Prior to this weekend’s Kennebunkport summit, the UN secretary-general expressed hopes that Emperor Bush would prevail upon his Russian guest to agree on the proposal that would turn over Serbia’s occupied province of Kosovo to ethnic Albanians. Vladimir Putin probably enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere of boating and fishing at the Bush family estate in Maine, but he remained steadfast. The two leaders continue to disagree on Kosovo, Iran, and the U.S. plans for "missile defense."

There was some progress in Maine, it appears; U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov announced on Tuesday that the two countries would renew their commitment to reduce their nuclear arsenals and replace the START treaty that expires in 2009. The U.S-Russian relations may be at their lowest point in years, but they’re still far better than during the Cold War.

That comes as scant consolation to Bush the Younger, whose presidency is already being described as "imploding." From Putin to the Supreme Court and Congress, it seems everyone is calling Bush’s bluffs these days, and the pile of political chips in front of him is very nearly gone.

The Key Issue

With the exception of Israel, Washington has almost no support for an attack on Iran – and in any case, no resources to organize one. The U.S. military is overextended in the occupation of Iraq, which is going badly anyway. For all the noise about it, missile defense is a technology that works only on paper. With the nuclear talks agreed upon, that leaves Kosovo as the key issue for the Empire.

It is a terrible hand to play. The 1999 war was illegal, its justifications threadbare, and the subsequent occupation filled with atrocities and abuse. NATO’s violent breach of international law (and its own charter) was papered over by the UN Security Council resolution 1244, which has provided the occupation with a fig leaf of legitimacy. But 1244 also explicitly affirmed Serbia’s territorial integrity; any attempts to separate it without Belgrade’s consent would constitute another grave breach of international law.

Washington and Brussels have tried hard to get that consent and failed. Russia’s opposition was dismissed as politicking; some commentators still believe that to be the case. It has become increasingly clear, however, that Russia regards the issue of Kosovo as a key to protecting the international order, such as it is.

By insisting on its Kosovo project, the Empire has put itself in a hopeless position. If it keeps its promise to the Albanian separatists, it tears apart the UN and openly defies the order it claims to be upholding. However, if it sells the Albanians out, especially after Bush the Lesser’s emphatic declaration of support last month in Albania, it sends a terrible message to all of its satellites. There does not seem a way for Washington to get out of this mess (of its own making, to be sure) without losing face.

Land of Confusion

Following the failure of the Heiligendamm and Kennebunkport summits to break Russia’s opposition, there is much confusion in Imperial ranks on how to proceed in Kosovo. The UN viceroy, Joachim Ruecker, sent a panicked letter to New York, claiming the situation was getting "out of control" and begging for a quick resolution. This is after months of sending rosy reports to East River claiming that the peaceful, multiethnic, democratic "Kosova" is ready for independence and everything was just hunky-dory.

Now it appears a gap is again opening between the U.S. and the EU. The way many Europeans see it, it’s easy for Washington to make promises to Albanians, then expect the EU to fulfill them. Several EU countries – Greece, Slovakia, Spain, Romania – were opposed to the Ahtisaari Plan from the beginning and had to be browbeaten into towing the line.

While the Empire is sorting itself out, there is the matter of the Albanians. NATO’s Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer was running damage control, appealing for patience during his recent visit and cautioning the ethnic Albanian provisional government that "nobody will gain anything from any unforeseen developments."

Despite the angry rhetoric from the Albanian separatist leaders, it does appear that they are listening to their sponsors still. They are, however, adamant: independence is "not negotiable."

A "Compromise" Nobody Wants

With the independence process stalled, there is intense speculation in the media about the possibility of partition. Reuters devoted a lengthy report to the notion, once again quoting anonymous "diplomats" and the toxic ICG, which claimed that partition was "Serbia’s aim all along."

Only at one point in time did official Belgrade maybe entertain the idea of partition; back in 2003, Prime Minister Djindjic had sought advice from Dobrica Cosic, former president of Yugoslavia and advocate of partition, on how to start the Kosovo talks. Neither the Albanians nor the Empire were interested at the time, though, and Djindjic was assassinated shortly thereafter. The current government has formulated its policy around the argument that Kosovo is an inalienable part of Serbian territory, as recognized by international law, treaties, and even the UNSCR 1244, which allowed the presence of NATO in the province and established a UN protectorate. Even thinking of partition would undermine this entire line of reasoning. Given that insistence on it has been successful so far, why would Belgrade change its mind?

While the Albanian separatists also reject partition, they would actually benefit from it. Their arguments for independence are primarily ethnic, and they could be used to press further claims against Serbia, Macedonia, Montenegro and Greece. However, the separatists have also tried to present Kosovo as the last stage of Yugoslavia’s dissolution, clinging to a legal fiction that Kosovo was a de facto republic in the Yugoslav federation and should therefore be granted the same right to secession given to Slovenia, Croatia, Macedonia, Bosnia, and Montenegro.

All of this suggests that the mention of partition at this point signals Empire’s desperation.

On the Brink

The question now is, what next? The Empire has exhausted all legal means to achieve its objective. For Kosovo to gain independence, there has to be a massive breach of international law equal to that which created the crisis in the first place, the NATO bombing and invasion in 1999.

If the EU or the U.S. decides to take that step and recognize the second Albanian state in the Balkans without the consent of Serbia or the UN, then all bets will be off. As one Russian commentator put it, "This reminds me of the demise of the League of Nations and of the run-up to World War II."

Between Kosovo and Iraq, it is a miracle the international order is still in existence. The current UN system is obviously dysfunctional, but is still infinitely preferable to a nuclear free-for-all. Is denying justice to Serbia worth compromising the safety of the world?

Doing so won’t save the Empire, by the way. It will only accelerate its demise.

Author: Nebojsa Malic

Nebojsa Malic left his home in Bosnia after the Dayton Accords and currently resides in the United States. During the Bosnian War he had exposure to diplomatic and media affairs in Sarajevo. As a historian who specializes in international relations and the Balkans, Malic has written numerous essays on the Kosovo War, Bosnia, and Serbian politics. His exclusive column for debuted in November 2000.