Kosovo and Its Impact on U.S. Foreign Policy
July 09, 2007
The struggle for Kosovo between Christian Serbs and
Muslim Albanians dates back to 1389, when the Serbs were
defeated by, and their lands annexed to, the Ottoman
Empire. Muslim rule lasted over four centuries and
resulted in several waves of forced migrations of Serbs
from Kosovo. The current Albanian majority there was
achieved more recently—the result of the policies of the
Axis occupation (1941-45), which included the killing of
an estimated 10,000 Serbs, the expulsion of another
100,000, and the introduction of Albanian settlers. The
de-Serbianization of Kosovo continued under Tito`s rule
(1945-80), during which the country acquired many
attributes of a separate Albanian state—borders, a flag,
a capital, a supreme court, an education system that
promoted the Albanian language, a university with
teachers and textbooks from Albania, as well as cultural
and sporting exchanges with Albania. In 1981, after
Tito`s death, Albanians in Kosovo demanded that the
province be elevated to a republic with the right of
secession. This provoked a Serbian reaction that
facilitated the rise of Slobodan Milosevic, which, in
turn, was cited by Albanians as a justification for the
activities of the Albanian Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA).
A downward spiral of ethnic suspicion and strife ensued,
culminating in the Yugoslav wars.
From 1996 to 1999, the war in Kosovo was an internal
conflict between the secessionist KLA—which, at one
time, was designated a terrorist organization by the
U.S. State Department—and the armed forces of the rump
Yugoslavia of Serbia and Montenegro.
Citing an alleged massacre of Albanian civilians by
Serbian forces in the village of Racak in January 1999,
the U.S. government and NATO allies officially
intervened. Meeting in Rambouillet, France, that
February and March, they drafted a "peace accord,"
which offered the KLA de facto independence for Kosovo
immediately, and de jure independence in three years.
During that interval, Kosovo would be administered as a
NATO protectorate. The U.S. government introduced a
military annex to the accord under which NATO personnel
would be immune from all legal actions—civil, criminal,
or administrative—and NATO forces would have unfettered
access to any and all parts of Yugoslavia. And all the
costs would be borne by Belgrade. Yugoslavia would have
been a virtual colony of NATO.
When Belgrade refused to sign the accord, NATO
attacked. The war lasted from March 24 to June 10, 1999.
Kosovo became a U.N. protectorate (UNMIK), whose final
status—some form of independence from Serbia—would be
determined in the future. That future is now, and it is
posing political and strategic problems for the Bush
U.S. foreign policy toward Kosovo, which culminated
in military intervention in 1999, was a continuation of
the policy Washington had pursued in Bosnia and Croatia
in 1995. Each of the three wars contributed to a
profound transformation in U.S. foreign policy. In
Washington`s eyes, the end of the Cold War meant a
transition from a bipolar world, which functioned within
a set of political, military, and legal restraints, to a
unipolar one. The U.S. government was now the world`s
hyperpower, without rival or limitation. For Washington,
the Yugoslav wars provided an opportunity to demonstrate
this to the rest of the world, thereby accomplishing
several key objectives.
First, Washington set out to demonize the Serbs in
order to discredit and suppress not just Serbian
ethnicity but any manifestation of ethnic nationalism,
since such nationalism undermines the legitimacy of the
dominant ideology of the virtues of multiethnic states
and transnational corporations.
Second, U.S. policymakers sought to dismember an
inconvenient state—in this case, one supported by
Russia, thereby establishing a precedent. Later, that
precedent would be applied to the union of Serbia and
Montenegro, then Serbia, and, perhaps, even to Iran. In
so doing, Washington hoped to weaken and isolate Russia,
both internationally and in Europe.
It also established another precedent, in promoting
ethnic cleansing by proxy. The Clinton administration
covertly armed, trained, supported, and advised the
government of Croatia for the August 1995 military
offensive known as Operation Storm. Though it was aimed
at the secessionist Republic of Serbian Krajina, it
resulted in the expulsion of an estimated 300,000 Serbs
from Croatia. According to the U.N. High Commissioner
for Refugees (UNHCR), after ten years, the Serbs still
have not been permitted to return to Croatia. The
precedent was repeated in 1999 when the Red Cross
reported that the KLA had expelled between 200,000 and
250,000 Serbs from Kosovo. It was repeated yet again in
2001 in Afghanistan, in the wake of the U.S. invasion,
when our "ally," the Northern Alliance,
consisting mostly of ethnic Tajiks, sought to expel a
million ethnic Pash-tuns from northern Afghanistan.
According to the UNHCR, nearly 100,000 Pashtuns fled,
becoming refugees either elsewhere in Afghanistan or in
Pakistan. In Iraq, both Kurdish and Shiite militias,
whose political parties are members of the national
government—another ally of the Bush
administration—currently engage in ethnic cleansing. In
Kirkuk, Kurds are reversing the process of
"Arabization," while in Baghdad, Shiites are
cleansing Sunni neighborhoods.
