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Western nations also should abandon the embarrassingly naive illusion that they can forcibly engineer a federal state that protects minority rights. The bitter serial break-up of Yugoslavia should have ended this fantasy.
If that wasn’t a large enough dose of reality, then any belief in a multi-ethnic Kosovo should have disappeared when ethnic Albanians kicked out a quarter million of their neighbors after NATO intervened on their behalf. Whatever final delusions might have remained should have disappeared in last year’s spurt of anti-Serb violence by ethnic Albanians.
Understandably, no Albanian Kosovar cares to trust his future to Serb governance. But no Serb, Jew, Roma, or anyone else would want to trust his future to ethnic Albanian governance, irrespective of the promises made by whomever.
It also is important to abandon expectation of a “just” settlement. Since the West cheerfully backed creation of a series of new states out of Yugoslavia, there’s no intrinsic reason to say no to Kosovo.
At the same time, the NATO countries denied Serbs the right to secede from the new nations of Bosnia and Croatia. So what principle justifies giving the Albanians more rights than were accorded the Serbs? On the other hand, if Albanians have a right to secede from Serbia, there’s no logical reason to deny Serbs the right to secede from Kosovo.
IN SHORT, THERE ARE NO generally applicable principles here. The U.S. and its European allies support the sovereignty of nation states in the face of ethnic pressures — except when they support groups that wish to secede and establish ethnically-based states.
In the case of the Balkans, the only principle that seemed to apply was that everyone got to secede from Serb-dominated territories and Serbs were never allowed to secede from territories dominated by other groups. This might be consistent policy, but it should not be confused with a principled moral stand.
None of the proposed solutions is pretty. Independence would be in keeping with the wishes of Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian majority, but would leave the few remaining Serbs vulnerable, inflame nationalism in Serbia, unsettle neighboring states, and create a statelet likely to become the regional font of crime, instability, and perhaps even terrorism.
Leaving Kosovo with Serbia, whatever the form of autonomy, would satisfy Serbia and other nations with sizable ethnic Albanian populations, but has no support among Kosovo’s Albanians. Serbian brutality during the guerrilla conflict and six years of de facto autonomy after allied intervention have eliminated this as a realistic option.
Moreover, this approach would place Serbia’s democratic future in doubt, creating a hostile voting bloc accounting for roughly 20 percent of the population. (With a youthful population, ethnic Albanians could constitute 30 percent of army recruits.) Finally, this “solution” would be inherently unstable, creating a sense of unfinished business, seeming ethnic Albanians to be a mere way station on the way to independence.
Independence with partition — really big partition minus little partition — would come closer to satisfying ethnic Albanians, by giving them a country, and Serbs, by leaving most of them in Serbia. Such a system would be difficult to negotiate with Albanians, leave some Albanians in Serb territory, and would unnerve surrounding nations by encouraging further partitions.
Nevertheless, it would come closest to reflecting the desires of residents and applying just principles. Separation would be the means to discourage future conflict. Certainly it should not be ruled out by the West, as the Bush administration has attempted to do, effectively prejudging any “negotiations.”
ALTHOUGH CLINTON ADMINISTRATION officials who did so much to unnecessarily entangle America in the Balkans have demanded continued U.S. “leadership,” solving the region’s problems always should have been Europe’s rather than America’s problem. Unfortunately, the U.S. now bears significant responsibility for the outcome due to its foolish intervention in 1999. But Europe retains both a greater interest in Kosovo’s final status and ability to influence Balkan governments than does America.
Thus, Washington should baptize the beginning of an international process for resolving Kosovo’s status and then step back, withdrawing its last 1800 troops from the region. Europe then could wield its various tools of influence — a willingness to maintain military garrisons, the prospect of joining the European Union, and the offer of economic opportunities and aid. If the Europeans choose a different strategy than preferred by Washington, so be it. And if a continuing troop presence is necessary, as many analysts argue, it should be provided by Europe.
The Kosovo war is over, but the peaceful resolution has barely begun. In the West’s search for a solution, no one should unduly worry about respecting international juridical principles or seeking regional consensus. NATO abandoned any pretense of principle when it launched its unprovoked war against Serbia.
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