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THE LEGAL AND POLITICAL CONSEQUENCES OF KOSOVO INDEPENDENCE (part 2)

3. PRESSURE ON SERBIA

Unfortunately we have seen in the case of Kosovo in 1999 and more recently with the invasion of Iraq that the countries of NATO and the United States are prepared to violate international law when they consider it in their interests to do so. Furthermore the NATO countries are able to use their economic and political power as leverage to force smaller countries to comply with their demands. The promise of membership in the new Europe can be an offer difficult to refuse even when acceptance means a humiliating loss of self respect if not the loss of territory as well.

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In June 2005 the European Council set out the criteria to be met by any decision on the final status for Kosovo. The solution according to the Council had to be fully compatible with European values and norms, comply with international legal instruments and obligations and the United Nations Charter and contribute to realizing the European prospects of Kosovo and the region. However the Council also stressed that any agreement must ensure that Kosovo does not return to the pre-March, 1999 situation.
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What the European Council seems to be saying is that any decision about Kosovo must be legal but since it can't be legal without Serbia's consent the Council holds out the possibility of admittance to the European Community in exchange. If Serbia gives up Kosovo its reward will be eventual acceptance into the European Community. The European Council describes this as a satisfactory solution. Others might describe it as blackmail. In any event what is clear is that both the United States and the European Community want a solution to what they interpret as an intractable and festering problem in the heart of Europe. The Europeans may be fussier about the legalities than are the Americans but the final outcome desired is the same

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If Serbia is willing to accept this deal then there are the usual promises that the new Kosovo would be multi-ethnic, would respect human and minority rights, would guarantee the safe return of the evicted population, that the Christian religious sites would be safeguarded and that crime, corruption and terror would be eliminated. All of the guarantees sound good. The problem is all of them have been promised before and expressed in United Nations resolution 1244. We know how faithfully the guarantees in that resolution have been enforced in Kosovo during the past seven years.
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Casting a dark and foreboding shadow over the Kosovo talks is the reality that if the incentive of joining the new Europe does not work and Serbia refuses to consent to the loss of its Kosovo territory then punishment rather than incentives can be used. Serbia has already had its grim share of what this can entail. Loss of IMF and World Bank loans, discouragement of Western investment, ostracism from international institutions, threats from the International Criminal Tribunal of more indictments, manipulation of elections and a host of other penalties designed to force conformity to the will of the United States led NATO powers.
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Nevertheless it would be a mistake for the United States and the Europeans to assume that the decision about Kosovo independence will solve all the problems in the Balkans. Kosovo independence is a Pandora's Box and once opened there is every likelihood of further Albanian demands in the region. Furthermore as the United Nations special envoy, Kai Eide has reported, Kosovo is simply not ready for independence. Quite apart from its questionable economic viability, its record of ethnic cleansing, violence and intolerance of minorities should disqualify it from becoming an independent country. Wide spread crime and corruption and its dominance of the European drug trade give sufficient evidence by any standard that it is not ready to join the ranks of independent states.
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A further mistake is to believe that a decision to grant Kosovo independence will not become a precedent or that it will not be seen as an example for others who might be striving for self determination. There have been statements from US officials suggesting that Kosovo is unique and therefore cannot be used as a precedent. This is wishful thinking and it is dangerous thinking. A decision to grant Kosovo independence will have far reaching implications. It will serve as an example and encouragement to other independent movements around the world. It could become a symbol and template for secessionists everywhere.

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4. A PRECEDENT FOR RUSSIA ?

Not withstanding the attempts by US officials to pretend that independence for Kosovo would not be a precedent, the President of Russia, Vladimir Putin, on January 30, 2006 declared that the decision on Kosovo if it is to be considered legal should be of a "universal nature" and applicable to post Soviet territory. The Russian President based his statement on the fact that, UN Resolution 1244 has affirmed that Kosovo is an integral part of Serbia. He added that, "Our starting point is that United Nations Security Council's decisions are not of a decorative nature, do not depend on the political circumstances, but are adopted in order to be fulfilled."

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President Putin was referring to the unrecognized regions of the former Soviet Union that desire independence: Abkhasia that broke away from Georgia in 1992 and successfully defeated Georgian military attempts to prevent secession. It has not been recognized as an independent state. South Ossetia declared its independence from Georgia in 1991 following armed conflict with Georgian troops but its independence has not been recognized. Transnistria declared unilateral independence from Moldova in 1991 and with the assistance of Russian and Ukrainian troops resisted attempts by Moldova to prevent secession. Its independence has not been recognized.

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In response to President Putin's intervention in the Kosovo process the U.S. Deputy Secretary of State for European Affairs, Rosemary di Carlo has stated that the Kosovo situation and the region itself is a unique phenomenon and that the Kosovo model would not apply to the unrecognized regions of the former Soviet Union. She also pointed out there were no UN resolutions relating to them. What she did not say of course was that the UN resolution relating to Kosovo explicitly reaffirmed it as part of Serbia.
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It is difficult to say if President Putin's remarks are a warning that Russia, as a member of the Contact Group, will insist that the criteria and standards used to decide on Kosovo independence will have universal application and especially to the unrecognized regions of the former Soviet Union. If it is a warning is it to be taken seriously? Or, is it simply a move designed to be used by Russia as a future bargaining chip in negotiations with the Western powers? Previous experience has shown it is unlikely Russia will risk openly defying the United States and Europe over the issue of Kosovo independence. At any rate this remains to be seen. Whatever the motives, however, President Putin's intervention serves to highlight the reality that, despite protests to the contrary, a decision to grant independence to Kosovo will stand as a precedent.
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5. A DANGEROUS PRECEDENT

There are currently 191 member states of the United Nations but an estimated five thousand ethnic groups scattered across the globe. Many of these ethnic groups are desirous of attaining statehood and becoming members of the United Nations. Many have much stronger claims for independence than does Kosovo. The Kurds for example number close to thirty million people and have maintained a distinctive culture for three thousand years despite being dispersed in Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria. They were promised a separate state by the allies after world war one but this promise was thwarted by the Turkish dominance of the region under Kemal Ataturk. The leaders of the Kurdish independence movement will not overlook what happens in Kosovo. The American insistence on maintaining the territorial integrity of Iraq at the expense of the Kurdish wish for independence will ring hollow to the Kurds of north eastern Iraq.

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Taiwan with its prosperous economy and high standard of living has enjoyed de facto independence since being expelled from the United Nations in 1971 and yet it has not been recognized by the international community as an independent state. Tibet, Chechnya, Nagorno- Karabakh , Tamil Eelam, Kashmir, the Philippines, Thailand, - the list is a long one. In Western Europe itself there are serious demands for independence from Basques, Corsicans, and Montenegrins.
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