Friday, July 23, 2010

Kosovo: What's Next

The International Court of Justice issued a clear decision in the case of the legality of Kosovo's declaration of independence yesterday: the declaration is legal, because declarations of independence are not illegal under international law. This ruling could have ramifications in many other places around the globe where there are separatist movements, but the court did not certify that Kosovo is a state that should be independent and a member of the United Nations. It left that to the nations of the world to decide by recognition. 69 countries have recognized Kosovo so far, the amount has grown slowly since the initial weeks after independence, although Kosovo has picked up some key regional backers, such as Montenegro. Many analysts are predicting that many more countries will recognize Kosovo soon after this decision. No one has been the first to jump yet, and I'm not sure how many will recognize in the near future.

The Economist just published a useful map of recognizing and not-recognizing states. The main reasons for not recognizing Kosovo are because your country has a separatist problem and because not recognizing Kosovo will keep you friends with Serbia and its most powerful supporters in this issue, Russia and China. The main reasons to recognize Kosovo is that will put you on the good side of the United States and the main European powers and because it is the just and right thing to do. Kosovo is independent and guarded by the international community today because Yugoslavia's leaders applied a heavy-handed ethnic cleansing approach to a separatism issue in the 1990s, not because Albania's borders were drawn so the state excluded more than half of all Albanians in the 1910s.

While the ICJ decision is definitely good for Kosovo and bad for Serbia's case of getting Kosovo back, I don't see that many countries moving right away. Four out of the five EU countries which do not recognize Kosovo have already reiterated their positions, including Spain, the one that is not acting as a friend of Serbia or Russia but entirely because of its domestic issues, Slovakia, which has a new center-right and Atlanticist government, and Romania. Greece appears to still be thinking. It is the one of the five without a separatist problem of its own, but it has a stake in Cyprus's situation and is close to both Serbia and Russia. Greece could be a powerful first mover, and it could use goodwill from the rest of Europe in its current financial state, although that might lower the possibilities of getting financial help from the Russians. This would be a politically easier West-pleasing recognition for Greece to make than recognizing Macedonia by its actual name. Still, I don't expect Greece to move now. I hope they give me a mild and pleasant surprise.

Looking at the map, if I have to guess the 70th country to recognize I might say Chile. New president Sebastian Pinera, the most conservative leader of a non-recognizing Latin American country, would ingratiate himself with Washington by the move. But that's a pretty wild guess, there are many possibilities. Once one makes the move, a few more might soon after. But Kosovo probably won't reach the 100 recognizers needed for UN membership without Serbia gaining entry to the EU with acceptance of Kosovo's independence as the cost of accession. Whether a country is willing to demand that, what Serbia would do when the choice of EU or Kosovo was laid out that starkly, and whether the EU will ever actually expand beyond Croatia are the key questions.

Kosovo's future will not be decided by an assortment of African, Asian and Latin American countries recognizing its independence, nor in Washington, Moscow and Beijing, but in the Balkans and in Brussels, the Hague and New York.

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