There have been more embarrassing selections for the Nobel Peace Prize than this year's choice, former-Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, but not more illogical ones. Whatever one may say about North Vietnamese communist leader Lê Dúc Tho or PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat, they received the Nobel Peace Prize for real accomplishments, or at least accomplishments that looked real at the time: the Paris Peace Accords Tho negotiated with Henry Kissinger in 1973 and the Oslo Accords that Arafat negotiated with Yitzhak Rabin in 1993. Neither of these agreements lasted long and blood and treachery soon followed both. But at the time the prize was awarded, there was at a minimum an appearance of a major diplomatic achievement.
Not so in the case of Mr. Ahtisaari, who, while officially being celebrated for a long career mediating global conflicts, is best and most recently known for his disastrous role in arranging Kosovo's independence. It was this independence, declared in clear violation of international law and despite the strong objections of democratic UN member state Serbia, which was effectively divided, that contributed to the recent conflict between Russia and Georgia over Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Those two separatist enclaves won Russia's recognition as independent states and are now probably lost to Georgia for a long time, if not forever. This outcome was easy to predict, and indeed was predicted by many both inside and outside the Bush administration, myself included. Moscow was quite explicit in saying that the unilateral independence of Kosovo without Serbian and UN Security Council consent would inevitably create a precedent for Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and Georgia was equally explicit in making clear that it would not tolerate the two territories moving further and further from its control.
Mr. Ahtisaari cannot escape the blame for the conflict in the Caucasus in August. He was appointed in 2005 by then-UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to lead Kosovo's "final status" negotiations, but never made the slightest pretense of being an impartial mediator. From the beginning, he made clear to the Serbians and Kosovar Albanians alike that the only conceivable outcome of the talks was independence for Kosovo. That left little incentive for the parties, particularly for the Kosovars, to compromise, and effectively precluded any negotiated solution. Ahtisaari did not seriously attempt to explore a possible partition of Kosovo, an extension of the timetable for achieving independence, or anything that would have given the democratically-elected government in Belgrade a way to defend an agreement to its deeply skeptical body politic. . . .