Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Will Kosovo divide Europe?

The problems with Kosovo have already begun.

Serbian residents of the new country have burned two posts guarding the border between Kosovo and Serbia, prompting an intervention by NATO troops. Meanwhile, the Serbian government in Belgrade is considering sending in police officers into the Serbian-populated northern part of Kosovo to maintain order. Serbia also claims jurisdiction over the border between Kosovo and Serbia.

Meanwhile Europe is divided over whether or not to officially recognize the new state.

The "big three" of European politics (the UK, France and Germany) were all quick to recognize Kosovo as a nation. But other EU members are not so eager. Countries like Span, Cyprus and Slovakia are among those that are refusing to recognize Kosovo. Their reason is simple; they all fear that by recognizing Kosovo's independence from Serbia, they will encourage ethnic groups within their own countries to make their own declarations (the Catalonian region of Spain, or the Turkish Cypriot area of Cyprus for example).

The problem lies in the way that Kosovo got its independence. The United States and the EU big three's recognition of Kosovo goes against established international law and even violates a specific UN resolution (UN res. 1244) that set the borders of Serbia in 1999. The argument put forward by the US State Department, among others for these drastic actions, is that Kosovo is a "unique" situation that required the extraordinary step of recognizing its independence.

But the problem is that it’s not really "unique." Boil Kosovo down to its barest elements and you get an ethnic/religious minority that was brutally oppressed by a central government, which sought to drive them out of a set area of land (I know the Serbs may disagree with this assessment, but for the sake of argument let's go with it here). Sure it sounds like Kosovo. But it also sounds like Darfur, or the Kurdish region of Iraq, just to cite two examples (remember that Saddam Hussein conducted a long campaign against the Kurds, drove them from the city of Kirkuk, and even used WMDs against them – a step the Serbs cannot be accused of taking). But the US and UK aren't lobbying the world to recognize the nation of Darfur, and have actively worked to keep the Kurds from declaring independence for Kurdistan. Why?

Because Kosovo became a pawn in some large geo-political battles - the Western powers backed Kosovo's independence, while Russia stood with their old ally Serbia in opposing it; the US saw recognizing Kosovo as a way of pushing the UN towards international irrelevancy, and the big three in Europe looked at it as a way of strengthening the foreign policy clout of the European Union. But by focusing on these political policy struggles, they have ignored the practical problems Kosovo's independence brings, like encouraging ethnic groups from Catalonia to Kashmir to make their own claims of independence. They are problems that the world will have to deal with for a long time to come.
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