Following up to my earlier post, some discussion of the international reaction to Kosovar independence.
At the moment, 43 countries have recognized Kosovo’s independence. (I’m defining “country” here as “member of the UN General Assembly. Sorry, Taiwan.) Since the UNGA has 192 members, that means that more than three quarters of the world’s countries have not recognized Kosovo.
Is that good or bad for the Kosovars?
Well… it depends.
In Kosovo’s favor, they hold a clear majority among countries that are, well, powerful and important. It’s just a fact that the United States, Japan, Germany and France count for more than Timor Leste, Djibouti or Belize. Seven of the G-8 countries recognize Kosovo, as do three of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. Of the world’s 10 largest economies, seven are recognizers. Of the 27 EU members, 20 are.
On the other side, if we measure by population, more than 80% of the world doesn’t recognize. And while the 43 include many big and important countries, there are some equally big and important countries — like Russia, China, India, Indonesia and Brazil — that are strongly opposed to recognition.
So two questions come to mind. One, why the split? And two, what are the prospects for resolution?
For the first question, it’s easier to look at reasons why countries don’t recognize than why they do. The “no” votes fall into several categories. There is some overlap, of course, as some countries have more than one reason to not recognize. But in most cases there’s a single reason that dominates, so I think the categories are valid.
Serbia and its traditional friends. That’s Serbia, Romania, Greece, Cyprus, and the current government of Slovakia.
Okay, so Serbia doesn’t have so many friends.
Russia and its posse. Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Moldova, Mongolia, and the five Central Asian states. Russia really hates the idea of Kosovar independence. The details of why would deserve another post. (Though alert readers will notice that I didn’t put Russia in the “traditional friend” category.) Anyway, the point here is that several countries, mostly states of the former USSR, are willing to follow Russia’s lead on this.
Ukraine sits schizophrenically on the edge of this group, but should probably be included — if only because even the most Russophobe elements in Ukraine’s government see no reason to pick another fight with Moscow.
Countries with their own separatist movements or regions. This is a huge group, and accounts for the largest bloc of resistance in the General Assembly. It includes several big and important countries — Indonesia, China, Argentina, Spain — and dozens of smaller ones, from Bolivia to Ethiopia.
Although a large group, it’s a somewhat squishy one. At one extreme, there are countries where the separatism either poses an existential threat (Sri Lanka, Sudan, Bosnia) or where anti-separatism has become a key part of the national identity (Georgia, Argentina, Azerbaijan). These countries are never going to vote for Kosovar independence. In a few cases, they might refuse to recognize it even if the rest of the UN does.
At the other extreme, there are countries with important separatist movements that have recognized Kosovo anyway. The existence of Scots nationalists, Corsican terrorists, Quebecois and Kurds has not prevented the UK, France, Canada or Turkey from recognizing Kosovo. (Turkey is particularly interesting because critics of Kosovar separatism almost always mention the Kurds: this will encourage Turkey’s Kurds to try seceding again! But the Turks themselves seem sublimely unconcerned on this point.) So local separatisms, while important, are not determinative.
The legalists. This is a large and important group. It’s all the countries who dislike Kosovar independence because they see it as a violation of the UN charter, as the unlawful dismemberment of a sovereign nation by force, or just generally as a disturbing precedent. This group includes Brazil, Australia, Mexico, India, and a lot of small neutral countries who put a high value on the UN. Countries as diverse as Portugal, Singapore and Chile have sincere concerns about the implications of recognizing Kosovo.
Note that this group, while large, is not as large as it might seem. Almost everyone who opposes Kosovar independence says it’s because of the precedent, the authority of the UN, etc. However, it’s not too hard to distinguish between countries who are truly concerned about this (New Zealand) and those who have other issues (Sudan).
The Anti-Imperialists. There are a few countries who oppose Kosovar independence because they see the whole thing as an imperialist aggression against poor Serbia. This group includes several countries that have been on the receiving end of American bombs within living memory (Vietnam, North Korea, Libya) or that have come close to it (Cuba, the current government of Nicaragua, Iran). These guys are understandably sympathetic to a country that was attacked by a US-led coalition. There are also a few governments — Zimbabwe comes to mind –that are still heavily invested in an ideology of anti-imperialist struggle.
And of course, Hugo Chavez.
The disinterested. There are some countries who just don’t have a dog in this fight. This group is smaller than you might think, because almost everyone either has a domestic issue that could be connected to Kosovo (ethnic cleansing in Burma) or has a relationship with a major power that has a strong position on Kosovo (Mongolia following Russia’s lead, Liberia and the Marshall Islands following the US). Still, there are some countries who are distant enough that they really don’t care one way or the other. There’s just no reason for the governments of Bhutan or Vanuatu to lose much sleep over Kosovo.
The disinterested group overlaps somewhat with the legalists, because even a country that has no interest otherwise is likely to be a little concerned about the precedent. But it’s possible to distinguish between countries that are really worried about the legal issues, and those to whom it doesn’t much matter one way or the other.
The “yes” votes in waiting: There are somewhere betweeen five and fifteen countries that are going to recognize Kosovo within the next year or so, but that just haven’t done it yet. This group includes a couple that are starting the process of recognition (Malta, Qatar), a couple more that have said they will (Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh), and a couple that are ready and willing, but whose governments are waiting for the right moment to gain maximum political benefit (Kosovo’s own neighbors Macedonia and Montenegro). In addition, there are probably ten or a dozen nations who fall into the category of “don’t care, but willing to recognize if someone will just pay for it”. See, e.g., the various small nations that still recognize Taiwan as the government of China; about two thirds of these do so because Taiwan has paid or is paying them for it.
Okay, so that explains why 150 countries aren’t supporting Kosovar independence. Are they likely to change their minds? That probably deserves another post.