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A better plan for Kosovo

Independence sets a bad precedent. Partition is better.

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One of the most cherished principles of international law – the territorial integrity of states – is about to be undone as part of the latest Western attempt to cover up failure in the Balkans. The UN envoy to Kosovo, Martti Ahtisaari, recommends that Kosovo become independent. Despite the reaction of Serbia's moderate president, Boris Tadic, who told Mr. Ahtisaari that "neither Serbia nor I, as its president, will ever accept the independence of Kosovo," the Security Council will be asked to dismember a sovereign UN member state for the first time in its history.

Even though the Security Council has repeatedly reaffirmed the territorial integrity of what is now Serbia, Ahtisaari and his Western supporters have changed their minds. There are two possible explanations. The first is simply that Ahtisaari has taken the more politically popular position (at least in the West), ignoring international law in favor of pragmatism and completing the West's oversight of the disintegration of Yugoslavia. The second is that Kosovo's independence is justified as a means of punishing Serbs for the killings and mass expulsions that were unleashed against Kosovar Albanians after the beginning of the NATO bombing campaign against Serbia in 1999.

The first explanation would be difficult to challenge, if only earlier pragmatism had been more successful. Instead, the former Yugoslavia is now composed of six independent states, most of which are significantly more ethnically pure than before the wars. Nationalism has not disappeared, and Ahtisaari's assertion that "Kosovo shall be a multiethnic society" will not make it so.

The second explanation has greater appeal, since Serb forces did commit international crimes in Kosovo both before and during the NATO bombing. But it is based on only a half-truth, conveniently ignoring the fact that both Serbs and Albanians in Kosovo have sought to repress the other whenever they have had the power to do so. In the year before the NATO campaign, it is estimated that approximately 2,000 people were killed in Kosovo, mostly ethnic Albanians killed by Serbs. In the year following the NATO intervention, approximately 2,000 people also were killed in Kosovo, this time mostly Serbs killed by Kosovar Albanians. Both Serb and Albanian leaders have been indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague.

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