Wishing Kosovo well while fearing for the future

Published on February 21, 2008, The Herald

Category: Growing International Opposition to Imposed Solution

HARRY REID

Unbounded, uncontrollable joy. Men, women and children dancing in the streets. Strangers embracing each other. Scene after scene of spontaneous, ecstatic public rejoicing. For once, these images of euphoria did not mark a sporting triumph, but something rather more significant: the supposed birth of a nation. It would take a churl of the most dour, misanthropic bent not to respond gladly to such outpourings of sheer human happiness. Yet the scenes that marked the arrival of the world's 193rd state on Sunday were maybe a little previous, to use an old Scots expression. There is, in truth, a very long way to go.

Commenting on Monday, The Herald struck a wise and cautionary note. Europe might be making "a rod for its own back" by encouraging the emergence of Kosovo as a new sovereign state. Flouting Serbia was one thing; defying a resurgent, resource-rich and sabre-rattling Russia could be quite another.

My first reaction to this second point was that, while it was realistic, it might just smack ever so slightly of appeasement. But the more I reflected the more I pushed aside these images of joy. Instead, I thought of the tedious but necessary process of international law.

The joy of an abused and bullied people contending for their liberty is wonderful to behold. Nonetheless, our world is held together by a ramshackle but crucial construct of law and international procedure. Undermine this construct and you might merely unleash more brutality, more bullying, more atrocity. So in one sense the many countries that lined up to refuse to endorse the new Kosovo were guilty of the worst kind of party pooping. On the other hand, these countries - among them Russia, China, Spain, Greece, Indonesia, Bulgaria, Romania, Sri Lanka - were right. While we - and by we I mean the UK, the US, France, Germany and Italy, among others - were wrong.

Kosovo's declaration of independence was illegal. It is, alas, a fake state. Whatever we think of Serbia - and like most civilised people I don't think much of it - it's an authentic national sovereign state. To deny that is to undermine the foundation of international law, a point forcefully made at the weekend by Spain's foreign minister, Miguel Maratinos.

Then there are our specific relations with Russia. Vladimir Putin has made Russia strong again. With remarkable speed, Putin's Russia has managed to make much of western Europe substantially dependent on it for energy supplies. When the lights go out, supporting incipient fledgling states might suddenly seem like gesture politics.

Of course, it is neither honourable, nor decent, to go along with another country just because you have got into the situation where you rely on it for energy. On the other hand, why defy that country if it has right on its side? That looks suspiciously like misguided bravado. And Russia does have right on its side in this instance.

Even on the basics of energy provision and security, western European countries are floundering, bereft of a coherent policy. As I've written before, about the only significant thing we are doing on this front is exporting our manufacturing to countries such as China and India- and then lecturing them in patronising fashion about their emissions and their scant regard for the environment.

There is a further reason for questioning the premature endorsement of Kosovo. It goes beyond the niceties of international law, important though these are. All over the world there are people who are in a pre-secessionist state. All over the world little nations, for complicated historical reasons, find themselves parts of bigger nations. Many of these little nations want, for the best of reasons, independence. Scotland may well very soon be one such; I personally hope so. But the actual process of independence must be managed carefully and constitutionally.

In this context it is doing nobody any favours to encourage a state such as Kosovo to act precipitately. What that does is to invite more violence of the kind that Kosovo has seen far too much of. And it splits the European Union. It splits the UN Security Council. So such divisive and fissile behaviour serves only to make our planet even more divided and dangerous.

It is possible to write all that and still to wish the people of Kosovo well. My gripe is with those external forces that have encouraged them to act in haste. Now the international community has to sort out this constitutional mess.

Meanwhile, there are two immediate internal tests of the infant state. The first is how the Serbian majority in the north-west of Kosovo will be treated. The second concerns the acute poverty of most of the people of Kosovo. How quickly will the new state, fake or otherwise, be able to bring about economic improvement?


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