The effects of Montenegro’s recent independence and Kosovo’s predicted independence are already rippling far beyond the Balkans. If Montenegro, a geographically small country of some 600,000 people, can achieve independence, why too shouldn’t others such as South Ossetia, Nagorno-Karbagh or Transdniestria? Podogorica’s precedent may have indeed set a dangerous precedent for oppressed minorities everywhere. A recent CS Monitor article began looking at a coming wave of micro-states, all formerly part of the Soviet Union. This post will build on that theme.
The Caucasus, home of good food, wine, beautiful mountains and once the Golden Fleece, is also home to a handful of frozen ethnic conflicts. However, they are beginning to thaw. We’re about to witness the second round of the post-Soviet circus. Most readers are already familiar with the breakup of the USSR. Internal republics opted out of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics instantly outdating a map we’d used for decades. Some were large, some were small and uknown. Others had vast natural resources and some only environmental destruction thanks to Moscow. Satellite states made out the best, most having already joined the EU and NATO. But inside many of the newly independent states were yet more, this time being autonomous areas. The example, currently most famous, is Kosovo which was an autonomous province within Serbia. We are all well aware of what followed not long after Serbia revoked that status. Despite international focus on Iraq, Afghanistan and the Middle East, the Caucasus is now in danger of being the next disaster zone. The future conflicts will be Abkhazia and S. Ossetia in Georgia and Nagorno-Karbagh in Armenia/Azerbaijan.
The questions arising from Montenegro’s successful referendum are threatening the stability of a number of areas. Transdniestria has already decided to hold one and other breakaway region won’t wait long to follow. Kosovars are left scratching their heads wondering why their neighbors are allowed to hold a referendum but they aren’t.
Thus, events in Montenegro have created a system-perturbation which has governments and international bodies asking how to continue. A new rule-set is needed for dealing with self-determination and territorial integrity, two often conflicting principles which are often presented as complimentary. What would a new international rule-set for independence look like? Let’s start with Montenegro. The first rule is that some guarantor power is needed. The EU established the guidelines and set the numbers for Montenegro’s independence to be officially recognized. Next come the details. To realistically become one’s own state, a wide range of conditions must be present to ensure viability, security and stability.
Independence from A to Z
1) Find a guarantor power
2) Win a clean and fair referendum overseen by said power
3) Be of a certain geographica size
4) Have a minimum number of citizens
5) Able to effectively assume state functions
6) Settle all border disputes and conflicts with neighbors peacefully
7) Possess enough financial and/or natural resources to survive
The problem comes in defining the above criteria in detail. Exactly how many citizens are necessary? Montenegro has 600,000 while Andorra has only 67,000; Lichtenstein only 34,000; and San Marino only 28,000. Enough examples of functioning micro-states already exist, yet they are already integrated into the European Union which is another situation entirely. How much land does one need for a country? A tiny island like Malta? A small hill like San Marino? A corner of an island like East Timor? And let’s not forget Singapore, scarcely more than a city.
As for finances, consider Kosovo:
According to a World Bank study released in 2005, some 15% of Kosovo’s population live in extreme poverty [ie live on 0.93 euro per day]. Only half of the province’s households are connected to a central water system, and just 28% to a sewerage system. The rate of unemployment is around 65%.
Despite independence being a foregone conclusion, how viable does that really sound? Even when Kosovar independence comes and is hailed in the news, international troops will still be in it for the long haul. At this point, with Kosovo already unofficially separate from Serbia, the most important changes won’t come from the ballot box.
Robert Kaplan has said democracy is best when it comes last because in order to have a real functioning democracy, functioning institutions and a solid middle class are necessary. Many of the same conditions are necessary for independence. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Vladimir Titov said last week tat “The resolution on Kosovo will create a precedent in international law that will later be applied to other frozen conflicts.” He’s right, the question is whether other aspiring states and their neighbors will follow that precedent or not.