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On the brink of a new era?

Alistair Burnett Alistair Burnett | 12:03 UK time, Friday, 15 February 2008

This week - as our presenter Robin Lustig has blogged about - two places that have been the subjects of what's called 'humanitarian intervention' have been in the news for different reasons.

The World TonightEast Timor - or Timor Leste to give it its proper name - became independent almost six years ago following three years of transitional UN government that prepared the country to stand on its own feet following 25 years of pretty brutal Indonesian occupation. It was a country without judges, lawyers, police or teachers, who could speak the new official language proficiently. It's been in the news this week following an attempt by renegade soldiers to kill the president and prime minister, a further indication that this poverty-stricken tiny country is chronically unstable despite the relatively large international aid and reconstruction effort put in.

The other place in the news is Kosovo, the Serbian province that is about to declare independence and officially break away from Belgrade, but it will not be a truly independent country. For one thing, not everyone will recognise it - Serbia and Russia won't and even some EU states have promised not to as well. Secondly - and confusingly - the EU as a body is sending in an unprecedented mission that will run the police and justice system and oversee the government of the new state which some experts on the region, such as Gerald Knaus of the European Stability Initiative who was on the programme on Wednesday (which you can listen to here), have called an 'EU Protectorate'. Critics of what the EU is doing ask if subsidising and running other states is what the EU is for and ask how the EU got itself into this position.

But what is about to happen is unprecedented in another way. When the US, the UK, France and some other EU states recognise Kosovo, it will be a break with the settlement after World War II, and confirmed in the Helsinki Final Act of 1975, that borders in Europe would not be changed without the consent of the countries concerned. When the Czechs and Slovaks split up Czechoslovakia and created two new states, it was by mutual agreement, but this time it isn't. The Serbian foreign minister last night called it a "direct and unprovoked attack on our sovereignty". He also warned the UN Security Council that recognition of Kosovo's independence will open a Pandora's Box as there are many other separatist regions in the world waiting to break away, including some in Europe.

So on tonight's programme we will be discussing whether such interventions can work, and if they can, what lessons need to be learnt about the need to plan clearly what you do after you have achieved your initial objective.

On another note, the World Tonight has just won the 2008 Award for Statistical Excellence in Journalism from the Royal Statistical Society for a report by Jonty Bloom on how death tolls in conflicts like Iraq and Darfur are calculated and often politicised (which you can listen to here).


  • 1.
  • At 09:40 PM on 15 Feb 2008,
  • Peter Metcalfe wrote:

It was a country without judges, lawyers, police or teachers, who could speak the new official language proficiently.

Given that the new official language was Portuguese (one of the sillier decisions that Freitlin made), the deficiency in the language is not as meaningful as you imply.

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