Readers of this blog will know that I am in favor of an independent Kosovo. But not in the way it happens now.
According to international law separations are only possible with the consent of the mothercountry. As this worked very well even with the most recent separations where that principle was respected (Soviet Union and Czecheslovakia) there is no reason to leave that principle here.
The arguments to consider Kosovo as a special case are weak. The death toll (around 5000) is very low compared to many other ethnic conflicts and even the number of refugees (around 800,000) has been exceeded in many other ethnic conflicts. Iraq's Kurds for example count around 250,000 dead and millions of refugees who lived in much worse circumstances.
Serbia may bring the countries that recognize Kosovo before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague. If this court sides with Serbia this would bring the US and other countries that recognize Kosovo in an uneasy position. The US will probably ignore the ICJ - as it did in the past with the verdict on the Nicaragua-contra case - and it will press Europe to do the same. But as much of Europe's influence on the neighbouring region (like the European Court of Human Rights) is law-based this will put Europe in an uneasy position.
A unilateral declaration of independence will be a full win for Kosovo's nationalists. They have promised to implement the Ahtisaari Plan. But that plan offers only autonomy but offers noting to improve the desparate security situation of Kosovo's minorities. Actually it will deteriorate their situation as it aims ultimately to remove the parallel Serb institution that now protect many of Kosovo's Serbs.
Recent opinion polls showed that 30% of Kosovo's Serbs plan to leave if the province becomes independent. This shows how bad the proposed "solution" is in terms of balancing the needs of both sides.
A unilateral declaration of independence is being pushed by the US as a solution because both sides cannot reach a solution. But according to international law in that case the Serb position should prevail. The most recent Serb proposal (the Finland-Aaland proposal) is generous according all international standards. Given that Serbia has little interest in keeping a dirt poor hostile province except for historical monuments and the Serb minority the Albanians might even get more if they showed themselves cooperative on these aspects. But with the solid American support the Albanians haven't seen any need to do consessions.
Serbia basically has two interests in Kosovo: the Serb minority and the Serb monuments. If Kosovo would be able to give sound guarantees in those areas Serbia would be hard pressed to grant independence. It is not in Serbia's interests to have a poor, hostile province. But until now Kosovo has avoided to give any hard guarantee, claiming that it would violate their sovereignty. The actions of Kosovo's government show that the real reason is that they don't plan to keep their promises and they want the freedom to do so.
For the Region
As soon as Kosovo is secured under Albanian control we can expect that emboldened Albanian nationalists will aim to change the borders elsewhere where an Albanian minority lives: south Serbia, Macedonia, Montenegro and Greece. A recent informal poll from the Albanian TV station Vision Plus showed that 90% of the interviewed believed that all Albanians should live in one country.
Albanians will interpret the "special case" argument as meaning that the only thing that counts is having friends on Capitol Hill. The have additional reasons to believe so: The US Army has in the last years several times intervened in Macedonia to save Albanian guerrilla's from certain defeat. And the Ohrid agreement that was more or less imposed on Macedonia by the West is seen by many as a preparation for separation.