Recognizing Kosovo: A Dangerous Precedent

On February 17, Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia and soon after the United States recognized the new nation. However, not all nations have been so willing to recognize the new Republic. An examination of the five veto countries on the U.N. Security Council shows that while Britain, France and the U.S have extended recognition, Russia and China have not.

To what can this inconsistency be attributed? The most likely explanation is that China and Russia don’t want to set a dangerous precedent for potential breakaway movements within their own nations. If it is okay for Kosovo to secede from Serbia then it follows that it would be okay for Tibet or Xinjiang to break off from China. Or in the case of Russia, recognition of Kosovo may give justification for a renewed attempt by Chechnya to break away. The presence of ethnic minorities concentrated in specific geographic areas makes the precedent set by recognizing Kosovo very troubling for these nations. The United States doesn’t really have these issues, but we should look beyond our own borders to consider the implications for the world as a whole.

Centralized states with clearly defined borders are vital to the international order. Do we really want chaos in China or Russia? We have to think not just about this particular situation in the Balkans, but also the implications of our decision to recognize Kosovo on future events. The issue is especially relevant to events in Iraq. We can’t in good faith resist a move by Iraqi Kurds to form their own state, when we extend recognition to ethnic Albanians in Serbia who created their own Republic. It doesn’t seem fair for the U.S. to be committed to maintaining a unified Iraq, while not supporting Serbia’s attempt to remain unified.

The concept of national unity in the face of secessionist movements is something that we as Americans can relate to. Between 1861 and 1865, this nation was involved in a titanic struggle over whether a group that no longer wanted to be part of the Union could separate and form its own nation. After the bloodiest conflict in our nation’s history, the issue was decided in favor of union not secession. The concept of a united and indivisible nation is central to our concept of what it means to be American. It seems ludicrous to affirm this principle at home while holding a different standard abroad.

Some of you might be saying; well, what about the American Revolution? Doesn’t that justify secession? I would point out that it is a totally different matter to break off from a colonial power located across the ocean, which views you simply as a source of raw materials and a dumping ground for products. The bonds of Empire should not hold two groups together, but the bonds of a contiguous, unified nation state should. Colonial empires are exploitive institutions which enrich one group at the expense of another. A nation state is the basis for all order in today’s world and is ideally run for the benefit of all who reside within its borders.

Government cannot last long when people may refuse to be ruled by that government whenever they wish. Without government, there can be no order and no stability in this world. By undermining the concept of national unity, we undermine stability. In 1861, Abraham Lincoln realized the folly of secession. Our leaders today should have done the same and not recognized Kosovo.