Carl Bildt, a good Balkan Swede
The Economist 99-06-12
SO WHO will be the West's proconsul for Kosovo, presuming that such a job is on offer? Carl Bildt, a former international high representative to Bosnia, tapped last month to be the UN's special envoy to the Balkans, is a front-runner, though he fiercely denies wanting the post. Would the Americans, whom he has occasionally annoyed, let him have it? Would his fellow Europeans want him to do it? Would he be better suited to an even smarter-sounding job as the West's co-ordinator of a grand strategy for boosting the entire Balkans? And would he be up to taking on any such task?
Mr Bildt's credentials are impressive. For a start, he is a most unusualindeed, a most unSwedishsort of Swede who, at 49, has outgrown Sweden. This week he was nowhere to be seen in Stockholm, though he was supposed to be leading his country's main opposition party, the Moderates (who are on the free-market right), into elections to Europe's parliament. Instead, he was in Geneva, trying to get international do-gooding agencies, led by the UN, into planning a rescue package for Kosovo, before flying to New York to take matters further.
Back home, he has led the Moderates for 14 years, brieflyas prime minister from 1991 to 1994loosening the Social Democrats' corporatist grip, before tacitly conceding that most of his compatriots are still loth to lose their high-tax, welfare-cosseted, unadversarial way of life. And Mr Bildt is ahead of the Swedish game (too much so, electorally) in other respects. Most Swedes (and their parties in parliament) are against joining NATO; cherish Sweden's long-standing neutrality; are muddled or ambivalent about the European Union; and deeply wary of joining Europe's single currency.
Mr Bildt, a passionate European who wants to see Sweden inside NATO, disagrees on all countsand in doing so he flouts Sweden's unspoken code of dignified consensus by speaking his mind candidly, often with a waspish wit. He tends to treat people he considers fools (of whom there are quite a few) ungladly, and chastises fellow Swedes for what he sees as their limp-wristedness. He derides the Social Democrats' old boast that Sweden is (or at least was) a moral superpower, pooh-poohs the idea of a Nordic block, and cheekily queries whether, these days, Sweden has any foreign policy at all.
Since returning from Bosnia in 1997, and losing a general election (not too badly) in 1998, his heart has not really been in domestic affairs. Foreign fields are what beckon. Recently he married, as his third wife, a clever and beautiful Italian he met in Bosnia.
That was where his appetite for international trouble-shooting was whetted. His two-year term as high rep was, he says, hellbut I don't regret a second of it. After co-chairing the peace talks in Dayton, he oversaw the West's stuttering efforts to re-create a civil and political order. He did well just to keep the show on the road, but was hampered by hideously unclear lines of command, by American-European rivalries, and by the reluctance of the three antagonistic communities to seek a genuine accommodation. Refashioning Kosovo, he says, will be militarily easier, though the degradation, after the fighting, ethnic cleansing and bombing, is much greater. And whereas in Bosnia the high representative was technically answerable to no one in particular, in Kosovo, he hopes, there will be a plainer de facto UN protectorate, protected by NATO.
The lines of command, despite the anomaly of Russian troops being somehow under but not answerable to NATO, shouldmustbe clearer.
One reason why Mr Bildt might not get the Kosovo jobsupposing that he did want itis that quite a few Americans, including probably Madeleine Albright, the secretary of state, are queasy about him. He has an incorrigibly independent mind. What's more, he was outspokenly hostile to NATO's bombing, particularly when combined, at the start, with President Bill Clinton's intimation, which Mr Bildt openly deplored, that NATO would not fight its way in on the ground. He even wrote an article attacking NATO as baby bombers, and rightly predicted that the bombing would produce 1m refugees within two weeks, though he is unclear what the alternative should have been. He has a good line to the Russians, but also keeps closely in touch with Richard Holbrooke, the Americans' star Balkan fixer and ambassador-designate to the United Nations.
What Mr Bildt argues most strongly (and has for several years) is that the West must hurl itself far more heartily into reconstructionnot just in Kosovo or Bosnia, but across the entire Balkans. What is needed, he has often said, is not an exit strategy from Bosnia but an entry strategy for the Balkans as a whole. He wants a truly common foreign and security policy of the European Union, a new and more radical integration across the continent as a whole [including the Balkans], and a strengthened and rebalanced relationship between the EU and the United States.
In tune with his zest for European unity, he bemoans the consequences of trying to build latter-day Balkan nation-states out of the ethnic mosaic that makes up that bloody mess called the Balkansbecause ethnic cleansing, for which he castigates Croats as much as Serbs, is the invariable means of that construction. The Balkanisation of the Balkans has already gone too far, he says. Changing borders, let alone endorsing partition, is a very long way down the list of options.
The Balkans should, he recently wrote, be treated as one big region: The EU should provide the Balkan states with a clear blueprint for reforms that would pave the way for close integration, if not full membership of the EU.
This would entail a transfer of sovereignty to EU institutions in matters of economics and structural issues. Current Balkan barriers and borders, he says, must eventually come down.
Visionary, idealistic stuff, of course; Mr Bildt is indeed an idealist. But he is also tough, pragmatic and brave. He understands power very well, says an ex-adviser. Whether he is asked to handle Kosovo or the whole region, he could be the man for the job.
Mer om Carl Bildt