The EU’s Kosovo Problem

A quick followup to John’s post about the deep divisions among EU member states regarding whether or not to recognize Kosovo’s independence. When you take a look at who’s opposed and why, it becomes clear that for Europeans much more than for Americans, the question of national sovereignty vs. ethno-linguistic-sectarian autonomy is not some far-off problem. Spain has got a delicate situation with Catalonia, and a violent Basque separatist movement to deal with. Greece and Cyprus are both keeping a wary eye on Turkish Cypriot claims to legitimacy. Romania and Bulgaria are in a corner of Europe where separatist claims could stoke regional unrest. And that’s just Europe.

I’ve limited my comments on Kosovo so far to how sloppily it’s been handled. (See this brief Laura Rozen post for confirmation.) But one thing is obvious. The argument that it doesn’t set a precedent for separatist movements has not resonated in the areas of the world where such a precedent would be most threatening. To the contrary, the dissolution of Yugoslavia down to its lowest common denominators (of which Kosovo is simply the final act) has now been accepted as one of the principal models for dealing with weakly federated nation states. The Biden-Gelb Plan for Iraq, for instance, is a thinly disguised version whose Federal structure, should it be implemented, is unlikely to stand the test of time.

Now I don’t dismiss the argument that Serbia’s oppressive mis-governance of Kosovo created a special case. I’m actually pretty susceptible to it. But unlike Iraqi Kurdistan, for instance, which could actually make a pretty strong claim for being a truly autonomous sovereign entity, Kosovo is a legal fiction. Its declaration of independence is simply a facade papering over a NATO/EU institutional infrastructure. (See Jacqueline Carpenter’s WPR exclusive for more.) So as much as Kosovo sets a precedent for separatist movements, it sets an even more dangerous precedent for — or at the very least, leaves the strong impression of — the enforced partitioning of sovereign states without a UN mandate.