The Morality of Results: The Cyprus and Kosovo Challenges

The Morality of Results: The Cyprus and Kosovo Challenges

Last week, I wrote that realists "believe policy should be evaluated by its likely results, not by the motives or intentions of its framers.

 Last week, I wrote that realists "believe policy should be evaluated by its likely results, not by the motives or intentions of its framers." ( I stand by that sentiment. It is very easy to claim the moral high ground by claiming the one stands for "justice" or "fairness" in international affairs, especially when one can so easily denounce the pragmatic compromises often required to end difficult or protracted stalemates. Self-righteousness is not a good prescription for security.

The problem is that the rhetoric of morality, particularly the notion of "self-determination," is particularly beguiling. Politicians, especially American ones, are easily seduced by it into advocating positions that, while they may appear "just" on paper, impede real settlements that can help to lay the foundations for lasting peace and prosperity. Last year, in discussing the "sympathy loophole" that is so often cleverly exploited by terrorist organizations, I noted:

We do not live in a perfect world. A united Ireland, a Palestinian state encompassing the entire British Mandate, a greater Albania - are not feasible or realistic. As a result, the United States - and more importantly, American politicians who sometimes unwittingly encourage the continuation of violence by holding out for maximalist solutions - needs to make some hard policy choices. Sometimes aspirations can only be met part way. However, are these outcomes really so odious as to justify continuing struggle and violence-Kashmir remaining part of a democratic and secular India, continued power sharing in Bosnia between Serbs, Muslims, and Croats, Chechnya as an autonomous republic of the Russian Federation, self rule in Northern Ireland and the Basque regions? (

When the states of the European Union gather for the Copenhagen summit (December 12-13, 2002), two pressing security problems will be on the agenda: the continuing division of Cyprus and the unresolved final status of Kosovo. Indeed, these two problems are the principal threats to the stability of Europe. Kosovo's nebulous existence as an international protectorate has created a political vacuum in southeastern Europe. As one observer noted:

Today Kosovo is a socio-political mess, despite the presence of the peacekeepers and the administrators. … The American-led Western intervention in Kosovo has brought no real relief from oppression, no increase in political or economic stability and transparency, no serious rise in the standard of living, no establishment of strong democratic institutions, and most significantly, no resolution to the underlying causes which led to the interventions in the first place. (1)

Cyprus is an even more serious issue. A year ago, Henri J. Barkey and Philip Gordon warned:

Unless something is done to alter the current course of events, the entry of a divided Cyprus into the EU will reverse much of the cooperation that has developed recently between Greece and Turkey, increase tensions on the island, further alienate Turkey from Europe and generally worsen Turkish domestic political considerations. The resulting crisis could lead to Turkish annexation of Northern Cyprus, the permanent division of the island, a deep rupture between an aggrieved Turkey and Europe, and a possible military confrontation between two NATO members. (2)

Some idealists, who elevate the principle of self-determination above all others, maintain that the solution is simple and easy: recognize an Albanian Kosovo state and the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus as sovereign, independent entities. Such an approach, however, would completely and totally undermine the guiding principle of stability on the European continent for the last half-century, as reconfirmed by the 1975 Helsinki Final Act: the inviolability of frontiers. Indeed, Chapter III stated:

The participating States regard as inviolable all one another's frontiers as well as the frontiers of all States in Europe and therefore they will refrain now and in the future from assaulting these frontiers. Accordingly, they will also refrain from any demand for, or act of, seizure and usurpation of part or all of the territory of any participating State.

Any feasible solution, therefore, cannot undermine the primary foundation upon which European stability rests.

In an effort to avert a crisis over Cypriot accession to the European Union, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has put forth a series of proposals that he hopes can lead to the creation of a bi-communal, bi-zonal federation for Cyprus. Is the plan proposed by Kofi Annan a perfect plan? No, it is not. It will not satisfy the desires of some Turkish Cypriots for absolute and total self-determination; it will not return every Greek Cypriot to the homes and properties they were forced to abandon in the wake of the 1974 invasion.

