For a long time the proponents of Kosovo's independence have acted as if the game was up, that all that remained was for the "international community" to settle on the formula for independence--and for Serbia to sign on the dotted line under pressure. Until recently, many old Balkan hands in the world's capitals that matter expected that by the end of 2006 it would be all over. There are recent signs, however, that "it" won't be over that soon, and that the outcome is by no means preordained. It did not look that way when the United Nations abandoned its own policy of "standards before status" last fall. The achievment of "standards"--measured in terms of non-Albanians' personal security and the return of non-Albanian refugees, which number a quarter of a million--only required a pretense of ethnic and religious tolerance on part of the Kosovo Albanians, but they refused to offer even that much. In addition, the political leadership in the province passed into the hands of three notorious war criminals with jihad-terrorist and organized crime connections, Agim Ceku, Ramush Haradinaj, and Hashim Thaci.
The negotiations in Vienna opened in late February, but they have not been going well and are doomed to fail: the province's Albanians will settle for nothing less than independence, and that is the only issue on which Belgrade will not budge. Serbia entered the talks in spite of the fact that the UN envoy presiding over them is Martti Ahtisaari, the former president of Finland who was instrumental in deceiving the Milosevic government into surrendering Kosovo to NATO in 1999, and who has since served on the Board of the International Crisis Group (ICG), together with Wesley Clark, Morton Abramowitz, and other notorious pro-Albanian interventionists.
Over the past week, however, there have been signs of significant counter-movement. Articles critical of the proposed independence scenario have started appearing with surprising regularity. In a Baltimore Sun op-ed on May 10, Christopher Deliso reminded us that "[a]verting a humanitarian catastrophe was NATO's stated justification for bombing Serbia" but then came "ethnic cleansing of more than 200,000 Serbs and other minorities by Albanian militants." "Behind their façade of optimism, Western leaders negotiating Kosovo's future status are panicking," Deliso says. If Kosovo becomes independent, the remaining Serbs will flee--and the UN already dismayed them by making Agim Ceku, "a man who once terrorized them, prime minister":
Such privileged treatment reveals the fatal flaw of the U.N. mission. Canadian police Detective Stu Kellock, who headed the U.N. Regional Serious Crimes Unit in 2000 and 2001, says investigations implicating Albanian politicians or their associates were routinely blocked. The orders came directly from Washington, London and Brussels. Mr. Ceku and Mr. Haradinaj control Kosovo's militant factions and are considered heroes by Albanians. An anxious United Nations continually has sought to stay on their good side through appeasement.
Alarmingly, Deliso concludes, the West has no Plan B for ensuring Balkan peace: "In early 1999, Kosovo was a brutal but contained local conflict, relegated to villages. Botched Western intervention has made it a potential precedent for multiregional warfare."
A day earlier, on May 9, Admiral James "Ace" Lyons warned in the Washington Times that "the drug, sex slave, weapons, money-laundering, and other illicit trades" are flourishing in Kosovo, but none of this should come as any surprise:
Even in 1999, when the Clinton administration decided to take military action in support of the so-called Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), there were numerous and credible intelligence and news reports of the KLA's criminal and terrorist inclinations. Predictably, KLA veterans found even more opportunity to ply their illicit trades when, ostensibly demobilized, they were recruited by the UN into Kosovo's police, civil administration, and quasi-military 'Kosovo Protection Corps.' The foxes were asked to guard the chicken coop--another U.N. fiasco.
If Kosovo becomes independent, Adm. Lyons concludes, even the minimal interference in the Kosovo-based gangs' operations will be removed:
A criminal state not seen since the defunct Taliban regime in Afghanistan will be set up with easy proximity to the rest of Europe. Such an outcome would make a mockery of some of the United States' most important global security priorities. While the international community desires some sort of "closure" to the ongoing mess in Kosovo (and this is understandable), it is hard to think of a supposed solution worse than independence. Seven years after the 1999 war, this is one Clinton legacy that demands urgent reconsideration.
