Ten years ago, the Kosovo Liberation Army, an Albanian paramilitary organization, launched its rebellion against the Yugoslav government and was duly labeled a terrorist group by the U.S. government. Last month, the Albanian majority of Kosovo declared independence in a formal move to separate the province from Serbia. Washington supported the declaration and has recognized Kosovo.
Serbia has vehemently protested the declaration as a violation of its sovereignty and international law, and a crowd of protesters broke into the U.S. Embassy in Belgrade and set part of it ablaze. Russia immediately denounced Kosovo's independence as a violation of the UN Charter, called for an emergency session of the Security Council and most recently threatened the use of force to prevent the region's separation.
If intended as a blow to Russian prestige, the U.S. strategy has backfired. No conceivable American interest has been served by the recognition of Kosovo. Since the late '90s, Kosovo has functioned as a pawn in the outdated and unnecessary U.S.-Russian rivalry over Eastern Europe. Now, in a futile quest for the approval of global Muslim opinion, America and the EU have not only increased tension with Moscow but stirred up the opposition of other states, such as Spain and China, who have their own unresolved separatist conflicts and see the precedent of Western-backed Kosovo independence as a threat to their interests.
The U.S. is making an internal political dispute into an international question and an occasion for conflict that draws in outside powers. The Russians are likely to respond by issuing retaliatory recognitions of their Abkhaz and South Ossetian puppet sub-states in Georgia.
Kosovo, which has existed in political and diplomatic limbo, governed by a mixture of UN-approved NATO occupation, anarchy, and majoritarian tyranny, is set to become a new failed state. The remaining Serb minority has suffered from pogroms as indiscriminate and brutal as any meted out against Albanians under Yugoslav rule, and their churches and monasteries have been looted and desecrated in a systematic effort to eradicate Kosovo's Serbian past.
Kosovo's independence also represents a major break from the past, for unlike some other modern Balkan states, it does not draw on any ancient traditions of statehood. Unlike the Yugoslav republics that have broken away over the past 20 years, Kosovo has belonged to the modern state of Serbia since 1912. …