Building the Police Service in a Security Vacuum: International Efforts in Kosovo, 1999-2011

In 1999, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) intervened to end a brutal war between the Kosovo Liberation Army on one side and the Yugoslav Army and Serb police on the other. After 78 days of air strikes over Kosovo and Serbia, Yugoslav forces officially disengaged from Kosovo on 20 June. The departure created a policing vacuum in a society that had deep ethnic divisions.  Kosovo’s Albanians attacked residents of Serb descent in retaliation for earlier ethnic violence.  Crime and looting spread while criminal gangs asserted control in lawless parts of the territory. Serb officers had vastly outnumbered Albanians in Kosovo’s police service and had taken their direction from Belgrade. As many Serbs fled and others refused to cooperate with Kosovan authorities, Kosovo lost its trained police and police infrastructure. To fill the void, the United Nations assumed executive authority over the territory.  Together with other international groups, the U.N. mission worked to establish and maintain law and order while organizing and training a Kosovo Police Service to assume gradual control. By 2008, the Kosovo police had become a professional force, securing law and order and developing one of the best reputations in the region. This case study offers an example of how a sustained effort by the international community can produce an effective police service in the wake of conflict.

Morgan Greene, Jonathan Friedman and Richard Bennet drafted this case study on the basis of interviews conducted in Priština and Mitrovica, Kosovo, in July 2011, as well as interviews conducted in Kosovo by Arthur Boutellis in July 2008. Case published February 2012.

Associated Interview(s):  Shantnu Chandrawat, Julie Fleming, Iver Frigaard, Oliver Janser, Reshat Maliqi, Muhamet Musliu, Robert Perito, Behar Selimi, Riza Shillova, Mustafa Resat Tekinbas


U.N. policies
training curriculum
Reform sequencing
promotion systems
oversight agency
local police training
internal management
incentive systems
ethnic representation
Donor Relations
disciplinary system
community policing
complaint collection
Focus Area(s)
Accountable Policing
Critical Tasks
Community policing
Core Challenge
Principal-agent problem (delegation)
Country of Reform
Case Studies
Morgan Greene, Jonathan (Yoni) Friedman and Richard Bennet