Monday, February 18, 2008

Kosovo Independence

As expected, the wayward Serbian province of Kosovo declared independence yesterday. A majority of its citizens wanted independence, as opposed to some kind of tie with Serbia; the place has a defined territory; a government more or less in possession; and some ability to defend itself. In consequence, the US government, quite properly, recognized the new state this morning, and at least some states (the Germans the British and others), may be expected to follow suit.

Lots of people and countries are not happy: Kosovo's Serb minority, mostly living on the new country’s border with Serbia, is definitely not happy. The Russians, the Spanish, the Greeks, and other states with restive minorities are not happy either. The Russians and the Serbs are going to demand something to assuage their unhappiness: I hope that the Kosovars will have the good sense to be negotiable on borders. If the Serbs on their borders want to be in Serbia, by all means let them.

I truly wish, however, that the US had not gotten involved with Kosovo’s problems, or in the breakup of Yugoslavia period. This was really a problem for the European powers (that is, the Germans, French, Italians and British) to deal with. The Clinton administration’s relentless determination to stick America’s nose into the Balkans has brought us nothing but entanglement in a region of little direct strategic significance to the US, and needless quarrels with powers such as Russia with which we already have issues enough.

That said, once America became involved, I think that the EU/State Department people who have been trying to force the Balkan secessionists to set up secular, ethnically diverse states in the Balkans are idiots who need their heads examined. The recent bloody history of ethnic cleansing in the Balkans should persuade even the most obstinate PC lawyer-type that multi-culti states in the Balkans are a fantasy. The only people who care about imposing such unworkable settlements on people who hate each other are the international bureaucrats, the professors and the lawyers. Had the US and EU (once they determined to interfere) aimed for partition from the outset, both in Kosovo and in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and helped buy-out and resettle people who lived on the wrong sides of borders, the whole process of undoing Yugoslavia might have been a good deal less bloody and expensive for everyone involved.
I am a little dubious about a new Muslim state in Europe, but only a little. A Muslim country in Europe is not exactly a new condition: there are others, and besides, the Ottoman Empire was in Europe for centuries, and the breakup of this entity (to the immediate benefit of a number of Christian kingdoms) contributed a good deal to the ruination of Europe and Christian civilization generally. There is no reason a new Muslim state in Europe has to be impermissible per se.
Kosovo is now an accomplished fact, and we have rightly recognized it. Good luck to the Kosavars, and may they have the good sense to have good manners in celebrating their good fortune.


H said...

Don't mean to flood your comments but I have a question for you,

The recent bloody history of ethnic cleansing in the Balkans should persuade even the most obstinate PC lawyer-type that multi-culti states in the Balkans are a fantasy.

How do you, or do you at all, relate this situation to Iraq and the Sunni/Shia/Kurd divides?

El Jefe Maximo said...

I don't know that I necessarily relate it to Iraq - both places involve Muslims, but that's about it. That is to say, unless others, looking to stir pots in the Middle East and elsewhere in Europe, try to link these sad cases up.

It's my own horseback guess/gut instinct that the problems with Muslim immigrants in central Europe have much more to do with Iraq and the wider Middle East than Kosovo.

Recall that until relatively recently -- the Ottoman Empire -- headed by the Sultan/Caliph -- stretched all the way to the Danube. Kosovo is part of a set of problems that resulted from the expulsion of that Empire from all of Europe but the Turkish straits. The Empire did not break up till the 1870s -- in 1875 Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia, Wallachia and Moldova declared their independence from the Empire; and that was formalized following the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78. Kosovo is a leftover problem from that era, as is Bosnia-Herzegovina -- actually, the whole area is a left over problem from the First World War which really started as a Third Balkan War -- had God been kind, it would have stayed that way.

To the extent that we have any interest in the region at all -- we need to keep it from being linked to Iraq and the Sunni/Shia/Kurd divide and keep it from the Middle East's problems generally. We would do well to find some deal to regularize this situation that the Russians can accept -- probably that means at the least concessions on the Kosovo borders.

H said...

I don't think I asked the question properly. I didn't mean to ask if you think that Kosovo and Iraq are linked. What I meant to ask is do you see correlations with the desire for a multi-culti state in the Balkans, and the desire for a multi-culti state in Iraq?

If it's a fantasy in the Balkans. Do you think there is any hope that a multi-culti state in Iraq can be created? Or do you think that Iraq should be partitioned?

El Jefe Maximo said...

I know less about the Middle East than Europe, but I'll take a stab at your question. To begin with, statesmanship abhors consistency and systems: every situation is different.

In one sense Iraq is already partitioned: at least as far as Kurdistan goes. Kurdistan is one of the most tragic of the left-over disasters produced by the most horrible of all wars -- the First World War (which begat the second, among other things).

Personally, I regret that the Kurds did not get their state (one was promised on what is now Turkish territory by the Treaty of Sevres between the Allies and Ottoman Empire, but this didn't make it into the Treaty of Lausanne with Kemal's Turkish Republic: the allies, by that time had no military power to impose such a settlement (and probably didn't at Sevres either) which is what would have been required.

The Kurds have themselves a government, a military, and some territory under their control -- the three northern Iraqi provinces, with the status of Mosul TBD. They have the friendship of the US. They in fact have independence, in all but legal form, at least so long as the American military stays -- and the Kurds would probably like us there forever.

Whether the Kurds ever get de jure independence is another question -- that cannot be had without at least the Turks, and possibly the Iranians signing on. (I think Iraq could, for the forseeable future, be bullied into going along if Turkey did).

Getting the Turks to go along may be impossible, and will mostly be up to the Kurds, with maybe some background US help.

The only plan which might work is for the Kurds to agree on the relocation of the Turkish Kurds onto the territory of the new Kurdish state -- renouncing all claims to Turkey and keeping the Iraqi provinces only. This would take a good deal of US and Euro aid if it were not to be a total humanitarian disaster.

As it is, I think the Kurds should be content with their present de facto independence, try to get the Americans to get all parties to commit to not disturbing that, if the Kurds behave, and then be quiet, build their state, and see what the future brings.

As for Sunnis and Shias in Iraq, that is more problematic.

The Sunnis have Baghdad, but that is otherwise not viable as a state -- maybe annexing that to Jordan would work. But a Shia state would make the Saudis very, very nervous, because of Iran.

Iraq was always a very contrived creation, but it kept the Persians out, the Kurds down and the local Sunnis happy. All the neighbors found it too useful to dispense with.

But finally, beyond Kurdistan, this is an academic problem anyway. The time for partition discussions and boundry commissions with Made in America solutions is past. There is now an Iraqi government in place. The Iraqis will have to determine the fate of Sunni and Shiite Iraq among themselves, hopefully peacefully, but by arms if they must. We are not driving that bus.

H said...

Thanks for the reply. I was just curious what you thought about the situation and if you saw any parallels in the two situations.

Personally, I don't think that animosity is as bad in Iraq as it appears to be in the Balkans. Under Saddam, the Sunni and Shia largely got along without sectarian tensions and violence. The problems really only started when he was gone and individuals began fanning the flames of victimization and demonization.

I could probably do a whole post on the problems with partitioning Iraq so I won't get into that. I just wondered if you felt there were any generalizations to be made when third parties try to create multi-culti states.

El Jefe Maximo said...

Remember all the stories about neighbors butchering each other after Bosnia-Herzegovina fell apart ? Tito's Yugoslavia kept the lid on there too, more or less. Then circumstances changed and the pot boiled.

Would we really be that different if everything went all to pieces ? I mean REALLY went to pieces like Yugo did ? In some ways, it scares the bejesus out of me how much like Austria-Hungary this place is getting.