What it attempts to do is to provide a workable mechanism for the two communities to live and co-exist on the island within the framework of the internationally recognized Cypriot state. It hopes to create the conditions for the withdrawal of Turkish forces, whose presence is arguably the single most destabilizing factor in the Eastern Mediterranean. A reunified Cyprus as a member of the EU could also pave the way for eventual Turkish accession. Certainly, the admission of a united Cyprus would be an important step in acculturating the EU to Turkish membership (for example, Turkish, as an official language of Cyprus, would become an official EU language as well).

A different type of pragmatism is required for Kosovo. Serbs and Albanians have overlapping claims to the same territory that cannot be easily reconciled within a single common framework. Tito's federalist approach (substantial autonomy for Kosovo) as outlined in the 1974 constitution failed to satisfy Kosovo Albanian desires for full independence (or union with Albania) and, at the same time, could not guarantee to the province's Serb population adequate guarantees of their property or rights. Similar provisions as put forth at Rambouillet in 1999 will likewise prove unworkable and unsatisfactory to both sides, and will certainly not create the conditions that will be required for the eventual withdrawal of international peacekeepers from the region.

Unilateral independence for Kosovo, however, as envisioned by some members of the U. S. Congress, would be a major blow to the principles of the Helsinki Final Act. Moreover, it could precipitate a major international crisis. It is inconceivable that China, Russia, France or Great Britain would approve a precedent that permits the alteration of the territory of a sovereign state without its express consent simply because of an armed uprising on the part of a disaffected minority group. Nor could such a precedent be isolated to Kosovo. If the U. S. Congress were to legislate recognition of Kosovo as an independent state, it would be nigh impossible to prevent the currently unrecognized statelets of Nagorno-Karabakh, Trans-Dniestria, Abkhazia or Ossetia from seeking the same status, creating real headaches for the United States in the years to come.

The only feasible option left is partition, a process that would split Kosovo into separate ethnic zones, in much the same way as Bosnia was divided after the war. Again, this is not the optimal solution; it will most certainly require some resettlement of populations. Serbs would have to concede areas they consider part of their historic patrimony; Albanians would have to abandon the dream of total independence for every square inch of Kosovo. (On a related note, it would also be useful to have Kosovo's Albanian leadership recognize the inviolability and integrity of Serbia proper and Macedonia.)

Not surprisingly, the international bureaucracy has opposed this idea. In August 1999, the then-head of the UN Administration Bernard Kouchner said any move toward partition would be "contrary to our current efforts to encourage a multi-ethnic society in Kosovo." The alternative, however, is worse. The inevitability of a de facto ethnically pure Albanian state emerging in Kosovo, even without the express consent of the government in Belgrade, who according to UN Security Council Resolution 1244 still enjoys de jure sovereignty over the territory, grows every year. The indecision of the international community has also emboldened the leadership of breakaway entities on the periphery of Europe, especially those that have engaged in "ethnic cleansing" of their own (such as Nagorno-Karabakh and Abkhazia) to delay settlement talks.

If partition occurs as part of a negotiated settlement between Belgrade and Pristina, and if this settlement enjoys the sponsorship and backing of the European Union, Russia and the United States, it could promote stability. Re-drawing Kosovo's administrative borders as part of a mutually-agreed process of dispute resolution reinforces the principles contained in Chapter V of the Helsinki Final Act, which calls upon parties to resolve disputes "by peaceful means in such a manner as not to endanger international peace and security, and justice. . . . In the event of failure to reach a solution . . . the parties to a dispute will continue to seek a mutually agreed way to settle the dispute peacefully."

A united Cyprus and a partitioned Kosovo offer the best and most realistic opportunity to decisively settle these simmering conflicts and decrease regional tensions. The current status quo--forcibly keeping Cyprus divided and Kosovo united--serves no one's national interests--least of all, our own.