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Geopolitics: The breakup of the distinct nations of the former Yugoslavia was a good thing. But splitting Serbia from its Kosovo province goes beyond that. It's trouble, not just for the Balkans, but for the rest of the world.
Many Kosovars celebrated wildly after winning an independence vote. But not all. Serbian Kosovars blanched at the loss of their ancient homeland, known as the cradle of Serbia, to ethnic Muslim Albanians who had moved in, started a guerrilla war and, with the weekend balloting, finally took over.
It was bitter, because Serbs had cleaned up their country, thrown out their dictator and banked on United Nations assurances guaranteeing their territorial integrity in Security Council resolution 1244, passed in 1999.
"It's frustrating that the (Boris) Tadic administration is being punished for acts that took place under (Slobodan) Milosevic, because the new administration helped oust him," Illinois congresswoman Melissa Bean, co-chair of the House Serbian Caucus, told IBD.
She and seven other members of Congress, including Sen. Jim Inhofe of Texas and Rep. Dan Burton of Indiana, pleaded in a letter with President Bush to hold the line until a mutually acceptable solution could be reached with all sides.
But on Monday, the U.S. and the European Union said it's a done deal. They extended fast recognition to Kosovo and waved off the Serbs. After all, wouldn't a new Muslim state in Europe show the Arab world that the West wanted successful Muslim democracies?
Diplomacy is all about taking risks. But the West's gamble in Kosovo is too high for the possible rewards in terms of its interests. Five reasons spring to mind:
- Kosovo has just 2 million people. Sure, some microstates, such as Singapore and Panama, make it. But more often, the story is like East Timor's, a nonviable state in turmoil since its 1999 independence. With a GDP per capita of $250, 50% unemployment and half the population under 16, the odds against Kosovo are long.
Awash in corruption and mafias, free market reforms will be tough, and many unemployed young Muslims will be looking for a purpose. "Its instability risks attracting Islamic extremists from around the world," warned ex-U.S. envoy to the U.N. John Bolton.
- Ramming independence through for Kosovo with no regard for Serbia opens the door to new secession movements. Countries such as Spain, which faces a similar situation with Basque terrorist secessionists, tellingly declined to recognize Kosovo.
Canada has reason to worry about Quebec. Russia, China and Iraq fear breakaway regions, too. Meanwhile, Macedonia and Montenegro, which have ethnic Albanian populations, now fear a precedent for parts of their territory to be pulled into a greater Albania.
- The West has lost credibility by breaking its promise to Serbia. Terrorists will take note.
- Alliances are weakened. As the U.S. and dominant nations of the EU push through Kosovo statehood, the nearby nations of Poland, Hungary, Romania, Greece and Israel oppose it. This not only splits the EU with its eastern members. It separates the U.S. from its New Europe allies — not the least of which is Serbia, a country that allied itself to the West in two world wars.
- Russia's appetite for payback is whetted. Unlike smaller nations, Russia has a global reach and engages in tit for tat.
In response to our setting up military bases in Central Asia, Russia sold advanced weapons to Venezuela. With Russia ramping up jet production and buzzing U.S. aircraft carriers in the Pacific, there's little doubt it'll be looking for ways to create trouble.
In short, a successful Kosovo state is speculative. But the potential for trouble in the wake of trying to create it is certain. If it isn't reversed, it could become a global Pandora's box opened to new problems. This is going to take some major diplomatic repair work.