Not to belabor my regular point about keeping at least one blood-soaked American promise, it’s worth reiterating that the ice-cold realist question remains whether or not independence for Kosovo is likely to destabilize various awkward world regions where ‘breakaway’ and ‘separatist’ statelets (Transnistria, Abkhazia), aspiring statelets (South Ossetia), and has-been states (Taiwan) might take one look at an independent Kosovo and start agitating their way into International Crises. I submit this is not so. Kosovo is, like Iraq, a planetary aberration with a recent history too exceptional and twisted to merit any kind of comparison [bold mine-DL]. Kosovo has roughly nothing in common with any other zone of disgruntled sovereigntists — with the possible exception of Kurdistan. But no amount of sovereignty for Kosovo will move the United States or anyone else an inch toward support for a Kurdish state complete with flag and UN microphone. ~James Poulos
Fortunately, no matter what Mr. Bush says to his adoring fans in Albania, Kosovo independence is not guaranteed. Obviously, the Russians are opposed for their own reasons, to which James alludes above, and there are even Albanians in Kosovo unhappy with the deal because it requires a continued European presence for several years. Albanians in Kosovo want independence immediately, and the Russians will never let it happen. Even with strong EU support for the separation of Kosovo, Mr. Bush has all of the clout of a wet noodle with Moscow right now. This suggests impasse.
The bad precedent Kosovo independence would set has, in a sense, already been set with East Timor. In an extremely bad move, East Timor was recognised as an independent country, which has hardly dampened separatist causes elsewhere within Indonesia. It took a tsunami to quiet the Acehnese revolt. There is fundamentally nothing, not even post-tsunami relief efforts, that is going to make Acehnese rebels more resigned to remaining part of Indonesia over the long term. Timor Leste’s success can only encourage the Acehnese, whose state is hardly less viable as a polity than East Timor. This is the sort of real danger that independence for territories or provinces of existing states has for international stability: the recent success of small, basically non-viable states to become independent will encourage more of the same in that country’s own region. In Kosovo’s case, independence will be one step towards either joining Albania or a move to agitate for the “liberation” of their fellow Albanians inside Greece and Macedonia. Forget about Abkhazia for a moment, or an even more serious separatist question, that of Kashmir. Independence for Kosovo will have definite destabilising effects in the Balkans (to say nothing of the playground for narco- and human traffickers and worse that such a mini-state will become). From the perspective of European law enforcement and security, European support for Kosovo independence is insane. If stability in the Balkans is supposed to be an American goal, undermining that stability seems unwise.
Indeed, East Timor serves as a good warning to all who would elevate tiny quasi-polities to the level of independent nations that this is most undesirable. These new states are inherently unstable and, even with the enormous gas reserves theoretically at Timor Leste’s disposal, horrendously underdeveloped. Even if they should acquire nominal independence they will effectively be dependencies of the United Nations, regional powers and the relevant regional organisations for years and perhaps decades to come. Independence does not solve the problem, nor does it put the question behind us, but instead makes it the business of the major powers for the foreseeable future. Nothing is actually gained by most players by granting independence to these mini-states. The major powers would agree to it either to score points against governments that the “international community” dislikes or promote a new nation as an exercise in nation-building.
As for the exceptional nature of Kosovo, I respectfully submit to my learned colleague that its situation is all together too typical of the post-Cold War period. The independence of Eritrea springs to mind as a good example of a case where the rest of the world unwisely said, “Oh, what’s the harm? There will be one more independent nation to enrich the display of flags on First Avenue! What could go wrong?” Tens of thousands of Eritrean-Ethiopian war dead later, Eritrean independence doesn’t seem like a very bright idea. As the two states’ recent fishing in troubled Somali waters shows, recognising the independence of a state that will inevitably be a persistent rival and enemy of a neighbour is a good way to make sure that there are more regional conflicts and crises rather than fewer.
Separatist and rebel causes all over the world, especially in India (Kashmiris, Nagas, Naxalites, etc.) and Sri Lanka (Tamil Tigers), can only be encouraged by the international recognition of Kosovo. The point is not that any of these separatists will receive the support of major powers to gain independence, but that they will take the example of Kosovo as a model and will act in such a way to try to achieve the same result. This means an increase in violence and the undermining of any political solution for these various rebellions.
The Kosovo intervention, bad as it was, was not done so that Kosovo could be independent. Washington does not owe Kosovo Albanians anything more. Autonomy will have to be enough, as no one else has any real interest in their independence.