Kosovo and the UNSC

Anybody who’s interested in Kosovo has long since bookmarked this incredibly useful page. Scroll down a bit and you’ll see that it lists every country that has recognized Kosovo (current tally: 43) plus the official statements of almost every country that hasn’t.

That’s plenty of fun reading by itself, but it gets even more interesting when you compare it to another list: the members of the United Nations Security Council.

The UNSC has 15 members, five permanent and ten elected. The elected members are chosen for two-year terms, staggered so that five members leave every year.

Let’s take the 2008 members and look who recognizes Kosovo’s independence.

Permanent members

United States (yes)
Russia (no)
China (no)
France (yes)
Great Britain (yes)

Members for 2007-8

South Africa (no, and probably won’t)
Indonesia (no, and certainly won’t)
Panama (no, though they don’t seem to care much)
Belgium (yes)
Italy (yes)

Members for 2008-9

Burkina Faso (yes, just recently)
Libya (no, because President Qaddafi says so)
Vietnam (definitely no)
Costa Rica (yes — was one of the first)
Croatia (oh yes)

So, the current Council is split almost perfectly — 8 in favor, 7 against. It’s also a pretty even split in terms of intensity; on both sides, there are some countries who feel strongly about the issue and some who don’t much care.

To get something out of the UNSC — like, for instance, a resolution recognizing Kosovar independence, either explicitly or by amending UNSC 1244 — requires a 2/3 majority: 10 votes. So, Kosovar independence is not going to be on the table this year. In fact, at the moment, the Council is bogged down considering whether to accept Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon’s recommendation that the UN get ready to reduce its mission there.

Which is not to say that nothing is happening. There’s been a subtle shift in the last month or two. Here’s what the SC-watchers at Columbia University have to say:

Both Serbian President Boris Tadic and Kosovo President Fatmir Sejdiu addressed the Council during the open debate. The Serbian representative attended under rule 37 of the Provisional Rules of Procedure of the Security Council (this provides for a member to participate in discussions where its interests are affected) and the Kosovo representative under rule 39 (this allows the Council to invite someone to provide it with information). Over the months, there has been greater Council acceptance procedurally of direct Kosovo participation. In June there was no opposition to a Kosovo representative participating in an open meeting, unlike in December 2007. At that time the US and Europeans had wanted the Kosovo representative to be able speak in an open debate but Russia was opposed.

So, they’re now allowing the Kosovar President to address the SC openly. That’s tiny, micro-incremental progress, but it is a step forward.

But that’s about all that’s likely to happen this year. The SC is pretty much deadlocked. So nothing will happen for the next six months.

And then? Well, then it gets interesting. We lose that middle group, 3 noes and 2 yeses. That leaves a 6-4 split, with the yeses needing 4 votes from the 5 new members to prevail.

Is this possible? Well, the elections are by region. For 2009, there will be one open slot from Africa, one from Asia, one from Latin America/the Caribbean, and two from “Western Europe and others”. So far, Austria, Iceland and Turkey — all recognizers — have announced their candidacies for the two Western European seats. (Yes, in the UNSC, Turkey is part of Western Europe. Don’t ask.) Other candidates may yet step forward — the elections aren’t until October — but since the majority of Western European countries support Kosovar independence, right now it looks like those seats will cast “yes” votes.

And the other three? Well, there’s a sub-rotation in Africa that is due to give the seat to an East African country this year. So we’re probably looking at Ethiopia, Uganda, Djibouti, someone like that. Most of these countries have ethnic separatist movements of their own, and so are unlikely to favor Kosovar independence. (In this context, it’s worth noting that Serbian President Boris Tadic visited the annual summit of the African Union yesterday, thanked its members for their support on Kosovo, and asked that they continue to do so.)

The Latin American seat is, at the moment, wide open. There was a very bitter dispute in 2006 between Venezuela and Guatemala, which may become an issue again this time. Not many Latin American countries currently recognize Kosovar independence, but then most of them haven’t had much reason to think about it.

