Yesterday morning, as I was getting ready for Bible Study and preparing to leave home early, I was doing some reading and one of the articles I received happened to involve the vote by the Kosovo legislature to establish a professional army to replace their police force as the main security force. The article presented this as a controversial decision, but in my own head I was thinking that this was a pretty natural and obvious decision. Of course a sovereign nation in the Balkans would want an army, because that’s what sovereign nations do. Much to my pleasure and surprise, nearly the exact words and the precise sentiment that I felt about the matter was expressed by the American ambassador to Kosovo, and I was left to feel whether it was a good thing or a bad thing to recognize the same obvious truth in the same manner as Trump’s ambassador to a small and new nation. Most of the people who live around me would likely be apoplectic about noticing such a similarity, but while I was not distressed by it, I was a bit puzzled, since I have never assumed that my particular skill set would make a good diplomat.
Militaries can serve one of two purposes, and generally speaking, if they are good at one of them they are not very good at the other. On the one hand, a military can protect the nation against foreign enemies. The United States military is a classic example of this sort of military, but there are others (Israel’s, for example, comes to mind, as does Switzerland’s military), where there is a clear focus for the military in defending the nation’s borders or defending the nation’s interests abroad while there is a fully functioning system of civil and criminal courts ran by civilians and an internal police system that may cooperate with the military but which is essentially parallel to it. In this sort of situation the military can draw upon a large body of trained reserves that counts as a sort of militia and where the military has a high degree of support within the patriotic population of the nation. A military that defends a nation against foreign enemies and that can cooperate to provide some armament and/or training against domestic enemies but which allows the civilian culture to dominate at home is an army that can win the support of its people to a pretty high degree.
There are other militaries, though, whose primary function appears to be preserving an unpopular political order from domestic opposition. This is the sort of military that one finds in most nations around the world that struggle with a lack of legitimacy in their governments, and though such nations can be found around the world, there is a stark lack of diversity in the way these nations operate. In all of these nations there is heavy censorship of the internet and/or the press, a high degree of military and “secret police” behavior in countries, and heavy prison sentences and/or worse punishment for issues like lese majeste or treason. Whether one ends up with a long sentence for writing critical blog posts about a beleaguered monarch or jokes in a letter end up to a long spell in a gulag, or where one’s political identity leads one to “disappear,” one has become a victim of a state where justice is not operating properly and where there is a heavy militarization of the society to the detriment of its well-being. Obviously, in such a country, and there are many such countries, a military may be deeply feared but it is not going to be loved.
Into which of these categories does Kosovo fall? Much here depends on the circumstances of where one finds oneself. If you are a Kosovar of Albanian descent, and you are aware that this professionalized army is designed to protect you from Serbian agression, itself a reasonable fear (given that Serbia had invaded the area only twenty years ago in an attempt to oppress Albanian majority population), the Kosovar army at least has the potential to be the first kind of military force. If you are part of Kosovo’s small Serbian minority, you are likely to consider yourself the sort of internal enemy that has much to fear from a professional military supported by the United States, and you have a legitimate fear that this army is not likely to view you very kindly, although you are not likely to appreciate even a Kosovar police force, even if it is a less powerful force. The real question as to whether or not Kosovo’s army will be the kind that can be cheered on by its population or not depends on whether Kosovo’s army is one that is focused on the defense of the nation from foreign enemies or whether the army considers political opposition to a ruling regime as internal enemies that must be kept down. In the first case, the army is likely to have a broad degree of support even if specific actions it takes might be criticized, and in the second case the army is likely to be viewed with considerable fear and negativity by a cowed populace.
It should be noted that the professionalization of the Kosovar army is not something that is going to happen overnight. Even optimistic estimates suggest that the process could take up to a decade, and the decision, if one that appears obvious to Americans as diverse as this writer and the US Ambassador to Kosovo, is not without a significant degree of disagreement within NATO, because not everyone thinks that the move to upgrade Kosovo’s capacity of self-defense with a small but powerful army is an obvious move. A great deal of that difference springs from situation, as the United States (rightly) sees an army as a natural and obvious aspect of a sovereign nation, while Europeans are prone to think negatively of an increase in militarism even among small peoples, possibly with a fear that breakaway parts of their own nation could develop small but powerful militaries if the balkanization of Europe proceeds apace, a fear that is not unreasonable. A Catalan army that was able to defend its borders against incursions from Spain would likely have a high degree of popularity within Catalonia, but that is not likely to comfort other European nations, while a Flemish army capable of defending Flanders might be viewed with alarm in Brussels and Wallonia. Still, regardless of these worries, where there is a lack of trust between a nation and its neighbors, we can expect that any people which has the power to arm itself in its own defense is going to want to do so. Swords will not be beaten into plowshares until and unless there is a common faith in the lack of aggressiveness on the part of other nations, and those conditions are not often met even in the contemporary world.