On February 3, 2008, Boris Tadić was reelected president of Serbia on a platform calling for greater integration with Europe. Shortly afterwards, and as expected, Kosovo’s prime minister announced that the Kosovar parliament would within days declare Kosovo’s independence from Serbia. Kosovo’s imminent declaration presents a significant diplomatic challenge for Europe and the United States. Some within the European Union (EU) worry that recognizing Kosovo’s independence will undermine Serbian progress toward deepening democratic rule, destabilize the historically volatile Balkans, and empower separatist groups elsewhere. Other EU powers, however, appear to agree with the Bush administration that recognizing Kosovo as an independent state is necessary if the region is to make progress toward integration with the rest of Europe—and that it is justified given past Serbian misrule and aggression toward Kosovo.
On February 15, 2008, John R. Bolton, AEI senior fellow and former U.S. permanent representative to the United Nations, will discuss the issues surrounding Kosovo’s declaration with Bruce Jackson, the president of the Project on Transitional Democracies and a former member of the International Commission on the Balkans. Gary J. Schmitt, director of AEI’s Program on Advanced Strategic Studies, will moderate.
| || || |
John R. Bolton, AEI
| || || |
Bruce Jackson, Project on Transitional Democracies
| || || |
| || |
Gary J. Schmitt, AEI
| || || |
| || || |
On February 3, 2008, Boris Tadić was reelected president of Serbia on a platform calling for greater integration with Europe. Shortly afterwards, and as expected, Kosovo's prime minister announced that the Kosovar parliament would within days declare Kosovo's independence from Serbia. Kosovo's imminent declaration presents a significant diplomatic challenge for Europe and the United States. Some within the European Union (EU) worry that recognizing Kosovo's independence will undermine Serbian progress toward deepening democratic rule, destabilize the historically volatile Balkans, and empower separatist groups elsewhere. Other EU powers, however, appear to agree with the Bush administration that recognizing Kosovo as an independent state is necessary if the region is to make progress toward integration with the rest of Europe--and that it is justified given past Serbian misrule and aggression toward Kosovo.
On February 15, 2008, John R. Bolton, AEI senior fellow and former U.S. permanent representative to the United Nations, discussed the issues surrounding Kosovo's declaration with Bruce Jackson, the president of the Project on Transitional Democracies and a former member of the International Commission on the Balkans. Gary J. Schmitt, director of AEI's Program on Advanced Strategic Studies, moderated.
Project on Transitional Democracies
Kosovo's declaration of independence from Serbia must be interpreted in the context of history and established precedent. Kosovo is, in fact, following the national trajectory taken by all other Balkan states that have achieved independence, starting with Greece in 1804. Borders in the region have been continuously redrawn as various national groups have asserted themselves--as evidenced in the creation of Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, and Montenegro in 1991 by the various nationalities within Yugoslavia.
By remaining a province of Serbia, however, Kosovo did not follow the path of its neighbors. This system collapsed eight years later during the Kosovo war, when the international community intervened in response to Serb aggression and Security Council Resolution 1244 was instituted. Since then, Kosovo's status has been the subject of significant debate. The Balkan Commission reported, for instance, that the status of Kosovo was unsustainable and that the status quo would inevitably lead to disaster. More recently, the secretary general of the UN acknowledged that Kosovo's future will be the responsibility of the EU.
The declaration has been subject to four direct criticisms. First, it has been recognized as a challenge to the Russian Federation. This is an exaggeration, however, considering the lack of clear Russian interests in the region, beyond its established control of the energy industry in Serbia and economic influence along the Montenegrin coast. Some have suggested that Russia has raised concerns over the issue of Kosovo simply for the purpose of challenging European unity.
Second, it has also been argued that the EU and the international community lack the authority to effectively address issues of national status. Yet the international community has repeatedly resolved these sorts of challenges--Slovenia, Croatia, and Bosnia each left Yugoslavia without the permission of Belgrade, for example, and the international community managed the status issues surrounding their departure. Third, Russian leaders have suggested that the EU will set a harmful precedent by recognizing Kosovo's independence. But in the case of Kosovo, where the international community was compelled to intervene and protect the province's minority population, take responsibility for its governance, and, in the process, rule on the status of the state, the precedent appears to be a natural and responsible one.
Finally, some critics claim that both Kosovo and Serbia will have to endure negative political and economic consequences in the wake of the declaration. This is unlikely, however, as the potential for economic development in both states depends on the resolution of Kosovo's status. Indeed, late prime minister Zoran Djindjić and others in Serbia recognized that without Kosovo, Serbia would move much more rapidly into the EU. The international consensus seems to be that both countries will be better off closer to Europe, grounded in a more stable security environment.
John R. Bolton
The passage of Security Council Resolution 1244 marked the creation of a nine-year UN trusteeship in Kosovo, which was supposed to represent a period of negotiation toward a mutually acceptable solution on the status of the province. During that time, unfortunately, little diplomatic progress occurred. Rather, the European powers responsible for sustaining the trusteeship labored toward what many saw as a foreordained outcome--independence for Kosovo. The European management of the trusteeship process lacked sufficient efforts at negotiation over the course of its nine years, and thereby undercut the possibility of alternative outcomes. Resolution 1244, it should be recalled, reaffirmed Serbian sovereignty over Kosovo; it had been anticipated that the UN would oversee progress toward a mutually acceptable end-state.
European management of the trusteeship in Kosovo, furthermore, served to scuttle Serbian prodemocracy forces' efforts to strengthen democratic institutions in Kosovo. Indeed, political developments in the Balkans over the last nine years reflect policies that may have been appropriate during the rule of Slobodan Milošević but, given the rise of Serbian prodemocracy movements, are no longer effective.
It is worth noting that European recognition of Kosovo's independence will occur without sanction from the UN Security Council--a negative precedent with regard to international law. Kosovo's declaration will, at the least, create political instability in the region; it may perhaps spark violence. Such conditions will thwart economic development in the province and increase the risk of instability in other regional conflicts involving unredeemed territory. Kosovo will also be a weak state, subject to exploitation by radical Islamic forces from outside the region.
American recognition of Kosovo's independence will complicate U.S. bilateral relations with Russia on a number of issues: missile defense, the continued regulation of strategic nuclear forces, and the resolution of other conflicts that the United States would like to see addressed on pro-Western terms--in Georgia, Moldova, and elsewhere. U.S.-Russian relations will be made more difficult by the Kosovo issue, regardless of whether Russia actually has a deep interest in the Balkans, or if it is simply using it as a means of leveraging influence domestically and in the Balkans.
It should be recognized that Kosovo is not living under Serbian oppression today. To the contrary, it is surrounded by UN and EU personnel and observers. A modest extension of the period for negotiation, during which a mutually acceptable solution might have been found, could have prevented the various potential consequences of the declaration--consequences that will likely be felt more in Europe than in the United States.
AEI intern Milena Mikailova prepared this summary.