Nosemonkey's EUtopia

In search of a European identity

Five years after the Iraq protests, a question

Spotted in a decent French article on Kosovo’s independence, a throwaway line that made me ponder:

L’indépendance du Kosovo se fera sous supervision internationale. Malgré ces divisions, l’Union européenne a décidé, sans l’aval de l’ONU, de déployer au Kosovo une mission de quelque 2 000 policiers et juristes pour « accompagner » les débuts de l’indépendance du Kosovo.

Or, in other words:

The independence of Kosovo will be under international supervision. Despite this, the European Union has decided, without UN approval, to deploy in Kosovo, a mission of some 2000 policemen and lawyers to “accompany” the beginnings of the independence of Kosovo. [emphasis mine]

Of course, a significant reason why the anti-war protests back in 2003 felt so justified to so many was the lack of a UN resolution supporting military action against Saddam Hussein in Iraq. There are no such protests about unilateral military action in Kosovo – nor have there really ever been during the last decade of NATO deployments there.

Is this because Kosovo is too low-profile for anyone to really care – or is there a more significant, wider-ranging reason?

Kosovo has declared independence. Many western countries – including the UK and US – are likely to declare their official recognition. Russia has explicitly stated the declaration to be illegal – and China has also made disapproving noises.

With two members of the UN Security Council opposed to Kosovo’s independence, it cannot be recognised by the UN – and so will not legally be a state, despite thinking it is. Likewise, the situation in Darfur is officially not a genocide (despite all the evidence) thanks to the UN having failed to declare it as such – partially thanks to pressure from China, keen to preserve her arms trade.

In situations such as these, is it acceptable to bypass the UN? If so, why here and not five years ago in Iraq? And, if bypassing the UN is sometimes acceptable, what useful purpose does this supposed final arbiter of international law actually serve any more? And does the lack of protests over military action in Kosovo indicate an acknowledgement of this?


  1. Excellent questions to which I do not have the answers.

    I do have a few points: Iraq was a war, the EU mission to Kosovo is a police and judicial support mission aiming to establish law and order. Even though neither have the support of the Security Council, and even if the latter also breaches international law (which I am not so sure of), this makes quite a difference in a moral sense. Otherwise it is like saying that ignoring a red traffic light is the same as committing murder because both are against the law.

    If something does not have UN (Security Council) support, it also makes a difference (to me) who opposes it. China and Russia have a lot less credibility in this respect than “decent” countries like France have.

    That said, I do agree with the Russians in this case, that a solution should have been found for Kosovo that satisfies both the Kosovars and Serbia.

  2. UN approval is not actually a pre-requiste for existence of a nation. A nation can be independent and sovergin without actually being a member of the UN. Switzerland, for example, did not join the UN until 2002. The Vatican city is not a member. Taiwan is a de facto country….and while not recognised by China and those that deal with China, it is for all intents and purposes a nation onto its own.

    It is far to easy to get caught in a legalistic and overly lawyer like mind set when arguing about the existence of a nation or not.

    If a nation state required UN approval for existence, than most of the nations in the world would not exist. I could easily belive that many colonial overlords (the UK and France) would have refused to acknowledge the independece stuggles of former colonies and vetoed them in the Security council.

    Another rational is required for the legitimacy of a nation beyond acknowledgement of the UN or some of its members.

  3. EE – No doubt about it, Kosovo can end up a de facto state without UN approval. But I’m talking the significance of UN approval here, not membership.

    The UN is supposed to be THE body for deciding on matters of international law, and is almost universally recognised as such worldwide. The question is whether it should be – and your objections only underline the point. What use is it if it doesn’t fulfil the role it’s supposed to? And if there is no global body to decide what’s a state and what isn’t, what’s to prevent countless other territories with independence movements from breaking away?

    (As for the various ex-colonies, both Britain and France were normally – bar a few obvious examples, such as the early stages of the Algerian independence movement – actively involved in helping them move towards independence. The UN didn’t really need to do much, as both parties were normally in agreement.)

  4. I agree with your points regarding the UN, though as EvilEuropean points out, it’s perfectly possible to be a de facto independent nation without the United Nations rubberstamp (Taiwan being the obvious example).

    While I think overt military action is unlikely in Kosovo (the Serbs / Russians won’t invade), I worry that there could be some kind of low-intensity conflict (a terrorist campaign, in other words) spearheaded by Kosovan Serbs. Though, if we’re lucky, calmer heads will prevail and the opposition to independence may remain at the diplomatic level.

    Well, there’s a first time for everything.

    Personally I’d be very interested to see just how close to the brink Putin will be willing to take this one… “Any nation which recognises the illegal independence of Kosovo, or supports such an illegal act by word or deed, will no longer be considered an appropriate trading partner for Russia. Good luck sourcing your natural gas from elsewhere.”

    That would certainly put the wind up Western Europe.

    Oh, and speaking of fossil fuels, I believe the relationship between Sudan and China has far less to do with Sudan providing a market for Chinese weapons, than it does with the fact that China sources 7% of its oil from the East African State.

  5. Ah – oil. Forgot about that. My knowledge of east African natural resources is somewhat nonexistent.

    I do like the Russian energy ultimatum scenario, though – that’s one I’ve been pondering for a while now. It’s just a tad scary how plausible it is…