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Ralph Waldo Emerson On Kosovo/Georgia

31st August 2008

Welcome Instapundit readers.

David Miliband puts forward the best available case for why the Kosovo precedent has no bearing on the Georgia case:

Some argue that Russia has done nothing not previously done by Nato in Kosovo in 1999. But this comparison does not bear serious examination.

Leave to one side that Russia spends a lot of time arguing in the UN and elsewhere against "interference" in internal affairs, whether in Zimbabwe or Burma. Nato's actions in Kosovo followed dramatic and systematic abuse of human rights, culminating in ethnic cleansing on a scale not seen in Europe since the second world war. Nato acted over Kosovo only after intensive negotiations in the UN security council and determined efforts at peace talks. Special envoys were sent to warn Milosevic in person of the consequences of his actions. None of this can be said for Russia's use of force in Georgia.

The decision to recognise Kosovo's independence came only after Russia made clear it would veto the deal proposed by the UN secretary general's special envoy, former Finnish President Ahtisaari. Even then we agreed to a further four months of negotiations by an EU-US-Russia troika in order to ensure that no stone was left unturned in the search for a mutually acceptable compromise.

It is easy enough to draw clear factual and policy distinctions between Georgia and Kosovo. Comparing them is stupid!

And yet some not obviously stupid people do compare them:

President Dmitry Medvedev has declared that Russia formally recognises the independence of the breakaway Georgian regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Mr Medvedev told the BBC Russia had tried to preserve Georgian unity for 17 years, but that the situation had changed after this month's violence ... Moscow now felt obliged to recognise South Ossetia and Abkhazia as other countries had done with Kosovo.

The Point is this.

It is trite to identify similarities and differences between the Kosovo and Georgia precedents. Rummage around in these issues and you'll find what you're looking for.

The actual 'Kosovo precedent' is not about the merits of the specific case(s). It is about the unwisdom of launching a lunge at Kosovo recognition in the face of serious objections within the EU and round the planet.

Kosovo's failure to establish itself quickly and uncontroversially as an independent state recognised round the world is remarkable. Kosovo declared its independence in February this year. Since then a mere 46 UN member states have recognised it. The absence from that list of all the big hitters in the Muslim world (Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Syria) not to mention India and China is especially striking.

After the initial flurry only four more countries have signed up since May. It is hard to think of a comparable example of a significant body of states recognising a new member of the international fold, but a much greater number not doing so.

This shows up a Deep Issue. The countries of the world are a disparate, squabbling lot, but they do take one (for them) existential issue supremely seriously. When is a country a country? Who joins the Countries Club, and on what terms?

The diplomatic practice in past decades has been based on the operational wisdom of establishing a wide consensus before admitting new members to the Club. And of ensuring that UNSC permanent members are at one - see eg Taiwan.

The Miliband article glosses over the problems which he knew were bound to be caused by proceeding with Kosovo recognition in the face of a strong Russian objection and evident Chinese/Indian unhappiness.

See eg this:

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, travelling in the Middle East, said Russia's decision to recognize the regions puts it in opposition to several UN Security Council resolutions to which it is a party.

"I want to be very clear," Rice said. "Since the United States is a permanent member of the (UN) Security Council, this simply will be dead-on-arrival in the Security Council" ...

But the US and UK as fellow UNSC members did not respect Russia's objections when pressing ahead with Kosovo recognition, even though Russia had made it unambiguously clear that pursuing such recognition would have 'implications' for eg Georgia.

In short, Washington and London were struck by (and yielded to) the intensity of tiny Albanian nationalism, but underestimated the intensity of far mightier Russian nationalism. I warned London myself about this risk several times as HM Ambassador in Poland. To no avail.

In all the weary meanderings under New Labour about the UK's foreign policy objectives/targets/priorities and (now) Policy Goals, is not this a comprehensive - and unforgivable - blunder of basic professional technique?

How will the mass of states round the world react now?

Most will be privately aghast at Russia's banal power-play to dismember Georgia.

Some may think that this is a reason to move to recognise Kosovo but not Abkhazia and S Ossetia, as a gesture of protest against crass Russian land-grabbing beyond its borders.

But I suspect that the great majority will keep avert their eyes from this shambles, torn unhappily between deriving private satisfaction from the unedifying disagreements between UNSC members on this core international law issue - and fervently hoping that violent separatist urges in their own respective parts of the world are not given new impulses.

Gordon Brown: the changing global order cannot be governed by institutions designed in the middle of the last century. We now know how much more we have to do to create an effective system of international rules. We must strengthen the system of global governance to meet the challenges of our interdependent world.

This windy rhetoric makes no sense. We all have invested in the UN system for decades, precisely to do this.

But let's be honest. Our own clumsy Balkans policy based on scissors and paste improvisation at the UN has messed things up.

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines (Ralph Waldo Emerson).

