Kosovo, one of the world’s newest states, is now officially open for business and it’s their former “liberators” who are vying for control of some of the country’s most lucrative enterprises.
Earlier this week, the NY Times reported that the state’s telecommunication company was up for sale and Prime Minister Hashim Thaci was in a bind to choose between the bids of two former diplomats: former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former Envoy to the Balkans, James Pardew. Both are viewed by many in the country as heroes for their roles in the 1999 intervention that separated Kosovo from Serbia.
However, Albright and Pardew are only two of the many former American officials returning to Kosovo for business, causing some to question the ethics of such actions. While there is no law preventing former U.S. officials from doing business where they once served in a governmental capacity, the closeness of state-builders to the state they built often heightens the potential for shady business deals. Even Steven P. Schook, former chief of staff of NATO’s force in Kosovo, (and current private consultant for former Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj) expressed his doubts saying, “…it seems a bit tawdry. One minute you’re liberating a place, and the next minute you’re trying to get an energy tender.”
The New York Times reports that the practice of former officials’ returning for business is more common than acknowledged publicly. Privately, former officials concede the possibility of conflicts of interest and even the potential to influence American foreign policy as diplomats who traditionally made careers in public service now rotate more frequently to lucrative jobs in the private sector.
While the morality of such actions remains unclear, the underlying question remains: is this overlap simply a prudent business venture or, as professor Lawrence Lessig speculates, does the appearance of “cashing in” undermine humanitarian and diplomatic work?