Understanding Chinese Revisionism in International Affairs

This recent Tweet by the always enjoyable Dr. Daniel Drezner got me to thinking: Many IR scholars and policymakers seem to misunderstand the way China accumulates and uses power in the pursuit of revisionism.

The question of whether a great power is “revisionist” hinges on its degree of satisfaction with the international system, whose rules—in the current incarnation—are largely set by your friendly neighborhood hegemon, the United States, along with its friends in Western Europe. Putin’s Russia has emerged as a revisionist force because Russian imperialism in its near abroad, not to mention its general obstructionism in international institutions, amounts to a very public rejection of the rules of the game written and enforced by the West.

Expressed geopolitically, Putinism is an unsettling echo of 19th century imperialism of the blood and soil variety, the imperialism we are most familiar with: A great power gains control of territories directly, either by placing military forces throughout the annexed territory and exerting politico-military control behind the scenes while allowing a figleaf of local governance to continue, by annexing a “slice” of territory which happens to be home to the imperialists’ ethnic group, or else by eliminating both the government and the borders of the entire annexed country, swallowing it up as a hungry amoeba swallows hapless bacteria.

Those countries we think of as imperial powers—Britain, Russia, France, Japan, Germany, Spain and (yes) the United States, among others—have all used these “19th century methods” to gain territory and carve out spheres of influence. Following World War Two and again after the Cold War, however, Western policymakers attempted to impress upon the international system the notion that imperialism, like aggressive war, is illegitimate. Neoliberal institutions at the international level—the World Bank, the IMF, and the GATT/WTO—were meant to allow for peaceful post-imperial exchange of resources, much as the European Coal and Steel Community (and later the EU itself) was meant to solve the problem of European resource warfare.

(Let us call modern imperialists “hard power revisionists,” after Dr. Joseph Nye’s oft-quoted distinctions between “hard” and “soft” power.)

One must also admit that all this focus on Western ideas and the European theater limits the explanatory power of theory. “Hard power revisionists” in Europe are easy to spot, whether they are real (Vladimir Putin) or dubious (Slobodan Milošević), but Asia presents us with a very different situation. To be sure, there are outposts of “hard power revisionism” such as North Korea, but no one thinks seriously of the Kim Dynasty’s ability to rewrite the rules of the game normatively or militarily.

And then there is China—what kind of great power is the Middle Kingdom?

China’s revisionism is clearest to Western observers in the way China prosecutes maritime claims—that is, territorial claims over the East China Sea and South China Sea. Despite being a signatory to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), China has at times attempted to treat the region as a quasi-territorial sea, which would allow China to deny the right of passage, rather than an Exclusive Economic Zone, which would only allow China the exclusive right to harvest sea resources in a 200-nautical mile zone of control as outlined in the treaty.

More importantly, China has thus far rejected all methods of arbitration outlined in Part 15 of the UNCLOS treaty, which establishes four methods for handling disputes—(1) a hearing before the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS); (2) a hearing before the International Court of Justice (ICJ); (3) ad hoc arbitration in accordance with UNCLOS procedures; or (4) a hearing before a special tribunal for the purposes of arbitration. China’s position is that other claimants can only negotiate with China bilaterally (as in the South China Sea disputes with ASEAN member-states) or that the other claimants have no claim (as is apparently the case in the East China Sea disputes with Japan). Most of the states involved have rejected China’s methods of handling maritime disputes, with the Philippines now bringing its claim against China in ITLOS. Not only has China actually refused to join the hearings, it has even gone so far as to accuse of the Philippines of “immorality” for turning to the UN for help.

To underscore the theme of revisionism, the Chinese attitude towards UNCLOS is perhaps best outlined by Singapore’s former leader Lee Kwan-yew:

I don’t believe the Chinese will submit their claims, which are based primarily on China’s historical presence in these waters, to be decided by rules that were defined at a time when China was weak.

Bear in mind that when Lee says “when China was weak” we’re not discussing unequal treaties of the late 19th century—China ratified UNCLOS in that distant year of 1996.

