Trades on the Sovereignty Market: Serbia Gives Iraq Weapons in Exchange For Non-Recognition of Kosovo

The rise of the relative importance of soft power in international relations has had an unintended consequence on international law: the creation of a sovereignty market.

The sovereignty market involves an international exchange of aid in return for recognition of an entity’s claims for statehood. This trading is sometimes carried out in a very blatant fashion, as was the case in Abkhazia’s outright purchase of Nauru’s recognition. More commonly, though, they are done in a more subtle fashion, with both the aid and the declarations of recognition done behind the disguise of normal diplomatic relations.

The latest swap on the sovereignty market’s trade floor is between Serbia and Iraq. It’s a reverse sovereignty swap, though, in that Serbia is not seeking recognitions of itself — it’s claims to statehood are secure — but rather it is seeking non-recognition of Kosovo. Kosovo’s claims to statehood have steadily grown, and although the recent ICJ opinion on the legality of its declaration of independence was somewhat ambivalent, with 69 out of 192 nations recognizing its sovereignty, Kosovo is well on the path to statehood.

To battle the rising recognition of Kosovo, Serbia is attempting to woo other nations into agreeing to non-recognition. However, because the importance of any state’s decision to recognize or not recognize is decreased where ulterior motives for the decision exist, Serbia has to be subtle about it. In the case of Iraq, the purchase of Iraq’s non-recognition of Kosovo has been disguised behind flowery declarations of long-standing friendship, and, oh, by the way, we’ve just given them three fighter jets:

The [Serbian] Ministry of Defence said that Iraq did not recognise the unilaterally proclaimed independence of Kosovo, and added that that Iraq’s support to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Serbia was confirmed.

Sutanovac highlighted that Serbia and Iraq have a long tradition of having a good, quality, partnership and friendly relations, adding that the two countries have common views on Kosovo-Metohija.

The Defence Minister stressed that the government of Iraq intends to purchase weapons and equipment in Serbia, and added that he spoke with the Prime Minister of Iraq about cooperation in the field of the military industry, after yesterday’s delivery of three aircraft.

He declared that the Iraqi side is very satisfied with the fulfilment of deadlines and quality standards.

Sutanovac affirmed that Iraq wants to engage Serbia in the reconstruction of an air base, building a military hospital and for the supply of ammunition of all calibres.


[Edit: Another interesting angle that just occurred to me is the political-religious intersection at work here. Kosovo is, of course, an overwhelmingly Muslim state*, while Serbia is not. It might seem odd that Iraq is willing to barter its non-recognition of a Muslim nation in return for military goods, but I wonder if this trade reflects a more different political divide at play: while Kosovo’s population is largely Sunni, Iraq’s government is now Shia and has been since the overthrow of Saddam. Conflict between Iraq’s majority Shia population and its minority (but still substantial) Sunni population plays a huge role in Iraqi domestic politics, and non-recognition of Sunni Kosovo may have been both a bid for Serbian aid and a way for the Shia government to give the Sunni factions in Iraq a poke in the eye.]

* Yes, LL2 (or at least the Susan-half of it) does extend its diplomatic recognition to the state of Kosovo.