I find the phenomenon curious, that all other countries that don't have recognition as sovereign states by other countries fall into two categories:

  • Only recognized by a small number of countries (or even by no other countries, in some cases countries that recognize those countries are also not recognized as sovereign states by almost any other country).

  • Recognized by almost all countries except for a few, due to some political conflict.

But in the case of Kosovo, more or less half of the world countries recognize it as a sovereign state while the other half don't.

Recognition map Blue for recognizing countries, Orange for ones that don't

What reasons could explain this phenomenon?

  • 6
    Can you add the source of the image? Also, there are more colors than just orange and blue (even different shades of orange, like Mexico), so I think it's useful to include the legend too.
    – ROIMaison
    Dec 18, 2023 at 10:57
  • 3
    Giving a true reason for this would automatically start a small war here. Most of the countries accepting Kosovo are US reliant or are a West Supporter. The US has been nothing but hypocritical about this case, not respecting its own logic and agreements. Yet it claims it is trying to keep the peace
    – CodeJunkie
    Dec 18, 2023 at 14:02
  • 3
    This map is also a great map for asking "which countries have secessionist movements or regions asking for more local autonomy they want to suppress?".
    – vsz
    Dec 19, 2023 at 8:06

3 Answers 3


The issues at hand are:

  • Kosovo declared its independence unilaterally, without an agreement with Serbia. That makes recognizing its independence troubling for many countries that have their own independence movements. That explains why some countries do not recognize it.

  • Kosovo declared its independence in the context of the disintegration of Yugoslavia, in which Serbia had attempted, with different levels of success, to take over the Serbian populated areas of Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. This did include expulsion and murder of civilians (not only by Serbia, but Serbia/Serbian backed forces were responsible for most of them). Kosovo had the potential to develop into yet another repetition of this. Recognizing its independence gave more possibilities to countries wishing to step in (because an attack by Serbia would no longer be an internal Serbian matter). This explains some other countries wishing to recognize Kosovo.

  • Serbia was backed by Russia, which gave Western countries another incentive to recognize Kosovo's independence.

  • 7
    I don't agree they declared independence in context of dissolution - the YU disintegration was in 1990s. Slovenia and (North) Macedonia 1991, Croatia 1991-1995, Bosnia and Herzegovina 1992-1995. Only Montenegro, which was in federation with Serbia from 1992, broke up only in 2006. What primarily happened in Kosovo was a nationalistic/religious war - between Serbs and Albanians. Hostilities long predating Yugoslavia. Dec 18, 2023 at 7:54

Spain does not want to recognize Kosovo to avoid recognizing Catalonia in the future.

Ditto China, because they do not want to recognize Taiwan.

Russia tackles Kosovo precedent in a post-modern fashion, where at the same time Russia does not recognize Kosovo in light of good relations with Serbia and not wishing to show an example for Chechnya, etc - but at the same time using it as a showcase to reason around its own Crimean affair.

(For those who are not into Balkan politics, Kosovo has a big brother state of Albania, to which it clings after its divorce with Serbia)

In general, Kosovo is an example of the US showing that they may disregard the rules that they set for other countries to follow. According to international law, Kosovo should remain de jure part of Serbia. Perhaps in federalized fashion, but here it goes. The pressure and encouragement from a superpower is sufficient for a half of world countries to actively violate that law.

  • 19
    These are strong claims to be making with no links to sources.
    – Brian Z
    Dec 16, 2023 at 15:39
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    Given the troubles after the dissolution of Yugoslavia, with ethnic cleansing and wars all over, the last paragraph about "staying de jure part of Serbia" is a bit too simplified. Serbia's actions in Kosovo and elsewhere can be argued as giving a right to secession to the Kosovars (at some point, even extensive autonomy does not cut it anymore). Of course, this is also simplified, but it is not just "the US is forcing their view on everyone".
    – Chieron
    Dec 17, 2023 at 14:56
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    Also I'm not arguing that superpowers frame the issue as such. "The law is the law, but it would be a really good idea to make an exception this time" instead of "laughing like villains, we are going to tear apart the international law for the fun of it".
    – alamar
    Dec 17, 2023 at 15:48
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    @Chieron Which time frame are you referring to? 1991-1995 war, or the 1998-ish events in Kosovo, or the 2004-ish events in Kosovo or? Or perhaps going even back in the past of the days of Ottoman empire if not earlier... :) That said, I fully agree that Kosovo needed to go away from Serbia. ((but then again, I am a believer of "every region should have a right to democratically decide which country it wants to belong to" - so I agree with both Kosovo independence and Crimean annexation. Not with later occupations though)) Dec 18, 2023 at 8:15
  • @ZizyArcher e.g. the Bosnian civil war, but also most everything that happened in Kosovo. A region and its inhabitants do not necessarily get to choose, which country they belong to. As alamar said, international law would reject that notion. But if the country is mistreating the region's population particularly badly, getting into the ethnic cleansing territory, then there are exceptions. The topic is more complicated than "the US wants an independent Kosovo" (I doubt they really care about the region that much). Those exceptions do not apply to Crimea.
    – Chieron
    Dec 18, 2023 at 14:24