Despite the rhetorical warfare employed by China in its unrelenting pursuit of maritime claims, the country prefers clever logistics strategy to old-fashioned gunboat diplomacy. In an excellent multimedia presentation on how the Philippines and China have vied for control over the disputed Scarborough Shoal, the New York Times detailed China’s “cabbage strategy”:

In June of last year, the United States helped broker an agreement for both China’s and the Philippines’s ships to leave Scarborough Shoal peacefully, but China never left. They eventually blocked access to the shoal and filled in a nest of boats around it to ward off foreign fishermen.

“Since [the standoff], we have begun to take measures to seal and control the areas around the Huangyan Island,” Maj. Gen. Zhang Zhaozhong, of China’s People’s Liberation Army, said in a television interview in May, using the Chinese term for Scarborough. (That there are three different names for the same set of uninhabitable rocks tells you much of what you need to know about the region.) He described a “cabbage strategy,” which entails surrounding a contested area with so many boats — fishermen, fishing administration ships, marine surveillance ships, navy warships — that “the island is thus wrapped layer by layer like a cabbage.”

The more ships China sends to the East China Sea and South China Sea, the more the country looks like a “hard power revisionist,” and the more American policymakers sound like they’re dealing with a country like Russia. But this is only one layer of China’s imperial strategy. The other involves softer power—and is much older.

About a decade ago, China made a big push to celebrate Zheng He, a Ming Dynasty admiral who led “Treasure Fleets” in seven trips around Asia in the 15th century. Sinophilic accounts note how Zheng He’s ships spread Chinese culture, linked up Ming China to the Chinese diaspora in the near abroad, and peacefully demonstrated Chinese greatness to nations as far away as the Horn of Africa. More realistic accounts hold that Zheng He was not afraid to use military force to play regional kingmaker, secure trade routes, or even to acquire wealth. Naturally, the Chinese Government has emphasized the more pacific aspects of Zheng He’s Treasure Voyages, linking Zheng He to the ongoing propaganda narrative of China’s “Peaceful Rise.”

With these accounts of Imperial China as background, a new generation of revisionist scholars have painted a sympathetic portrait of the Chinese imperial project. Martin Jacques has certainly dabbled in this line of thinking, but Pankaj Misrha is the most compelling of these historians. Mishra has argued, in an unconscious echo of Samuel Huntington’s civilizational thesis, that Asia has long been comfortable with China as a civilizational leader:

For China was not only the Greece of Asia, imparting its Confucian cultures: Its empires were also at the center of a trade and diplomatic web extending from Nepal to Java, and the Amur region to Burma. China’s economy was central to the region; overseas Chinese merchants and traders were later to become crucial in the economic development of Southeast Asia.

China’s neighbors benefited both materially and politically from acknowledging its hegemony; they didn’t seek to “balance” its power in the European way by forming alliances.

The emperors in Beijing, in turn, seemed content with recognition of their legitimacy and authority as the dominant power (no one back then bothered with the nominal “equality” of our nation-state system that gives Vanuatu as many voting rights at the United Nations as India, but allots the greatest power and influence to the U.S.). Though militarily capable of enforcing territorial claims on neighboring states, China refrained from making them.

These historical accounts—of Zheng He and the tributary system—point to the possibilities of Chinese statecraft in the future. While Mishra doesn’t come out and use the “I-word,” China’s historical mode of imperialism was built around soft power, and insomuch as China is a revisionist today, it is mostly a “soft power revisionist.” As I noted on Twitter, a key difference between Putin’s imperialism and Chinese imperialism is that Putin’s path to regional hegemony is based on threats—“join us or else”—whereas China offers rewards to those who follow Beijing’s line. For Chinese, Deng Xiaoping’s dictum of “bide one’s time and hide one’s capabilities” remains operative. China’s policies are far more subtle than Russia’s, yet given China’s sheer size, even its “subtle changes” to geopolitics can be earthshaking.

