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Analysis Last Updated: Mar 13th, 2008 - 23:50:40

Between a ROK and a hard place
By Eric Walberg
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Mar 14, 2008, 00:38

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To date, 25 countries have formally recognised the Republic of Kosovo (ROK), and six others have initiated the recognition procedure. Among these 31 countries are 14 of the European Union's 25 members, the United States, Australia, Switzerland and Norway. Of the former Yugoslavian republics, only Slovenia has recognised it so far, with Croatia committed (it's on the EU membership short list).

Everyone has their own interests in mind, and one can be sure they are not all altruistic. Interestingly, sometimes both sides of a conflict over independence are against ROK, as is the case with Armenia and Azerbaijan, the former because "the international community violated the legal norms but forgot Karabakh," according to Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian. Armenian foe Azerbaijan had peacekeepers in Kosovo as part of Turkey's contingent, but parted ways with Turkey when it recognised ROK, and has withdrawn them, with very good reason, considering the precedent it means for said Karabakh.

Though there is no doubt that the US and NATO are big supporters of ROK, the reverberations of independence means that Kosovo will not likely become a NATO member or even an EU member any time soon. And it is making Germany, France, and other NATO members more skeptical of closer NATO ties with former Soviet countries such as Georgia, arguing the alliance cannot afford to "import" any of their so-called "frozen conflicts."

Dangling a "maybe" in front of the US/EU, Macedonia, which so far has resisted recognising Kosovo, is calling for NATO membership to deal with the possible negative fallout over Kosovo. It wants to attend the April NATO meeting along with Croatia and Albania.

Considering the strong opinions that the issue evokes, it could well be that NATO will look far less appealing to such states as Ukraine, split almost evenly between its pro-Russian and pro-Western citizens.

Arab governments will feel pressure from their citzens to recognise Kosovo, the second "Muslim" state in Europe. Egypt, like most, has made no public statement. The only majority-Muslim states to recognise Kosovo are Aghanistan, Albania, Turkey, Bangladesh and Senegal, the first two needing no explanation. Turkey clearly sees it as a bargaining chip for Turkish Cyprus, despite the dangerous precedent it sets for Turkish Kurds.

Secretary General Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, a Turk, enthused, "We declare our solidarity with and support to our brothers and sisters there. The Islamic Umma wishes them success." OIC members endorsed the declaration on the understanding that official recognition is up to the individual states, suggesting it is more a reflection of the views of Ihsanoglu's government than a serious statement of OIC-members' intent. Coincidentally, Senegal is hosting the 11th Summit of the OIC 18 March -- Challenges of the Muslim Community in the 21st century. Kosovo does not appear to be on the agenda, despite Senegal's decision to recognise it.

Turkey and Senegal may well regret their rush down the road, with the former's Kurds, and Senegal's restive mostly Catholic Casamance province, which was promised independence (not just a referendum) 20 years after the independence of Senegal in 1960. Of course, this promise was never kept, and the independence movement has been cruelly suppressed ever since. No doubt Senegal's close relations with France and possible assurances of long-term French support for Casamance's non-independence go some way to explain its position.

"The world is about to witness another political and diplomatic revolution which may give birth to some new nations," chortles, a website that caters to the autonomous region of the same name that seeks to secede from Somalia. Then there are the Touareg in Mali, Kabylia in Algeria, Cabinda in Angola -- the list is long and frightening. In an article titled "Kosovo -- the precedent that will enflame Africa," a columnist for the Ivoirian newspaper Notre Voie predicts a revival of secessionist groups across the continent and doubts that the international community will be able to resolve the resulting crises.

The most egregious case is the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR or Western Sahara), which was recognised by the African Union and 45 countries in 1984, but whose sovereignty is not effective because Morocco insists it is a province of its kingdom. The Polisario Front government has stated that the speedy recognition of Kosovar independence by many countries shows the double standards of the international community. urges members of the diaspora to lobby the government of Spain, involved in the standoff with Morocco. Fat chance there, with Spain adamantly against Kosovo's independence, worrying about Basque and Catalonia. Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel �ngel Moratinos said independence for Kosovo "does not respect international law," and requires either an agreement between the parties or a UN Security Council resolution, neither of which are in the cards.

Some suggest that the case of Kosovo should encourage the PLO to declare an independent Palestine, though this was done by Yassar Araft in 1988, only to fizzle from lack of recognition from the big guns. Israel cites this threat as the reason it won't recognise Kosovo, though -- surprise, surprise -- Foreign Ministry officials and politicians privately voice a general sympathy towards the Kosovar cause. So the moral of ROK is you must be a true-blue US ally, preferably in a place where the latter wants a permanent military presence, if you want to achieve independence.

A precedent of interest is the Republic of China (ROC or Taiwan), which was the darling of the West until 1971, when the US lost interest in favour of Mao Tse-Tung's People's Republic of China. ROC maintains official diplomatic relations with 23 small and poor states (including, curiously enough, renegade Senegal), although de facto relations are maintained with nearly all others. It continues to limp along in suspended animation. A possible scenario for its cousin ROK, more upbeat than the fate of its poor cousin SADR?

Despite undoubted pressure on Washington's closest ally, Canada, the government there has yet to commit itself, though opposition leaders Liberal Stephane Dion and Bloc Quebecois Gilles Duceppe have expressed support, as has provincial Parti Quebecois leader Pauline Marois. Is it an issue the minority Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper would fight over in the long-term interests of Canadian unity? Definitely a ROK and a hard place.

Eric Walberg writes for Al-Ahram Weekly. You can reach him at

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