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No Choice Now: Canada must support Kosovo independence

Canadian politicians have sat on their hands when it comes to either recognizing or not recognizing Kosovar independence. It's high time they got off those hands, and used them to sign the proper documents to recognize Kosovo as an independent country.

Joseph C. Ben-Ami and Joseph B. Varner - February 27, 2008

The arguments against Kosovar independence get stronger. Already there have been violent protests against Western--read: U.S.--interests in the region and these are only likely to get worse. Serbia, with the support of countries that fear the impact this precedent will have on their own internal ethnic politics, will almost certainly resist the carving away of one of its provinces. Lurking nearby is an increasingly irritated Russia that cannot help but be offended by what they will regard, at a minimum, as a reckless provocation in their own back yard; at most, they may regard it an act of aggression against one of their traditional allies.

Given all these arguments against Kosovar independence, it may seem odd that we would now take the position that Canada should recognize it. To understand why, one must reflect on the broader strategic issues at stake.

To begin with, notwithstanding its limited capacity to exercise independence, Kosovo is now a sovereign state with solid diplomatic backing. Arguing against recognition at this stage is a little like fighting to close the barn door after all the horses have fled.

That diplomatic backing, moreover, is coming from those countries that, with the exception of Australia, make up the core of NATO. Other NATO states like Romania, Slovakia, Spain and Greece can afford to break ranks on the question of Kosovo's independence; all are relatively new members of the alliance, and each plays a minor role in its affairs. Not so with Canada. Canada is a senior member of NATO--a founding partner. Its refusal to support its fellow founding partners would be a tremendous diplomatic victory for the Russians and would undermine the unity of the alliance at exactly the same time that we are calling for greater unity in response to ongoing challenges in Afghanistan, a resurgent and increasingly aggressive Russia and the newly emerging, and very real direct threat to Europe posed by Iran’s growing medium-range missile capabilities.

Some fear that by recognizing Kosovo’s independence, Canada will be setting a precedent that could then be used by Quebec nationalists to justify that province’s independence. This makes little sense. The circumstances of Kosovo are unique in that its declaration of independence was preceded by the break up of Yugoslavia. Recognizing Kosovo’s independence would be analogous to the recognition of a Cree declaration of independence from Quebec if that province were to secede from the rest of Canada. In the Canadian context at least, far from encouraging Quebec nationalists, swift recognition of Kosovo’s independence by the international community ought to give them pause for thought.

Concerns are also being raised that Kosovo could become a forward staging base in Europe for Islamic extremists. Admittedly this is possible, but only if the more than 40,000 NATO troops already there allow it to happen. This is unlikely. Not only is KFOR not going anywhere, it is currently being reinforced. Raising these concerns with respect to Kosovo also raises the question--what about Albania, where there currently are no NATO troops?

The truth is that there are no good choices available to policy makers on the question of Kosovo’s independence--only bad and worse. By delaying a decision on recognition of Kosovo’s independence, Canada has already demonstrated its unease with the situation, and its frustration that the mission in Kosovo should have been so badly botched in the first place. It is now time for Canada to demonstrate its commitment to the alliance by rising above these vicissitudes and joining its allies.

As the international situation continues to deteriorate and new threats to European security emerge, the need to reinvigorate and strengthen collective security measures such as those represented by NATO increases. Preserving NATO’s unity is essential, and may be the best practical contribution that Canada can make at this time.