Saturday, February 23, 2008

From the People Who Brought Us WWI and the Yugo...

The following is a letter I wrote to some foreign policy wonk friends of mine. It is in regard to a piece by Hitch in Slate about Kosovo and my personal feelings about U.S. recognition:

For a semester in undergrad, I studied (what was then still a crumbling) Yugoslavia and I also was a student and then TA in a class on Russian/Soviet Foreign policy -- so while I do not even pretend to know as much about FP or even Yugoslavia/Serbia et al., as either of you, I feel I have more than an average lay-person’s grasp on the situation there and the history.

I read [Cato vice president for foreign policy and defense studies Ted Galen Carpenter's] statement on the US recognizing Kosovo, and I must respectfully dissent. I don’t necessarily take the Hitchens line, and I understand the pragmatic problems with recognizing Kosovo in the face of Russian animosity, but it seems to me that if we are to be supportive of freedom, taking an unpopular position (from Serbia and Moscow’s vantage point) on Kosovo is not the worst thing in the world. Certainly, backing the righteous sovereignty of a nation is not a “colossal foreign policy blunder,” at least in this situation. (Taiwan notwithstanding) We can’t promote freedom simply when it is most convenient for us – and this recognition is certainly not coupled with any defense alliance. Thus, the act of recognition is simply an acknowledgement of a free people making a decision to be autonomous – which is the hallmark of our founding.

For all its authoritarian crackdowns and reaping of the financial benefits of oil revenue, Russia does not appear to be in any real position to back Serbia with anything but the obligatory saber-rattling they are so wont to do. Their recent dealings with Great Britain only support the idea that they really aren’t interested in good ties with the West, and that as the Siloviki continue to solidify a perpetual hold on power, the erosion of friendly relations is – in my opinion – nearly a foregone conclusion at this point. So let them rattle their sabers – Kosovo should be autonomous and we should formally back their play. I do not believe that we should turn our back on freedom just because the Kremlin would prefer it.

Now, if this becomes an armed conflict – which I think would have been more likely without the US recognition – I am not behind US military intervention. That said, airstrikes would probably come if Serbia got uppity about this. BUT…

If we had not recognized Kosovo, Serbia could more comfortably believe that any conflict would be viewed by the US as an internal matter for us to stay out of, as we did with Russia and Chechnya. As it stands now, the idea of sustained aerial bombardment from US forces would probably deter Serbia from earnestly seeking to reclaim Kosovo. Of course, we are not obligated to protect the Kosovars – but the Serbs’ memory isn’t so short as to forget what it feels like to be on the wrong end of the American military and are probably not anxious to relive the experience. And without guarantees of any real backing from Russia—which I don’t think is coming— the Serbs would have to be insane to try to forcibly take Kosovo. I’m not putting it past them, but I think it’s less likely after US recognition.


Anonymous said...

I'm a true libertarian and I believe in the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness more than anything else. But I also understand the Kosovo issue much deeper than you. If you really want to do good and make the world to a better place, please read more about Kosovo before you critisize TGC or people like him, who have been involved in the Balkans for decades. First, I would recommend you to read Then, let us know if your stance still stands.


JPB said...

Liberty -

As I mentioned in the post and the letter, I fully admit to NOT being an expert on the matter.

The letter from which the post is excerpted is posing questions to more informed policy wonks from my limited perspective.

And because I disagree with TGC on this particular issue does not mean that I am critical of him. I have nothing but respect for Dr. Carpenter and on this issue, thus far, I am not persuaded to agree with him. People may respectfully disagree without being critical of one another.

I believe in a right to secession, provided that it is done for just cause. (The CSA seceded to maintain slavery and thus was not just in its actions.)Further, Yugoslavia was a nation put together that should never have been -- it was totally artificial and began to disintegrate when Tito died. Most of that country was allowed, after a bloody war, to secede from the former Yugoslavia -- and Kosovo should have been able to also.

The link you sent me discusses the politics of Kosovo's independence and heavily reliant on what the UN has to say, as well as "international law." The problem with these facts are legion, but I'll just point out two:

1)The UN should have lost any and all say in what happens in the former Yugoslavia after the debacle in Srebrenica. The UN is a fully impotent body that allows for little more than political posturing and grandstanding. That is all well and good, but when they try to do anything, they're usually about as effective and efficient as FEMA.

