In these days of geopolitical percolation when nation states boil through statehood to dissolution as easily as steam bubbles in a mud bath, I’ve become interested enough to become a little news-bot. I troll the international press, snagging on worthless, submersed fallen logs of information as often as catching an interesting trend, but it passes the time. Of course the topic de jour is Kosovo, when it isn’t (when hasn’t it been?) some dusty country, brimming with oil. Energy is and always will be the topic, but nowadays it’s not all about who’s got it, but how they get it to you. In the American press there hasn’t been as much attention paid to Pipelineistan as there has been to Islamistan, which is, if you ask me, missing the point. Al Qaeda, Al Schmaeda. The coming Balkanization of Iraq was never simply about a madman’s moral rectitude metastasizing into hubris (either of the madmen; it doesn’t matter), nor even just about subsidizing SUVs in American suburbs: it had to do with nothing less than an emerging new/old world order. It’s about Russia pulling itself up by its bootstraps and scaring the bejeesus out of the Western World. Or at least out of its politicians.
I had always wondered in a vague sort of way about Condi Rice – the Soviet Expert – being thrust into the boiling nexus of such a foreign pot as the “democratization” of the Middle East. I mean, there’s loyalty, and there’s neo-con xenophobia, but really. Most Soviet specialists had long ago hung up their spurs and are now lounging on Florida beaches, sipping drinks with little umbrellas in them. Who knew that Cheney and his sidekick had the foresight to place her in her position? It seems a prescience worthy of a conspiracy theory, but let’s not get carried away.
When Clinton bombed Yugoslavia, he brought a post cold-war NATO right up to the door of Ye Olde Soviet Union. Bush’s bombing of Iraq might have been the next play in the US’s hegemonic play book (in addition to megalomania), had anyone at the foreign policy desk thought about it, but none of this became clear until NABUCCO came into being. It is the proposed oil pipeline to bring gas from Central Asia (the real –“istans” ) and Iran, by way of Turkey to Western Europe. NABUCCO leaves Russia sitting out the ball with its dance card only half-filled, as it was hoping to corner the gas-pipeline-to-Western-Europe business with its Blue Stream and South Stream pipelines bringing Caspian gas to Bulgaria.
Putin’s overblown reaction to Kosovo’s independence (he said that it would blow apart the whole system of international relations), like Condi’s appointment, was perhaps less about loyalty – in his case to the Serbs- than it was frustration that Russia’s nemesis is back at his door. Camp Bondsteel, the American military base located in southern Kosovo on the Macedonian border (so big it is said to be the only other thing besides the Chinese Wall visible from space), is now firmly in NATO hands. Before 17 February Serbia, and by extension, Russia, had a say in the camp’s business, but not any more. From this perspective, it’s no wonder that the amputation of Kosovo from Serbia was supported by the US, Germany, Britain and France, but only by them. Their perspectives on independence for Northern Cyprus, Tibet, Taiwan, Basque Spain, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Kurdistan, Tamil Sri Lanka or any other of the aspiring Statelets auditioning for Statehood are decidedly different. Until those independence-minded players gain a little more strategic importance, they stay in the green room. Democracy, shmemocracy.
But it isn’t really just about oil, militarization and the festering new cold war between the US/EU and Russia, either. The Serbs say that Kosovo’s secession, for them, is what the secession of a few of the US’s southern states would be like for the US; after all, large parts of the US have a majority Latino population, and if you ask the Latinos there, they might tell you that they’ve suffered as much discrimination, persecution and general maltreatment as any Albanian Kosovar. And speaking of (would be) breakaway republics, shift a bit to the east, and you’ll find that a Kurdistan in Turkey wouldn’t be about just slicing off a chunk of South East Anatolia; it would have to include a sizeable bite out of Istanbul, as it has more Kurds than any other city in Turkey. Even for Iraqi Kurdistan, where ethnic divisions more closely follow geographic lines, the “liberation” of Kosovo is hardly a precedent. Sure, they have oil, but NATO-member Turkey, adamant about its own Kurds embracing their Turkishness, and the US, desperate to retain some semblance of stability in the only region of Iraq that has one, the Kurds have no chance. Nationalistic fervor can be a glue almost as strong as greed for oil and power.
So Kosovo, whose foreign debts will continue to be paid by Serbia, so that Serbia can still claim ownership, and whose governance will be conducted by NATO and the EU, and whose defense will be undertaken by other interested parties, is no shining example of democracy saving the day; its simply the focal point for the dueling magnifying glasses of resurgent global power behemoths, which makes it inevitable that Kosovo will burn. All in good time.
But let’s not be too pessimistic. Just because behemoths have behaved in the past as behemoths will, doesn’t make it inevitable. After all, we are in the age of hyper-religiosity, when all and sundry ask some cultural variant of: What Would Jesus Do? Why shouldn’t behemoths ask, too? There are elections coming up in both the east and the west. Knowing what Dmitry Medvedev, Russia’s probable new leader will do is pretty easy to guess: whatever Putin wants. What remains to be seen in this is What Will Obama Do?