Russia talks louder in part because it is a smaller country (in terms of population and GDP) with perceived security threats directly at its very long borders. Despite the security alliances between the United States and other countries in Asia, China faces no threat comparable to the NATO alliance. US engagement with, say, Vietnam is not as dangerous to China as expanding NATO to Russia’s doorstep is to Russia. But Russia is also louder because Eastern Christendom has deep-seated suspicions of Western powers going back to the fall of the Byzantine Empire.

If Russians seem to inhabit a Hobbesian moral universe, it might be because the West has proven itself an unreliable ally at best—and an outright enemy at worst. Although China also has a history of negative interactions with the West, and the Communist Party propagandizes it in every museum and textbook, that history is conspicuously short compared to the thousands of years China spent all-but-isolated from the West. Rather than fume about the West for hundreds of years like the Russians have, China spent most of its history just like Don Draper, not thinking of us at all.

At this point we must ask what the actual effects of Chinese revisionism would be. As we’ve already mentioned, China’s maritime claims would alter Asia’s status quo by giving China the right to control passage by sea and air. At present, the right of passage in the South China Sea is guaranteed by Western-influenced international law—and American firepower. China’s rise seems sure to change the balance of power in East Asia, whether or not the United States can shift resources to the region. In addition, China has flexed its diplomatic and economic muscles with ASEAN, ending nearly fifty years of ASEAN consensus at the hands of China’s client state, Cambodia. China added insult to injury by offering an inadequate response to the devastation of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, leading some to believe that China was punishing the Philippines for defying China on its South China Sea claims. In these cases and others, Chinese revisionism is being felt at the regional level before it reaches a global scale.

Let’s talk about China’s influence on human rights and development for a moment. This is an area where China is already shaping the global discourse. Henry Kissinger has always been fond of China for a reason: In contrast to the missionary socialism of the Soviet Union or the Wilsonian school of American foreign policy, China prefers realpolitik, in which no regime is too authoritarian (or too democratic!) to do business with.

Of course, American policymakers are already used to great and minor powers deviating from the liberal internationalist agenda for reasons of realpolitik. In the 1990s, the Clinton State Department was often vexed by countries citing self-interest while undermining peace, security, and human rights efforts in Africa. There’s a case to be made, for instance, that France inadvertently prolonged the Rwandan conflict and genocide by siding with the Hutu government. China is cut from the same cloth, but is potentially immensely more powerful than France. China’s recent history in Africa is illustrative. For instance, even after South Africa turned its back on Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe, China has remained a stalwart friend of the regime. Under Hu Jintao, China characterized Western calls for African aid to be tied to reforms “bullying” and offered money without strings attached.

Of course, there are always strings.

During the history of the Chinese tribute system, one of the most important things for the Empire was that the tribute riches continued to flow. It didn’t matter if a country offered tribute to China and a regional rival, as the Ryukyu Kingdom did to both China and Japan. But if regime change in one of the tributaries threatened the status quo, China might intervene, as it did in the 15th century Ming-Ho war with Vietnam, which was fought to restore the pro-Chinese Tran Dynasty and ended in the outright annexation of Vietnam. Today, business deals and international trade have replaced past forms of tribute, but China is still mainly preoccupied with keeping the status quo in its relations with other countries.

When Zambian opposition leader Michael Sata campaigned against violence and labor rights violations in Chinese mining operations, China threatened to pull out investment in advance of the 2006 Zambian elections, a move which may have helped the incumbent government win reelection. China was then rewarded with a special economic zone in Zambia in 2008, which further inflamed anti-Chinese sentiment, despite promises of nearly $1 billion in Chinese investment. When Sata finally came to power in 2011 following violence at a Chinese-associated mine in 2010, Chinese policymakers scrambled to justify themselves to the new government. To Sata’s credit, his administration has kept up the pressure on China, though he hasn’t exactly kicked China out.

