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Since 1999 the territory has been run by the UN and NATO, more or less. After the allied victory ethnic Albanians kicked out 200,000 or more Serbs and other minorities, such as Roma. Kosovo’s guerrillas took over as leaders — of both the political system and abundant criminal enterprises. Three years ago ethnic Albanian mobs arose to murder and displace ethnic Serbs, and to burn and wreck Serb homes, churches, and monasteries.
Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, the U.S. and Europeans want to be done with the mess that they helped to created. Desultory negotiations over Kosovo’s status occurred over the last two years, but the outcome was never in doubt. The allies made clear to the ethnic Albanians that independence would result if no accord was reached, so no accord was reached.
The Serbs refused to be bought off with the promise of European Union membership and the Russians said no to another Western fait accompli. So now Kosovo plans to declare independence, perhaps in days, and the U.S. and most Europeans say they will recognize the new state.
The most sensible policy for Washington would be to step back and indicate that there will be no recognition without genuine negotiations, that is, talks without a predetermined outcome, between Kosovo and Serbia.
On the table should be all options, including overlapping citizenships (Kosovo, Serb, EU), and secession within secession, that is, allowing the ethnic Serbs concentrated to Kosovo’s north, principally around Mitrovica, to remain in Serbia.
THE U.S. SHOULD halt the independence bandwagon, though not because Washington has an intrinsic reason for objecting to Kosovo becoming a separate nation. In principle the status of this particular piece of real estate should not matter much to America. Whether the ethnic Albanians or Serbs rule in Pristina is intrinsically irrelevant to U.S. interests.
However, Washington has spent more than a decade unbalancing the Balkans. By accelerating the break-up of Yugoslavia with the early recognition of Slovenian and Croatian independence, the allies short-circuited negotiations, most importantly over the status of minorities within the breakaway states. U.S. diplomats also discouraged early settlement of the Bosnian conflict, further bloodying allied hands.
Washington and Brussels have done the same in Kosovo. Starting in 1998 the allies took the side of the ethnic Albanians, encouraging their intransigence in ensuing negotiations. Maybe a peaceful outcome was never possible. We will never know because of U.S. and European intervention.
After the 1999 Kosovo war, the allies essentially promised the ethnic Albanians independence and dismissed any compromise, such as allowing ethnic Serbs to secede from Kosovo. All the while the West blamed Belgrade for refusing to accept the ethnic Albanian position. Now those same allies are greenlighting a declaration of independence by Pristina.
The outcome of this strategy is not likely to be pretty. There will be a new, violent, and unstable state, permeated by crime and possibly open to terrorists, in the Balkans.
This will push Serbia away from Europe, conceivably leaving a large economic and political hole in the Balkans. The allied approval of Albanian self-determination will encourage other secessionist movements in the Balkans and elsewhere as ethnic and political minorities demand the same “right” of independence. Western dismissal of Russia’s interests will make Moscow more antagonistic and assertive. Failure to resolve the status of Serbs within Kosovo risks triggering conflict between ethnic Albanians and Serbs, and possibly Kosovo and Serbia.
Nice work all around.
Washington still has time to say no and mitigate some of the consequences of its past meddling in the Balkans. But, at this point, the odds aren’t good.