What is state failure? See my conceptualisation of state failure on the right flank below.

Friday, February 15, 2008

The politics of precedents and the Kosovo domino theory (some inconclusive musings)

At the Serbian Ministry of Foreign Affairs' website I found the text of Serb foreign minister Vuk Jeremic's address to the UN Security Council yesterday. Serb diplomacy is now looking to make a last stand before the likely upcoming Kosovar move to declare independence, which seems set to be recognised by almost every EU country, except for, maybe, some (Slovakia, Romania, Spain and Cyprus).
So Vuk Jeremic referred a lot to the old domino theory of the Kosovo precedent, understandably (understandably in a tactical sense; this is no endorsement of the idea that those fears are necessarily well-founded the way they are, from my part). Excerpt from Jeremic's speech:
"The unilateral and illegal declaration of independence of Kosovo from Serbia by the authorities in Pristina would constitute nothing less than the forcible partition of a sovereign member-state of the United Nations.
The direct and immediate consequence of this act would be the destruction of the first principle of the United Nations, namely the sovereign equality of all member-states.
Such a precedent, imposed on the world community, would echo far, far away, into every corner of our globe. For we would discover that the rushing river of self-determination has become an uncontrolled cascade of secession.
We all know that there are dozens of Kosovo's throughout the world, just waiting for secession to be legitimized, to be rendered an acceptable norm. Many existing conflicts would escalate, frozen conflicts would reignite, and new ones would be instigated."
Like, Pashtunistan will go totally crazy over this. Doom is looming for all the calm there of nowadays.
I know it's not nice from me to come up with such an example. But one has to point out that the planned incomplete Kosovar independence is still no endorsement of a principle of ethnic self-determination as such, with Serbs and other minorities living, and hopefully remaining, within the former Yugoslav administrative boundaries of Kosovo. Life is not unbearably pleasant for those minorities, I know. Back in 2004, when I visited Kosovo, there were such minority micro-enclaves where the population had to rely on foreign soldiers even for their daily shopping, just to say one example. This situation will have to improve. But still. And even if you suppose that Kosovo is a clear-cut precedent for a breach of all things sacred in the normative context of today's international relations... Is a precedent enough for guns to start shooting? I mean, can a precedent, by itself, set off a new wave of separatisms, while there are many old separatist struggles ongoing without such a precedent anyway?
I will of course be cautious here. It might be interesting to look out for what current or potential separatists will have to say in reaction to Kosovo's independence. I will be on the look-out for that.
The big concern is the immediate neighbourhood of Kosovo. The former Yugoslavia. (Sigh. With no irony, just a plain seriously concerned sigh.)
Boutros Boutros-Ghali wrote, back in An Agenda for Peace, in 1992: "if every ethnic, religious or linguistic group claimed statehood, there would be no limit to fragmentation, and peace, security and economic well-being for all would become ever more difficult to achieve." Such considerations, I don't want to downplay them, do matter of course. And more importantly, whatever the smartest international lawyer says that may counter them, they may matter in politics - such is the way of politics.
I'll quote what smart people have said before me. If Kosovo is to be a precedent, the new norm arising out of this precedent could sound like this. If a specific area is taken under international administration for almost a decade, a new state may come into being in that area, but not on the grounds of ethnic self-determination, and without a fully independent status, under international oversight. Because that is what the Kosovo precedent could also mean. One could say that's what it has to be - if one were to pretend thinking exclusively in terms of precedents and not politics.
If only politics wouldn't make a mockery of the smartest people's smartest ideas sometimes, regardless of exactly how well-defensible those are...

1 comment:

Péter MARTON said...

I had to reject a comment to this post. It was intriguing, but it was also offensive to a particular group of people.