18 January 2008

Averting more Balkan turmoil

At the end of the Great War, US President Woodrow Wilson was certain he knew how to bring lasting peace to Europe: by advancing the apparently democratic right of national self-determination. Unfortunately he neglected adequately to explain what precisely a nation is and who could be said to possess this right. Two short decades later Europe and much of the rest of the world were at war again.

This unworkable principle is about to be invoked again with the probable recognition by the US and the EU of the independence of the breakaway Serb province of Kosovo. Here, with hat tip to bookforum.com, are two articles alerting us to the folly of such a policy: Gary J. Bass, Independence Daze; and Raju G. C. Thomas, The Case against Kosovo Independence. Thomas paints a chilling scenario for the future:

More broadly, to allow Kosovo’s independence would demonstrate that violent secessionism works. In that case, the world ought to get used to seeing the Kosovo “strategy” applied elsewhere. First, faceless ethnic secessionists attack civilians and police. Not knowing where the enemy is hidden within the civilian population, security forces retaliate indiscriminately. Human rights violations elicit an international outcry and condemnation, followed by intervention and occupation by foreign military forces. And, in the denouement, the state loses control of its province as the secessionists declare independence.

Such fragmentation is a recipe, not for justice for discontented minorities, but for massive injustice as political authorities lose the capacity to enforce the rule of law within their own territorial jurisdictions. There is still time to avoid a potentially dangerous error of judgement. As readers well know, I am no fan of Vladimir "Stalin Lite" Putin. However, in this case the soon-to-be Russian Prime Minister would do well to make clear to the west that Serbia's territorial integrity cannot up for grabs.

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