The candidacy of Serbia’s foreign minister, Vuk Jeremić, for the presidency of the United Nations General Assembly shows that its foreign policy is not based upon a long-term strategy, but is instead contingent upon daily politics and a lack of vision about how to strengthen its international position.
By Stefan Dragojević
On January 24th, Vuk Jeremić, Serbia’s foreign minister, acknowledged that his country had nominated him as a candidate for president of the sixty-seventh session of the United Nations General Assembly. To understand the motivations for such a move and its future implications, it is necessary to simultaneously consider both Serbia’s internal and foreign affairs.
The upcoming elections had a strong bearing on such a decision, especially given Vuk Jeremić standing as one of the most popular officials of the Democratic Party (DS), particularly amongst “patriotically-oriented” voters. However, though relatively popular with the public, Jeremić is highly criticized by parties from both the governing coalition and opposition. The opposition, especially the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) and the Serbian Radical Party (SRS), blame Jeremić and the foreign ministry of leading a policy of deception regarding the defence of Serbian sovereignty over Kosovo; often citing the controversial EU-Serbian resolution in the UN from September 2010 and the Advisory Opinion of the Internatinoal Court of Justice (ICJ). On the other hand, the EU-enthusiasts – the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and a number of high officials of the ruling DS – blame Jeremić for failing to obtain EU candidacy status due to his apparent “strong stance” on Kosovo.
Jeremić’s political figure and his career, however, have never been shaped independently by himself, but have rather been linked to Serbia’s president, Boris Tadić, who was Jeremić’s psychology teacher in high school. It is often rumoured that the main foreign policy strategies and decisions are formulated within Tadić’s cabinet, with Jeremić being their solemn executor. The recent failures of Serbian foreign policy – with respect to both Kosovo and the EU candidacy status – are now compensated by new diplomatic “activities” that might be favourably received by potential voters, and the candidacy for the post of president of the sixty-seventh session of the United Nations General Assembly is one such activity.
In the world of foreign affairs and international relations, the Serbian bid is indeed controversial. Though a purely technical post, the presidency of the General Assembly carries a certain prestige and responsibility. In order to establish a set criteria for electing a new General Assembly president, several proposals appeared in the past few years; the most recent being issued in 2007 by the Institute for Global Policy. The potential candidate should fulfil four-set criteria – i) availability to devote full-time attention for many months, ii) political independence, iii) multilateral leadership experience and iv) a thorough understanding of the UN Charter. Taking into consideration Jeremić’s current political position, the questions to be considered are whether he would be able to fulfil the unofficial criteria, and what will be the reaction of the international community.
With general elections in Serbia slowly approaching, it would indeed be peculiar if Jeremić gets elected for the post and at the same time potentially loses his ministerial seat in Serbia; which would only create a further rift between him, a future foreign minister from the opposition and the new government. Moreover, Jeremić’s public duties in Serbia are not solely limited to foreign policy; as president of the Serbian Tennis Association, his position is even more complicated.
Jeremić, however, is not the only candidate for the post, with Lithuania having also nominated a candidate. When comparing the Lithuanian approach to that of Serbia, certain differences are very pronounced. First, Lithuania had informed the states of the Eastern European group of its intention to nominate a candidate back in 2004, and formalized this move on 27th June 2011 by nominating Dalius Čekuolis. Čekuolis, the current permanent representative of Lithuania in the UN, is an experienced diplomat who also held the position of under-secretary of foreign affairs, and served as president of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) from 2007 to 2008. Lithuania anticipated Serbia’s announcement of candidacy by eight months and, by having nominated a highly-skilled candidate, Jeremić’s chances of success are certainly diminished.
In order to be elected, a candidate must attain a majority of the vote in the General Assembly, which is not going to be an easy task for Serbia. The late candidacy means less time for lobbying and diplomacy. Indeed, a number of states have already declared their opposition; most notably, two of Serbia’s neighbours – Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina – with the Croatian foreign minister, Vesna Pusić, explaining that an agreement with Lithuania was reached last summer. Of the great powers, Russia stated its support for Serbian candidacy, whilst the EU leading powers – Germany and France – do not view the candidacy favourably.
If Serbia’s efforts to have a candidate elected for the post fail, Serbian diplomacy will suffer a huge blow which will indirectly affect its already weakened position in the UN – particularly its voice regarding the Kosovo dispute. On the other hand, should Serbia manage to attain the post – yet a change of Government occurs in the meantime – Serbia will not be able to realise the fruits of that position due to a potential conflict between Jeremić and any future government formed by the current opposition.
Serbia’s candidacy demonstrates that its foreign policy is not based on long-term strategy, but is rather contingent on daily politics and a lack of vision about how to strengthen its international position. What Serbia most certainly needs is greater involvement in the UN, including participation in UN-led peacekeeping operations. Such engagement would improve Serbia’s chances of drawing the Kosovo dispute back from the EU to the UN arena, where it can count on the support of more powerful allies, and where UN Security Council Resolution 1244 is likely to be better respected.
Stefan Dragojević was born in the United Kingdom and lived in Italy. He is currently in his final year at the Faculty of Law, University of Belgrade, and has attended conferences and seminars regarding international and legal affairs. Stefan is active in the sphere of politics and student politics. He was the overall winner of the “Monroe E. Price International Media Law Moot Court Competition” at University of Oxford in 2011 alongside his team, and was awarded the “Citizen of the Year” award by the Municipality of Vracar in 2011. Stefan is also a TransConflict Associate.