German Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg has announced that Germany will not unilaterally withdraw from NATO's peacekeeping mission in Kosovo.
Guttenberg says NATO, not individual member states, should decide on Kosovo
During his two-day visit to Kosovo, German Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg made it clear that Germany would not pull its troops out of the NATO-led KFOR mission unilaterally.
"Such a decision (to leave KFOR) should not be taken overnight," Guttenberg told reporters. "We follow the principle: we entered together and we will leave together."
Guttenberg's comments were an indirect response to France, which recently announced it would pull its troops out of Kosovo's northern region by the end of this year. Spain also announced last year it was planning to withdraw its troops.
"We think the reduction of KFOR should not be done separately one by one," said Guttenberg. "This decision will be taken within NATO."
Germany currently has the largest troop contingent in Kosovo, with about 1,500 soldiers.
With much of the attention on Germany's military focused on the NATO mission in Afghanistan, the KFOR mission has taken something of a backseat. However, Guttenberg told German soldiers in Pristina that it would be wrong for people to think of Kosovo as a forgotten mission.
Germany's military has been focused in Afghanistan
Franz-Lothar Altmann, an associate professor and Balkans expert at Bucharest University, told Deutsche Welle that there is a potential risk of violence in the northern region of Kosovo, and that a French troop withdrawal would prove problematic.
"If France pulls out its troops, then there would really be a problem because other countries would have to fill in," said Altmann. "So I think a coordinated retreat is really necessary in order to not have problems in this very dangerous part of Kosovo because the troops are gone."
Since Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, Germany has been a strong supporter of its development, and although Kosovo's status remains a controversial subject with Serbia and Russia, Altmann said it has not been a substantial problem for Germany's ties in the region.
Training Kosovo's security forces is a top priority
German troops are largely involved in the training and restructuring of Kosovo's security forces. Altmann told Deutsche Welle that having security on the ground in Kosovo is essential for the state's economic development.
"You cannot force, for example, entrepreneurs from Germany to invest if they do not see a real chance of good business or profit," said Altmann. "It is only imaginable if there is security on the ground, only then will investors slowly come."
Kosovo's prime minister, Hashim Thaçi, has assured Guttenberg that the country's security forces would be democratically organized, and that would include members of various ethnic backgrounds.
Author: Matthew Kang
Editor: Susan Houlton