Escalating Kosovo

Baruch, as you have demonstrated on many occasions while we cohabited as graduate students, for the threat of an escalation to be credible, it’s not enough for others to suspect you probably mean it. They have to know you’ll escalate, even if the cost to you is greater than the cost to others, because you’re irrationally stubborn that way, because you have done so in the past, and probably because you enjoy it.

Which brings me to an article today that I feel quite queasy about:

BBC, Feb 22: Russia could use force in Kosovo

Russia’s ambassador to Nato, Dmitry Rogozin, has warned that Russia could use military force if the Kosovo independence dispute escalates.

“If the EU develops a unified position or if Nato exceeds its mandate set by the UN, then these organisations will be in conflict with the UN,” he said.

In that case Russia would “proceed on the basis that in order to be respected we need to use brute force”, he said.

With Kosovo, the added bonus from the point of view of the Serbs and Russians is that while they believe the land is theirs, very few ethnic Serbs actually live there, which makes indiscriminate bombing a no-brainer, should it come to that. In other words, the cost to others will actually be higher than the cost to themselves. Which bodes ill.

A question to you: What’s up with Cyprus, Greece, Slovakia, Spain, Bulgaria and Romania not recognizing Kosovo? Okay, that was hypothetical, the answer is that some of them have a significant conservative Christian constituency, while others are guilty of being a country while Balkan. In both cases, it means seeing international affairs through an us-vs-them Christians-vs-heathens lens. The rest of us, meanwhile, have graduated to a human-rights, self-determination perspective on things.

An example: My Arabic teacher, who has passports from Greece, Italy and Egypt, is 110% Catholic and has a Russian fiancé (don’t ask), is outraged that Kosovo has declared independence. One argument: “The Albanians (=Muslims) only recently moved there.” (My answer: How many centuries do yo have to live somewhere before you own the place?) Another argument: “The EU only helps Muslim countries. Why don’t they support (Christian) Southern Sudan? (My Answer: We do, they’ve got a referendum coming in 2011, and then they’ll get to be independent.)


12 thoughts on “Escalating Kosovo”

  1. Well I can try and explain from the Greek perspective, which is that they don’t really like Albanians (even though their economy is dependent on them), don’t like seeing anything change in that whole region, they like the Serbs, who are their co-religionists, but most of all worry about the Skopjeans (as they call inhabitants of Former Yugo Republic of Macedonia). I think they are Slavic. FYROM has a big Albanian minority, and they worry if Albanians can form a Greater Albania whatever the remaining ethnicity in FYROM is will cast covetous eyes on what the Greeks think of as True Macedonia, their own province of that name, just South of FYROM.

    Here I have some symapthy for firm line of the Greeks, as it cannot be nice to have your neighbours name their country after a province of your own, especially in a region so full of murderous nationalist loonies. It would not inspire confidence that they won’t one day borrow your lawn mower and not give it back, claiming it was theirs all along.

    There are, right now, intense negotiations going on over what exactly to call FYROM, the Greeks accepting some use of the Macedon brand, so long as some regional identifier is added (like Semi-detached Macedonia). The Macedonians are holding out for full “Macedonia”. I can watch Greek news now on my IPTV, it is quite gripping.

  2. I read this blog and am a big fan, but this post seems to be way off the usual high standards. I thought I’d try and raise a few counterpoints:

    I disagree with your point about Cyprus, Greece, Slovakia, Spain, Bulgaria and Romania.

    I suggest that the reason that Spain is not going to recognise Kosovo at the moment is that Spain has it’s own internal problems of people in parts of the country wanting to split off (the Basque region).

    Cyprus is not keen on “splits” in nations since by “Cyprus” you mean the Southern, Greek part of the Island, rather than the Turkish, Northern part. The Turkish part is not recognised by any countries in the UN apart from Turkey. So the Greek Cypriots are not keen on “splitting” countries being recognised, since it could lead to pressure for the Turkish part of Cyprus to be recognised as a nation.

    I utterly reject your notion of these countries uniformly living in a Huntingdonian world and the rest of the world is in a Fukuyama post-historic phase.

    As for the laughable Russian “threat”. What militiary force can they project – how will they even get to Kosovo? Overfly NATO friendly states? Invade Romania to get to Serbia?
    US jets from Ramstein or from their airbases in Italy would be able to interdict in Serbian airspace. The Russians have no armed forces (short of nuclear weapons) worth worrying about to a NATO that is politically committed.

    Look at what happened last time – NATO bombed the Serbs out of Kosovo and the Russians did what? Nothing. Why? They have no capability to operate out of area.

    And the concept of a binding pre-commitment in a game theoretic approach to decision making is logical. But the Russians are playing to the gallery. The armed forces of the Russian Federation are rubbish. Look at Beslan, Chechenya, Afghanistan. They are undertrained, poorly equipped, badly managed and lacking in leadership. Worry about a possible increase in gas prices but discount them as a military force.

  3. Baruch,

    I have been reading with interest your posting; both financial, philosophical and now political – aren;t they all interconnected? I happen to be in the financial field but I do have strong interests in philosophy, politics and history.

    Let me pose the following question for you. How would you feel as a citizen of any country in the world, if a group of people (however assembled), decide one day to call themselves a new country? And the big bully in the neighborhood (in this case the US) gives you the nod – simply because it fits ther strategic interests in that country – and in violation of any international law. And before you start citing what happen with Milosevitz, just think for a minute that this page was from a book with many chapters thus far (and perhaps more to be written). Think about it please!

