In February 1999, delegations from Kosovo and Serbia met diplomatic representatives of France Germany, Italy, Russia, the UK and the US at Rambouillet, a chateau on the outskirts of Paris. The international community – the so-called Contact Group formed in 1994 – was seeking an end to violence in Kosovo, where Kosovo Albanians were resisting what they experienced as its hostile occupation by Serbia.
The respective delegations were accommodated on separate floors, and worked in separate conference rooms, where each considered a succession of draft agreements written and revised by mediators. They ate in separate dining rooms, with members of the Contact Group circulating between them. The chateau and its grounds were sealed off, though each side was allowed a small number of passes for visitors. The then new technology of the mobile phone, however, meant they were able to stay in contact with political allies and others at home and elsewhere.
The proceedings at Rambouillet testified perhaps first and foremost to the importance of meeting as such, to the simple but fundamental significance of getting people together to talk. Opening negotiations is the moment at which war transmutes into politics; at which one mode of doing is supplanted by another. But they tell us other important things about meeting, too.
The Kosovo delegation was a peculiarly disparate group, including some members of political parties, led by two opposing leaders as well as two journalists, representing civil society, and three members of the armed resistance, the KLA. At its first meeting, the delegation constituted itself more or less formally, identifying a steering committee and agreeing that all its decisions should be reached unanimously; this much was recorded in a short document. Within a few days, they brought in a small number of international advisers, including legal experts.
In this way, the delegation became a group by being required to act as one. In turn, ‘Kosovo’, now an international political entity capable of exerting some kind of agency, was created by the fact of their representation of it. And that representation was actual and physical, performed in meeting, in the face-to-face encounter with others who thereby gave it recognition. Both the Kosovo delegation and the legal and political entity from which it was delegated, that is to say, were constituted not a priori but in process, in order to satisfy the basic requirements of meeting, in turn required by the task of making peace.
It follows from this that the ability to act, to acquire and exercise political agency, is a function of certain sorts of practical competence: the size and capacity of a mission, its legal and political understanding, its organizational experience, its ability to draft and interpret documents and statements, to use information and communications technologies and the opportunities they present. Diplomatic status is constructed in the performance of diplomatic acts. Kosovo became what its representatives could reasonably claim it to be, and their success in doing so was predicated on the diplomatic skill they could command and, essentially, their ability to perform in meeting.
Remember, too, that ‘Although diplomatic performances are situated, they are not isolated’. There are always multiple negotiations going on, both within delegations, including among mediators, and between delegations and mediators – as well as, whether explicitly or implicitly, the world beyond the meeting room. Like those of Fenno’s US congressmen, the positions taken by both sides and by the mediators were informed by their judgments as to how they would be seen by their respective constituencies ‘at home’, including local commanders in Kosovo, Yugoslav president Milosevic and the governments represented by the members of the Contact Group.
It was only after some delay, including a two-week postponement to allow them to consult interests at home, that Kosovo’s representatives signed an agreement on 18 March. Serbia immediately countered with a new proposal, ignoring the terms set out at Rambouillet, and NATO bombing of Yugoslavia began a few days later.