Thursday, July 26, 2007

Kosovo independence, US pigheadedness: full text

Kosovo independence, US pigheadedness

The Russian veto of Kosovar independence was Moscow's way of telling the United States to pay attention. Here's what the US should do.
Ian Williams

Guardian Comment is Free
July 25, 2007 6:00 PM | Printable version

Monday was the 93rd anniversary of the Austro-Hungarian ultimatum to Serbia, the country that had harboured the terrorist group responsible for killing the Archduke. As we now know, a bullet shot in the Balkans can have global consequences.

Irresponsibility, it seems, is forever - not to mention well-distributed around the world.

One consequence of this fact was the least surprising event of last week when, facing a Russian veto, the US, Britain, and France dropped their UN security council resolution that was intended to nudge Kosovo on its way to independence.

Russia is wrong on the issue. Kosovo will probably declare independence anyway in November, and if one thing is certain, it will never be part of Serbia ever again. But the whole thing will be a lot messier than it should be, largely because of grandstanding nationalist politicians in Belgrade, in Moscow and in Washington.

In a recent poll, only one in five Serbian voters thought there was any chance of getting Kosovo back, and 70% of them wanted to join the EU, an organisation will almost certainly make recognition of Kosovo's independence a precondition of membership. Assuming that they have a Russian veto behind them, Vojilslav Kostunica and the nationalists are still digging in their heels. They have missed their opportunity to persuade the Kosovars that they are not the same people as Milosevic's murder squads, which roamed the country and forced Kosovars across the border.

Currently, the nationalist posturing is being foolishly encouraged by Russia, whose interest in Kosovo and Serbia is not that great. But Moscow has its own nationalist agenda - and one has to ask how much that is a reaction to unabashed American nationalism.

Understandably, the Russians saw the "new world order" following the cold war as a joint enterprise. Successive neocon-influenced American administrations saw it as a Russian defeat, and treated Moscow with disdain. It was the wrong thing to do when Russia was weak, even if some of that was a self-inflicted wound when Russia followed American advice and adopted a klepto-oligarchic model.

Russian resentment was obvious and well-signalled over the years. One signal has been perennial reminders about the veto that it inherited from the Soviet Union on the security council. In fact, it has hardly ever actually used the veto, at least in comparison with Washington's promiscuous abuse of the power.

American nationalism has teamed up with Polish nationalism to plan an anti-missile system in Poland, which can only be aimed at Russia. This just confirms all the suspicions that Moscow has, as displayed in Sergei Lavrov's recent article.

There are several things Washington could do. One is to try a little consistency, and show the same enthusiasm for independence in Palestine and western Sahara that it does for Kosovo. In both those cases, international law and UN decisions are much more unequivocally in favour of independence than in the morally justified but legally fuzzy case in Kosovo.

Henry Kissinger and others were recently in Moscow. No one knows what they were offering, but what they should have offered was a package deal. In addition to adjusting its attitude, the US should accept Vladimir Putin's offer to put the anti-missile systems in Azerbaijan, which would be far more effective if Iran really were the threat that Washington claims it is, in return for a Russian abstention on Kosovar independence.

But there is no reason for polite diplomacy to descend into pandering. Moscow's bluff can easily be called: if Kosovo declares independence in November as its government threatens, then the US, most of the EU, and many of the Islamic countries would very likely recognise it immediately. In the end, the Russian veto may stop Kosovo joining the UN, but for a state in the Balkans, relations with Nato and the EU are hefty consolation prizes.

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