Chicago Tribute Editorial
August 13, 2007
Eight years after bombing by U.S.-led forces put an end to ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, the troubled province still lacks its independence -- an evolution now threatened with further delay. Kosovo, with ethnic Albanian Muslims making up 90 percent of its 2 million people, still is part of Serbia, although it has been administered by the United Nations since the end of the war there in 1999. The U.S. and its European allies want Kosovo to achieve independence. The main diplomatic obstacle: Mother Russia, with its ancestral ties to the Serbian people.
But that's not the whole story. Russia's obstructionist stance is less about deep solidarity with its Slavic sister nation than with Moscow's tussle against Washington for spheres of influence in Europe. There's also Russia's fear that freedom for Kosovo will only encourage impatient separatists in its own multiethnic realm.
As a consequence, Russia in recent weeks has forced the U.S. and the Europeans to withdraw several Kosovo resolutions they had offered to the UN Security Council. All of these proposals would have paved the way for an independent Kosovo while providing for the protection of the prospective nation's Serbian minority.
How to attack the stalemate? The West has now agreed that a troika composed of the U.S., Russia and the European Union will conduct 120 days of shuttle diplomacy, which began Friday, with Serbian officials in Belgrade and Kosovo officials in Pristina. This may be the final attempt to find an amicable solution.
Should those talks surprisingly bear fruit, the EU likely would take over the administration of Kosovo. The EU then could economically rebuild this region of 4,200 square miles that has largely depended on the generosity of ethnic Albanians living across Europe. The Serbs would be compensated for giving away 15 percent of their territory, which many of them consider the cradle of their nation, with the prospect of joining the EU and enjoying the economic boost it has brought in recent years to its new member states.
But persuading the Serbs that liberating Kosovo serves their own long-term interests is a demanding task. They do, after all, have Russia's support for insisting on their territorial integrity, which was enshrined in the Security Council resolution that put the interim UN administration in place. And the perceived strength of their position may well entice Serbian leaders in Belgrade to thwart the West in repayment for what they still regard as unjust and humiliating treatment during the Balkan wars in the 1990s.
The Bush administration is ready to recognize an independent Kosovo regardless of the outcome of the new talks. This proper (and calculated) move has stepped up pressure not only on the Serbs but also on those European governments that have been reluctant to take the same step. Some, such as Spain and Cyprus, would prefer to extend the status quo indefinitely rather than do anything to keep their own domestic separatists from growing bolder. Others, such as Germany and France, want the Security Council involved, both to bolster the UN's credibility and to give the EU legal authority to be involved in Kosovo's reconstruction.
Washington's task is to convince the European governments that the Kosovars are finally entitled to assume responsibility for their own fate. That means pushing the Europeans to set aside their respective domestic fears and act as a group.
Getting Europe united and having the West speak with one voice would send a long-overdue signal to Russia that its muscular tactics won't increase its influence in European affairs.
And in practical terms, a united Europe also is crucial to securing a strong engagement of the EU in Kosovo, even if the shuttle diplomacy fails. Given that, according to the UN, 400,000 arms are still being kept in the province illegally, an EU commitment going forward is critical to prevent new eruptions of violence in what remains Europe's most explosive spot.
Fair use from Chicago Tribune.