Kosovo -- the New "Virtual Nation" of the 21st Century

"Nothing will be done anymore" -- declared the French poet Paul Valery some decades ago -- "without the whole world meddling in it."Boy, did he get that right.The recent conflict in Yugoslavia -- essentially a civil war between Serbs and ethnic Albanians -- was the sort of local violence that has often flared up in the past and run its murderous course without anybody outside the immediate area taking an interest in it. But this time NATO took an interest because NATO is trying to define a new role for itself as a sort of European police force. Russia took an interest because of its historical connection to the Slavic Serbians and its desire to continue being a force in that part of the world. The U.S. took an interest because it is now what Madeleine Albright calls "the indispensable nation," and takes an interest in everything. The Chinese took an intense interest because their embassy got bombed. The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia took an interest because jurists are trying hard to get the world to enforce the laws against crimes such as genocide that are now on the global law books. Oppressed minorities everywhere took an interest because they wondered, with good reason, why such power is unleashed to prevent genocide in one place and not in others. And now, as the United Nations assumes its role as enforcer and guarantor of the peace in Kosovo, that formerly-obscure corner of the world becomes a concern of the whole community of nations. It becomes officially what it had already been in fact -- everybody's business."The international community will run this place," a Brookings Institution analyst told the Los Angeles Times. "This is a true international protectorate with extraordinary powers given to the international community."In a sense, Kosovo may be moving into the 21st century ahead of the rest of the world, moving into a post-national era in which the familiar guideposts of political reality -- such as sovereignty and boundaries -- no longer have the force or meaning they had in the past. Kosovo becomes a kind of virtual nation, a "not exactly" place -- not exactly a part of Serbia, not exactly independent either. It will have foreign officials enforcing its laws and running its elections, while its citizens use Deutschmarks or dollars for currency. And the whole world will be watching to see how things work out.There is much speculation now about the future impacts of the Kosovo conflict, the precedents it sets: Will there be more "bombing wars," with the U.S. and other major powers seeking to achieve military goals without sending in ground troops? Will separatist movements around the world be emboldened to battle even more vigorously against national governments?Those are uncertainties; the certainty is that there will be more meddling. The world keeps getting smaller, the communications media keep making it easier for everybody to look over everybody else's shoulder.There will be more meddling, and also more meddling of a specific kind -- the introduction of international courts into matters that were once handled exclusively by diplomats and generals. If any single event of recent months turns out to be seen in the future as a historical turning-point, I would bet on the indictments against Milosevic and other Serbian leaders for war crimes and "crimes against humanity." This is not only the first time such a charge has been brought against a head of state while in office; it is also the curtain-raiser of a new era in which legal issues become as important as "national interests".Some of the diplomats were clearly a bit miffed when the indictments came down from The Hague. They acted as though they felt they were being upstaged by the court and saw the indictment -- and the immense amount of publicity given to it -- as interference in their customary ways of playing the game. They were right, in a sense, but it was more than that; it was an indicator that the rules are changing, that a new kind of global game is beginning to be played -- a game in which there will be repeated attempts to enforce laws that transcend national boundaries, and in which the words "none of your business" are increasingly irrelevant.Walter Truett Anderson, author of "Evolution Isn't What It Used To Be" (W.H. Freeman), is a political scientist who writes widely on technology and global governance.

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