By supporting Muslim demands for a united Bosnia and
an independent Kosovo, Washington hoped to persuade
Muslims, especially in Egypt, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia,
and Turkey—all key U.S. allies—that they are wrong to
regard U.S. foreign policy toward Palestinians,
Kashmiris, Moros, and Uighurs as evidence of any
hostility toward Islam on our part.
Washington also sought to encourage Muslims in
Albania, Bosnia, and Kosovo to promote a secularized,
individualistic Islam, in which mosque and state are
separate, which would undermine the appeal of
traditional Islam, especially in the West.
With the Cold War ended, Washington sought to justify
NATO`s continued existence by waging war on Bosnia and
Kosovo. These wars required a radical redefinition of
NATO`s mission and area of responsibility. These ad hoc
military interventions became official policy after
September 11. NATO`s 2002 Prague Summit Declaration
We, the Heads of State
and Government of the member countries of the North
Atlantic Alliance, met today to enlarge our Alliance and
further strengthen NATO to meet the grave new threats
and profound security challenges of the 21st
century . . . so that NATO can better carry out the full
range of its missions and respond collectively to those
challenges, including the threat posed by terrorism and
by the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and
their means of delivery . . . NATO must be able to field
forces that can move quickly to wherever they are needed
. . . to sustain operations over distance and time . . .
to achieve their objectives.
Thus, NATO is no longer a defensive alliance, and its
sphere is no longer restricted to Europe. This enables
the U.S. government to maintain, even increase, its Cold
War level of influence in Europe and provides Washington
with a reservoir of bases and troops from NATO countries
to help implement its policy objectives as far away as
Afghanistan and Iraq.
In attacking Yugoslavia, Washington also sought to
test the ability of the U.S. government to impose
political settlements that advance its interests. The
more contradictory and arbitrary those settlements
are—rejecting national self-determination in Bosnia but
championing it in Kosovo—the more our power is
The final status of Kosovo is to be decided by the
U.N. Security Council. Its special envoy, Martti
Ahtisaari, a former president of Finland, is reportedly
recommending independence in all but name. (See
Office of the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General of
the United Nations for the future status process for
Kosovo–The Status proposal.) The Serbs have
rejected this plan, and, while Moscow has stated that it
will veto this recommendation unless both the Serbs and
the Albanians agree to it, Washington favors it. Such a
plan, if implemented, would fail to bring peace or
justice to that region of the Balkans.
Any U.N. Security Council decision is expected to
"The Guiding Principles for a Settlement of Kosovo`s
Status" set out in 2005 by the United States,
England, France, Germany, Italy, and Russia—collectively
known as the Contact Group. Principle Six declares that
"There will be no changes in the current territory of
Kosovo, i.e. no partition of Kosovo and no union of
Kosovo with any country or part of any country."
The current proposal for Kosovo independence violates
international law while claiming to uphold it; it
institutionalizes ethnic and religious discrimination
and seeks to sanction both in law, denying the Christian
Serbs of Kosovo the legal right to national
self-determination, while granting and denying that
right to the Muslim Albanians of Kosovo.
If national self-determination under international
law forbids the partition of a territory, then U.N.
member-states Bangladesh, Ireland, Israel, Moldova,
Pakistan, and all the successor states of the Soviet
Union and Yugoslavia are illegitimate. So, too, are the
western borders of U.N. member-states Lithuania, Poland,
and Russia, which were shaped by the post-World War II
partition of Germany.
The plan both allows Albanians in Kosovo the right to
secede from Serbia and denies them the right to unite
with Albania. If the U.N. Security Council insists this
restriction is in accordance with international law on
the right to national self-determination, then it should
also insist that the unifications of Germany, Vietnam,
and Yemen were illegal, and future unifications of
Ireland or Korea would have to be prohibited as well.
Conversely, it would have to consider the Republic of
Somaliland, which seceded from Somalia, and the Turkish
Republic of Northern Cyprus, which seceded from
Cyprus—states the United Nations refuses to recognize—to
be, in fact, legitimate.
The plan advocates multiethnic statehood while
dismembering a multiethnic state. The push for Kosovo
independence is predicated upon it being a multiethnic
state. As part of Serbia, however, it is already in one.
By championing the concept of multiethnicity, the
proposal undermines not only its own justification for
Kosovo`s independence but the legitimacy of all the
successor states to the former Yugoslavia: Bosnia,
Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Slovenia—none of
which are as multiethnic or as multireligious as was the
Both Bosnia and Serbia constitute federal republics.
Bosnia consists of two entities: the Federation of
Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the Republika Srpska. Serbia
has two autonomous provinces: Kosovo-Metohija and
Vojvodina. Both Bosnia and Kosovo are U.N.
protectorates. Yet, Muslim Kosovo is to gain
independence, while Christian Republika Srpska faces
abolition and consolidation in a unitary Bosnian state.
Such a policy is nothing short of institutionalized
ethnic and religious discrimination.
