Time is running out in Kosovo. If a United Nations-backed settlement is not reached by early December, the province’s majority Albanian population is likely to declare independence unilaterally – a move that the United States has announced it may support.
That would be a disastrous step. Russia would be furious, because it fears that Kosovo’s secession – whether or not it is internationally recognized – might fuel separatist movements in the former Soviet empire. Serbia is even more strongly opposed. Dusan Prorokovic, Serbia’s state secretary for Kosovo, has said that his country might use force to maintain its sovereignty. Even if the government hesitates, ultranationalist groups might push Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica to send in troops: the current UN presence in Kosovo is very thin (only 40 “military observers” and 2,116 policemen) but the stationing of 15,000 NATO troops could make any armed clash very dangerous.
After eight years of international administration, Kosovo’s Albanian majority has tasted freedom and is eager for full independence. But Serbia claims that the province remains an essential part of its historical and cultural tradition. Moreover, independence would not be accepted by the Serbian public, which has already watched in dismay as “Great Serbia” has been gradually whittled away, most recently with the secession of Montenegro. Serbia is prepared to concede only “enhanced autonomy” to Kosovo, and some capacity to enter into international agreements.
Yet, while the two parties now seem irreconcilable, it is not too late for compromise. But this is possible only by resuscitating – and updating – an old institution of the international community: a confederation of states.