Ahead of the Curve: Countdown for Kosovo

February 5, 2007 Tags: DiplomacyKosovoIraq War

Ahead of the Curve: Countdown for Kosovo

Mini Teaser: United Nations special envoy Marrtti Ahtisaari introduced his plan for Kosovo to Serbian and Kosovar leaders over the weekend. In the Spring 2006 issue of The National Interest Tim Potier addressed how Washington should approach the delic

by Author(s): Tim Potier

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.

Most immediately, Serbia would have to be placated. An independent Kosovo could rile and give strength to Belgrade's Serbian radicals. Serbians would be particularly angered by independence for Kosovo, given Serbia's recent democratic progress. In addition, Serbia would have to be reassured with legally defined guarantees on the protection of the Serbian minority in Kosovo and its cultural heritage.

The international community could try to induce Serbia's cooperation through the prospect of that country's entry to the European Union. Serbia might then subordinate its ethnic and cultural sensitivities to its far more vital goals of attaining EU membership at the earliest possible date, securing its position within the Western alliance (perhaps with NATO membership), and attempting to establish itself as the prime diplomatic actor in the region.

An independent Kosovo, though, would raise new demands for self-determination by the Serb minority there, highlighting just how untidy the business of partition can be. If independence for Kosovo is the option taken, an equally damned decision will have to be made as to whether it is received whole or in parts. If Kosovo itself is not partitioned, then its independence will have to be guided by an EU-led mission with reserved powers, while strenuous efforts would have to be made to persuade the Serbian population to participate in governmental structures. If such an approach is coupled with some form of (non-territorialized) Serbian self-government, including protections for elements of Serbian culture (such as linguistic and educational traditions), then such a compromise could well become the preferred option.

It is distinctly possible that Washington would view an independent Kosovo as a singular exception. The rest of the world, though, might not. With an eye on Georgia's restive areas, Russian President Vladimir Putin said in a press conference on January 30, 2006 that a Kosovo precedent would need to be applied to the other "frozen conflicts" along Europe's periphery-such as the one between Georgia and Abkhazia.

Tim Potier is assistant professor of International Law & Human Rights at Intercollege (UniversityCollege) inNicosia,Cyprus. This is an excerpt from his article which appeared in the Spring 2006 issue of The National Interest. The complete article is available for TNI subscribers here.

Essay Types: Essay