U.S. 'Shift' on Kosovo Could Spell Trouble

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Washington appears to be considering a policy option that could restart the Kosovo war. The Washington Post reports Friday that U.S. policy on Kosovo has discreetly shifted in favor of accepting independence for the territory. Although formally both State Department and National Security Council officials insisted Washington remains opposed to the idea, a number of senior officials confirmed privately that policy was now being guided by the inevitability of independence. Such a policy shift would not only raise the danger of renewed conflict in the region, but could also pose problems for U.S. leadership in resolving future international conflicts.

Its public opposition to Kosovo's independence puts Washington in line with its NATO European partners, who fear that creating any new states in the Balkans could spark more war; the objective of the Kosovo Liberation Army has been to join an independent Kosovo to the state of Albania, whose expansion is fiercely opposed by its neighbors in the Balkans. Some NATO members would feel stabbed in the back by such a reversal, particularly since accepting Kosovo's independence would also imply tacit acceptance of the ethnic cleansing of the territory's remaining Serb population (given the track record, there is little chance that any non-Albanians would remain in an independent Kosovo). The peace deal that ended NATO's air war with Yugoslavia earlier this year explicitly affirms Belgrade's sovereignty over the territory; breaking that agreement would tempt the Serbs to try and recapture at least some parts of Kosovo, and would very likely jeopardize NATO-Russian cooperation on keeping the peace there. In short, it could leave KFOR's Western ground troops in the middle of a shooting war. Though the "policy shift" reported by the Post could be something of a trial balloon (the Washington Post and the New York Times are often used as litmus tests by government officials), expect it to draw some fearsome flak, either way.