The name of the former commander of America's Pacific Fleet was noted, only days earlier, on the list of distinguished writers, policy analysts, diplomats, clerics, and military men who have joined the Board of Advisors of the newly-launched American Council for Kosovo, a Washington-based nonprofit organization "dedicated to promoting a better American understanding of the Serbian province of Kosovo and Metohija and of the critical American stake in the province's future." The Council's stated mission is to "generate a heightened American awareness that an independent Kosovo--forcibly and illegally detached from Serbia, as is now being contemplated by the international community--would be harmful to U.S. national interests and to European and global security."
Seven years after the 1999 war, the Council's introductory statement goes on, criminal and jihad terrorist elements of the supposedly disbanded "Kosovo Liberation Army" dominate the province's administration and maintain a reign of terror over Kosovo's still-dwindling Christian Serb population. Churches and monasteries that have not already been desecrated, blown up, or burned by mobs of Muslim Albanians exist under tenuous protection from NATO.
Incredibly, elements of the international community--including some sectors of the U.S. government and important voices in Congress--have accepted the idea that the only 'solution' for Kosovo is to detach it formally from Serbia and to make it an independent state. This would mean officially handing power to the criminal and jihad terrorist KLA leadership, who would then be empowered as a 'sovereign' government. The terrorist and organized crime menace emanating from Kosovo would increase. The last Christian Serb elements (and all other non-Albanians, such as the Roma) would be eradicated. Kosovo independence also would violate every principle of the international system by forcibly and illegally detaching Kosovo from a recognized state, Serbia, to which the government of that country justifiably insists it will not agree.
But how does an organization created so late in the day intend to go about it? One of the officers of the American Council for Kosovo is an occasional "Chronicles" contributor, James Jatras, who says that the task of educating the American public and policymakers of the inadvisability of the inertial course of supporting Kosovo's independence is by no means impossible:
When the Vienna talks inevitably stall, the 'gameplan' is for the Western powers to announce the 'solution' they have already decided upon. Aside from the futility of their trying to assuage global Islamic sensibilities by such a course, detaching Kosovo from Serbia without her consent breaks every principle of international law. Sir Thomas More famously quipped about giving the devil himself benefit of law--and Serbia is no devil, but Ceku, Haradinaj, and Thaci are indeed the devil. The simple fact it that they are terrorists and criminals. Whatever the bona fides of the late Mr. Rugova, the mask is off.
Despite the pretense of "guarantees" for Serbs, Roma, etc. (there are no Jews left, and even Catholic Albanians are almost gone), their fate in a future "KosovA" is clear: there is none. The American Council for Kosovo--and the lobbying and public relations actitivites working in parallel with it--are predicated on the belief that it is necessary to break this issue out of the Balkan policy specialist ghetto where it currently resides. The Council will seek to focus on Kosovo the concerns of a broader range of opinion with respect to jihad terrorism, persecution of Christians in Muslim-dominated areas, anti-drug, anti-slavery, etc. Even this early into the effort, says Jatras,
I am sensing that people here are surprising ready to rethink Kosovo if the issue is framed right. I am confident that a change of course can and will be effected as this unfolds. The absurdity and immorality of cold-bloodedly consigning tens of thousands of people to extinction--not by inaction (Darfur) but by a 'positive' decision of 'democratic' governments of mainly Christian countries--ostensibly because of a man who's been out of power for six years and is dead anyway, is inescapable.
The Council's twin themes are jihad terrorism and crime. Its position is that the United States must not support detaching Kosovo from Serbia to create an independent Muslim Albanian state because doing so would lead to the elimination of the remaining Christian Serb population, strengthen global jihad terrorism and organized crime, and fatally undermine the rule of law in international affairs. Not only would this be bad for Serbia (which is not a primary American concern), it would be bad for the United States, which should be our concern.
The American Council for Kosovo is "an American effort," its founders say. While it is undertaken on behalf of the Serbian National Council of Kosovo and Metohija, it will seek to show why the current drift of policy is harmful to American interests. They vehemently deny that it is too late in the day to reverse what is often described as an irreversible process:
It absolutely is not too late! In fact, the false sense of inevitability is one of the means by which the pro-independence lobby hopes to stampede western policy (and even Russian policy) into a bad outcome, and even to box Belgrade into accepting the unacceptable. The Serbian government must remain unyielding on this matter. Any number of reasonable arrangements are possible--but only if Kosovo remains within Serbia. Any number of Muslims live inside majority non-Muslim countries which, with no exception I can think of, better protect their interests than is the case of any Christian minority in any Muslim country. Muslim Albanians in Kosovo are being offered anything and everything they could possibly want (and indeed, had enjoyed even before launching their initially political, and then terrorist, efforts for independence), showing that what is at issue is not how they will live as human beings but whether they will wield state power--in effect, to have the 'right' to persecute and eradicate, as their behavior has shown.
What ultimately lies behind the Kosovo Albanian movement is violence, they warn: "give us what we want, or there will be trouble. (And if you do--even more trouble!" At the same time, many voices in the West suggest that we should give the jihadists what they want, or there will be violence. That would be self-defeating: among the many jihads in the world--Bosnia, Kosovo, Chechnya, Kashmir, southern Philippines, etc.--appeasing the jihad has never worked. Moreover, Jatras adds, if the international community, especially the United States, try to appease the jihadists in Kosovo, that would only whet the appetite of the terrorists for new victories. It would establish the principle that once a militant Muslim minority resorts to violence in a majority non-Muslim country, they are "entitled" to detach the area where they are concentrated and create a new state where they can persecute and uproot the non-Muslims.
Jatras also rejects suggestions that Russia may agree to Kosovo's independence because it stands to gain by invoking that precedent for its own purposes in S. Ossetia, Abkhasia, Transdnistria, Nagorno-Karabakh, and other unrecognized ethnic statelets in the former Soviet Unin. There had been suggestions of that sort from Moscow, but that notion seems to be weakening:
My sense is that Moscow's willingness to go along with independence in the UNSC and the Contract Group is falling fast. Also, as we thrown sand into the pro-independence machinery here in Washington, I hope that will also add to Moscow's reluctance to go along. Certainly, not long ago, some in the Putin administration had suggested that if Kosovo is detached from Serbia, the same principle should apply to places Russia cares about. Moscow's gambit as least had the virtue of unapologetic self-interest: if we look the other way at your bit of larceny, we'll expect you to return the favor. But as becoming ever more evident to Moscow, the favor wouldn't be returned, as western capitals have made very clear. Kosovo, they say, is 'unique.' Indeed it is. It would be hard to find another example of a place where governments professing the war on international terrorism as their first priority are helping a Muslim terrorist movement with a strong jihadist element to detach what is universally recognized as a part of another sovereign state and consigning the remaining Christian element to extinction. Indeed, if we're looking for Kosovo to become a 'universal' precedent with application to Russia, a more plausible future candidate would be Chechnya.
It appears that Moscow has realized that it could never expect any credit from its western partners on breakaway regions of other former Soviet republics. Even the prospect of a Russian union with Belarus--a recognized sovereign state, presumably entitled to do what it wants--will remain on the verboten list. Finally, given the kind of anti-Russian rhetoric coming out of Washington these days, there is no reason for Mr. Putin to offer any favors.
In conclusion, it is worth remembering that the U.S. policy in the Balkans is not cast in stone. The dominant modalities of the "resolution" in Kosovo have acquired an explicitly Clintonesque flavor only in the second half of 2005, most notably with the return of Nicholas Burns to the center stage. Never a paragon of original thought or principled consistency, his nominal boss Dr. Rice has internalized the views of Mr. Burns, and other Albright proteges like him, on what needs to be done on Kosovo and Bosnia. She has come to favor a Balkan strategy that is hardly different from that advocated by candidate John Kerry in 2004, but that strategy has never been subjected to serious scrutiny within an Administration that has far bigger fish to fry further east.
As recent developments indicate, not all is lost. On Kosovo in particular, things are not nearly as bleak for the opponents of independence as that strain of the "international community" embodied in the ICG and Mr. Burns wants them to believe, or as the decision-makers in Belgrade are often cajoled into believing.
Dr. Srdja Trifkovic is the director of the Center for International Affairs at The Rockford Institute in Illinois.
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