What a surprise! Suddenly, some in the ‘court of international opinion' seem to be waking up to the implications of Kosovo's threatened independence declaration.
But its such a pity they waited till now. Governments who've committed themselves to supporting the creation of an ‘independent' Kosovo are unlikely to change their minds at this ‘eleventh hour', no matter how valid Serbia's arguments might be, to work for a solution within the letter and spirit of UNSC Resolution 1244. If you are a powerful wealthy nation or community of nations, apparently you need not be troubled by the fine details of international law and precedent. You can close your eyes to the implications of a flagrant breach of international law because after all, the illegal invasion of Iraq hasn't led to economic or diplomatic sanctions being imposed on members of "The Coalition of the Willing" has it?. If you can get away with something that big, who's really going to care about a purely ‘technical' re-interpretation of a comparatively insignificant UNSC resolution. And it seems to me that those who have committed themselves to recognising an independent Kosovo really do think they'll get away with it. I'm not so sure.
In their letter to the Washington Times on January 31, John Bolton, Lawrence Eagleburger and Peter Rodman said that US policy on Kosovo is based on assumptions that are "..naive in the extreme". They argued that "Recognition of Kosovo's independence without Serbia's consent would set a precedent with far-reaching and unpredictable consequences for many other regions of the world." Although they did not actually say so, they also suggested that a unilateral declaration of independence by Kosovo will be illegal and that support for such illegal action "...will not be in the interests of the United States". Since the publication of the ‘Warning Light' letter, Kosovo's return to the international news agenda has been marked by some welcome, but sadly belated objectivity.
Many of the more impartial Western news media have started to point out, somewhat timidly at times, that there is little if any lawful justification for the forced separation of Kosovo from Serbia, nor for the recognition of an ‘Independent' Kosovo by other States. Paul Reynolds' detailed and thoughtful article for the BBC* is a good example and in it, he reveals just how complex are the political and diplomatic games being played by the US and the EU and others, to justify their policies. For example, Reynolds says that " The European Union has drawn up, as it is required to do by EU procedures, a document to justify its own mission to Kosovo and the arguments deployed are the same as the ones used to justify recognition. The document basically argues that independence for Kosovo is within the spirit of 1244, if not strictly within the letter."
What breathtaking arrogance! So, if I should ever be unfortunate enough to find myself accused of a crime in an EU country, it'll be ok to argue that I acted within the spirit, if not the letter of the law will it? Of course it won't, but then I'm not a big powerful Government, able to pick and choose the laws I obey. I doubt that any court would respect such an argument and nor will I respect those who make and claim to uphold the rule of law while manipulating and abusing it when it suits them.
But will they get away with it? Quite a lot of people seem to think they won't - in the long run. It's got nothing to do with the inevitable victory of a just cause, I've no idea whether the case for Kosovo's independence is ‘just' or not. I do believe though, that the integrity of a nation state should not be subject to arbitrary interference by others and that the boundaries of that state should be altered only by consent and within the law. I also believe in the due process of law, however inconvenient or time-consuming it may be. If the law or the process does not contribute to justice, then it should be changed - not ignored. If UNSC resolution 1244 does not meet the needs for justice of the people of Serbia including Kosovo, then the resolution must be reconsidered and if necessary replaced with another more relevant agreement.
To ignore the fact that 1244 protects Serbian territorial integrity is not only shameful but dangerous. There can be few governments now who do not understand the implications for the world community and the risks to their own stability and security if international law is so blatantly disregarded. I'd like to think that some of those whose advice and opinions contributed for example to the development of the EU and US policy of support for an ‘independent' Kosovo, are reconsidering their positions. I'd be even happier to learn that those ‘Leaders' who've already committed themselves to recognition of a new State will be thinking again.
But I doubt it, that's not how things work. Once again, governments and national leaders with the power and the means to do what they want and to get away with it will do what they want and get away with it. I've a sneaking suspicion that on this occasion, some of them would back down if they could but unfortunately, it seems that the cost of losing face is probably too high a price to pay if they're to keep the respect of those they want to impress. How sad - and ironically, how very Serbian!
* Paul Reynolds article for the BBC is at http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/7244538.stm