Kosovo’s declaration of independence last month was hailed in the global media as a triumph of self-determinism and, among other things, a diplomatic triumph over the Russians. But what are the real costs of Kosovo’s independence for the international community? What is the price of endorsing this secession?

Condoning the independence of Kosovo is the worst mistake the international community has made in recent years in Europe. Kosovo is not a simple case of self-determinism of its people: It is about setting a precedent of secession that undermines the integrity of pluralistic nations everywhere. It has been a province of Serbia for about 800 years, longer than many nations in Europe could claim to have existed.

A bit of history will demonstrate that this time the liberal voices of Europe may have gone too far. Let us assume that the balkanization of Europe after World War I was a fairly legitimate effort at stabilizing the over-extended Austro-Hungarian Empire and providing a voice to Magyars, Bosnians and other nationalities. The resolution of the Polish question, which so riled Churchill and Stalin, was also about providing a homeland to the Poles now freed from Nazi aggression. Of course, over the long term, this balkanization fractured Europe’s unity and eroded its power. Through the miracle of stability provided by the Cold War between the United States and Soviet Union, Europe settled into half a century of peace and stability, at least until the break-up of Yugoslavia. This in turn was naively triggered by European support of Croatian independence (later endorsed by the United States) as much as anything else. The Croatian independence opened the gates for the other provinces, such as Bosnia, to seek their own independence, resulting in unimaginable bloodshed. The event was followed by ethnic cleansing by the Bosnian Serbs – and civil war.

And what was the solution proposed by European governments and the United States? It was secession, rather than reconciliation. Perhaps it was feasible in the case of Bosnia. But then came Macedonia, followed closely by Montenegro; nations either landlocked or so small that they can barely support themselves. These statelets were confident of survival as independent nations because they had an insurance company they called the European Union.

Then in 1999, the problem of Kosovo emerged. True, President Slobodan Milosevic was a despicable despot. It was fair for Europe and the United States to protect the Kosovars. But now, Milosevic is gone. Serbia is neither a dictatorship nor condones the killers like Karadzic. How do we then justify Kosovo’s secession on the grounds of protection? Instead of enabling reconciliation, once again the solution proposed was independence. Kosovo barely has any natural resources to survive on. Aid money won’t last forever, and unless Kosovo unifies with Albania, its chances for economic survival are bleak.

All in all, the very idea of creating nations to protect ethnic minorities is flawed. This is evinced by the triumph of the democratic process over ethnic conflict across the world. Indeed in Kosovo today, Serbs are an ethnic minority (120,000 Serbs out of a population of one million). And as a very senior U.S. diplomat to Kosovo attested to me, Kosovo’s Serbs are now at the receiving end of discrimination. So will Europe next advocate the creation of a mini-Serb breakaway nation or province out of Kosovo to protect the Serbs north of the Ibar River (as indeed some have proposed)?

There is no limit to this Balkanization once we’ve opened the flood gates. Kosovo has set the precedent for several ethnic struggles, legitimate and illegitimate, which can be resolved through reconciliation and dialogue, rather than secession. After Kosovo, how do we say no to Kurdistan out of Iraq and Turkey, the Basque region out of Spain, Tamil Eelam out of Sri Lanka, Transnistria out of Moldava, South Ossetia and Abkhazia out of Georgia or God forbid, Pashtunistan out of Afghanistan? Already there are statements from secessionist leaders across the world voicing triumphant optimism given the creation of Kosovo. The fragile peace in recently resolved conflicts like Aceh and Northern Ireland could also be threatened. We have all too easily forgotten the consequences of Biafra’s secession from Nigeria in the 1960s which was similarly supported by European governments but actually set off a civil war and a massive humanitarian crisis.

Perhaps whatever the cost, self-determinism should be encouraged. Perhaps the voices of liberty should triumph over reason at all times. But liberty without reason is suicide. How will these tiny landlocked nations survive? Are we not sowing the seeds for pockets of poverty that will bleed Europe’s prosperity dry? Will these not become bottomless pits for international aid that will have nothing to deliver?

Are we not creating the danger of still-born democracies whose incomplete sovereignty could create “ungoverned spaces” – the very danger we are now fighting around the world because they are the breeding grounds for poverty and terrorism?

artti Ahtisaari, the United Nations Special Envoy for Kosovo, may be a happy man today to see his plan succeed, but history will prove this mistake costly for Europe and the rest of the world.

Raja Karthikeya is a first-year graduate student in the MSFS.

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