Amid fireworks and celebratory gunfire, Kosovo -- Europe's newest country -- turned three years old on Thursday, Feb. 17. But behind the scenes of revelry in the capital, Pristina, it's clear that it will take a lot more than flag-waving for the fledgling country to grow out of its terrible twos. For all the hope that was once showered upon this young democracy, it still faces an enormous uphill battle: the country has no international postal or telephone code; it cannot establish its own IP address; its athletes cannot partake in many international sporting events; thousands of NATO troops still remain as peacekeepers; and Kosovars can only travel visa-free to five countries -- one of which is Haiti. With only 75 out of 192 nations having recognized the new state, it remains in a purgatory of semi-sovereignty.
Meanwhile, it's been a big start to the year for new states and new orders. The regimes in Tunisia and Egypt have fallen. Southern Sudan claimed its independence with a near unanimous result. A wave of reform protests continues across the Middle East. After a bit of diplomatic wavering, the United States reaffirmed its commitment to self-determination and human rights, promising to support "principles, processes and institutions -- not personalities" in its engagement with the new governments taking root in North Africa.
Trouble is, a sobering assessment of the successes and failures of state-building since the end of the Cold War demonstrates that governance and development work best when a population rallies behind an enlightened leader -- and suffer when one does not emerge. Principles of democracy and human rights have to abide in a leadership and must be bought into by a population.
And here's the rub: While the United States grappled with its inability (whether for lack of a fulcrum or fear of meddling) to use leverage to remove the regimes in Tunis and Cairo, it actually does have the power to affect change and promote transparent and accountable governance in Pristina -- where a coterie of thuggish leaders, holdovers from a Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) unit accused of war crimes and weapons dealing, now run the country. But, thus far, Washington has been unwilling to exert the necessary pressure on Kosovo's leaders -- and in its impotence pours billions of dollars down the drain and risks condemning the state to thugocracy.
While much has been made of America's financial support of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's regime and other autocratic dictatorships in recent weeks, Kosovo's democracy has received far more direct American aid in recent years -- in 2010, Kosovo received more than twice the American bilateral foreign assistance per capita than Egypt. Yet, after more than a decade of immense international investment and the best-resourced humanitarian mission the world has ever seen, Kosovo enters its fourth year of independence amid its own internal turmoil.