Sunday, February 17, 2008
On this day:

Kosovo declares independence from Serbia

The New York Times reports here; the AP here.

Should the EU and the U.S. have been more cautious in their support for the Kosovo independence movement? There are at least three reasons why the answer to that question may be "yes."

1. Serbs claim that Kosovo is their ancestral heartland. The loss of Kosovo is likely to play into the hands of Serbian nationalists, who are already seeking (and finding) solidarity with their traditional Russian friends. Their ultimate objective is to retake Kosovo - by force if necessary.

2. Russia, which is putting its new-found wealth to work rebuilding its military and reenergizing its international diplomacy vis-a-vis Europe and the U.S., is all too eager to pry off Serbia from the West. Will the prospect of E.U. membership be enough to keep the Serbs in the Western fold when many of them see in Russia a loyal ally that recognizes Serbia's historical claims in Kosovo?

3. In response to Kosovo's declaration, Russia has threatened to make mischief not only in the Balkans, but also in the Russian "near abroad" by supporting separatists in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which are currently ruled by the former Soviet republic of Georgia.

4. If Europe and the U.S. recognize Kosovo, the presence of NATO forces there will place the West in the position of defending its independence. What was once a mainly humanitarian mission to prevent genocide will now become an intense geopolitical struggle in an area of the world that has been a hotbed of turmoil for ages.

Here's more from the experts:

The Belmont Club asks: "Kosovo's Independence: who's for it, who's against. Who will protect the Serbs? Will it work?"

Charles A. Kupchan, Professor of International Affairs at Georgetown University and Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, wrote in support of independence for Kosovo in the November/December 2005 issue of Foreign Affairs magazine.

Agim Ceku, the former prime minister of Kosovo, wrote in November, 2007 for the Wall Street Journal: "Kosovo wants independence."

Doug Bandow, the Robert A. Taft fellow at the American Conservative Defense Alliance, warned last month in the American Spectator that Kosovar independence is "likely to be both divisive and destabilizing." His argument is quite persuasive:
The most sensible policy for Washington would be to step back and indicate that there will be no recognition without genuine negotiations, that is, talks without a predetermined outcome, between Kosovo and Serbia.

On the table should be all options, including overlapping citizenships (Kosovo, Serb, EU), and secession within secession, that is, allowing the ethnic Serbs concentrated to Kosovo's north, principally around Mitrovica, to remain in Serbia.

THE U.S. SHOULD halt the independence bandwagon, though not because Washington has an intrinsic reason for objecting to Kosovo becoming a separate nation. In principle the status of this particular piece of real estate should not matter much to America. Whether the ethnic Albanians or Serbs rule in Pristina is intrinsically irrelevant to U.S. interests.
Then again, as James G. Paulos noted in the Weekly Standard back in 2006:
WHY WOULD WE HELP what [Naser] Rugova [(head of Kosovo's Reforma party)] terms this "baby nation," at the cost of infuriating Serbia? The answer may be that we have little choice. To turn away now--having exerted so much energy on Kosovo, killed so many Serbs, and touted Western policies so earnestly--is to default on every promise we have made the Kosovars.
I've got a headache.