Having written in the post immediately below of some bizarre protagonists in debates over Balkan affairs, I'll turn with relief to a useful comment on The Guardian's "Comment is Free" site by Ian Williams on the subject of Kosovo. Williams concludes:
It is time to stop pandering and give the nationalists a reality check. Because the international community came to the rescue of the Kosovars when Milosevic was killing them, it has earned the right to ensure the welfare of other minorities there. But, supervised or not, Kosovan independence is the only way forward. And then the Serbs and Kosovars can join the EU and concentrate on getting the Balkans working and making the frontiers there as irrelevant as they are in the rest of Europe. If the nationalists in Belgrade want to bluster and break off relations with their neighbours, the EU and the US, let them.
I'm wary of the notion that intervention has earned us a right rather than imposed on us an obligation, but I agree with the rest of Williams's argument. One of the principal reasons I am a supporter of the European Union and of European integration has nothing to do with economics but is purely political. The EU makes easier the dissolution of longstanding disputes and constraints. This is true in the case of major states, notably Franco-German relations, and is far the most hopeful means for resolving the apparently intractable conflicts over Cyprus. In the Balkan wars of the 1990s, the EU had an inglorious record of inaction, but whether it has performed the task well or badly it has assisted the development of democracy in the former Soviet satellite states and has encouraged the development of civil society in the Balkans. Those are prerequisites of good governance. An independent Kosovo requires functioning state institutions and the rule of law. To help establish them and then withdraw is the best form of foreign aid we can provide, and the EU is the obvious - indeed the only practical - avenue for doing that.
On this subject, however, see also some sensible cautionary observations by Paddy Ashdown about the difficulties of statebuilding. He makes them in an interview in the Journal of Intervention and Statebuilding:
The choice between the road to Europe and international isolation, 'Brussels or Belarus', may not be a very appealing one. There is no viable alternative perhaps but there are some people in Republika Srpska who would take it to the line and say they would rather be isolated than join Brussels if that means merging the army and police. You and I may not see a viable alternative, but they certainly do and they have to be free to make that choice if they choose to do so. You could find means and reasons for criticising this, if you wish, but look at the fruits of this approach. It is non-coercive, it is giving a helping hand, a hand up not a hand-out, and it has been phenomenally successful as a statebuilding mechanism to bring about liberal democracies in countries that formerly had Soviet-style systems. It is not a bad record and I cannot think of an alternative way of doing it.
It is a good record, in fact, and Ashdown himself deserves credit for having seen the urgency of this issue much earlier than most British politicians.