We need a honest, open and reasoned debate on the future status of Kosovo.
No solution or proposal should escape detailed and close scrutiny. We need no repeats of the run-up to the Iraq War, with its rosy predictions about cakewalks and being greeted as liberators and how Iraqi oil income would pay for reconstruction.
We know the many drawbacks of plans which fall short of granting the province full independence-with one of the major objections being the right of self-determination. Fair enough. None of the plans for any sort of confederal state, maximum autonomy or even something along the model of the Aland Islands are cost free, particularly because they would have to be imposed on a population that wants independence.
But those who argue for independence must also answer a few hard questions.
The first is to explain why they are so confident why a local government that under UN and NATO supervision has been unable to crack down on crime and human trafficking or to provide adequate guarantees for the ethnic minorities of the province will somehow be much more effective if independence is granted. I don't buy the argument that the province's "undefined status" prevents effective governance. Case in point: Taiwan.
"Standards before status" was a good policy to have adopted and should still remain the guiding principle. And as we have seen in East Timor, granting independence is not a panacea and does not in and of itself guarantee stability.
"Conditional" independence is problematic because once granted I don't see the EU or NATO going back in to retake control should things not work out. So I think we have a right to see something more concrete than statements about how things will get better if only independence is to be granted.
The second is why Kosovo sets no precedent. Forget whether or not the Russians are going to recognize Abkhazia or Ossetia in retaliation. I can't see the U.S. government-particularly the Congress-prepared to extend the formal guarantees to other countries (and separatist regions) about Kosovo not setting any precedent. Already the first rumblings among some conservatives has begun about Taiwan not really being a part of China, Shanghai communiqué be damned! Can a U.S. president send a letter to Hu Jintao that publicly affirms no Kosovo precedent for Taiwan? A similar resolution about Nagorno-Karabakh getting past Speaker Nancy Pelosi? (By the way, the official representation office of the unrecognized Nagorno Karabakh Republic has this to say on its website:
Since its decade-old independence, NKR has enjoyed all attributes and institutions of statehood. Indeed, Karabakh's de facto statehood fully satisfies the requirements of conventional and customary international laws for de-jure recognition. Since its decade-old independence, NKR has enjoyed all attributes and institutions of statehood. Indeed, Karabakh's de facto statehood fully satisfies the requirements of conventional and customary international laws for de-jure recognition. . . .
The Nagorno Karabakh Republic appeals to the U.S. Congress to formally recognize the right of its people to live free of external threats and be masters of our own destiny. . . . We ask the United States to welcome a new nation that truly embraces and stands unequivocally for such universal values as freedom, democracy and equal justice under law for all.
Because it will promote stability, peace and economic prosperity for all peoples of the South Caucasus, formal recognition of the independent Republic of Nagorno Karabakh is in interest of the international community.
These arguments sound familiar, don't they?
Saying that Kosovo sets no precedent is not like a magic phrase that if repeated three times (and accompanied by a clicking of the heels) means that it is so. The Regnum News Agency is quoting unnamed sources that a number of Middle Eastern countries in light of the Kosovo precedent are preparing to recognize the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus and that even the U.S. State Department may be considering such a step by the end of 2007. On that latter point, I hope that that is Levantian hot air and not seriously being considered at Foggy Bottom.
I understand the desire of many here in Washington to get Kosovo "off" the agenda. Independence may end up being the best course of action. But let's not delude ourselves into thinking that there is an easy, cost-free solution.
Nikolas K. Gvosdev is editor of The National Interest.