2) Much like the UN, the term "international law" is about as useful as me tacking a list of grievances on the door of the IRS. Someone will notice it, but generally serves no purpose. It has no sustainable enforcement mechanism or body, and that's a good thing, because otherwise it trumps sovereignty of any compliant nation. A bunch of lawyers and judges -- answerable to no one and no country -- making laws and enforcing penalties against the will of a nation? No thanks.

And I don't get this quote at all: Creating a second Albanian state in Europe makes no sense whatsoever.

Just because someone thinks a country's existence is essentially redundant does not make Serbia's claim on Kosovo any more legitimate -- "the UN said so" just doesn't cut it for me.

There are legitimate points in the article, which I was already aware of. Most namely: [the West has been] cheering on ethnic cleansing by one ethnic group and demanding war crimes trials for another .

I'm not a big fan of the term "ethnic cleansing" -- I think "butchering" is probably a more apt term, specifically on the part of the Kosovars. There is some debate about whether or not the Serbs were literally trying to "cleanse" -- but as far as I know, the horrors committed by Kosovars were retributive in nature and not part of a larger scheme of "cleansing." This is not an excuse, but just a critique of the term.

In any war, and very particularly in the wars that sprang from the disintegration of Yugoslavia, there is certainly more than enough blame to go around. Terrible people on all sides did terrible things to the others. But still, this doesn't change the underlying fact that other than "the UN said so", Serbia's claim on Kosovo is tenuous , at best. The politics of doling out punishment for war crimes is a completely separate issue from recognizing Kosovo's independence.

It is a mess over there, and has been for some time -- and will, in all likelihood, continue to be. But nothing in that piece has much to do with whether or not Kosovo has a right to secession. Other instances where politics have prevented successful secession (e.g., Nagorno-Karabakh) have been primarily political outcomes, not whether or not they should be recognized.

I think they should be recognized, for the points I made in my post. But thanks for reading and your input. If you've got more, I'd be happy to read it.

Anonymous said...

Dear Jonathan,

"Yugoslavia was a nation put together that should never have been -- it was totally artificial." That is your opinion. The people in Yugoslavia were in 1945 utterly happy to have their own nation. After both WW were over South Slavs (except Bulgarians) were free to chose their government and for the first time in history the same government for all of them. It was a consensus from Slovenians to Albanians. The country wasn't created from outside, it was an inside force that drove these nationalities. Hence, you saying that Slavs in the Balkan didn't have a right to create their own country after they were forcefully occupied by Austrian/German, Italian, and Albanian dictatorship. I'm sorry, but who are you to say that it shouldn't have happened? Moreover, "artificial" is any nation that didn't precede with the state of nature. Was Yugoslavia more artificial than the US? I don't think so.

" [W[hat the UN has to say, as well as "international law" is crucial in the Kosovo case because after the atrocities in 1999 from the both sides, the international community had to stop in and protect the rights and lives of the innocent people. The international law "trumps sovereignty of any compliant nation" ONLY when the government proves to be inadequate to protect its own people or violates its rights itself. Corollary, the UN resolution 1244 was passed that restated the Serbian sovereignty over Kosovo and authorizes the UN peace-keeping forces to move into Kosovo. All sides, including Serbian and Albanian, agreed to these measures. As Szamuely said: "Serbia is a legal entity; Kosovo is not. A Serbian vote trumps a Kosovo one." Everyone, except those that are (intentionally or intentionally) ignorant, knows that. But pure recognition of Kosovo independence is not harmful. The consequences are, and those will be felt by the locals and not by those countries that foolishly recognized independence of a territory of a sovereign democratic nation. People from the Balkans agree with TGC when he said that, "granting Kosovo independence will not, as the U.S. and its allies expect, bring greater stability to the Balkans. It will almost certainly produce the opposite result."

JPB said...

Ooh. This is fun. Forgive the jumbled nature of the response, but there are various points I would like to make


The international law "trumps sovereignty of any compliant nation" ONLY when the government proves to be inadequate to protect its own people or violates its rights itself.