The beginning of the breakup of the former Yugoslavia aligned with the fall of the Berlin wall and the shift of Eastern European countries towards the West. Yugoslavia was a federal communist state, and Serbia was one the federal republics within Yugoslavia. As the other republic sought to pursue independence they turned towards the West. Serbia, headed by Milosevic, a former communist, did not pursue the pro-Western policy. Instead Milosevic was establishing his own authoritarian type of rule.

This set the context for the US and Western foreign policy, which did not view Serbia aligned with the Western interests. As the wars started sanctions were imposed on Serbia. There were crimes committed by the Serbian side in Bosnia and Croatia, but unlike what's been inaccurately mentioned in the other responses, Serbia was not found guilty of these crimes, but rather Serbs from Bosnia and Croatia were found guilty of war crimes. Bosnia even sued Serbia for genocide in the International Court of Justice but lost the case.

With the wars in Croatia and Bosnia over in 1995 Milosevic still continued to rule in Serbia. However, another conflict was starting in 1998, with the Albanian population in the Serbian province of Kosovo also seeking independence. The conflict could mostly be compared to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with Serbia facing the same challenge as Israel. Even though Serbia's response towards the Albanians was much milder than the Israeli response towards Israel, the West took a different approach in the case of Serbia. With Serbia not politically aligned with the West, the approach that the West took was to bomb Serbia, which eventually lead to NATO taking over Kosovo. Also, it is worth mentioning that prominent US politicians at the time such as Bob Dole, Joe Biden and Eliot Engel lobbied for the Albanian cause throughout the 90s.

When Kosovo declared independence in 2008 it was done so unilaterally, without the Security Council approval thus circumventing the international law. Why the US decided to recognize Kosovo is most likely for political and security reasons. Thus most countries shown in the map above have some sort of political and/or security arrangements and/or dependence on the US. There are some exceptions, such as Greece and Spain.

Most countries that do not recognize Kosovo, are less dependent on the US. Some have their own issues which are similar to the issue of Kosovo, and some do not have the incentive to recognize Kosovo and circumvent the international law. Thus, the issue of Kosovo remains the stalemate between the US and countries reliant on the US, and countries that are capable of pursuing more independent policies.

  • 8
    I'm pretty sure Milosevic ended up in The Hague because he ruled Serbia at the time Serbia committed war crimes. And he's obviously not one of those "Serbs from Bosnia and Croatia". This is a false narrative; the ICC established that the responsibility went all the way to the top in Serbia itself.
    – MSalters
    Dec 18, 2023 at 11:16
  • Recognition of countries is not a matter of the UN Security Council. By international law, countries are sovereign in their decision to recognize other countries. This is exactly why such a division can exist.
    – MSalters
    Dec 18, 2023 at 11:18
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    And the typical anti-US rhetoric also shows a typical Serbo-Russian talking point. The whole thing started because European countries tried to pacify Europe, which failed in the light of Serbian aggression. Given the earlier Serbian war crimes in former Yugoslavia, including major events like Srebrenica, the NATO response in Kosovo was understandable. Attacking KFOR was no longer an option. But as KFOR also showed, Europe is not even capable of policing itself, so the comparison with Israel is invalid. There is no way Europe could intervene in Gaza.
    – MSalters
    Dec 18, 2023 at 11:25
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    From a legal POV, it is far from being equivalent to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Everybody did recognize that Kosovo was part of Serbia, nobody recognises Israel sovereignty over occupied Palestine. Of course that only highlights that the USA is not following the same rules for both situations, but that is far from being news.
    – SJuan76
    Dec 18, 2023 at 12:37
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    @MSalters Yugoslavia was a peaceful, performing country before Europe has deciced to pacify it by encouraging everybody to secede. With all the effort that went into pacification, it's nowhere near as safe as it was in 1985. As far as Serbo-Russian POV is concerned, everybody from Albanians to Bosniaks and Croatians and Serbs are the victims. The perpetrators sit in Brussels and Vienna.
    – alamar
    Dec 18, 2023 at 14:51

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