Elsewhere, as the Arab Spring kicked off in North Africa and the Ukrainian crisis unfolded, China’s primary concerns have been protecting Chinese nationals and economic interests. China was uncomfortable doing business with Egypt’s then-President Morsi when he came to Beijing in August 2012, but Morsi still managed to gain pledges of cooperation and promises of investment. In Ukraine, China has had to balance its traditional alliance with Russia with its desire to stay on friendly relations with the new government and get back some part of the $3 billion China loaned to Ukraine for agricultural development. Thus, for reasons of realpolitik, China has appeared to be on both sides of Putin’s great Ukrainian adventure.

On the face of it, China’s development aid strategy is an improvement upon Western demands which have often saddled African countries with shaky neoliberal foundations and/or done little to improve African infrastructure. Furthermore, although it is fashionable to accuse China of “imperialism” in Africa, China is not guilty of anything resembling Europe’s horrific legacy of imperial brutality on the continent. Compared to the history of Belgium in Africa, for instance, Beijing looks like a moral giant. That said, by focusing mainly on economics we are missing half of the picture. In terms of human rights in Africa and elsewhere, China has begun to shift away from its Opening Up Period policy of neutrality towards active opposition to Western attempts to enforce human rights norms.

Throughout 2012, China joined Russia to veto several UN Security Council resolutions calling for an end to human rights abuses in Syria. This year, China has come out strongly in defense of its client state North Korea and has, unsurprisingly, condemned UN discussion of human rights in China. Although China wielded its UN veto to protect client states in the past (one thinks of China protecting Mugabe the junta in Burma), there’s a new assertiveness in China’s use of the veto. Of China’s seven UN Security Council vetoes since gaining its seat in 1971, five have been used in the past seven years.

Finally, we must not forget that all of this is happening against the impressive backdrop of China’s emergence as the largest economy in the world, which begs the question of who will be able to rein in pariah states when the Chinese market alone is big enough sustain them, much as Russia today sustains Belarus and China sustains North Korea. In 1996, the popular Chinese nationalist book China Can Say No advanced the concept that China should no longer follow America’s lead in world affairs. Roughly twenty years later, we may be reaching a point where, thanks to Chinese power, authoritarian regimes of the Global South can also “say no” to the West and pay no penalties for it.

That is a kind of revisionism that Vladimir Putin might dream of, but would never be capable of bringing about.

Lost Treasures and the Law

Besides mass-murderer and despot, we might need to add “world’s biggest art thief” to Joseph Stalin’s list of epithets. While we’ve known for years that the Soviets stole art from Germany that was originally expropriated from European countries by the Nazis, the exact scale of the theft and value of the stolen artwork hasn’t been made public.

An editorial in The International Herald-Tribune notes (h/t The Marmot’s Hole) that “From Russia,” a new art show in London, will feature these lost masterpieces on the proviso that no action will be taken to return the art to its rightful owners. So how much is this art worth?

What is at stake is approximately 10 to 15 percent of the world’s great art treasures that were well catalogued in 1939, but disappeared from sight at the conclusion of World War II.

That was the subject of a recent conference at the Harvard Law School, “Spoils of War vs. Cultural Heritage: The Russian Cultural Property Law in Historical Context.” Experts who attended agree that Russia is hiding works valued at $10 billion to $15 billion, perhaps even more[.]

The Russians assert a right to possess the art as a “spoil of war,” and have even passed a law to this effect, but according to the author, Allan Gerson, such claims are illegal:

But even assuming that Russia has a valid claim for restitution-in-kind on the grounds that what it possesses offsets the plunder of the Soviet Union by the Nazis during World War II, this argument cannot justify retention of private property.

The 1998 Russian law draws an exception for private property of victims of the Holocaust and those whose property was taken as part of the Nazi persecutions based on race, religion, or ethnic identity. But there have been no claims by Holocaust survivors or their families for the simple reason that Russia has not come forth with an accounting of what it possesses.

Moreover, beyond victims of the Holocaust, there is no justification – and the international law community is unanimous on this point – for confiscation of any privately held art property. Its continued retention is simply unlawful. Actions by museums that profit from exhibiting these works and countries that accept such exhibitions are complicit in enabling Russia to hold on to stolen art.

The immediate thought I had was that, in addition to the laws cited by Gerson, the legality of the art seizures could also be addressed in part by looking at the terms of German reparations following World War II. Was it legal at that time for the Soviets to take properties not specified as restitution or are the seizures extralegal according to terms agreed on by the Allies and defeated Axis powers?

A larger point looms in all of this. The loss of cultural treasures following conflict, and the need to reclaim them, seems more relevant today after the looting of Iraqi Museum and the secession of Kosovo, with the former an ongoing mission for archaeologists and international police alike, and the latter a new and pressing concern, as hundreds of important Serbian cultural sites face the prospect of annihilation or no hope of reconstruction* if the the new Kosovar government fails to restrain militants in the Albanian population.

In light of these situations, the Russian art dispute, as well as the Taliban’s attempt to “cleanse” Afghanistan of of its Buddhist past, perhaps the world community should work together to add some legal teeth to UNESCO’s mission to preserve our common cultural heritage. The WTO could similarly be involved, with allowances for trade-based punishments in cases of expropriated cultural treasures. For instance, if the Chinese discovered that, say, the French were holding on to Chinese artifacts, then China would be allowed to raise tariffs against France until the artifacts were returned.

* Consider this list of Orthodox churches destroyed or damaged in Kosovo since NATO’s occupation began in 1999. Will they be lost forever?

Kosovo’s Dangerous Statehood

When most Americans are introduced to the international media’s chosen narrative about Kosovo, that of ethnic Albanians overcoming oppression and securing their right to self-determination, they are likely to feel proud that America served as midwife to the birth of the newest country in the world. They are no doubt doubly proud to see all the American flags being waved by jubilant Kosovar Albanians . Wow, they must think, here are some Muslims who actually love us for a change. On top of this, some Serbs had to come along and burn the US Embassy in Belgrade in response to the Kosovar independence vote, thus cementing the perception that America has truly been on the side of the angels in the Balkans.

Kosovar Albanians

My suppositions may seem exaggerated, but they have some basis in fact. The backstory of Clinton’s war in Kosovo was that of America returning to the heart of Europe to defeat a new, would-be Hitler — Slobodan Milosevic. After Milosevic’s forces retreated from the province and the bombs stopped falling in Belgrade, the story of Kosovo quickly disappeared from public consciousness. The media subsequently downplayed such developments as ethnic cleansing perpetrated by the Albanian side after the war, since that would have complicated the black and white politics of the Balkans. Still, Kosovo came roaring back to the front pages this week, and it seems many young Americans still subscribe to the storyline first drafted in the 1990s.

Just consider the results of this ABC News/Facebook poll on the subject. 54% of the respondents are between the ages of 18 and 24.

Facebook poll on Kosovo

While at first I was going to chalk this result up to the overexuberance of Obama supporters who flood Facebook polls, support for Kosovar independence in the poll is in fact broad across the ideological spectrum. (A caveat: the Facebook polls do not give statistics to separate American Facebook users from foreign Facebook users, so there’s a chance, however slight, that anti-Serb foreigners could be rigging the poll.) If accurate, this poll can only mean that the media has one again downplayed the risks of supporting the Kosovar Albanians in favor of a feel-good morality play. But those risks are real, and we have only begun to feel the effects.

The most immediate fallout from Kosovo’s vote on Feb. 17 is the mortal blow dealt to the project of Westernizing Serbia proper. Paradoxically, this means that American policy, insomuch as it encouraged Kosovar independence, has utterly undermined American policy, insomuch as it supported Serbian liberalization.  After all, the US and the European powers had several key goals at war’s end: first, removal of Milosevic and his nationalist clique, and second, the cultivation of liberal values in Serbia, leading perhaps to the ultimate goal of Serbian accession to the European Union. Unfortunately, after the Kosovar vote, the Serbian tilt towards the West has ended for the foreseeable future and Pan-Slavic ties between Serbia and Russia have strengthened considerably. As Serbia’s patron, Russia can be counted on to block Kosovo’s integration into the world community, contributing to the possibility that Kosovo will be a failed state in the years to come. Beyond these troubles, there remains a very real possibility of a new war in the region.