The Security Council claims that Kosovo is an
exception in international law. The legal principles
announced for it are deemed to have no applicability to
other disputes. This maneuver is an attempt to deny the
protection of international law to parties in three
specific conflicts—Transnistria in Moldova, and Abkhazia
and South Ossetia in Georgia. Such an arbitrary claim of
exceptionality undermines the moral authority of
international law, making it nothing more than a law of
the jungle defined and enforced for the benefit of the
more powerful states.
A just and enduring political settlement for Kosovo
requires that Bosnia be treated in an identical manner.
If Kosovo has the right to secede from Serbia, then the
Republika Srpska must have the right to secede from
An independent Kosovo must have the right to unite
with Albania. Similarly, an independent Republika Srpska
must have the right to unite with Serbia.
To resolve the Serbian refugee crisis, there should
be a population exchange between Serbia and Montenegro,
on the one hand, and Kosovo and Albania, on the other.
Serbian refugees would agree not to return to Kosovo,
while the Serbs still there would agree to relocate to
Serbia. In exchange, Albanians in Serbia and Montenegro
would relocate to Kosovo and Albania. There is a legal
precedent for this in the
"Convention Concerning the Exchange of Greek and Turkish
Populations" (1923). With the approval of the
international community, it successfully transferred
over a million Greeks from Turkey to Greece and 400,000
Turks from Greece to Turkey. Other examples of
successful population transfers include those between
Bulgaria and Turkey in 1913 and 1950-89; Bulgaria and
Greece in 1919; Poland and the Soviet Union in 1945; and
Czechoslovakia and Hungary in 1946.
The Bush administration favors the current proposal
for Kosovo`s independence without appreciating the
problems, political and strategic, it presents to U.S.
foreign policy. Indeed, the White House is behaving as
if the United States, as the world`s hyperpower, can
overcome any problems that may arise—a notion that
Afghanistan and Iraq should have dispelled.
The immediate problem is that Kosovo, perhaps more
than Bosnia, has become a haven for Islamic militants
and for organized crime. Both pose direct threats to
Europe, and independence will only make it worse—for
Europe and for the "War on Terror."
If the Security Council proposal is implemented, the
secessionist regimes of Transnistria in Moldova, and
Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Georgia, will demand
international recognition of their independence. Such
official recognition would likely begin with Russia and
then snowball. Since the Bush administration opposed
independence for these regions, this would be viewed by
many, including many Americans, as a political victory
for Moscow and a political defeat for Washington.
Next would be Nagorno-Karabakh. The Armenians there
will also insist on international recognition of their
independence from Azerbaijan—something that both Turkey
and Azerbaijan oppose. Armenian-Americans, however,
support it, and they constitute an influential ethnic
lobbying group. The Bush administration would be caught
in the middle, and any decision would displease an
The strategic prize, however, is the Crimea, which
has been part of Russia since 1783. With the Bolshevik
Revolution, it became an autonomous republic, then an
oblast of the Russian SFSR. In 1954, jurisdiction was
transferred to the Ukrainian SSR as a symbolic gesture
honoring the historic unity of the two Slavic peoples.
Soviet Union fell, the Crimea reluctantly agreed to
remain part of the Ukraine, but as an autonomous
republic. Ethnically, linguistically, and culturally,
the Crimea is Russian. It is home to the Russian Black
Sea Fleet. If the U.N. Security Council votes on
independence for Kosovo, the government of the Crimea
would likely call for a vote on Crimean independence,
which would easily pass, then demand international
recognition. This would be followed by a vote on union
with Russia. And Moscow would certainly accept the
return of the Crimea to Russia.
This would be a major defeat for U.S. foreign policy.
Since the Yugoslav wars of the 90`s, Washington has
assumed that Russia, because of her size, natural
resources, and nuclear weapons, has the potential to
reemerge as a rival. To prevent this, the U.S.
government has pursued a policy of containment. It
supported the expansion of NATO eastward to include
former Soviet republics, in violation of promises made
to Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev. The anticipated
impact of NATO enlargement, however, was trumped by
Russia`s emergence as a principal supplier of oil and
natural gas to Europe. Washington used the war in
Afghanistan to displace Russia from the former Soviet
Central Asian republics. After its initial success,
which culminated in Kyrgyzstan`s "Tulip Revolution,"
the U.S. government has seen its influence decline,
while Russia`s has grown. In the Ukraine`s "Orange
Revolution," Washington supported the overthrow of a
pro-Russian government and its replacement with a
pro-American one. The new government soon announced its
intention to join NATO and to expel Russia`s Black Sea
Fleet from the Crimea—to humiliate Moscow and disrupt
its naval operations. Then, a general election replaced
that government with another pro-Russian one. If
independence for Kosovo results in the return of the
Crimea to Russia, U.S. foreign policy will have come
full circle since the Yugoslav wars. The world would no
longer be unipolar, and the U.S. government would no
longer be the world`s hyperpower.
Joseph E. Fallon writes
from Rye, New York.
This article first appeared
July 2007 issue of
Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture.