During 1998 and 1999, Lawrence Rossin found himself working in the disputed region of the Balkans. Having previously worked in Mali, South Africa, Barbados, and Haiti, Rossin had extensive experience in negotiations and regional complexities. Originally brought into the State Department’s Office of South Central European Affairs in the European Bureau following his work in Haiti, Rossin soon had difficulties translating his experiences. But as we see in this “moment” in U.S. diplomatic history, thanks to cigarettes, contact group diplomacy, and writing skills, Rossin quickly became a key actor in Kosovo in the late 1990s.
Bordered by Montenegro, Albania, North Macedonia, and Serbia, Kosovo has become one of the highly disputed autonomous regions in the Balkans. With ethnic groups such as Albanians, Serbs, Bosniaks, Turks, and Roma, Kosovo is also home to many religions. In 1992, the Albanians of Kosovo declared independence and sovereignty of the Republic of Kosova. Fighting broke out between the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the Kosovo Liberation Army in 1998, and ended in 1999 due to NATO intervention, which is where Rossin got involved. Kosovo later declared independence from Serbia in 2008, and is internationally recognized by over 100 countries.
Lawrence Rossin’s interview was conducted by Charles Stuart Kennedy on January 7, 2005.
Read Lawrence Rossin’s full oral history HERE.
For more information on Kosovo click HERE.
Drafted by Anais Boyajian
“I finally pulled out my cigarettes… Immediately all the Kosovars lighted up cigarettes and they all started talking because they like to smoke…”
The Smoking Gun: After arriving in Kosovo, Rossin met with Bujar Bukoshi, Prime Minister of the Kosovo government. Bukoshi promised to bring a KLA [Kosovo Liberation Army] soldier to meet with Rossin. Excited to learn and understand more, Rossin prepared questions to learn what it was like on the ground in Kosovo as a soldier. But to his surprise, the man was silent. Exhausted, Rossin pulled out his pack of cigarettes and began to smoke. The rest of the Kosovars did so too, and the soldier started to open up about his experiences, now comfortable with the atmosphere and Rossin. Rossin discovered that the man brought by Bukoshi was retired from JNA [Yugoslav National Army], not KLA, and was ethnically Albanian. In 1998, this soldier served in Bukoshi’s forces, FARK [Armed Forces of the Republic of Kosovo]. FARK and the KLA joined forces to fight the Serbs, but the soldier’s brother was killed. He was later assassinated in Albania. Through smoking cigarettes, Rossin helped to uncover just how complex the situation in Kosovo was and how little the United States and other actors truly understood the KLA, FARK, and the JNA. He further reflected on understanding this smoking gun, recalling, “that just shows how low the knowledge and understanding was of the KLA at that point.” Another smoking gun during Rossin’s time in Kosovo was the opening of the Kosovo diplomatic observer mission. In this mission, Americans observed and analyzed the conflict, allowing for a “much bigger understanding” of the complexities in Kosovo.
“But it had the virtue of keeping everybody in the mainstream, just by the fact of constantly meeting, of keeping the nose to the grindstone on a diplomatic process to the Balkans.”
Contact Group Diplomacy: One of the methods used in the Balkans was contact group diplomacy. This is a multilateral form of diplomacy, and the group employed in Kosovo included the United States, Russia, France, Germany, and Italy. The group originally focused on Bosnia, and then later transferred to Kosovo. Though Rossin often found himself frustrated: too many opinions, too many distractions, too many joint communiqués, contact diplomacy seemed to work well in this situation. It kept every party up to date on the latest information, and it allowed for the solution-finding to be an ongoing process. This notion of an ongoing process became clear and crucial to Rossin: it has the ability to mold and adapt to incoming situations and new information. Rossin also enjoyed contact diplomacy for other reasons: it is a structured type of diplomacy and communication, it is democratic, and allowed for states to exercise their opinions and advice. However, this last point may have brought some controversy and difficulty to the process; Rossin notes that “the Russians were definitely the farthest away from the center of gravity, but, we were on one side, the Brits were even more so, the French might be apologists for the Serbs, the Germans—the Italians would just be talking about what was going to be the meal at the next meeting, that kind of thing…” Despite these obstacles during the meetings, contact diplomacy was able to achieve some things in Kosovo.
“So, we could make up whatever we wanted as long as we, essentially the United States, were willing to pay for it and create it, which we were basically willing to do. So, I could write whatever I wanted on Dick Miles’ [desk] and I did.”
NATO and the OSCE in Kosovo: Rossin participated in meetings with [former United States Ambassador to Germany] Richard Holbrooke, [President of Serbia] Slobodan Milošević, and other Serbian officials. While Holbrooke and Milošević were negotiating with one another, Rossin would be left with the Serbian officials to assist with planning. The talks between Holbrooke and Milošević had two major outcomes: NATO and OSCE intervention in Kosovo. Milošević originally only agreed to having the OSCE [Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe] in the Balkans, seeing as it was not as well-developed as NATO. But, Milošević agreed to allow NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organization] to implement an Air Verification Mission in Kosovo, which called for a no-fly zone in Kosovo by Serbian aircrafts, at the last possible moment. One day, Holbrooke went to visit with [President of Kosovo] Ibrahim Rugova to discuss the statements of [United States Ambassador to Serbia] Chris Hill, while Rossin stayed behind to draft what would become the OSCE Verification Agreement. Using Chief of Mission Dick Miles’ office and computer, Rossin wrote up the agreement between the OSCE and the Yugoslav government. Since the OSCE “didn’t have any capabilities, all capabilities would have to be created.”; essentially, Rossin decided what the OSCE position and implementation in Kosovo would look like. Though the practice was not implemented by Rossin, he still played a key role in its outlining and planning.
TABLE OF CONTENTS HIGHLIGHTS
B.A. in Economics, University of Virginia, 1970–71
B.A. in Economics, Claremont McKenna Men’s College, 1972-75
NATO Defense College, 1988-1989
Joined the Foreign Service 1975
Port-au-Prince, Haiti—Head of Political Section 1985–1988
The Hague, Netherlands—Political Counselor 1989–1992
Washington, D.C.—National Security Council 1993–1994
Washington, D.C.—Office of South Central European Affairs in the European Bureau 1998–1999
Pristina, Kosovo—Chief of Mission 1999–2000