Through the 1975 Helsinki Act, freezing borders was designed for a Cold War Europe divided between two superpowers; it remains a good principle, but we may need to prepare for exceptions to the rule. Managing the world is never easy. Washington will have to prioritize its dealings with Europe's territorial conflicts. Putting some disputes on the backburner can allow for workable compromises to emerge over time, leading to a better peace than might be achieved with time pressures. In addition, U.S. officials will have to carefully consider the broader effects of any given resolution, not only on other ongoing conflict-negotiations, but also on the interests of other important powers that America cooperates with over a broad range of issues.
Ever since the ethnic troubles that rocked the province of Kosovo in the spring of 2004, the international community has been increasingly concerned that Kosovar Albanians-frustrated so far in their bid for independence from Serbia-could turn on the UNMIK force that is precariously keeping the peace. Such a development would destabilize the whole region. Those concerns prompted the United Nations to commence (informally at first) status talks on Kosovo in November at Washington's behest, after the voluntary surrender of Kosovo's then-Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj to the War Crimes Tribunal in the Hague.
Washington has been at pains to reassure all interested actors that the outcome of the status talks has not been determined, but it appears the United States has reconciled itself to the future possibility of an independent Kosovo. That development could have far reaching implications for Serbia, for America's and Europe's relations with Russia, and for Europe's other aspirants of autonomy.