The Dilemma of Self-Determination

Sumantra Bose in openDemocracy:

The global controversy over Kosovo has aroused much excitement among aspirants to self-determination worldwide, and, concurrently, considerable alarm in capitals where such state-seeking movements are a long-term headache, from Ottawa and Madrid to Delhi and Beijing (see Fred Halliday, “Tibet, Palestine, and the politics of failure“, 9 May 2008). But both the excitement and the alarm are unwarranted.

The position of the United States and most of its major allies on this matter does not signal the emergence of a more general permissiveness towards self-determination claims among these influential players in the international system (at the other end of the spectrum, Russia’s position on Kosovo is determined by the Kremlin’s decision to promote a muscular foreign policy in Europe and Eurasia; remote and peripheral Kosovo is merely a pawn in that strategy). So while the Ahtisaari plan describes Kosovo as “a unique case that demands a unique solution”, its recommendation of “independence, to be supervised for an initial period by the international community”, can be characterised as a nearly unique solution to a not particularly unique case.

And that is where the espousal by most of “the west” of Kosovo’s independence throws up some troubling questions.