Thoughts on some implications of an independent Kosovo

posted by Augustin Nicolescou on 2008/02/24 17:43

[ Spaces of Identity ]

On February 17th 2008 Kosovo declared its unilateral independence, with significant support from Western powers. Many see it as the closing act which completes the process of Yugoslavia’s disintegration. Yet there are significant differences between Kosovo gaining independence and the other states which emerged from the breakdown of the Yugoslav federation. The independence of Kosovo will not be recognized by the UN Security Council, and there remain many unanswered questions. Leaving Russia aside, even the EU members are not united on this key issue. Spain, Slovakia, Romania, Bulgaria, Cyprus and Greece are set against recognizing the sovereignty and independence of Kosovo as a state. Whatever happens next, it will be controversial and antagonistic. Is this really the best the West could do?

The question is not one of whether the Serbs of the Kosovar Albanians are “right.” Both sides have valid and legitimate claims, as well as invalid and illegitimate ones. Both sides have victimized and fallen victim. This is not a unique situation. A more pressing question is to look at what this kind of unilateral action will bring to Serbia and Kosovo, and to the rest of the world. The implications are significant.
Utis possidetis is one of the main principles which govern international law. The International Court of Justice has affirmed the principle, ruling that it is “logically connected with the phenomenon of obtaining independence, wherever it occurs. Its obvious purpose is to prevent the independence and stability of new states being endangered by fratricidal struggles provoked by the changing of frontiers following the withdrawal of the administering power.”
In practice it means that Croatia, Serbia, Georgia, and Moldova, among many others, have the right to independence. But Kosovo and Vojvodina in Serbia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Georgia, and Transdniestria in Moldova do not benefit from this right to secede unilaterally. With Kosovo breaking this principle, it undermines the principle, and has repercussions even across the globe: the Tamils of Sri Lanka applaud the independence of Kosovo as a precedent for their desires for independence, while the Sri Lankan government decries it for the same reason. One can see the implications represented graphically here.
When one takes into account that there are nearly 2,000 national groups in the world, and there are only 192 states (excluding the Vatican, and for now Kosovo), there is a vast potential for inter-ethnic conflict. And this is valid for Europe still, especially in Spain, Romania, and Cyprus. The principle of Utis possidetis can be questioned in general, and perhaps it is time for a better principle. But to apply the principle selectively, as the whims and interests of the great powers dictate, is a poor idea.
Neither the UN Security Council nor the EU is in agreement with itself on Kosovo’s independence. Kosovo will find itself a small, underdeveloped and landlocked country, with a very hostile neighbor. The EU will have a significant influence in the country, which has been accepted as the price of independence. But what happens now, after independence? Will the EU’s supervision of Kosovo still be welcome in the years after international recognition has been established? What are the implications for Serbia and Kosovo eventually joining the EU? Will Russia use this case as a justification to push for the independence of Transdniestria, Abkhazia and South Ossetia? With so many unanswered questions and implications for similar conflicts, as well as the significant resources which have been invested in trying to find a better alternative to either the status quo or independence, it is unfortunate that a better solution could not be found, and an opportunity for something better has been lost.



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