The Value of Kosovo as a Non-Legal Precedent
UVA Law Faculty Affiliations
Jack’s post makes the point that the Kosovo precedent won’t get the U.S. government very far if it is looking for a solid international legal precedent for intervention in Syria. That seems absolutely right. But it also seems worth asking: if Kosovo isn’t a good legal precedent for Syria, how good a precedent is it in the policy, practical, and moral realms? Should the U.S. government cite Kosovo as a precedent at all?
When contemplating a future (controversial) action, the U.S. Government likes nothing better than to be able to point to historical precedents - similar acts that the USG took in similar circumstances. This is true even when the historical precedent being invoked was supposed to be (as Jack notes) no precedent at all, but only a one-off action taken under extraordinary circumstances. Indeed, one concern about the Executive's decision not to decide whether a coup had taken place in Egypt was the lack of prior examples of such non-determinations.