Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Border changes: it is so simple

As I keep hearing people claim that border changes will lead to long term instability I will once again repeat my thoughts on that subject.

My rule is simple: "Don't do it. But if you have to do it anyway then do it good."

The first part is what everyone knows: border changes can generate a lot of trouble. If today you have Congress of Berlin (1878) you will find that some parties will keep grumbling and when after a few decades the power balance has changed you will get a new set of border changes. In addition border changes are often accompanied by soft or hard ethnic cleansing and "population exchanges".

But sometimes you cannot avoid border changes. A secession movement is too strong or the international players are too strongly in favor. In that case the second part of my rule applies and that part is often ignored.

Doing it good means two things: first of all you take into account all things, including the desires of the local populations. Secession according to existing internal borders - without considering the consequences - is in my opinion a fundamental error. In addition the border changes - and how they are implemented - should be mutually agreed. That way it is possible to have peaceful border changes as multi-ethnic countries like Belgium and Switzerland demonstrate.

So what does that mean for Northern Kosovo? As long as opinions vary from Albanians who want it ethnically cleansed from its Serb population and included in Kosovo until Serbs who want it included in Serbia you won't find a solution. Allocating it to Kosovo now will lead to (soft) ethnic cleansing of the Serbs. Allocating it to Serbia will very probably lead to long term territorial claims by Kosovo Albanian politicians.

For that reason I think the solution for the moment should be to decide to give Northern Kosovo very strong autonomy - virtually independence - for the coming 5 years. That is in fact a continuation of the present situation. The big difference is that once you decide to this constellation formally you can also make agreements on how the area should be governed.

Will that lead to another situation like the RS in Bosnia? Actually I think the entity solution hasn't done that badly: compared to Croatia - where we implemented a unitary state - Bosnia has done better in terms of minority returns. The Bosnian solution could have worked even better is we had not consistently sabotaged it by insisting on a unitary state. That polarized the ethnic relations while the entities were meant to take them out of the equation.

The disadvantage of Dayton was that it was to a large extent an imposed solution. An imposed solution leaves room for nationalists to demand more. A real solution has to be negotiated and that takes time. At the moment it is impossible to find any solution that would not lead to one - and maybe even both - negotiators to be seen as traitors as soon as they came back home. Real negotiations make the parties gradually aware of the position of the others and how far that position is real and how it is nationalistic greed. They gradually establish criteria about how you treat people and how you want to be treated.

That takes time. We have recently seen how it took Belgium one and a half year to find a solution for a relatively minor problem. Kosovo very likely will take longer. Problem is that until now real negotiations still haven't started. One can blame for that to a large extent the Western countries that have treated Kosovo mainly as a play-field for their international power games.

What I would like to see is that the West explicitly admits that the treatment of minorities in the rest of Kosovo is still so bad that it is ethically irresponsible to deliver the Northern Serbs to a similar treatment. From there they could decide that Northern Kosovo should keep for at least the next 5 years its present semi-independent status. As that is a temporary solution it could be acceptable for both parties. In contrast to what the EU is doing now it would not leave space for yet more adventurous policies that aim to change the "facts on the ground". It would also clearly establish that the Northern Serbs have good reasons at the moment not to want to be part of Kosovo.

Every border change should be thoroughly negotiated. The trouble in Croatia and Bosnia was a direct consequence of not following that rule. The present trouble similarly is a direct consequence of separating Kosovo from Serbia without proper negotiations.

Negotiating takes time. But it also is a dialogue that forces both sides to take each other seriously. I think Kosovo would be in a much better shape if it had spent the last 12 years negotiating with Serbia. The mafia style posturing that is propagated by the EU and the US takes in the long run much more time and is much more harmful.


The Hero of Crappy Town said...

It is more than a little silly to be talking about the north of Kosovo in terms of whether it should be "included in Kosovo", "allocated to Kosovo" or made "a part of Kosovo." First and foremost Kosovo is a geographic term so the north will always be Kosovo.

