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Kosovo Rising

“If there is ever another war in Europe, it will come out of some damned silly thing in the Balkans” Otto von Bismarck

“I think what we did in Kosovo was profoundly important.” – Bill Clinton

A new nation declared itself today after close to a decade as a UN protectorate; a fragment of a fragment of an extinguished artificial state once built upon the polyglot ruins of European empires and Muslim sultanates. This particular geographic node, Kosovo, has a quality that all of it’s larger forerunners lacked – the cultural unity of identity that will make the nation the primary loyalty of the overwhelming majority of it’s citizens. A fact on the ground that trumps diplomatic protests over the finer points of international law or the mythic appeal of seven hundred year old Lost Causes.

Kosovo’s declaration of independence is ultimately rooted in an overwhelming demographic reality that could have only been altered by Kosovar Serbians having had larger families three and four decades ago than their poorer Albanian neighbors; and the Yugoslavian and Serbian governments having given rural Serbs some kind of economic incentive not to migrate to Belgrade or the larger towns of Serbia proper. As such, Kosovo’s declaration is worrisome to all multiethnic states plagued by separatism where the majority population is in decline – from the windows of the Kremlin, Serbia today must look hauntingly like Russia writ small.

However demographics alone was probably not enough here to explain Kosovo – Kurds, Shan, Tamils, Basques, Tibetans, Palestinians, Uighurs, Baluchis, Pushtuns and in previous centuries, the Irish – all thoroughly dominate their respective homelands but are not yet being welcomed into independence by great powers. What hapened is that the adversaries of the Kosovar Albanian, the Serbians nationalists, also morally de-legitimized themselves under Slobodan Milosevic, with years of atrocities and ethnic cleansing in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. Milosevic and his murderous policies had considerable popular support until the very end; they still retain support from a not inconsiderable, defiant, hardcore as evidenced by the inability or unwillingness of Serbia to bring Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic to justice. As the Germans bade farewell forever to East Prussia and Silesia in 1945, Serbians today can reflect on Sarajevo’s impact upon their legal claim to sovereignty over Kosovo.

That being said, events can be handled well or poorly. Kosovar independence would have gone down better in a world where Russia was a prosperous, democratic state, thoroughly integrated into the Core and a regional strategic partner of the United States instead of a bitter, increasingly paranoid, plebiscitary “soft” dictatorship that views America with grave suspicion and the EU with contempt.  That was not an outcome that Washington could have created alone but a relationship that three administrations might have attempted to build with Russia but elected not to do so. Benign neglect mixed with pressure toward Moscow was a deliberate choice on our part, one that might have made Berlin, London and Paris happy in the 1990’s but it wasn’t to our long term strategic benefit.

Independence is good for the Kosovars and in the last analysis, inevitable; but our statesmen should be arranging matters so that the United States profits from inevitable events rather than simply bearing the diplomatic costs.

Kosovo Links:

Coming Anarchy  ,  Duck of Minerva,   TDAXPAqoulOutside the Beltway,   Centerfield,   John RobbMatthew Yglesias   Catholicgauze – New!,     Weekly Standard -New!


The United States government has formally recognized the independence of Kosovo via the State Department but, significantly, with an accompanying statement by President Bush.

4 Responses to “Kosovo Rising”

  1. deichmans Says:

    Zen,  Didn’t Bismarck utter those words around the turn of the 20th cent. (about 15 years before Gavil Princip lit the fuse of The Great War by assassinating the Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo)?  Talk about someone with "strategic vision"! 🙂

    My favorite Bismarck quote (because the Iron Chancellor is, IMHO, timeless) is "We live in a time when the strong grows weak because of his scruples, and the weak grows strong because of his audacity."

  2. Dave Schuler Says:

    I’m worried about more than diplomatic costs, Mark.  What concerns me are real costs in blood and treasure.
    As I’ve been commenting over on Outside the Beltway it’s hard to know where to begin commenting on this matter.  Kosovo has been a focus of Serbian nationalism for the last 900 years.  I doubt that will end because of this declaration.
    Although Russia’s angy denunciation of the declaration was couched in Westphalian terms, that hasn’t always been the case.  Although Russia’s most defensible reason for opposing Kosovar independence might be the signal it will send to ethnic minorities within their own multi-ethnic state, the arguments they’ve been making for a long time (and in their domestic press) have been Pan-Slavic ones and defense of the Russian sphere of influence.
    I think the Westphalian argument is a pretty serious one.  What’s the unit of measure of national sovereignty?  While it does have an Albanian majority, the tiny speck that’s Kosovo has no history of national identity.  It’s a couple of counties that have been batted back and forth among empires for millenia.   If you slice the roast thin enough, you can come up with a majority, if only by going down to the city block level or farther.  That sets the stage for war without boundaries or limits that Europe foreclosed three hundred years ago.  That’s still the problem in the swath from Anatolia to the Hindu Kush where tribal, ethnic, and sectarian forces are more influential than nations.  And where much of the problem of international terrorism is festering.

  3. Dan tdaxp Says:

    The best post on Kosovo so far is from Catholicgauze.

  4. zen Says:

    Hi Shane,

    The great Prince Otto von Bismarck said that – I think  – prior to the Congress of Berlin. But I’m not positive. Trying to cool tensions between Austria-Hungary and Russia over the Balkans was a perennial headache for Bismarckian foreign policy.
    Hi Dave,

    I agree, Kosovo is likely to be a source of unending frustration for Serbia but if they had not so badly eroded global sympathy for themselves during the 1990’s through their own cruelty,the Kosovar Albanians would be finding a far cooler reception from Washington and the EU today.
    Russian Pan-slavism is a more serious matter. There’s a long emotional-intellectual-historical tradition there. Tinder that can catch fire in a very nasty way and we have not done much to nurture appealing alternatives.
    Your Westphalian commentary requires a post on my part to answer. :o)

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