Tuesday, December 18, 2007
The Not So Easy Way Out
The coming showdown in Kosovo is worth our attention for a number of reasons. To begin with, in terms of pure power politics, it will have a major impact on Russia's orientation towards Europe and the West. That in turn will have consequences for some of the regional alignments where Russia can make things difficult for American and European interests, including the Middle East, but also Eurasia.
On a more theoretical level, given how questionable the multi-lateral legitimacy of the initial Kosovo War was, and given the degree to which the foundations of multi-lateralism have been undermined since, it's hard to imagine how a second Kosovo War could be anything but extremely destabilizing on a global level.
On an even more theoretical level, the Kosovo crisis raises questions for the West in terms of its approach to addressing ethnic and sectarian conflict in fragile and failed states. We seem to be moving increasingly towards an atomized vision of reducing nation-building efforts to the lowest common denominator. As an example, our vision for Iraq has moved from a central government, to a Federalized arrangement, to tribal "awakenings".
The element in these atomized "solutions" that seems to be taken for granted (read: ignored) is that in order to prevent them from completely degenerating into festering zones of violence and instability, they require some sort of longterm, outside military presence to stabilize them. It's easy to talk about an "independent" Kosovo. But if it takes a permanent outpost of EU peacekepers whose presence is contested by Serbia and Russia, it's a legal fiction.
There's an old joke about the French intellectual who, confronted with an arrangement that seems to be working, objects, "It's great in practice. But does it work in theory?" It's a question we ought to ask ourselves about our rejection of multi-ethnic, multi-sectarian nation-building. The path of least resistance is by definition easier to travel. But it doesn't necessarily take us where we want to go.