  4. OK, where to start. Baruch, you write:

    “Here I have some symapthy for firm line of the Greeks, as it cannot be nice to have your neighbours name their country after a province of your own,”

    Which in my mind just goes to show that the Greeks have become a deeply silly people sometime in the past two-and-half millenia. I’m Belgian, do I carp on about how the French have a province called Flanders? No, I don’t. They can call all of France Southern Wallonia for all I care, what’s it to me?

    The Greeks should be flattered.

    More broadly, this getting upset about what other people do amongst themselves, such as choosing how they want to call themselves or how they are going to express their religious beliefs, is really a trait we humans need to lose asap, for the sake of our survival. That’s the whole point of Spinoza’s philosophising, BTW.

  5. John Greenan:

    I like your point about Spain, but I regard it as an additional reason why they are against it. And I don’t think it is a good point on the part of the Spaniards. You can’t be against the formation of new countries in a blanket sense — after all, all countries have to come from somewhere. And some movements fulfill the criteria for independence better than others: Quebec doesn’t cut it because the referendum keeps on getting defeated. Southern Sudan does cut it because the current state has lost its legitimacy with the people there. Same with Serbia in Montenegro, considering what the Serbian army did there in the 90s.

    There is some irony re Southern Sudan — a war for independence is always an “unjust war” in traditional IR parlance because it is by definition not instigated by a state actor… unless of course the bunch of irregular “illegal” militants win, after which the war becomes retroactively just. (See the American War for Independence)

  6. John, re Russia’s mooted threat.

    By supporting violent uprisings in Kosovo, for example by bankrolling shipments of weapons to militant Serbian nationalist thugs, Putin can destabilize Kosovo for peanuts.

    He may not get Kosovo back into the Slavic embrace, but he can make them sorry they left for as long as he feels spitefult about it.

  7. Bento my dear fellow, what a flurry of commentary your post has got. You see, you should really post more.

    I agree, wouldn’t it be nice to have everyone be as post nationalist as the Belgians, and wouldn’t it be nice to have everyone in the Balkans love each other. Sadly when forming policy — especially if you live there — you have to look at the neighbourhood as it is and not how it you would want it to be. Spinoza would concur. I agree that Greeks can be very sillily nationalistic sometimes, but even if they were as enlightened as you or I the policy should still be the same, to discourage covetous eyes on your otherwise happy citizenry. Anyway, they’ve already accepted sharing the Macedonian brand, which I thought was very nice. I imagine Caute! applies rather well to Balkan foreign policy as a general principle.

    Particle, I detect sarcasm. Don’t ask me about HD, I have no idea. And we run on GMT coz we is global.

    oapoki, to be honest I wouldn’t have a problem with it, so long as it was done in some sort of plebiscitey sort of way. Generally speaking, what you outline is exactly how new countries form and get recognised. If we had a problem with that we would have to have a problem with half of the countries in the UN. Much better this way than have unviable entities drawn up by those with the biggest guns and the least understanding of a region. I agree, leave Milosevic out of it, and yes, everything sort of is connected, isn’t it?

  8. Bento, my fellow Belgian, what are your views on our own little separatist problem?

    I found the Serbian reactions to Kosovo’s independence very interesting.
    The Serbs railed against separatism per se, as if it was an unquestionable evil in its own right and not just a bad idea in this case.
    Reminded me a lot of my francophone compatriots, who seem to agree with the Serbs about the evils of separatism, and all too quickly denounce it as a Bad Ideology, mentioning it together with racism and fascism. This tactic, of course, precludes any rational discussion about the possible advantages and disadvantages of an independent Flanders & Wallonia.

  9. Interesting, isn’t it Hans, how separatism is always bad unless it succeeds? I agree with you that there are good reasons and bad reasons to secede. Let’s create a mini taxonomy, shall we?

    Secession movements of the better off: Here’d I’d place the Catalan, Flemish and Northern Italian separatists. They want to go their own way because they’re richer than the rest of the country, and feeling uncharitable.

    Secession movements of the worse off: The Slovaks, the Welsh, the Corsicans, Indonesia’s Aceh province, the Quebecois… all feel centrist state policy works in their disfavor, and think they can do it better on their own.

    Secessions movements of the aggrieved: Kosovo, Southern Sudan, Tibet, Western Sahara, East Timor… Where centrist power has so abused the local population that it has forfeited all legitimacy in the eyes of the locals, and full sovereignty protected by international norms ands treaties is the only way to go.

    I find that this last kind of movement gets my sympathies, while the other two kinds do not. I abhor patriotism and nationalism of all flavors, and wish that the function of a country is only to serve as a useful fiction within which industries and business operate in sync using a common currency and taxation system. If that were all a country was, then I doubt that people would get all upset about joining it or splitting it or trying to dominate it.

    Which is why I’ve liked being Belgian. It’s about as much of an anti-country as you can get. Alas, it would seem that we’re headed for a more default situation, with two nationalist-patriotic movements pushing for nationhood along linguistic lines. How typical of humanity.

  10. I broadly agree with your taxonomy and your conclusions.
    Wrt Flemish separatism, I have the feeling that my separatist tendencies correlate inversely with the level of socialism in Wallonia. If they’d get their act together and release the iron grip of socialist policies on their economy, I’d have no problem with staying together at all. Right now, selfish though it may be, I see few economic reasons for the existence of Belgium.
    Culturally, we’ve become so different as well, it’s hard to justify staying together. Really, what remains of “Belgian-ness”? Chocolates, beer, and a proclivity for avoiding taxes.

    I think the EU would fit your definition of an ideal country, and full economic and social integration would be most desirable to “compete in the global marketplace, ” to borrow an overused phrase. Of course, try convincing the French (let alone the British!) of that.

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