Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Rushing Kosovo

history repeating itself

So let me get this straight: In 1991 the EU hastily recognized Croatia and Slovenia, in a move that, rather undoubtedly, contributed (and I'm putting this rather mildly) to igniting the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s. Yesterday, Britain's Foreign Secretary David Miliband, advocating immediate EU recognition of Kosovo's independence said that:

...European nations must decide whether they want to "take a lead" on Kosovo and prevent a return to the bloodshed of the 1990s, when Yugoslavia broke up in a series of wars.

... neglecting to mention that, in fact, the EU's "lead" in the 1990s, helped the create the "series of wars" he refers to, in a process precisely described by NPR's Sylvia Poggioli, in a lecture back in 1995.

In fact Jonathan Steele writing in the Guardian a year ago, bizarrely acknowledged a need for haste, while suggesting that:

...As current president of the EU, Germany has a chance to show leadership on a major European issue. Many Europeans charge Germany with helping to precipitate the Balkan wars of the 1990s by hasty recognition of Croatia. It would be ironic if Germany over-compensates now by delaying the recognition of Kosovo, and thereby precipitating Balkan violence again.

Thus, drawing historical lessons is a form of over-compensation. The fact that hasty recognitions, in the name of "stopping the conflict" or "not precipitating violence", in the past led to all-out civil war in the same damn region, somehow is deemed as irrelevant and in fact it is claimed that a delay (that would include say some sort of UNSC deal, or even - God forbid - some sort of mutually tolerable solution) would prevent violence. As long as no-strings-attached independence id guarantied, the Kosovar Albanians don't have anything to negotiate about, no reason to make the slightest concession. The talks were theater, with deadlock as their foregone ending.

Nowhere is there even the slightest mention of the domino effect that might ensue and the precedent that this unilateral recognition will establish. The fact that Cyprus steadfastly rejects a EU recognition of Kosovo, is exactly because this would set a legitimizing precedent that might open a future recognition of the "Republic of Northern Cyprus" and half the world in fact. It will bolster bellicose separatism in Europe and certainly the Balkans, creating instability in the region that bodes ill for its future. The wheels that might be set in motion by such a recognition of Kosovo as an independent state, don't have to start immediately, nor are they inescapable. But they will be moving, and they might roll out of control in the event of any serious crisis in the Balkans, Caucasus and beyond. Awkward prevarications such as "In every case, it must be made clear that the case of Kosovo is legally unique and must not create a precedent which will have repercussions in the respect of the borders", are to be used as alibis in the event of an avalanche of resurgent secessionism, in the wake of widespread recognition of Kosovo as an independent state. Note that the affected areas will be as distant to Mr. Miliband as Bosnia was to Mr. Genscher.

I still insist on my Regional Conference idea.


Claudia said...

I have trouble seeing how eight, almost nine years is "hasty". The Ahtisaari Plan alone took a year and a half to develop (and then most of a year to kill dead).

You can say there are problems with Kosovar independence and I won't disagree with you, but haste is not one of them.

Turkish Cyprus: duh. Not this year, nor in five years. But in fifteen or twenty years, northern Cyprus will be recognized as an independent state. There was one good chance to bring it back -- the Annan Plan -- and the Greek Cypriots threw it away.

Regional conference: as I pointed out at the time, this really boils down to "let's compensate Serbia by handing over a chunk of Bosnia". I note in passing that even the Bosnian Serbs are lukewarm about this... they want maximum autonomy and independence, not union with Belgrade.

Doug M.

Claudia said...

Also: Germany didn't recognize until December 1991. By that time, war had been raging for months. Vukovar and Dubrovnik had already been destroyed, and the Krajina Serbs had seceded by force and ethnically cleansed their Croats.

Recognition didn't start the conflict. It did accelerate the outbreak of war in Bosnia, but not by much -- that was going to happen anyway. (There was a joke in 1991: why is Bosnia still at peace? Because they're going direct to the finals.) Probably the main bad effect of recognition is that it made the war harder to end, because it threw away one of the major levers the world had to influence the combatants.

That said, it's hard to see how recognition could have been delayed much longer. Yes, the German action was precipitous, and done for stupid reasons. But at some point, the world had to acknowledge that Yugoslavia no longer existed. I could see delaying recognition maybe six months, but probably not more.

Anyway: aside from both involving "recognition", it's hard to see how Bosnia 1991 is relevant to Kosovo 2008.

Doug M. (not Claudia)

talos said...

The recognition didn't start the conflict indeed. It just spread it and perpetuated it. Same now. The recognition of Kosovo won't have started the conflict - it will perpetuate it. Recognition was unavoidable, but were it managed properly by the EU and others, it could have help avoid (at least in part) instead of accelerating the ensuing bloodbath. In fact the current attitude seems eerily reminiscent of 1991 as it supposedly aims to prevent bloodshed - despite the fact that it will most certainly increase the odds of bloodshed sometime in the not so distant future.

