO's Bombing Campaign

  • Initiation and Justification:
    • With diplomatic routes yielding little success and reports of mass atrocities emerging, NATO, led by its member states, decided to initiate a bombing campaign against Yugoslav targets in March 1999.
    • The campaign was executed without a UN mandate, a contentious point that drew both support and criticism. The humanitarian rationale – to prevent widescale human rights abuses and potential ethnic cleansing – was central to NATO's justification.
  • Operation Allied Force:
    • Duration and Targets: Spanning 78 days, the operation targeted Yugoslav military infrastructure, communication systems, and command centres.
    • Strategy: The aim was to degrade Yugoslav military capabilities and deter further violence against the Kosovar Albanians.
  • Controversies and Criticisms:
    • Civilian Casualties: The campaign was not without civilian casualties. Incidents where civilian targets were hit inadvertently drew sharp criticism.
    • Chinese Embassy Bombing (1999): The mistaken bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade led to a diplomatic fallout, underscoring the risks of such operations.
    • Legal and Moral Debates: The absence of a UN mandate ignited debates about the legality and morality of the intervention.

Establishment and Mandate of the Kosovo Force (KFOR)

  • Creation and Purpose:
    • Post the Kumanovo Agreement in June 1999, which marked the cessation of hostilities, KFOR was set up. Its primary mandate was to establish a secure environment in post-conflict Kosovo.
  • Composition:
    • Initially dominated by NATO troops, KFOR soon saw participation from non-NATO countries, reflecting broad international commitment.
  • Key Responsibilities:
    • Disarmament: One of KFOR's first tasks was to disarm the Kosovo Liberation Army and other factions to ensure stability.
    • Protection of Minorities: KFOR troops were instrumental in ensuring the safety of Serbs and other minorities in Kosovo post-conflict.
    • Supporting Reconstruction: Beyond security, KFOR facilitated reconstruction efforts, helping restore essential services and infrastructure.
  • Challenges:
    • Despite its mandate and efforts, KFOR often found itself in challenging situations. Sporadic episodes of violence, enduring ethnic tensions, and the vast responsibility of rebuilding a war-ravaged region made its role complex.

This chapter elucidates the pivotal role of international actors in navigating the multifaceted challenges of the Kosovo conflict. The interplay between diplomacy, military intervention, and post-conflict peacekeeping reveals the complexities of international interventions in regional conflicts.


The UN's perspective on the NATO bombing campaign was complex, shaped by the diverse views of its member states. While the UN Security Council had passed resolutions expressing concern about the deteriorating situation in Kosovo, it did not authorise military intervention, largely due to the anticipated veto by Russia. Many countries felt that unilateral action by NATO without a UN mandate undermined the international legal order and the primacy of the Security Council. However, others, especially NATO member states, argued that the humanitarian crisis justified the intervention, even without explicit UN authorisation.

Russia's historical and political ties with Serbia significantly influenced the international response to the Kosovo crisis. Russia was often viewed as a protective ally of Serbia, voicing concerns about Western interventions and pushing for diplomatic solutions. In the UN Security Council, where Russia holds veto power, this alliance became particularly influential. Russia's reluctance to sanction military action against its ally meant that the Security Council couldn't unanimously authorise a forceful intervention in Kosovo. Moreover, Russian envoys, such as Viktor Chernomyrdin, actively mediated between the West and Belgrade, highlighting Russia's central role in the unfolding diplomatic landscape.

While both KFOR and the UN's observer missions were designed to monitor and alleviate the situation in Kosovo, their roles, scope, and impact differed. KFOR, established post-conflict, had a primary mandate to ensure security and stability in the region. This included disarmament tasks, protection of minorities, and facilitating reconstruction efforts. On the other hand, the UN's observer missions during the escalating tensions primarily aimed to provide real-time information on ground situations, including potential human rights violations. Their role was more observational, while KFOR had an actionable mandate, backed by the military might of its contributing nations, to enforce peace and order.

The NATO bombing campaign, while executed with a humanitarian rationale, was mired in several controversies. First, the operation's legitimacy was contested due to the absence of a UN mandate. Secondly, the campaign inevitably resulted in civilian casualties, with incidents of inadvertent bombings on civilian targets drawing sharp criticism. The Chinese Embassy bombing in Belgrade in 1999 was a particular diplomatic flashpoint, leading to significant tensions between China and NATO countries. Lastly, the moral dimensions of such a campaign, including debates on the appropriateness of military intervention in what many saw as an internal Yugoslav issue, fuelled further contention.

The Rambouillet Accords was a critical turning point, marking the culmination of international diplomatic efforts to stave off a full-blown conflict in Kosovo. It aimed to broker a peace deal between the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the Kosovo Liberation Army, proposing substantial autonomy for Kosovo within Yugoslav sovereignty. Additionally, it suggested the deployment of a NATO peacekeeping force. However, while the Kosovar Albanians accepted the terms, the Serb delegation rejected crucial points. The primary sticking point was the potential presence of NATO forces. This rejection indicated the deep-seated mistrust and the complex geopolitical undertones that pervaded the negotiations, rendering them ineffective in preventing further hostilities.

Practice Questions

To what extent did international diplomatic efforts impact the progression of the Kosovo conflict from its inception to the NATO bombing campaign in 1999?

The international diplomatic efforts significantly impacted the progression of the Kosovo conflict, primarily by attempting to establish dialogue and negotiate peace. The Rambouillet Accords of February 1999 exemplify these attempts. However, the inability to secure unanimous agreement, especially regarding NATO's involvement, revealed the limitations of such diplomacy. Moreover, the Contact Group's mediation was hindered by geopolitical divisions. While efforts like those by U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke were commendable, they were insufficient to prevent the escalation. This culmination of failed diplomatic efforts paved the way for the NATO bombing campaign, perceived as a last-resort measure to address the deteriorating situation.

Evaluate the role and effectiveness of KFOR in ensuring post-conflict stability in Kosovo.

The Kosovo Force (KFOR) played an instrumental role in ensuring post-conflict stability in Kosovo. Established following the Kumanovo Agreement, KFOR was tasked with creating a secure environment. Its initial responsibilities, like the disarmament of the Kosovo Liberation Army, were pivotal in curtailing further violence. Additionally, the protection of vulnerable ethnic communities demonstrated KFOR's commitment to human rights. The force also supported reconstruction, aiding in the recovery of the war-torn region. However, challenges such as sporadic violence and enduring ethnic tensions sometimes limited its effectiveness. In sum, while KFOR faced obstacles, its presence was vital in stabilising post-conflict Kosovo.

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Written by: Maddie
Oxford University - BA History

Maddie, an Oxford history graduate, is experienced in creating dynamic educational resources, blending her historical knowledge with her tutoring experience to inspire and educate students.

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