Unfreezing Kosovo

Reconsidering Boundaries in the Balkans

Courtesy Reuters

When Kosovo unilaterally declared its independence in February 2008, proponents of the move assumed that Serbia’s acquiescence to Kosovo’s final status was not absolutely necessary. The United States and many countries in Europe hoped Kosovo would gain quick recognition. These supportive governments thought that Kosovo would then have access to capital and investment, and that the northern, ethnically Serbian parts of the province would want to take part in the post-independence economic boom. Sadly, things have not gone according to plan.

Although the United States and many European countries did recognize the new state, some EU members -- such as Spain -- did not, due to fears of setting a harmful precedent that could weaken the doctrine of territorial integrity. Most other world powers have also declined to recognize an independent Kosovo, including Brazil, China, and India. Although some U.S. policymakers predicted that the Islamic world would embrace a new Muslim state -- and express gratitude to the United States for bringing about its birth -- almost no members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference have extended recognition. Even states that enjoy the patronage of the United States, such as Georgia and Iraq, have declined to support Washington by recognizing Kosovo (both countries face separatist problems of their own).

Being considered nonexistent has led Kosovo to struggle economically -- a situation made even worse by the lack of a formal agreement with Serbia on property claims. As U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Philip Gordon said recently, Kosovo is hampered by “high unemployment, low investment rates, and a relatively small economic base.” The government in Pristina requires Western aid to meet its expenses. Meanwhile, Kosovo remains a regional hub for narcotics, weapons, and human trafficking, with corruption a major deterrent to foreign investment.

Initially, many hoped that growing prosperity in Kosovo would entice those living in the Serb-majority region north of the Ibar River, as well as the residents of the ethnically Serb enclaves in the south, to

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