Proves to whom? And whom, pray tell, shall the world send into these states that fail to protect their citizens? What benchmark is there for intervention? Who should the world go after in Somalia? Why are we not intervening in Darfur? What right does any nation or -- to be more accurate -- a select few politicians from other nations decide what is to be done within someone else's country? The list of countries that don't adequately provide for the security of its citizens (or tramples on their rights themselves) by my personal standards is quite long...but I'm not so arrogant to assume that I can go in and fix the messes. Who the hell am I?

To clarify, Kosovo, not the US, decided it should be free from Serbia. Recognizing their right to secede is thus not intervening in Serbian domestic politics.

Foreign policy is inherently messy and, generally, every side in a given conflict has some legitimate beefs -- whether they predate the conflict or if they come after the conflict has turned violent. Picking and choosing can be dangerous because, as we all know, atrocities often happen on both sides.

The world turned on Serbia -- and there is a certain amount of justification for that (although I don't know if it justifies intervention, but that's not my point here)-- and as the piece you highlighted mentioned, the Kosovars were granted limited autonomy. The wisdom of the move can certainly be debated, but that's what was done. Kosovo's independence, from that point, was a matter of "when" and not "if". Frankly, I'm surprised it took this long.

Was Yugoslavia more artificial than the US?

Yes. After George Washington left office, you'll notice the country didn't fall apart. They had a common cause in fighting the Revolution, mostly came from the same national lineage. They had more in common than they differed. And the democratic process of Constitutional ratification was the closest thing to direct democracy this country has ever seen -- before or since.

On the other hand, the various ethnic and religious factions in Yugoslavia were sympathetic to (and fought alongside) contrary parties during WWII -- don't bring up Vichy France b/c it's not remotely comparable -- and used the time to fight each other (and murder each other) then. They have a long history of conflict and putting the country under a unified regime was a poor decision that finally played itself out in the 90s.

"granting Kosovo independence will not, as the U.S. and its allies expect, bring greater stability to the Balkans. It will almost certainly produce the opposite result."

That may very well be true. I think it is left to be determined, but stability for stability's sake is not necessarily in the best interest of freedom in the long run: Kosovo was determined to leave; Serbia is determined to stop it. Kosovo should be able to exercise its right of exit and, consequently, should allow the Serb minority to relocate to Serbia if they so choose. But they should also be allowed to stay if that is what they would prefer.

I don't think failure to recognize Kosovo would prevent conflict any more than recognition will hasten it. I think, for the reasons mentioned in my original post, conflict may be minimized by recognition, but I'm no fortune teller.

On a personal note: TGC may very well be dead-on in his assessment. He is a highly intelligent and very insightful man whom I admire greatly. I just wanted more info from that perspective (as I am still waiting to hear back from the wonks I wrote and asked). I didn't think your article was particularly persuasive, but I appreciate it.
This is an honest difference of opinion on which I asked for opinions from people more knowledgeable than I am. I don't know why you have taken such an aggressive tone, but that's cool.



Anonymous said...

Hi! Since you've said you have no grasp on Yugoslav history, I will not comment on your thoughts about it, no matter how wrong they are.

The matter of concern is this - if we take the position that every group of people which would like to have their own state, should be able to do so, do you have any idea what would happen? How many wars would start? That's why smart people invented human rights. That's why we have autonomous regions, federalism (cf Hayek on federalism). Self-determination has been used only in anti-colonial struggle. Self-determination can not be applied on national minority that grew so big through high birth rates and influx of compatriots over the border. Not to mention violence used to achive ethnic homogenity in certain territory.

So, to make my position clear, I would love to see the world without borders, where one's religion and cultural identity could be expressed without violence. But as long as you have groups of people who believe that power and will to hurt other gives them more rights then other should have, I must acknowledge to myself that it'll be a long time before I see the world I'd love to see.

The only way to uphold that vision of world is to have some global rule of law. Something to give us alternative to brute use of force.

Rewarding Kosovo Albanians with independence, poses some questions, and I'll name only ONE - why not Kurds?

Wish you well...

p.s. I will not engage in conversation on legal and moral arguments in favor of independence, since you said that you don't know much on the background, so it would be unfair advantage for me.

JPB said...

Again with the condescending barbs.

If I may paraphrase Vito Corleone: What have I done to you that you treat me so disrespectfully?

