Outside View: Kosovo independence grenade

Published on February 22, 2008, United Press International

Category: Growing International Opposition to Imposed Solution

Ted Galen Carpenter

WASHINGTON, Feb. 22 (UPI) -- Kosovo's declaration of independence from Serbia on Sunday creates dangerous problems on multiple fronts. The decision by Washington and the major EU countries to encourage Kosovo's secession will go down as a colossal foreign policy blunder.

Pristina's unilateral declaration sets a worrisome precedent in an international system with an abundance of regional secessionist movements. Major countries like Russia, India and China worry that their own restless ethnic or political minorities could seek to emulate Kosovo. Russia frets especially about Chechnya; India about Kashmir; and China about Xinjiang, Tibet and Taiwan. Beijing's uneasiness about the Kosovo precedent with respect to Taiwan was not eased when Taipei promptly congratulated the Kosovars and emphasized the United Nations' need to respect the principle of national self-determination, i.e., Taiwan's claim to sovereignty.

But there are potential secessionist arenas in Europe itself. Cyprus understandably opposes Kosovo's move, given the pretensions of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. Turkey, which set up the TRNC, has its own problems to worry about given the ongoing insurgency of Kurdish secessionists. Spain may one day be less than thrilled about Pristina's action if its own Basque separatists are encouraged to rev up their violent campaign. And London, which vied with Washington in its enthusiasm for Kosovo's independence, may have reason to rue that stance if Scotland decides on independence.

In short, Washington and the "EU 3" -- Britain, France and Germany -- have created a multitude of international problems with their policy regarding Kosovo. All three governments claim that the Kosovo situation is unique and sets no precedent, but that is an extraordinarily naive view, and other influential countries clearly do not agree.

Although incumbent governments might worry about secessionist troubles, there is also a tremendous potential for some countries to use the Kosovo episode to create mischief. Moscow could one day cite it as a precedent for dismembering neighboring Georgia by recognizing the independence of that country's Abkhazian or South Ossetian regions. Or the Kremlin could use it as justification some day to wrench the Russian-speaking Crimea away from neighboring Ukraine.

The international precedents are not the only probable negative consequences of Kosovo's action. By cynically bypassing the U.N. Security Council (and hence Russia's veto) and encouraging a unilateral declaration of independence, the Western powers have further poisoned their already troubled relations with Moscow. The Russians were still smarting about the NATO powers having bypassed the Security Council in 1999 to attack Serbia and detach Kosovo from Belgrade's jurisdiction. Now, the Western powers have again shown their contempt for Russia's views and made it clear they will respect the Security Council's prerogatives only when it is convenient for them.

Risking further tensions with Moscow might be warranted over a crucial issue, but to do so over something as peripheral as the political status of a tiny Balkan entity is beyond foolish.

Finally, granting Kosovo independence will not, as the United States and its allies expect, bring greater stability to the Balkans. It will almost certainly produce the opposite result.

It is likely to usher in further abuses against Kosovo's remaining non-Albanian inhabitants. During the 1999 war and its aftermath, more than 240,000 people -- mostly Serbs, but also Roma (Gypsies), Bulgarians, Jews and other groups -- were driven from the province. That large-scale ethnic cleansing campaign occurred on NATO's watch, and the alliance did nothing to halt it, much less reverse the effects.

In addition to the initial ethnic cleansing, the Kosovar government and NATO have failed to stem acts of violence against the non-Albanian remnant or the systematic destruction of Christian churches and Serbian historical sites.

The stark reality is that it will simply be a matter of time until virtually all non-Albanian residents are driven from the province. If NATO has been unwilling or unable to prevent ethnic cleansing while occupying Kosovo with thousands of troops, it is certainly going to be incapable of preventing further atrocities once those forces are withdrawn. Language about requiring Pristina to respect the rights of ethnic minorities is merely face-saving diplomatic rhetoric.

Nor is that the full extent of the problems that an independent Kosovo will produce. There is scant evidence that the Kosovars and other advocates of a "Greater Albania" have relinquished their ambitious territorial claims in the Balkans. Western policymakers who believe that settling Kosovo's final political status will end Albanian irredentist efforts in Macedonia, Montenegro and elsewhere are likely to be disappointed. An independent Kosovo will merely lead to a new stage of turbulence.

The policy that Washington and its European allies have adopted on the Kosovo issue is so breathtakingly bad, we may be living with the negative consequences in the Balkans and beyond for decades to come. The Western powers have opened a Pandora's Box of troubles.

(Ted Galen Carpenter, vice president for defense and foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute, is the author of eight books on international affairs, including "Smart Power: Toward a Prudent Foreign Policy for America," forthcoming, June 2008.)


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