UNITED NATIONS — Kosovo's declaration of independence over the weekend is creating an international split, as the top Western powers, including America, rush to recognize the newborn country and others caution against regional and world turmoil that would result from other unilateral secessions.
The international debate came to a head yesterday at the U.N. Security Council, where the country that until Sunday was the uncontested sovereign over Kosovo, Serbia, called an emergency session. President Tadic of Serbia called on Secretary-General Ban to term Kosovo's independence "null and void," but the U.N. chief sidestepped the issue and declined to rule on the legality of Pristina's weekend declaration. Similarly, the divided council came to no decision.
"Recognition of states is for the states, and not for the secretariat," Mr. Ban told reporters after the council session yesterday. While America, Britain, and France were quick to recognize the new state, European countries such as Spain, which is concerned about the secession of its Basque region, were hesitant to do so. Despite the majority Muslim population in Kosovo, international groupings of Islamic and Arab states also refrained from taking decisions. Concerns over disintegration of current recognized states stopped many other countries from making statements.
Serbia, which considers Kosovo's declaration illegal, recalled its ambassador in Washington for "consultations" yesterday, and the Serbian foreign minister, Vuk Jeremic, told U.N. reporters that his country planned to act in a similar fashion with any country that recognizes Kosovo. However "Serbia will not resort to force" in Kosovo, relying instead on diplomatic means and persuasion, the president, Mr. Tadic, told the council.
"There are dozens of various Kosovos in this world and all of them lie in wait for Kosovo's act of secession to become reality and be established as an acceptable norm," Mr. Tadic said. "If a small, peace-loving, and democratic country in Europe, a member state of the United Nations, can be deprived of its own territory illegally and against its will, historic injustice will have occurred because a legitimate democracy has never before been punished in this way."
Although the European Union said in its statement yesterday that the case of Kosovo, with its unique history, is "sui generis" in the affairs of states, Mr. Tadic's argument was powerful for many countries, including some of those that emerged out of the former Soviet bloc. Russia and China, concerned about their own separatists in Chechnya and Taiwan and Tibet, led the charge at the council yesterday. As permanent council members, they can block U.N. membership for Kosovo.
"Safeguarding sovereignty and international integrity is one of the cardinal principles of contemporary international law," the Chinese ambassador to the United Nations, Wang Guangya, told the council. "The unilateral action by Kosovo may rekindle conflicts and turbulences in the region."
It is "too early" to make a decision on recognition, the Egyptian ambassador to the United Nations, Maged Abdelaziz, told The New York Sun, adding that neither the Arab League nor the Organization of Islamic Conference has agreed on a common approach. "I don't expect we will have a unified position," he said.
Many people in the Arab and Muslim world identify with the fight of Muslims in Kosovo against the rule of a Christian country, and some Arab fighters joined the Balkan wars out of such solidarity. But countries like Morocco and Sudan are concerned about secession of ethnic groups within their own territories.
Turkey, which has sought to join the European Union for years, yesterday became one of the first countries to recognize Kosovo, even as some Turks fear a Kurdish rebellion in the southeastern part of their country. But Turkish nationals also have maintained an Ankara-backed autonomous region in the northeast of Cyprus, where locals have long called for secession.
"The United States has today formally recognized Kosovo as a sovereign and independent state," Secretary of State Rice said in a statement yesterday. "We congratulate the people of Kosovo on this historic occasion."
The European Union dispatched a "rule of law" mission of 1,900 troops to Kosovo in addition to the existing 5,000-troop NATO force there. But the European Union has not been able to unify its members behind a single position on recognition.
The Bush administration has been criticized by some Republicans for its Balkan policies. "Recognition of Kosovo's independence without Serbia's consent would set a precedent with far-reaching and unpredictable consequences for many other regions of the world," a former secretary of state, Lawrence Eagleburger, and a former American ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, wrote in the Washington Times late last year, urging the administration to "reconsider" its decision to urge independence.