Citizens of Kosovo celebrate their recent independence in the streets of Pristina.
Geopolitics and Precedent
The Implications of Kosovo’s Independence
ebruary 17, 2008 sent nations with secessionist minorities scurrying to shield the eyes of their minority groups from the R-rated spectacle of Kosovo’s self-declared independence. Much as they tried, Kosovo grabbed headlines as the United States and key European powers legitimized the secession by swiftly recognizing the new state. Nations desperate to prevent their own minorities from following suit now appeal to the international community with their one fear tactic left. They use the dreaded word: precedent. The word conjures up nightmares of Kosovo’s example inspiring secessionist movements from South Ossetians in Georgia to the Ainu in Japan to the Barotse in Zambia to rise up and demand independence. Though Kosovo will undeniably set a symbolic precedent and does have important effects on the strategies
Cale Salih ‘10 of similar independence movements, such a free-for-all pandemonium is unrealistic. It is clear that many of the arguments raised in support or condemnation of Kosovo’s declaration of independence have been made on the basis of strategic interest rather than moral or ideological principles. Countries such as Russia, China, Georgia, and Spain object to the secession, fearing it will (re)rouse secessionist sentiments within their own minority groups. On the other side are the United States, much of the EU, and Turkey. They recognize Kosovo’s statehood in pursuit of separate interests, whether it is U.S. hopes of potential oil profits, the EU’s desire for a firm regional ally to balance Russia and China, or Turkey’s desperate attempt to prove to the EU that it can uphold democratic principles despite its suppression of its own Kurdish minority.
Despite the influence of realpolitik on some vies of Kosovo’s secession, the nation’s declaration of independence has still managed to split the world along a new line; not one of GDP, democratic ideals or culture, but of self-determination. A nuanced perspective on the situation will evaluate how Kosovo’s self-declared independence has altered the strategic calculations of nations and secessionist movements alike. Secessionist movements often arise in response to systematic economic oppression and a historical right to autonomy. For example, Hungarians in Slovakia enjoy the same rights as ethnic Slovakians and as a result, the two groups peacefully coexist. In contrast, groups such as Tibetans and Kurds have sought autonomy as a means of escaping oppression, claiming a historical right to their respective lands. Kosovo’s independence may offer symbolic inspiration to such groups, but its example is unlikely to have a practical impact. Thus, Kosovo is more likely to set a AP precedent for movements closer in geography and circumstance. These include