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.