And the Asian seat? Well, the only country that has expressed an interest so far is… Iran. Which would be interesting for reasons that go well beyond Kosovo. (Iran is a “no”, BTW.) Iran got elected once before, back in the 1950s, but the Islamic Republic has never been a serious candidate before. There will surely be other candidates; possibilities include perennial candidate Japan (yes), India (no), Malaysia (no) and the Philippines (maybe).

So, next year’s UNSC is up for grabs on this issue. They’ll almost certainly have eight votes favoring Kosovar independence, will probably have nine, and might perhaps reach ten.

Of course, as we all remember from that one boring class in high school, at a certain level this doesn’t matter, because permanent members have a veto. The Russians can always crush any resolution that favors Kosovar independence. So Kosovo won’t take a seat in the UN for many years to come.

But at another level it matters a lot, because if that happens then it will drastically transform the terms of the debate. It’ll no longer be “the UN doesn’t recognize Kosovo”; it’ll be “the UN would recognize Kosovo, except for the Russian veto.”

So, Kosovo-watchers will be keeping one eye on the UN elections in October.

(Meanwhile, the number of countries recognizing Kosovo continues to creep slowly upwards. It might reach 50 by the end of this year. Is that a lot or a few? Well… that depends. Another post, perhaps.)

21 thoughts on “Kosovo and the UNSC

  1. Russia and China. China is not going to approve separatism.

    Now that map at the very usefull site you mentioned looks a lot like the West vs. the rest from a certain book. That leaves little hope in terms of the general assembly.
    Secondly, as for the new temporary members, how many of them would want to have this on the agenda? Remember that you’ll always get burned voting on this.

  2. Doug,

    Just wanted to point out that Malaysia is definitely a ‘maybe’, not a ‘no.’ Kosovo and Malaysia have economic ties, Malaysia has a liaison office in Prishtina and the Malaysian representative in Kosovo stated one day after the declaration of independence that Malaysia welcomed the Kosovar independence — which led to a confusion as to whether Malaysia had recognised or not. In other words, if you welcome a development you are more ‘pro’ than against.

    Also, if it came down to a vote in UNSC I think that China would abstain rather than vote against. I still does not change the equation, but if it were to happen it would be significant.



    China has accepted the independence of Slovenia, Croatia etc from Yugoslavia. How does that fit with your statement that they don’t approve separatism?

  3. 1. That was before the recent Tibet crisis
    2. China was weaker in the early 90ies
    3. These secessions happened without direct foreign intervention
    4. No solution of the security council were circumvented (broken depending on your viewpoint)

  4. Oliver,

    Tibet ‘crisis’ or the issue of Tibet has existed long before the independence of Slovenia, Macedonia and so on. And so has the issue of Taiwan, which I may argue is more significant than that of Tibet.

    China was a permanent member of UNSC well before 1990s. We’re talking of China in that capacity.

    Aha, now you are saying that China approves separatism as long as there is no ‘direct foreign intervention.’

    Kosovar independence does not go against Resolution 1244, which speak of a transitional period and of a final settlement. Resolution 1244 does not state what that final settlement should be. In fact, the independence of Kosovo is built upon a UN proposal sponsored by the UN Secretary General, ie Ahtisaari proposal.

  5. Fidel, stop turning words around in my mouth.

    China, has, as any other country, more than a simplistic differentiation between bad and not bad, it’s a spread from slightly bad to extremely bad. Its motivation to spend political capital to stop a development depends on where on that scale a development is.

    As parts of China would most likely need foreign support to seceed, if that could happen at all, a precedent for direct armed intervention is of course worse than parts of a country declaring themselves independent and fighting it out themselves.

    Now to your other comments.

    1) Taiwan already existed and therefore cannot explain a change.

    2) In theory all permanent members are equal. In practice, they are not.