One would have hoped that the West had learned its lessons after statebuilding experiments in Iraq and Yugoslavia — two historical fictions held together by the centripetal force of dictatorship — but our present situation suggests otherwise. Kosovar statehood, like the British creation of Iraq and the Euro-American creation of Yugoslavia, is a perfection sought at the expense of the good. Our loss will come in the form of the dangerous precedent established by the West in Kosovo, which threatens to embolden a myriad of separatist factions around the world, all of which have clamored for a state of their own, yet who, until now, have lacked the legal and political standing to make their desires a reality. However, by recognizing Kosovo, the West has unwittingly aided these factions by rewriting the rules of statehood.

Let’s now look at how the West has decided in favor of statehood for Kosovo and what that means to the rest of the world. To begin with, Kosovo meets only a few of the traditional requirements for statehood. Points in favor of Kosovar statehood include the fact that province is territorially contiguous and internationally recognized by the United States and most — but not all — of the European Union. The Palestinians will tell you that the former is a necessary but not sufficient condition for statehood. The latter, while a classical rule of international politics, is a matter of relativity; Taiwan certainly functions like a state despite the fact that few countries dare recognize it as such.

Points against Kosovar statehood are numerous and include the fact that Kosovo, in a Weberian sense, does not have a monopoly on the use of force; the fact that the territory is not economically independent from Serbia, or, in the place of Serbian ties, Western aid; the fact that the present-day population of Kosovo is the product of a relatively recent demographic shift and not a “permanent” situation; and the fact that Kosovo qua state has no prior historical reality. Taking these points one by one,

  • the Weberian criticism is the weakest, since Kosovo has, since the declaration of UN Resolution 1244, continued to be administered by NATO and the UN, and the Kosovar government has had no chance to exercise its full powers. As such, Kosovo’s stability in the absence of foreign presence remains a giant question mark.
  • Next, the poor Kosovar economic situation will necessitate either long-term support from Western powers, thrusting Kosovo into a semi-colonial situation, or else invite economic union with Albania. Neither of these options is good for Kosovar sovereignty, and a federal arrangement with Serbia would have been more conducive to economic growth and regional stability
  • Moving on, rather than being Albanian all along, Kosovo has become Albanian thanks in part to internal migration within the former Yugoslavia and World War II era Nazi policies which saw Kosovar Serbs expelled en masse and replaced by Albanian allies of the Nazi regime. Admittedly, some in the United States may be bold enough to argue that recent demographic changes deserve to be honored by new political arrangements, but few Americans would support this logic being applied to the benefit of Mexicans living in the American Southwest.
  • Lastly, the biggest strike against Kosovar statehood is that it has never historically been its own country. For hundreds of years it was either controlled directly by the Serbs or by the Ottomans (who controlled the Serbs). Unlike East Timor, Kosovo wasn’t an independent territory violently annexed by its neighbor. Nor was Kosovo part of historical Albania seized by the Serbs the way Israel seized the Sinai Peninsula. Yet historians and the media have worked together to create the fiction of Kosovar nationhood since the breakup of the former Yugoslavia, and like the story of demographic change noted above, the political history of Kosovo is rarely discussed in the Western media, much to the detriment of the public and decisionmakers alike.

Given that many of the strongest rationales for Kosovar statehood are nonexistent, Western foreign policy elites have had to invent new reasons to make Kosovo an independent country, and it’s these reasons that pose the greatest dangers to piece.

First, there is the idea — which is seemingly an outgrowth of identity politics — that ethnic homogeneity within a particular territory is enough to justify separatism. That is to say that if a country’s population is 85% group A and 15% group B, but 90% of group B is concentrated within a single enclave, then that enclave has the right to declare itself a state. Many people will accept this idea at face value without considering what it means. If, for example, group B is distributed throughout several small enclaves within a country, it may decide to engage in ethnic cleansing for the sake of unifying those enclaves and earning the “right to statehood.” In effect, this is what the Kosovar Albanians did by pushing out as many Serbians and Montenegrins as they could from 1999 to 2008. Although self-determination is a cherished right, many Westerners take for granted the fact that other cultures do not share our belief that our right to self-determination ends where another man’s face begins.