Whatever dude.

Anonymous said...


Please read about the UN resolution 1244 before you wage in on an issue of sovereignty and international law jurisdiction.

Read the history of South Slavs and you will be surprise how many times they had “the same national lineage.”

I agree with you on this point: “Kosovo should be able to exercise its right of exit and, consequently, should allow the Serb minority to relocate to Serbia if they so choose. But they should also be allowed to stay if that is what they would prefer.” But it has to be done legally! The main problem that exists right now is to establish legality in the international law for this precedent.

I disagree with, “I don't think failure to recognize Kosovo would prevent conflict any more than recognition will hasten it. I think […] conflict may be minimized by recognition, but I'm no fortune teller.” Kosovo should have waited a bit longer before declaring independency, for—as I mentioned before—Kosovo is an illegal nation at the moment. The recognition of the independence by the US and some European countries was premature and has created instability in the region. Please keep in mind that there were no riots, protests, bombs at the borders, burned Western embassies and franchises before the West decided to tell a sovereign country that it is time to give up a part of their country. No one can do that, not even the US. The Serbian constitution stands and applies also to Kosovo and Metohija (You are arguing for anarchy with no respect for contracts and compacts. I wonder if you would argue the same for any minority in the word that wants to take a part of one country they live in and create their own country. I’m sure you can come up with numerous examples in the US itself. That would lead to, “Bye-bye the US!” Is that what you are really arguing for? If so, we disagree in the fundamentals.). Therefore, those countries in question have to renounce its recognition of Kosovo's independence.

JPB said...

but I will say two things.

1) in answer to your question re: Kurds -- exactly, why not? (I think Turkey would probably have a problem with that, but hey.)

2) That's why smart people invented human rights

Er. I don't know what concept of natural rights you have, but if "smart people invented" them, they could easily be stripped away with legitimacy. Rights were recognized, not "invented."

Anonymous said...

"Kosovar Independence and the Russian Reaction" by George Friedman (February 20, 2008)

"Europe is a case in point. Prior to World War II, Europe’s borders constantly remained in violent flux. One of the principles of a stable Europe has been the inviolability of borders from outside interference, as well as the principle that borders cannot be redefined except with mutual agreement. This principle repeatedly was reinforced by international consensus, most notably at Yalta in 1945 and Helsinki in 1973.
Thus, the Czech Republic and Slovakia could agree to separate, and the Soviet Union could dissolve itself into its component republics, but the Germans cannot demand the return of Silesia from Poland; outsiders cannot demand a British withdrawal from Northern Ireland; and the Russians cannot be forced to give up Chechnya. The principle that outside powers can’t redefine boundaries, and that secessionist movements can’t create new nations unilaterally, has been a pillar of European stability.

"The critics of Kosovo’s independence believe that larger powers can’t redraw the boundaries of smaller ones without recourse to the United Nations. They view the claim that Yugoslavia’s crimes in Kosovo justify doing so as unreasonable; Yugoslavia has dissolved, and the Serbian state is run by different people. The Russians view the major European powers and the Americans as arrogating rights that international law does not grant them, and they see the West as setting itself up as judge and jury without right of appeal."

JPB said...

in case you guys have been just linking to this piece, check out my post today. Same topic, different angle.

And btw, Lib -- I like that article a lot better than the first you linked too.

Anonymous said...

well, I sure didn;t mean to sound like that. What I wanted to say was that since you have no closer knowledge on regions history, it'd be futile to pose some questions in regard to the details in development of situation that led to this in Kosovo.

What we can discuss, however, are general principles. And these could be summed up as - does national minority have right to secede against the rules of democratic state?

It is a very simple question and whatever your answer might be, please tell me this as well - does it apply everywhere in the world, for every national minority?

My problem is that US govt supports some secesionists, and denies that right to others, without any criteria except for "interests of the US" as perceived by the administration in office.

If only interests of the big powers are to determine the outcome of secessionist movements in the world, then why should we waste or time looking for some moral or ideological arguments in favor or against it? It's application of brute force, nothing else.

So, it's not enough to say "I'm al for Kurdsih independence", you have to tell me, what quality K-Albanians have that Kurds do not have, which made them qualified for US support in their aspirations. That's all.