Thursday, July 22, 2010

Lasting Implications of the ICJ Kosovo Ruling


The International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruling on Kosovo is much bigger news than we're currently getting from the media. The ruling is likely to have longer-lasting geopolitical consequences than the outcomes of the Iraq or Afghanistan wars.

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in December 2008. The UN General Assembly asked for the ICJ's opinion on whether the declaration of independence was "legal" in terms of international law. The ICJ ruled that it, indeed, was.

What's likely to happen in the immediate future is that more "neutral" countries on the Kosovo issue will likely begin to recognize it as a state, and establish diplomatic relations. If the last 5 EU countries (that don't yet recognize it) begin to recognize it, talks can begin on admitting it to the EU (something that Kosovo very much wants). It might even become a NATO member. "The West" will be very pleased to have a new ally in the region. Like Albania, it's the kind of country that will place huge welcome banners for Obama, Sarkozy, Merkel, Cameron, or other big-hitting Western leaders if they come visit.
But that said, Kosovo is a small country. It's not going to shift the balance between The West and the Russian bloc. What it is going to do, though, is set a powerful precedent.

Between Westphalia and World War II, there was a very Realpolitik stress on national stability. Balance of Power was the game, and all the European heavy hitters had a strong interest in preventing destabilizing independence movements from taking hold.

The United States became the dominant world power after WWI, and had a different approach. Due to its revolutionary and liberal-democratic zeal, it encouraged new independence movements. Post WWI clout gave Wilson the power to drive the principles of autonomy and liberty into the foreign policy discussions of Europe, as they hadn't been before. After WWII, the US generally pried its European allies into letting go of their colonies (except the French... long story.), and drove independence movements in USSR-occupied areas like Hungary and the Czech republic. Yugoslavia broke up. The USSR broke up.
All this led to massive Balkan and Central Asian instability in the 1990's. Without the Soviet fist, Central Asia became a warlord-ruled drug-route. The Balkans experienced multiple wars and genocides.

A precedent of legal regional declarations of independence is dangerous. What if Chechnya, Dagestan, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Kurdistan, Xinjiang, and all sorts of other regions begin to think they can declare independence and have the moral highground to seek UN Assembly recognition? It might be tough to manage. The permanent UN Security Council members probably have a strong enough interest in preventing such a precedent that we can expect a Security Council resolution to come out in the near future. For now, it's something that even the evangelical United States will agree to--their plate is too full at the moment to start trying to manage worldwide national shuffling.

P.S: Those flags are all Albanian flags. I think this is mostly due to the fact that 1) Most Kosovars are of Albanian descent and 2) there was not a large Kosovar flag stockpile during the independence declaration.
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