    4) It’s no use to tell the other side what its interpretation is supposed to be. They see things as they see them, regardless of whether you or I like that view.

  6. It’s interesting to note how few Muslim countries have recognised Kosovo’s independence. Not surprising, especially for those with their own separatist issues (though Turkey is in an interesting position here), but it gives some indication how wide of the mark all these conspiracy theories are of Muslims’ desire to incorporate new territory into the Dar al-Islam.

    I don’t think Kosovo will get a seat at the UN for a very long time. It’s not about numbers on the UNSC, because the anti-recognition camp has more than enough support outside the council to lend moral justification to any vetoing they have to do inside. If Russia and Serbia were literally the only firm antis, the Kosovo status question would be an annoyance (and do some damage to Russia’s and Serbia’s international prestige) but ultimately no big deal; it’s not like Taiwan became a pariah when it lost its UN seat. But the Kosovo issue isn’t like that; it’s about the limits of national sovereignty, and there are strong and widespread opinions on both sides.

    (OT: If you get bored of the Kosovo recognition debate, try Somaliland.)

  7. Oliver,

    You seem to have some problems with comprehending what you write, and what others write back to you.

    You brought up the ‘the recent Tibet crisis’ and I told you that ‘the recent Tibet crisis’ was a non-issue here because both Tibet and the outside-of-Chinese-control Taiwan pre-dated the Yugoslav crisis yet they did not prevent China recognizing countries like Croatia, to name one.

    Doug wrote a piece on ‘Kosovo and the UNSC’ — maybe I should spell out for you the latter: United Nations Security Council. Since China was a member of UNSC since its foundation, I don’t know why you said that China “was weaker in the early 90ies” since the position of China in the UNSC has not changed.

    If you read what you write then you would have noticed the following contradiction: (1) “China is not going to approve separatism”; and (2) “These secessions [Slovenia, Croatia etc] happened without direct foreign intervention”. Hence, from your own statements one can conclude that China approved of secessions that happen without direct foreign intervention.

    You brought up the issue of Security Council ‘solutions’. One UN-sponsored solution was presented by Ahtisaari and it was adopted by the Kosovar parliament. I am not aware of any other UN-sponsored proposal with regards to the final status of Kosovo.


    Dear Colin Reid,

    I’m glad you also picked up the issue of (lack of )recognitions by predominantly Muslim countries. It’s particularly interesting since we were warned that if Kosovo became independent it would become a beacon of international Islamic extremism and the hotbed of European Taliban movement.

    The case of Turkey is even more fascinating. By recognizing the Republic of Kosovo in the outset Turkey seems to have shut up all these people that today would have warned of Kurdish separatism had Turkey not recognised. Something similar is happening with Canada and Quebec where one no longer hears much about the Kosovo and Quebec similarities. On the other hand, Spain by delaying (if it ever changes its mind) recognition has attracted a lot of attention to the question of Catalan and Basque people in its country.

  8. Doug,

    Where is an analysis of the future value of $ in all of this?

    With the exception of India, if any of the other smaller countries make it then they can be easily bought off.

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  10. Fidel, your statement on my understanding of my own words is insulting.

    I will try one last time to enlighten you. Casting a veto has political costs. So a permanent member will not just cast a veto because it doesn’t like something. It will weigh the degree of disapproval, the importance of the issue and its ability to absorb the repercussions.

    3. One can come to this conclusion only if one’s sympathy for a particular ethnic group clouds one’s reasoning. You can come to the correct conclusion that not all precedents of separatism are equally bad to China. Particularly bad are those which are aided militarily by the only power that might aid Taiwan.

    4. Proposals are just that. The security council passed exactly one resolution. That says nothing about independance.

    1. I scarcely believe that you managed to overlook numerous recent reports about uprisings and violent demonstrations in Tibet. In case you haven’t I wonder whether it has occured to you that such current trouble might cause the Chinese leadership to place even more emphasis on national unity?

