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The Road Ahead for Kosovo’s Independence

Momentum toward recognition of Kosovo as an independent state has in all likelihood taken a step forward now that the International Court of Justice has issued its much anticipated and narrowly tailored advisory opinion on Kosovo.

While the ICJ concluded that the unilateral declaration of independence was not adopted in violation of international law, the Court’s opinion does not necessarily signal an easy path for Kosovo in its move toward sovereignty and membership in the United Nations and the European Union, both stated goals of Kosovo’s leadership in Pristina. Only 69 countries currently recognize Kosovo as an independent state. The support of more than 100 countries will be required for UN membership. Countries currently unwilling to recognize Kosovo include Russia, other major European powers, and Serbia.

By itself, the Court’s non-binding advisory opinion is not enough to bring those countries around. Sustained diplomatic efforts are clearly needed to break the political logjam over Kosovo’s status. Moreover, Kosovo needs to do more to create fully functioning institutions of government, including an effective justice system, so that it can exercise sovereignty in responsible and democratic fashion. Strengthening respect for the rule of law and guaranteeing the rights of Kosovar Serbs, including those forcibly displaced from their homes and communities, should also remain major priorities in efforts to build recognition for a state where all residents are secure and have a stake in the future. The formation and existence of a new state has long been viewed as a question of facts on the ground and not law, an approach affirmed by the Court’s conclusion. How Kosovo governs itself from this point forward will be the true test of its independence and ultimate arbiter of its acceptance by the international community.

Andrew Solomon is Deputy Director of the Brookings-Bern Project on Internal Displacement in Washington, DC. He is an expert in international law, human rights, and post-conflict reconstruction and stabilization.