Now as for the conference: An independent Bosnian Serb Republic might indeed be an outcome (personally I'm against the proliferation of unsustainable statelets but whatever floats their boats). The idea is that such a conference will produce a mutually (if grudgingly) accepted new status quo (the details of which I do not pretend to know in advance), which (as a product of deliberation, compromise and trade-offs) won't constitute a destabilizing precedent for the region and beyond. As a bonus it might prevent rather unpleasant developments in Serbia - or do you still insist that the Radicals have no chance of ever coming to power?

About Cyprus: Don't tell me. I was in favor of the Annan plan (warts and all) exactly because it would avoid the de facto legitimization of occupation and settlement. The "patriotic" side over here seems not to mind too much about such details and prefers things as they are now. That however does not mean that any Cypriot government could conceivably assent to a proposal that might help legitimize "Northern Cyprus" as a state entity.

Waldo said...

Cyprus: the "patriotic" side, as is often the case, was more interested in (1) keeping power, and (2) perpetuating tropes that had been useful to it in the past. In the short to medium term, it was a great success. In the long term, it will lead directly to an independent, internationally recognized TRNC. But we don't disagree.

Regional conference: yah, because bilateral talks have worked so well.

Serbs and Albanians can't reach agreement on Kosovo. They can't even come close. The Albanians will never again accept rule from Belgrade, no matter how light, and who can blame them? Meanwhile the Serbs (excepting Cedomir Jovanovic and his 10%) are unable to publicly acknowledge that Kosovo is lost. Throw in a healthy dose of _inat_ and you have total deadlock. This would be exactly the same in a regional conference, so what would be the point?

Further. The Croats wouldn't want such a conference . They're happy with the status quo. They didn't get Herzegovina, but now they don't want it any more. And they're happy with the fact that most of their Serbs will never come back; the troublesome 12% minority has been reduced to a much more manageable 5%. So, Croatia wouldn't be interested.

Macedonia? Umm. Any conference would run the danger of upsetting the oh-so-delicate (but so far, surprisingly successful) balance of power there. You'll find no support in Skopje.

Montenegro? Dude, the Montenegrins would have /less than zero/ interest. They got out of Serbia. They have no territorial claims, for or against. Their main interest these days is trying to fake their way to EU candidacy.

So, the "regional conference" boils down to Bosnia -- really the Bosnian Serbs and Kosovo. As noted, it comes down to "reward the Serbs for losing Kosovo". Since the Serbs are losing Kosovo because they imposed a brutal and murderous apartheid police state on the Kosovars for a decade, I have trouble seeing why this is a good idea.

And as for producing a mutually accepted new status quo... come on. You know that wouldn't happen. Greek Cypriot nationalists are moderate and sensible compared to Bosnian Serbs or Kosovar Albanians.

You'll notice that nobody but you is talking about such a conference. This is because (1) you're an unsung genius, years ahead of your time, or (2) a conference is not really such a great idea. You tell me.

I still don't see the similarity between now and 1991. How exactly is recognizing Kosovo going to lead to violence? Diplomatic complications, sure -- Cyprus, Abkhazia, blah blah blah. But the effect will be pretty marginal -- those conflicts are all frozen for good reasons, and they're not going to break out again because of Kosovo.

The Radicals coming to power: yeah, it could happen. Not the way to bet, but possible. Serbia is really complicated right now. Notice how Kostunica is trying to force through the Gazprom deal before the Presidential election? He thinks that, if he can get Tadic to openly oppose it, he can throw the election to Nikolic. I suspect his hatred of Tadic is making him stupid; he really seems to think that Nikolic would be easier to deal with. The fact that the Dutch have vetoed Serbia's SAA with the EU is going to make it harder for Tadic... he was counting on that for support. (I agree with the Dutch position but, like so many good intentions in that region, it carries a heavy price.)

So we have the first round today, which Nikolic will probably "win" with a plurality, and the runoff in two weeks. If Tadic pulls it out, it's good news all around -- Kostunica will get a bloody nose, and the Radicals may collapse into partisan infighting. (Maybe not, but we can hope.) If Nikolic wins, it's bad -- no SAA, and the idiotic Gazprom deal goes through for sure. (Not that this is so bad, but it gives the Russians a billion-euro windfall at the expense of the average Serb citizen on the street.) Oh, and the international community gets cover for action on Kosovo.

It's interesting, because it could go either way. Well, interesting from a distance. If I still lived in Belgrade, I'd be pretty jumpy.

Well, we'll see in two weeks. Meanwhile Kosovo will continue to wait.

Really, you can say Kosovar independence is all kinds of bad. But you can hardly say it's coming too soon. If eight years isn't long enough, what is?

Doug M.