Kosovo and the ICJ: well, damn

So the International Court of Justice (“ICJ”)delivered its opinion on the legality of Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence (“UDI”)today. (I blogged about this a few months ago.)

To everyone’s surprise — mine included — the decision was clear, strong, and favored Kosovo. A clear majority of the judges held that the UDI was legal. They tried to frame the decision narrowly, but it’s still a big win for the Kosovars. Some people are saying it’s therefore a big loss for Serbia, but let’s get real — Serbia had no prospects of recovering Kosovo or ever getting the Kosovar Albanians to accept rule from Belgrade, however tenuous, again. (It is a hit for the Tadic administration, but probably not a serious one.)

Immediate knock-on effects: a few more recognitions for Kosovo. It won’t make that big a difference, though, in the short run — the few EU members who are refusing to recognize Kosovo are mostly doing so for internal domestic reasons, and that won’t change. Russia will still veto any UN resolution affecting Kosovo’s status, which sharply limits room for maneuver.

That said, it’s a win. And the longer-term effects could be interesting.

Meanwhile, watch for various other frozen conflicts, from North Cyprus to Abkhazia, to claim that this decision validates /their/ UDIs. Of course, to make that stick, they’d have to file and win similar suits before the ICJ. And to do that, they’d have to get a resolution past the UN General Assembly. Good luck with that, South Ossetia.

I’d say more, but I haven’t read the decision yet — it just came out a few hours ago, and the ICJ’s website has crashed. Give me a day or two.

Thoughts?

Kosovo: waiting for the ICJ

So Kosovo and Serbia are now waiting for the International Court of Justice to rule on whether Kosovo is independent or not.

Except, not really.

Back in October 2008, the new Government of Serbia asked the ICJ to rule on whether Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence (“UDI”) in March 2008 was legal. This was clever in several ways. Internally, the new, relatively liberal and pro-Western Serbian governmnent shored up its flank against certain sorts of nationalist attack. Externally, it showed Serbia being a good, reasonable international citizen by submitting its problem to the highest body of international justice. And tactically, it invited the Court to rule on a narrow issue — was the UDI, done in that way at that time, legal? — rather than the much broader and more fraught question of whether Kosovar independence itself could be legal.

The case went before the Court for several days in December of 2009, with 25 countries submitting oral or written testimony. A decision is expected in summer.

But here’s the thing:the ICJ is very unlikely to deliver a clear opinion. Continue reading