Albanians and Serbians go it alone

After the unilateral declaration of independence by Kosovo’s ethnic Albanians, Washington is now trying to conclude what began with the crackdown on Serbian forces in 1999. The aim is to bypass the Russian veto in the UN Security Council, as Moscow’s decision to block the independence of the former Yugoslav province had left US policy in the air. As soon as the US saw that the plan by UN special envoy Martti Ahtisaari had reached an impasse, it sought to sidestep international law. Many governments have expressed reservations over the repercussions of a unilateral declaration of independence, to which US officials have responded that Kosovo is a special case that will not set a precedent. Such reassurances however carry hardly any political weight in the long run. It is no coincidence that the number of states that have recognized Kosovo’s independence is smaller than Washington would have liked. Many inside the European Union have so far avoided doing so, fearing that an independent Kosovo would serve as a precedent for their own minorities. Although the EU has failed to agree on a common position, under pressure from Washington and the major European powers, the 27 member states have planned a police and justice mission to Kosovo – which effectively legitimizes Kosovo’s independence. Fears aside, there is also a question of principle, because giving the green light to Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence undermines commonly accepted standards which have been applicable to the founding of new states. The establishment of a new state used to take place on the basis of international treaties. Following the birth of the UN, it was rubber-stamped by the Security Council. In other words, recognizing Kosovo runs counter to the UN. From now on, the establishment of a new state will largely depend on the number of states willing to recognize a minority’s unilateral declaration of independence. It should be noted here that there are demands for secession in many other regions. Bickering between the US and Russia over the ethnic Albanian-dominated province almost certainly means that Kosovo will remain excluded from the UN and other international organizations. But there are other more practical issues. In the coming weeks, Serbia will hold parliamentary and local elections. Belgrade has announced it will organize elections in Kosovo that it considers to be a part of Serbia. Given that Kosovo Serbs will try to participate in the election process, foreign powers will either have to accept the precedent (and its implications) or seek to prevent the vote. This would mark a de facto secession of the Serbian enclaves from the newly founded state.