The nation of Kosovo achieved its independence 10 years ago thanks to U.S. and NATO intervention. But Serbia has never recognized Kosovo, still believing the tiny country of 2 million belongs to them.
There has been sporadic violence between ethnic Albanians and ethnic Serbs over the years despite the 4,000 NATO troops stationed there to protect the peace. But a recent proposal to partition Kosovo along ethnic lines holds out hope for a solution to the violence — albeit a distasteful and immoral solution.
A former national security aide to President Obama, Charles Kupchan, wants the U.S. to get behind a plan to break off the northern portion of Kosovo with a heavy ethnic Serbian population and give it to the Serbs while the Serbs hand over a slice of their country heavily populated by ethnic Albanians to Kosovo.
Kupchan calls this “peaceful ethnic cleansing.”
The proposed land swap has been lurking in the background since the early days of Kosovo’s independence. But it has gone nowhere in part because the United States and the European Union have adamantly opposed it. True to form, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany recently said that “the territorial integrity of the states of the Western Balkans has been established and is inviolable.” Backing up Ms. Merkel, dozens of prominent scholars and policymakers on both sides of the Atlantic have signed an open letter condemning the proposal and imploring the United States and the European Union to oppose “a return to ethnification of polities and frontiers.”
But there are signs that some Western officials are warming up to the idea. John Bolton, President Trump’s national security adviser, hinted as much last month: “Our policy, the U.S. policy, is that if the two parties can work it out between themselves and reach agreement, we don’t exclude territorial adjustments,” he said. Mr. Bolton is thinking clearly, at least on this front. As long as both the Serbian and Kosovar governments agree to the deal — and can secure sufficient political backing among their publics and legislatures — the United States and the European Union should support it.
Bolton is not “warming up” to the notion of a land swap, he’s stating the obvious: if the governments and peoples of Kosovo and Serbia agree to a “territorial adjustment,” the U.S. will probably accept it.
The reality is that any kind of adjustment will result in perhaps tens of thousands of people on the move, looking to avoid the ethnic violence that will inevitably result once the deal is ratified. This sort of partition along ethnic or religious lines has always resulted in mass casualties. The 1947 British partition of India that created the independent countries of Pakistan and India left hundreds of thousands of Hindus and Muslims dead. It won’t be that bad if Kosovo experiences its own partition, but the chances are good that there will be a significant loss of life.
I don’t think anyone needs to worry about this kind of “peaceful ethnic cleansing” any time soon. Serbia has been adamant that Kosovo is their province while the Kosovars strongly believe in their own territorial integrity. There is no great push to resolve this issue in the capitals of Europe or in Washington and the UN isn’t even paying attention.
But I find it fascinating that a former Obama foreign policy adviser would so casually propose a plan that involves ethnic cleansing of any kind — even if it’s “peaceful.”