Diplomatic wrangling over Kosovo's declaration of independence this week has created a good deal of misunderstanding about the U.N. Security Council Resolution that defines that society's current status and future evolution. As one of the principal drafters of this document, I feel it important to clarify certain points.
First of all, UNSC 1244, as it is called, did not recognize Serbian sovereignty over Kosovo. In fact, the document does not mention Serbia at all. The only country mentioned in the resolution is Yugoslavia, which has long since ceased to exist.
Second, the resolution clearly envisages Yugoslavia's sovereignty to be limited both in extent and duration, since it immediately transfers all responsibility for governing Kosovo to the U.N., and calls for an international process to determine that territory's final status.
Third, the resolution makes clear, in referring to the aborted Ramboullet accord, that the wishes of its population would be a factor in determining Kosovo's final status. None of the governments that negotiated and voted for UNSC 1244 was in any doubt that the only status acceptable to its population was, and would likely remain, independence.
Fourth, UNSC 1244 does not require or foresee further Security Council action to determine Kosovo's final status. Rather, it calls for an international process to do so, otherwise undefined. Two years ago, the U.N. Secretary General launched just such a process. Late last year his special representative, former Finnish President Mahti Ahtissari, concluded his work with a report recommending what amounts to conditioned independence. The elected representatives of Kosovo accepted these recommendations. The government of Serbia has not. Representatives of the European Union, Russia and the United States have since issued their own report indicating that there is no prospect for agreement between Belgrade and Prestina. The international process has thus run its course.
Fifth, all provisions of UNSC 1244 will remain in effect, except insofar as they are fulfilled or modified by subsequent Security Council resolutions. Thus, while sovereignty will shift from a no-longer-existent Yugoslavia to an independent Kosovo, the state will remain under international oversight as described in UNSC 1244. Like Bosnia, which has been sovereign and independent since 1995, Kosovo's ability to exercise its sovereignty will continue to be limited by the various provisions of UNSC 1244.
Obviously, it would have been preferable to modify UNSC 1244 to take account of these issues. There is clearly a majority in the U.N. Security Council in favor of so doing. But Russia has threatened to veto any such resolution, just as it threatened to veto international action in 1999 to halt large scale ethnic cleansing in Kosovo. Europe and the United States are thus again faced with the necessity of acting without explicit Security Council endorsement in order to carry out the will and exercise the responsibilities of the international community.
Russia and Serbia have sought to block agreement on independence for Kosovo by arguing the inviolability of borders and citing Serbia's historic claims to Kosovo. These are indeed important principles. But so was Yugoslavia's responsibility to protect its population from massive ethnic cleansing, and the international community's responsibility to ensure such protections if Yugoslavia failed to do so. These latter principles were explicitly endorsed by the entire international community in the aftermath of Western intervention in Kosovo in what amounted to a universal validation of that action.
In international as in domestic law, rights can be forfeited if responsibilities are not exercised. In 1999, U.N. Security Council Resolution 1244 made clear that Yugoslavia had forfeited its right to govern Kosovo when it failed to protect its population from ethnic cleansing. The Security Council at the same time mandated an international process to determine where sovereignty over Kosovo should finally reside. That process has concluded, and an independent Kosovo is receiving broad international recognition. It is unfortunate that this recognition will not be unanimous, but Belgrade and Moscow will be no more successful in blocking an international consensus in 2008 than they were in 1999.
James Dobbins was special advisor for the Balkans to President Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. He is currently director of the International Security and Defense Policy Center at the RAND Corporation, a nonprofit research organization.
This commentary appeared in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on February 25, 2008