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It is not at all clear that other limbo-states fit within the unique pattern set by Kosovo, or that, even if they do, their claims to independence will be even lightly entertained. Taiwan, for example, shares little history of circumstance with Kosovo. And microstates like Transnistria or Abkhazia have not enjoyed the overt, sustained military support of major powers in order to protect resident ethnic minorities. Coming closest to the Kosovars, as Gvosdev intuits, are the Kurds — but Iraq’s own unique situation, including strong American pressure, makes a Kurdish claim for independence unlikely.
3. ACCELERATION. If independence for Kosovo would cause others to assert similar, even if not identical, claims, why would the resulting adjustments create unmanageable instability? The status quo is already unfavorable in places like Cyprus, where the United Nations has made an absolute hash of things over a period of decades. Working to settle Cyprus once and for all would be a positive development — not easy going, but not dangerous to global or even regional stability either. Final status on Cyprus, once the slow wheels of negotiations start to turn, is a long way off regardless. Why, to take another example, would independence for Transnistria (occupied by the Russian army, unlike, say, Abkhazia) be any worse than limbo, within which the rule of law is automatically at a disadvantage? To the extent that a firm Kosovo decision can force the issue for other international inconsistencies, the West should seize the opportunity to eliminate areas inviting to corruption, smuggling, the sex trade, and terror, by enfolding them into either a neighboring nation or into the legitimate community of independent nations.
MANY ALREADY ARGUE that Kosovo ought to be granted independence, even if this means partition. Georgetown professors and Europe experts Charles King and Charles Kupchan have advanced detailed perspectives on Kosovo for months. King has put forth the concept of an independent “Kosova” in the Times Literary Supplement, and Kupchan has argued for independence and partition along ethnic lines in Foreign Affairs. Kosovo, like Iraq, is an illustration of policy being conducted — and internationally tolerated — on a case-by-case basis. At the seams of custom and rules, irregularities created by the failure of the international system to produce right outcomes cannot easily be forced back under the rubric of traditional sovereignty and international law. This does not mean, however, that the pursuit of legitimacy and structural clarity should not be undertaken with all deliberate speed. One of the more important lessons of 9/11 is that mere nationalism is one of the less dangerous ideologies of our time. An international system of states, we all can surely agree, is to be preferred over a hybrid system where some groups are left outside the community of nations and choose to take matters, asymmetrically, into their own hands.
James G. Poulos is a writer and attorney living in Washington, D.C. His commentaries are found at Postmodern Conservative.
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