Kosovo's Independence

The position paper I am writing focuses extensively on the contested status of Kosovo's independence. Kosovo is currently recognized by 117 countries. Within important strategic and economic partnerships, Kosovo is recognized by a majority of members to the United Nations, European Union, and North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Those countries continuing to oppose Kosovo's sovereignty are unsurprising and include Serbia and Russia, both of which have historical ties to Kosovo, as well as countries fearful of self-determination movements within their own borders including China, Spain, Ukraine, and India.

Kosovo's declaration of independence in 2008 was not the first such proclamation. In 1990, Albanian members of Kosovo's assembly proposed a vote on forming a state independent from Serbia, but the assembly's president at the time was ethnically Serb and shut down the vote, closed the assembly, and used both economic maneuvers and armed force to stop the proposal before it gained any significant traction. The tension created by ethnic divisions and separatist aspirations within Kosovo eventually evolved into the Kosovo War, in which the United States intervened in 1999 as part of a broader NATO coalition.

The more recent 2008 declaration was the product of failed negotiations with Serbia that would have seen Kosovo receive a modified, supervised version of complete independence. Serbia's outright refusal to cooperate caused members of Kosovo's assembly to vote unilaterally on independence, eventually adopting the aforementioned independence-lite status, which required international oversight of and participation in the nation building process as well as a constitution that created a representative government and contained adequate protections and opportunities for Kosovo's minority Serb population. While there remains an important role for the U.S. to play in further consolidating Kosovo's democratic institutions, curbing the influence of external authoritarian forces, and legitimizing Kosovo's independent status among skeptical members of the international community, the move has been successful, and in 2012 Kosovo officially received full unsupervised control of its territory.

There is an interesting legal component to this discussion. A few months after the 2008 declaration, Serbia requested an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice as to the legality of the move. While Kosovo's declaration did violate the constitution of Serbia, the ICJ ruled Kosovo's action was legal having been taken by "representatives of the people of Kosovo" rather than an official governmental body or representative.

Despite the ICJ's ruling and those countries continuing to oppose it, the fact remains that Kosovo's primary objective, namely Euro-Atlantic integration and participation, cannot be realized until its status is better resolved, and in my paper I make the argument that President Biden and his administration are uniquely situated to achieve the necessary clarity on this issue.