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Russia and the Kosovo Card

TBILISI – Look before you leap is as sound a principle in foreign policy as it is in life. Yet, once again, the Bush administration is preparing to leap into the unknown. Even though lack of foresight is universally viewed as a leading cause of its Iraq debacle, the United States (with British backing probable) is now preparing to recognize Kosovo’s independence unilaterally – irrespective of the consequences for Europe and the world.

Kosovo has been administered since 1999 by a United Nations mission guarded by NATO troops, although it remains formally a part of Serbia. But, with Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian majority demanding its own state, and with Russia refusing to recognize UN mediator Martti Ahtisaari’s plan for conditional independence, the US is preparing to go it alone. Instead of thinking what Ahtisaari deemed unthinkable, a partition of Kosovo with a small part of the north going to Serbia and the rest linked to the Kosovars ethnic brethren in Albania or a separate state, the US plans to act without the UN’s blessing, arguing that only an independent Kosovo will bring stability to the Western Balkans.

That argument is debatable – and the record of the Kosovar government suggests that it is wrong. But the US position is unambiguously misguided in not foreseeing that the “Kosovo precedent” will incite instability and potentially even violence elsewhere.

Why the rush to give Kosovo independence? Many serious disputes have gone unresolved for decades. The Kashmir question has lingered since 1947, the Turkish occupation of Northern Cyprus since 1974, and Israel’s occupation of the West Bank from 1967. Yet no one is suggesting that unilateral solutions be imposed in these potential flashpoints.