The KFOR formula: Nato's decision to reduce KFOR in Kosovo raises many questions about the Process--and concerns that some countries may withdraw too quickly.
Ahead of the decision on June 11 by Nato defence ministers to cut down KFOR to a "deterrent presence", which reportedly will mean a reduction from a current 13 800 to about 10 000 by January 2010, outgoing Nato Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer publicly questioned whether the timing was right to do so.
After the decision, it was up to Scheffer to defend it, and at a news conference, for Nato spokesperson James Appathurai to explain it.
The background: KFOR first deployed in Kosovo on June 12 1999, acting on a United Nations Security Council resolution.
Initially, there were 50 000 military personnel from Nato and "partner countries". By 2002, this figure was down to about 39 000.
According to Nato's website, the "improved security environment" enabled Nato to reduce KFOR troop levels to 26 000 by June 2003 and to 17 500 by the end of that year.
However, when violence erupted between ethnic Albanians and Serbs in March 2004, an additional 2500 military personnel were sent in.
After the conflict was brought to an end, and through the process of UN-led negotiations that led--against the objections of Serbia and its main backer Russia--to the February 2008 unilateral declaration of independence by Kosovo, the numbers steadily came down to the current 13 800.
There have been a number of developments that have affected KFOR, notably the external dynamic of pressure to redeploy military resources to Afghanistan.
The June 11 decision to reduce KFOR was made, according to Nato's official statement, "taking into account the steady improvement of the security situation in Kosovo".
"Ministers recognised a positive evolution over a sustained period of time," Nato said, and KFOR would be subject to a transition, in what the alliance called a gradual and phased manner, to a "deterrent presence".
Leaping into a heady mix of management-speak, military jargon and a neologism, Nato said "while downsizing troops on the ground, KFOR will continue relying on quick, capable over the horizon reserves" and there would be no "automaticity" in the process.
Meaning, presumably, that forces would be sent back quickly if needed.
It might not be that simple. Spain caused uproar early in 2009 by announcing it was pulling out its more than 500 personnel, and had to back down, saying that a withdrawal would take place in a "measured and phased way" but the incident may well have been in the mind of US defence secretary Robert Gates when he said on June 15 that he was worried that many contributing KFOR countries could withdraw their troops too quickly,
The current numbers are made up of soldiers from 25 Nato countries and eight partner countries. The top five are from Nato countries: Germany (2350), Italy (1935), the US (1483), France (1368) and Turkey (540), according to the alliance's official figures updated on June 3.
The process is also being watched with concern by Serbia, which as part of its rejection of Kosovo's self-declared independence, recognises only the UN mission UNMIK and KFOR as legitimate entities in Kosovo.
At a June 9 news conference, Appathurai was pressed for details on the reduction plan.
"The mechanics of how this will be worked out, including what each individual nation would do, would be if and when a decision were to be taken, decided or would be as the result of a process led by SACEUR (Supreme Allied Commander Europe), so that has not been decided now," Appathurai said.
Declining to specify a target figure after the reduction, he said: "As to who exactly will reduce what and at what pace, that will be done as the result of a process which SACEUR would lead, and on the principle of in-together, out-together".
The process would be "measured, co-ordinated", he said, reflecting the security situation on the ground, the growing capability of the institutions in Kosovo, "but also very much the growing capability of the international institutions in Kosovo".
KFOR took its mission to maintain a safe and secure environment very seriously, and nothing would be done to undermine this, Appathurai said.
Asked to explain what the term "deterrent presence" meant, he said it was "the phase in the evolution of KFOR that had always been as part of the overall operational plan, so this is not a term that has been invented, it is the normal evolution of a military operation in the NATO context, and does not involve--and this is an important point--does not involve or envision a total withdrawal of KFOR".