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February 22, 2005
The UN's Unfinished Business

Former Defense Secretary Frank Carlucci reminds us at the New York Times why we eschewed United Nations leadership in Afghanistan and Iraq. Carlucci warns that Kosovo, a UN protectorate for six years now and no closer to a final resolution on its status than when the West first intervened, may soon explode into violence again:

The world reacted in horror six years ago when the Serbian regime of Slobodan Milosevic embarked on an ethnic cleansing operation against Kosovo's Albanians, forcing 700,000 people, nearly half the population, to flee the province. Reports of massacres and images of mileslong lines of refugees fleeing into neighboring Albania and Macedonia compelled the world to act. The NATO air campaign against Serbia that followed convinced Belgrade to give up its brutal assault, and Kosovo was put under United Nations administration.

And so it remains to this day: an international protectorate, legally part of Serbia, but with a 90 percent ethnic Albanian population that would sooner go to war than submit to Belgrade's rule. Kosovars seek an independent state, and the seemingly endless delays over final-status talks are only causing deep frustration and resentment.

Their discontent is not simply a matter of hurt pride over national sovereignty; Kosovo's unsettled international status has serious repercussions for daily life. Because it is under United Nations administration, Kosovo is in economic limbo: it cannot be part of the international bank transfer system, it is ineligible for sovereign lending from development banks, and it can attract few foreign investors. With 70 percent unemployment, the province is being starved of the commerce it badly needs.

Perhaps most important, the continuing uncertainty creates widespread insecurity among Kosovo's ethnic Albanians, who live with a constant sense of dread that they could return to Serb rule. It is essentially a siege mentality, and it could explode into violence at any time.

Carlucci notes politely in his conclusion that he finds it "understandable" that Kosovo has dropped off of the international diplomatic radar over the past four years, a reference to 9/11 and the war on terror. I completely disagree, and I would hope that Carlucci just means to avoid finger-pointing in order to get his message heard. However, that approach, which seeks to engage the UN, will find itself victim to the same forces of ennui that have so far doomed Kosovo to limbo.

The Europeans and the Clinton Administration handed the Kosovars over to UN control out of the same impulse that drove the Left nuts about Afghanistan and Iraq; they want every nation to reach a consensus on the province's status. While that Utopianism might sound reasonable, the problem is that not every nation has the same goals in mind. The UN is filled with dictatorships and oppressive governments, and even excepting these, some of the free nations don't exactly care for the idea of self-determination on the basis of ethnicity, even in (or especially in) the Balkans. More than a couple have their own ethnic minority agitators (the Basques come to mind), and don't want to see an uncomfortable precedent being set.

The result has been the stagnation and the stalemate we've seen for the past six years, and that has been the direct result of turning he matter over to Turtle Bay. Contrast that result with the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts. Instead of waiting for a consensus that will never be reached, the Americans and British set up elections and allowed ethnic rivalries to play out in the formation of political parties under a federal structure -- and then held elections for their expression. We started off both conflicts with a plan for the postwar political phases, unlike Kosovo and the rest of the Balkans, where the West and the UN have mostly just sat around and waited for events to play themselves out in any direction.

People used to claim that Bush had no plan to win the peace in either Afghanistan or Iraq, but that simply was never the case. He envisioned political processes replacing sectarian violence, not on a single day but as an evolution in the thinking for the populations of both countries. It may have been bloody at first, especially in Iraq, but it will eventually get bloody in Kosovo as well. The Serbs will not give up Kosovo willingly, not after six years or sixty, and Carlucci's solution will result in violence. Like Iraq, it will be predictable, containable, and as long as the West remains vigilant, short-lived until free elections help establish legitimate self-rule instead of imposed independence for the Kosovars.

Had we had this objective in mind from the first and stuck to it, we could have been out of Kosovo three or four years ago. Instead, all we have done is postpone the inevitable while holding the Kosovars and the entire region hostage to UN Utopianism. If anyone wants to know why we don't put Turtle Bay in charge, Kosovo provides the most direct example.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at February 22, 2005 6:36 AM

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