Second, it is suggested that the Kosovar Albanians be given a state thanks to their years of oppression at the hands of the Serb majority. This is of a piece with the Serb and Orthodox belief that Kosovar independence is another punishment visited upon Serbia for Milosevic’s misbehavior. (And that the US is furthermore an “enemy” of Orthodox peoples.) This idea is not objectionable outright — it is, after all, a basic tenet of Zionism and therefore a founding principle of the state of Israel — but it begs the question of just how long and how severe the oppression must be to warrant the creation of a new state as the remedy. (When the oppression happened is also an important factor to consider. Is there a statute of limitations on such grievances?) If applied equally, this principle would lead to a splintering of countless states in the international community, not to mention emerge as a grave threat to the very American concept of pluralism, which addresses the issue of oppression through the rule of law.

Lastly, many Western observers and diplomats argued that Kosovo deserved to become a state because it wanted to. (That any parties could object was inconceivable, inconceivable!) This makes sense after a fashion. If you were a diplomat tasked with bringing peace to the region, Kosovar independence would appear to be an appealingly simple solution to a complex problem, and so, like the doctor who encourages amputation instead of chemotherapy in every case of cancer, allowing Kosovar Albanians such an extraordinary degree of self-determination was the easy way for the West to get out of the Balkan morass. What they don’t take into account, though, is how exactly these three new rationales for Kosovar independence will resonate outside of the Balkans.

Starting with the ethnic Russian militants in Georgia’s Abkhazia and Ossetia regions and continuing with DPP rabble-rousers in Taipei, the recognition of Kosovo has emboldened separatists who will attempt to leverage these new standards of statehood to their own advantage. We close now with a brief survey of several internal conflicts worldwide and a look at how they will be affected by the Kosovo precedent.

regional conflicts

As the table suggests, the independence of Kosovo stands to have a strong impact on India should the Kashmiri Muslims coalesce into an effective separatist group. Likewise, the Tamil Tigers will have new strategies in their war for statehood and Tamil nationalists in India’s State of Tamil Nadu might follow suit. Overall, however, Kashmir is the most dangerous territory since, besides an internal conflict, it could lead to a regional conflagration between Pakistan, India, and China.

For its part, China will probably be minimally affected, though Xinjiang “terrorist/separatist” groups will remain a factor, and in general, China will stay “gravely concerned” about Kosovar independence. Taiwan could declare itself independent tomorrow but such a move would only further isolate Taiwan rather than invite the full embrace of the international community.

Like Taiwan, Chechen independence would likely go unrecognized owing to the resurgent strength of Russia within the international system. That doesn’t mean, however, that militants wouldn’t look to Kosovo for inspiration and begin another round of fighting.

As it stands, the Russian-dominated regions of Georgia, the Muslim regions of Mindanao in the Philippines, the Spanish Basque Country, and Kurdistan have the greatest potential to erupt into conflict. These conflicts might be civil wars and/or increased terrorism in the Philippines and Spain or they might be full-scale regional conflicts, such as a Russo-Georgian war on behalf of independence for Abkhazia and Ossetia. And if Iraq fails to make significant progress towards a stable government in the coming years, the Kurds will be extremely tempted to take the Kosovar route, and the West — specifically the US — will have to dangle a very large carrot to prevent Iraq from fragmenting.

In conclusion, as nationalist groups around the world begin to learn and apply the lessons of Kosovar independence to their own irredentist and separatist claims, they will not only renew their conflicts with increased vigor but also force the West into a corner. Will we take the hypocritical position of creating one set of rules for Kosovo while requiring other regions to play by the old rules? Will we encourage a thousand democratic flowers to bloom, or will we recognize the danger state fragmentation poses to world peace? Advisers to the next president should take a long, hard look at the Kosovo situation right now, because what they might be seeing is the next president’s war.