Foolish inconsistency is not much better.

Older comments:
31st August 2008
Buck smith

<i>We all have invested in the UN system for decades</i>

When it comes to human rights and economic growth, it is a worthless investment.  The dictators, totalitarian and mafia regimes of the world fill the UN with people that make sure it never stops  dictators, totalitarian and mafia regimes from doing as they wish with their people.

31st August 2008
Why Kosovo?  Whatever happened to Bosnia's precedent, to Croatia's precedent, to Slovenia's precedent, to Macedonia's precedent? Kosovo is not the first precedent, but rather merely the last step in Yugoslavia's deterioration.

Kosovo is merely declaring independence, whereas Russia is ANNEXING South Ossetia. An independent Kosovo is not the same as its unification with Albania, a greater Albania achieved by force. Albania did not go in to invade Serbia with no one else's backing and authority to carve Kosovo out for itself. Au contraire, Albania completely stayed out of it and let the internationals do their (piss-poor) job, since any involvement of Albania would have been considered short in the impartiality department. For the parallel between Kosovo and South Ossetia to hold, aside from the merits of the respective parties and the urgent need to stop the ethnic cleansing nearing genocide which was taking place in Kosovo, would still require that Russia had stayed out of the region and and let the UN/NATO forces and diplomatic efforts handle the situation in South Ossetia and act as peacekeepers... and let South Ossetia proclaim independence under the internationals' watch 8 years after the fact after many negotiations with Georgia. 

And even had Albania intervened in Serba as Russia has in Georgia, she would have had no rationale to invade Serbia proper outside of Kosovo. Russia almost overthrew Tbilisi! The comparisons between Kosovo and South Ossetia are not stupid. I'll give you that. No one is as stupid as to draw such orthogonal parallels. Only malice, rather than stupidity, could motivate such comparisons.

Also, oughtn't Russia recognize Kosovo now, since it's the "precedent" it used to wreck havoc in Georgia?

AND....Who cares about the contradictory rhetoric and aims of the EU?  American policy has been consistent in the Balkans.

AND...if Georgia had been accepted to NATO, Russia would not have been stupid enough to attack.  Russia is a dying state -- and this brutal attack exposes how desperate they are in the face of further isolation.  Once the price of oil comes back down -- the thugs are done.  The greater question is how do we better lead Russia through the post-thug leadership phase (which we obviously blew in the 90s).
31st August 2008
nick werle

Kosovo was as part of Serbia as South Ossetia part of Gerogia, abrogating Serbia control over it is same as what Russia has done with SO.


and it is not Stupuid it is only what YOU do not like.

1st September 2008

Your article seems to be another in a series of lame attempts to minimize Russia's responsability for her actions in GA with a critique of the West's Kosovo policies. Am I wrong on this?

One point in which you are correct is that the two are incomparable: Russia's use of the latter as an excuse for her premeditated attack on her neighboor is just that. Motives do account for something and the West is on much more solid ground in this dept than the Russians.

10th September 2008
Willie Garvin
Sadly the British FM's argument is founded upon false premises that have crept into the western psyche as 'facts'. 

For example, the 'ethnic cleansing' seen in Kosovo was a (desperate) tactical move by the Milosevic regime AFTER NATO commenced bombing.  The aim being to keep 'occupied' NATO forces in Albania/Macedonia with a refugess crises and prevent them from building up a land invasion force, and maybe to destabalize the two states as well. 

How do you 'justify' the use of a military offensive in the basis of an inhumane act that begun after - and because of - that military offensive?

VJ/MUP actions in Kosovo prior to NATO bombing may well have been harsh and disproportionate in 'our' eyes, but no less so (in the round) than 'our' actions in Iraq and Afghanistan.  How does a bomb dropped from 30,000' (unintentiontally) killing 30+ civilians score less on the immoral/inhumane scale than the MUP (unintentional) killing of civilians near Racak whilst repulsing KLA attack - with said civilians deliberately pushed ahead as a 'shield'?  It doesn't - unless you wear those special glasses that show different results depending on the perpetrator.

Have you asked your contacts Mr Crawford to explain on what basis the US and the UK wishes to push for Georgian membership of NATO when you consider the following:
"States which have ethnic disputes or external territorial disputes, including irredentist claims, or internal jurisdictional disputes must settle those disputes by peaceful means in accordance with OSCE principles. Resolution of such disputes would be a factor in determining whether to invite a state to join the Alliance."
(para 6, Study on NATO Enlargement, Chapter 1, Purposes and Principles of Enlargement: http://www.nato.int/docu/basictxt/enl-9502.htm)

Surely, by now, it is clear that Russia actions regarding Kosovo were part of a wider strategy.  With Kosovo, the US and EU have elected to reshape the existing international order where states are the principle actors and sovereignty is paramount. Russia has been following the same goal: passively over Kosovo, and actively now in Georgia.

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