    2. The Chinese economy and hence the power of China was indeed much weaker at that time. You may do the math and compute what 1.5 decades of growth above 5% will do. And China’s reputation was still tarnished by crushing a student uprising. You might want to consider that permanent members consider the international reaction to their veto before they use it.

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  12. Oliver,

    I’m sorry if I have insulted you, that was not my intension.

    However, you’re changing your statements and are not ready or willing to admit to it.

    In your first comment you said: “China is not going to approve separatism.”

    In the last comment you said: “not all precedents of separatism are equally bad to China”

    If you can’t see any difference between these two statements then of course you will be insulted.

    The other contradiction in terms is the fact that in one post you say China is ‘stronger’ but at the same time it seems more afraid of the recent Tibet crisis. I just don’t buy such arguments, that’s all, and I hope I do not insult you buy taking such a stance.

    Kind regards,


  13. No problems. Maybe I should have written China will not approve separatism in this case or cases like this.

    China is indeed stronger today. And Tibet is an immediate problem these days, not a latent issue like it has been for decades. Urgent and important are not the same thing.

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  15. “Not many Latin American countries currently recognize Kosovar independence, but then most of them haven’t had much reason to think about it.”

    Spain has apparently been treating this as an opportunity to take a leadership role in LA and has been lobbying to prevent recognition. Ok, Spain needed a pass because of the Basques, but this is really pushing things. I suggest the US Ambassador in Spain start inviting Basque representatives to the 4th of July party, the way they used to invite Czech dissidents in Prague when the Soviets were still there. (Now, one more time, just why don’t the Basques deserve independence?) Any chance I wonder of Brazil running for that seat?

    As for the Islamic states, a group of Kosovar intellectuals recently attended a conference in Jordan where they had an opportunity to counter the Russian and Serb propaganda that civic leaders from a number of the countries had been exposed to. The Kosovars returned highly encouraged – they’re expecting something to happen about Aug. 5-15. (We’ll see.)

  16. Hi. An interesting blog entry. Thanks!

    Just FYI, there appear to be seven candidates for the five Security Council seats….

    As you said, whichever two Western European countries get elected, that’s two votes for Kosovo…..The Asian seat is between Japan & Iran, which Japan heavily favored to win….that’s three seats for Kosovo. Mexico & Uganda are running unopposed (so far) for the other two seats, which are both sitting on the fence. Both could recognize Kosovo under pressure (like Burkina Faso), although after South Ossetia & Abkhazia, I doubt any major country will be recognizing any time soon….

    We’ll see. I’m actually on the fence myself with regards to this conflict so I’m just an observer.

  17. Mexico won’t recognize, or not soon. Legalist, and they have internal and historical reasons not to follow the Americans too closely.

    Uganda, I have no idea.

    Doug M.

  18. Ok, I know this is off topic-ish, but everyone here seems pretty knowledgeable about the former Yugoslavia and the UNSC, or at least i would hope you are if you are putting your two-cents in here.
    I’m wondering what reasons Serbia could claim for taking a spot as a permanent member on the UNSC (in the event of a restructuring of the UNSC, that is).
    It seems that the opinions are so split that the argument would be somewhat weak. however, the Serbian government would probably be able to make a few reasons. Perhaps location and the fact that the eastern European countries and underrepresented?

    any thoughts?

  19. It’s funny how little religion actually matters in this kind of cases.
    Russian economical influence is just too big in Muslim countries.
    Funnier, that after the war in 1999 Albanians were considered (mostly from Russia, Serbia)as Muslim terrorists and after the independence Vuk’s propaganda in Muslim countries that Kosovo is not Muslim at all.
    China in my point of view doesn’t have an active anti-Kosovo independence policy, China indirectly has diplomatic relations with Kosovo.
    And Tibet, Taiwan, Basque, Osetia etc. can not really be compared with Kosovo. Kosovos case is one of it’s kind (sui generis).


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