Secondly, there are two political entities which claim "Kosovo" as part of their name, the legal Autonomous Province of Kosovo and Metohija and the extralegal quasi-state proclaimed as "Republic of Kosovo".

Since Kosovo Serbs cling to the institutions of the Autonomous Province of Kosovo and Metohija it is easy to see that Serbs in the province very much claim membership in political Kosovo. They have no wish to be torn away from Kosovo (political entity).

Using the short name of Kosovo in place of "Republic of Kosovo" is highly questionable seeing that 1.) it is not the only political entity laying claim to the name, 2.) unlike the other such entity it exists outside law, and 3.) Kosovo is a name with a Serbian etymological origin.

Anonymous said...

The best solution to the Kosovo crisis is that Serbia promises to recognize Kosovo's independence on the condition that it be allowed to deploy troops in the province to protect the Serbian enclaves in the South which are continually under threat by Albanian extremists and in the Serbian majority North where Serbs reject any authority coming from Pristina. There are several advantages to such a solution.

Firstly, it solves the most pressing matter in the province, and that is the protection of the endangered Serbian minority which would most likely emigrate from the province if the international community withdrew its forces, seeing as the Kosovo authorities have failed to uphold the rule of law in so many previous cases and protect Serbs.

Secondly, it allows a practical solution to who would replace the international forces and EULUX in the event of Kosovo's recognition. No matter how we cut, the EU countries are sick and tired of financing their troops in the region and having to police the province. By offering recognition of Kosovo on the condition that Serbian troops are allowed to be deployed in the region to replace EULUX and protect the Serbian minority, this would have a great chance of gaining favor in many EU states as a practical solution to hte problem, allowing them to withdraw their troops.

Finally, this solution is in the best long run interest of Serbia with regards to Kosovo. At present, we have a situation in which Resolution 1244 gives de-jure Serbian sovereingty over Kosovo, but de-facto recognition as an independent state. This opposite would be the case if this solution were adopted. Serbia would offer recognition of Kosovo's independence as its last and biggest compromise to the internaitonal community...however only on insistence that its troops be deployed in the province. The international community would likely agree since it is eager to reach a political solution to the dispute, particularly one that allows it to pull its troops from the provinces. Once this occurs, Serbia would have de-jure recognized Kosovo as independent, however it would have de-facto control over much of the territory.

In short, Serbia's recogition of Kosovo's indpeendnece on condition that its troops are deployed in the region would be the best compromise to the conflict. Firstly, it would satisfy the key Albanian demand for independence, allowing Kosovo to become a UN member, participate in international sporting events as its own country and join international institutions such as the World Bank and IMF. On the other hand, the key Serbian demand that it maintain sovereignty over Kosovo would also be satisfied, since its troops would be deployed to the region offering it de-facto control of the territory and guaranteeing that the Serbian minority which would otherwise be highly endangered is protected and chooses to remain in the province. Thirdly, this solution would satisfy a key desire of the European Union which is eager to finally pull its troops out of the province.

Anonymous said...

"I think Kosovo would be in a much better shape if it had spent the last 12 years negotiating with Serbia."

This was not possible as long as Serbia had imperialist/aggressive attitudes that claimed all of Kosovo territory as its own.

It's hard to "negotiate" at a decent level with an ememy that wants to annihilate you.


Hero said: "the legal Autonomous Province of Kosovo and Metohija and the extralegal quasi-state proclaimed as "Republic of Kosovo".

Actually, only the latter applies, as it is not a province, it is a separate nation.

The Anon above has an interesting compromise.

Wim Roffel said...

Hero, I admit that I am sloppy with names. I consider readability more important.

Anonymous1: These soldiers would need to go from Serbia proper to the enclaves and back. What would happen if someone shot at them while they were on the road? Would they shoot back? Would they go in pursuit? Would they stay passive and just flee? I am afraid this would be a recipe for disaster.