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Online Debate: Should the United States Recognize Kosovo?

Council on Foreign Relations

Discussants: Marshall F. Harris, Senior Policy Advisor, Alston + Bird
Alan J. Kuperman, Assistant Professor, University of Texas, LBJ School of Public Affairs

Updated: December 21, 2007


After eight years as a United Nations protectorate and centuries of uncertainty, Kosovo says it will unilaterally declare independence at some point in the near future. If it does so, the United States and many European Union countries seem likely to recognize the current Serbian province as a country.

Here, two experts discuss the wisdom of that decision. Marshall F. Harris is senior policy advisor at the law firm Alston + Bird, and is a former State Department official and adviser to the government of Kosovo. Alan J. Kuperman is a Balkan expert and an assistant professor at the University of Texas’ Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs.


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December 21, 2007

Marshall F. Harris

Russia is appropriately isolated in opposing Kosovo’s independence. While Moscow restated its objections in a December 19 UN Security Council (UNSC) meeting, the United States and European Union agree that it has exhausted its arguments and that Kosova can now declare independence and benefit from international recognition.

Russia has assumed what lawyers term a “bad case.” Language in UNSC Resolution 1244 reaffirms Yugoslavia’s “sovereignty and territorial integrity,” but it is only preambular and, contrary to your claim, non-binding. The United States and Europe have found that Kosovo’s independence and international recognition are legal and consistent with 1244. They explicitly reject Russia’s legal arguments and implicitly repudiate its claim that Kosovo’s independence establishes a precedent for Chechnya. They know that the real problem is not, as Russia asserts, the dangers of international recognition of Chechnya, but rather Moscow’s brutal oppression of Chechen civilians. Although this issue is about human rights and the rule of law—not fine points of scholarship—Russia’s is the genuine “fundamental attribution error.”


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Copyright 2007 by the Council on Foreign Relations. This material is republished on with specific permission from the Reprint and republication queries for this article should be directed to

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