Kosovo's access to international bodies is being blocked at every turn by Serbia. If Kosovo wants to overcome the challenge, it needs to take some bold steps.

Since its declaration of independence in 2008, Kosovo made three attempts to join Interpol, the international organisation that facilitates police cooperation. 

In all three attempts, it failed to secure the two-thirds of the votes required, with the latest taking place at Interpol’s General Assembly meeting in Dubai this week.

Countries that do not recognise Kosovo as an independent state voted against its entry, as did some states that do recognise Kosovo. Critics in Kosovo are right to place the blame on Kosovo’s diplomacy and foreign policy for failing to secure the votes of at least those countries that do recognise Kosovo.

At the same time, however, it is overly-simplistic to blame only foreign policy and Kosovo’s failure to lobby states successfully.

How does Interpol work? 

First of all, it is important to understand the organisational structure of Interpol and how members interact with Kosovo.

Each member state of Interpol hosts a National Central Bureau (NCB), which is the single point of contact between a member state police authority and Interpol headquarters in Lyon, France. From there, each member state can communicate with one another.

Interpol member states benefit from one another’s NCBs because these bureaus are the focal point from which criminal activities that often take place transnationally are registered and shared, thus helping the extradition of fugitives hiding in other Interpol member states.

As it is not a member of Interpol, Kosovo does not have an NCB. However, there is a network that connects the world to Kosovo when it comes to registering and sharing information, as well as cooperating in the extradition of fugitives.

The Kosovo police unit, which acts like an NCB, connects to other nations through the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) NCB in Pristina. The UNMIK NCB then decides what to do with the information that Kosovo provides, as well as what information from member states will be shared with Kosovo. Therefore, Interpol does not have access directly to Kosovo, but rather the UN offices act as a filter a position that entrenches the status quo.

There are many cases in which Kosovo has cooperated with the world, even with nations that do not recognise its status, such as Serbia. 

Back in 2012, Kosovo decided to extradite one of its citizens, Baki Sadiki, to Slovakia, an Interpol member state which does not recognise Kosovo and was at the time in staunch opposition to Kosovo's independence. 

Kosovo also decided to open up to Serbia, accepting EULEX, the EU’s Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo, as a mediator on issues of information sharing and extradition.

These and many other examples, as well as Kosovo’s continuous attempts to join Interpol, show its desire to become a member of the world’s police organisation. 

Interpol and its members’ failure to secure the votes needed for Kosovo’s membership three times should lead to the following necessary and mutually non-exclusive steps.

Make them an offer they can't refuse

First, Kosovo should continue applying for Interpol membership whenever the general assembly meetings take place and applications are considered. 

As I have argued elsewhere, it should do so because being refused is merely part of the game and it should not be taken to heart. This would also demonstrate its willingness to be part of the solution to fighting organised crime.

Second, it should immediately and permanently cut its contact and relations with UNMIK NCB, the UN agency that acts a middleman between Interpol and Kosovo. This would ensure that if the world, i.e. Interpol members, want access to Kosovo, they only have two options. Either establish direct bilateral relations with Kosovo or take Kosovo’s application to Interpol seriously to benefit from Kosovo’s cooperation and avoid turning Kosovo into a place which keeps international fugitives detained without extradition.

Finally, given that Serbia is the main culprit in countering Kosovo’s attempts to join Interpol, Kosovo should do two things. First, they should cut relations with EULEX, which ensures cooperation in fighting criminal activity with, and extraditions to Serbia, the other is that it should further increase import tariffs from Serbia.

The income gained from the increased tariffs from Serbia’s imports should then be used to finance Kosovo’s future lobbying activities for membership to Interpol and other organisations; in other words, turn Serbia’s money into Kosovo’s lobbying budget. 

It can also use this money to invest in the Serbian-majority northern areas in Kosovo to fight organised criminal groups through investment in the formal economy and employment.

Unless they take these steps, Kosovo cannot and should not be taken seriously, and it should expect future failures.

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