Monday, March 23, 2009

State Department unhappy about Spain withdrawing from Kosovo

Spain's announcement on Thursday that it was withdrawing its remaining troops from the NATO contingent known as KFOR later this year drew public criticism not only from NATO's Secretary-General but also from the US State Department: U.S. surprised by Spain troop decision on Kosovo Reuters 03/20/09; EEUU dice estar 'muy decepcionado' por la decisión de España de irse de Kosovo El Mundo 20.03.2009; Primer encontronazo con Obama de A. Caño y M. González El País 21.03.2009

Caño and González note that the State Department used "términos inusualmente duros en el lenguaje entre aliados" (terminology unusually harsh in the language among allies). Here was what State Department spokesman Robert Wood said about the matter in his press briefing of 03/20/09:

QUESTION: Any comment or reaction to Spain’s indication it’s going to pull its troops out of the Kosovo peacekeeping force?

MR. WOOD: Yeah, Lach. We are deeply disappointed by this decision taken by Spain. If you recall, in 1999, NATO allies agreed on the principle of “in together, out together.” And so we were surprised by this decision. And we learned of this decision just before it was announced publicly. And so again, deeply disappointed in this decision.

QUESTION: Do you share their view that the mission is essentially over – the Spanish view?

MR. WOOD: Not at all. Not at all.

QUESTION: Have they conveyed their reasoning for doing that?

MR. WOOD: I’d have to refer you to the Government of Spain for the reasoning behind this decision. But again, as I said, it’s deeply disappointing, and no more I can say about it.

Yes, Lach.

QUESTION: How reliable an ally are they if they’ve pulled out of Kosovo and, of course, they’ve pulled out of Iraq after an election, if I remember?

MR. WOOD: Well, Spain is a partner of ours. But this particular decision, as I said, it doesn’t help what we’ve been trying to do in Kosovo. And we regret it. It’s obviously a decision that the Spanish Government made, but nonetheless, we are deeply disappointed in it.

The EU Foreign Affairs Chief Javier Solana, himself a former Foreign Minister of Spain, also criticized the decision publicly, saying a collective decision among the allies involved would have been preferable. (Solana's full title is High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy of the European Union; he also serves as the Secretary-General of the Council of the European Union.)

Spain's responses have been varied. The Spanish President (prime minister) José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero essentially said that Spain made an individual national decision to join the NATO force and is making an independent national decision to leave. Vice President María Teresa Fernández de la Vega said that the other allies had known for months that Spain was considering leaving.

It's hard to say how significant this is, or even what's going on with the public dispute, which doesn't seem to make much sense of face of it. I take the dispute as it's being publicly stated to mean that Spain decided to pull its troops this year, and the other NATO allies didn't want them to. In other words, a "collective" decision would have meant that Spain wouldn't be pulling out all its troops. And there seems to have been an agreement involved to leave them there a couple of months longer than Spain initially intended to when they made the decision.

Is more than that involved? It's entirely feasible to me that the Spanish government just decided that after 10 years, the NATO commitment was beginning to look like a permanent arrangement and they weren't interested in being part of it. There's also the fact that diplomatically, Spain is not in agreement with most of its EU partners and the US on recognition of Kosovo's independence. It would be kind of awkward on the face of it to have troops in a Kosovo defending a country and government that Spain doesn't recognize as a separate country and doesn't acknowledge the government as being the government of a sovereign nation.

I do wonder if part of this is a diplomatic signal to the US and other NATO countries that Spain - and other European countries - are willing to go along with the United States in an open-ended escalation of military operations in Afghanistan. The relative harshness of the official US reaction may be a way of putting pressure on Spain to maintain or increase its commitments to the Afghanistan War.

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