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Europe the Transnistrians in Moldova, NagornoKarabakh in Azerbaijan, and Abkhazians and South Ossetians in Georgia. These minorities operate with de facto independence and share a historical and cultural relationship with the Caucusus and Russia. They have all long called for independence and are arguably equally (un)prepared for it as Kosovo was. South Ossetia, in particular, has international endorsement from Russia which parallels Western support for Kosovo. Such minorities have long recognized the parallels between their cause and that of Kosovo’s, and are likely to use its example as evidence that they need not settle for insufficient and limited autonomy. In addition to inspiring secessionist movements, this episode may prompt world powers like China and Russia to retaliate against America’s support for

Kosovo over their objections. They may choose to selectively support particular self-determination movements to harm strategic U.S. interests. For example, Russia can demand the secession of Abkhazia and South Ossetia from Georgia, putting American oil interests in the region at risk. Many objections to Kosovo’s independence are inconsistent with the realities of the situation. Spanish officials, fearful of the precedent set for the secessionist Basque, have declared Kosovo’s independence illegal on the basis that it was a province, not a federal republic, and thus not allowed to secede under the Yugoslav constitution. Manuel Ortega, a Spanish MP, argued further on the BBC that the consequences of Kosovo’s independence are “an invitation to civil war.” Ortega’s argument is not especially convincing. Firstly, legality is not at issue. Secession is illegal by definition; few countries willingly give up territory. Without illegal secession, selfdetermination objectives, justified or not, would never be realized. Secondly, such a war is clearly preventable, and thus the threat is not adequate justification to deny Kosovars their right to self-determination. Once this reality is accepted, diplomatic relations to prevent the outbreak of war between the states can ensue. Moreover, Kosovo has clearly offered a hand of peace to Serbia, with extra provisions in the new constitution for the protection of Serbs in Kosovo. It is now up to Serbia to prevent violence. It has also been argued that since many minorities with equally legitimate Darko Bandic/AP claims to indepenA resident of Kosovo hangs an American flag in appreciation of dence have not yet U.S. and Western support of Kosovo’s bid for secession.

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American Foreign Policy

succeeded, it would be unfair to consider the self-declared Kosovo a legally independent state. This argument, however, oversimplifies self-determination movements and ignores the unique complexities and impediments of each. Kosovo is unique, particularly given its close relationship with the international community. This goes back to 1999, when it was placed under the jurisdiction of the United Nations Mission in Kosovo and the NATO-led international peacekeeping force Kosovo Force (KFOR). Its historical association with the global community raised international awareness of Kosovo’s cause and made it harder for progressive countries such as the U.S. and most of the EU to ignore the ethnic cleansing of Kosovar Albanians in the late 1990s. NATO’s long-standing international presence in Kosovo and the widespread recognition of war crimes against ethnic Albanians won Kosovo the support of powerful nations such as the U.S. and EU. Most movements have not achieved this kind of international recognition, but their disadvantaged position is no reason to challenge the legitimacy of an independent Kosovo. Moreover, if a “fairness doctrine” is applied to the principle of self-determination, is it “fair” that nations such as Turkey, Spain, and Russia are independent and sovereign, while minorities within their states— Kurds, Basques and Chechens amongst others, respectively—are not? Kosovo faces many challenges. It is a poor country that must start afresh to integrate itself in the world economy and at the same time develop a system that protects and manages its Serbian minority. Kosovo’s neighbors, such as Serbia, Russia, and other proximate states, need to cooperate to prevent the region from again descending into ethnic violence. The pressure is now on the world’s superpowers to accept it and prevent the creation of another dependent Balkan state. Afp

Cale may be reached at csalih@princeton.edu

April 2008 Issue  

AFP's April 2008 print edition

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