President Clinton’s address to the nation explaining the decision to launch air attacks against Yugoslavia on March 24 revealed several flawed premises. These in turn must raise doubts about the wisdom of the bombing campaign.
First, the situation on the ground in Kosovo is far more complex than the Serbian forces’ obvious brutality against an innocent and helpless civilian population. In fact, there is a war going on in Kosovo, between the separatists of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) and Serbian forces. Both sides are taking casualties— including innocents. The KLA, far from “innocent,” are widely suspected of paying for their weapons with heroin money, and are known to have received training from fanatically anti-Western Islamic fundamentalist veterans of the war in Afghanistan. They have murdered not only Serbs (military personnel as well as civilians) but also ethnic Albanians “guilty” of moderation or opposed to violence. Hence, the “moral imperative” the president mentioned to justify the bombings is, at best, a far more complicated matter than simply protecting “innocent Albanians” by bombing the Serbs.
Second, the proclaimed military goal of the operation— to “degrade” Serbian capability of inflicting casualties on Kosovo civilians — is not very plausible. The only plausible targets of air attacks are heavy weapons: air defense systems, aircraft, and tanks— none of which is particularly useful to Serbia in the type of counterinsurgency campaign it is waging in Kosovo. Counterinsurgencies everywhere rely on small weapons, small units and good intelligence — all immune to “stealth” aircraft and Tomahawk cruise missiles. As for the Serbian ability to inflict harm on Kosovo Albanians, keep in mind that the most recent true genocide, in Rwanda in 1994, was committed with … machetes.
Third, Washington is misreading the political situation in Belgrade. Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic — an unreconstructed communist and demagogue — is primarily responsible for the wars throughout former Yugoslavia since 1989. But, on the issue of Kosovo, the far more important fact is that Milosevic is not the main problem, and his removal from power is not the solution.
Simply put, Kosovo has united the Serbs. It is significant that one of Serbia’s deputy prime ministers is Vojislav Šešelj, a rabid nationalist and anti-communist; and that the leader of the Serbian delegation at the Rambouillet negotiations was Vuk Drašković, a liberal intellectual and anti-communist. Both of them have in the past been beaten up and jailed by Milosevic’s police, and yet they both joined Milosevic on the Kosovo issue, along with virtually all representatives of the opposition, including Vuk Obradović, a retired general and democratic opponent of Milosevic. Dragoljub Žarković, the long-suffering editor of the opposition weekly Vreme, made it clear that, “In this whole business [of Kosovo], as a matter of principle, we shouldn’t give a toss for the latest political pirouettes of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. It is because of him that we are where we are. There is something more important at stake here: the preservation of international order and the preservation of Serbs as a political nation.” The true danger is that the bombings, and our entire policy on Kosovo, will result in America and NATO going to war against the Serbian nation— not Milosevic.
Fourth, the bombing will encourage dreams of the KLA and others of a Greater Albania. What is clear, to the Serbs, Albanians and objective observers alike, is that the de facto result of U.S. policy on Kosovo, from the Rambouillet Accord to the air campaign, is independence for Kosovo— all of Foggy Bottom’s protestations to the contrary notwithstanding. Indeed, if our goal is to disarm the Serbs by destroying their military, or to force them out of Kosovo via Rambouillet, what will be left of our recognition of Serbian “sovereignty” over Kosovo? Sovereignty might be a meaningful concept, of course, if NATO ground forces actually manage to disarm the KLA and control the mountainous Albanian and Macedonian borders through which the Albanian separatists bring weapons and reinforcements— but that is unlikely unless NATO is prepared to take casualties in policing the people we have described as the innocent victims.
The consequences of this policy could be totally destabilizing to the entire region— the very opposite of U.S. intent. An independent Kosovo, soon to join Albania, would instantly create irresistible secessionist pressures in eastern Macedonia, where the 25 percent Albanian minority is already restive and strongly supports the KLA. If Serbia, with a relatively strong military, could not prevent the creation of a Greater Albania, what chances does Macedonia, with virtually no army of its own, have to do any better? Then, in the face of a Greater Albania carved out of its own lands, what would happen to the Slavic remnant of Macedonia? Remember that neighboring Bulgaria fought (and lost) five wars over that country since 1885. As for the creation of a Greater Albania itself, who needs it, and who will pay the price for it? Albania today has totally deconstructed itself. It has no functioning government, and an economy based strictly on smuggling: of illegal emigrants and heroin to Italy, and of weapons from Europe.
The president correctly stated that “we need a Europe that is coming together, not falling apart.” What is not clear is how the de facto dismemberment of Yugoslavia and the creation of a larger chaos named Greater Albania would promote that goal.
Finally, there will be a dangerous impact on Bosnia. How could NATO justify the presence of ground troops in Bosnia- Herzegovina, where their clear aim is to prevent a majority of that country’s population (the Croats and Serbs) from seceding to Croatia and Serbia, while simultaneously promoting Albanian secessionism in Serbia?
The understandable desire to punish a villainous Milosevic should not take precedence over serious consideration of national interests — even the very limited ones we have in Kosovo. Nor should we be blinded by loose charges of “genocide” that cheapen the moral value of the language of politics. Decrying “genocide,” when less than 2,000 people (not all Albanians) have died in Kosovo since 1989, demeans the memory of victims of true genocide: Jews, Gypsies, Tutsis. References to “ethnic cleansing” when proportionally far more non-Albanians than Albanians have left or have been pushed out of Kosovo during the past two decades also have no place.
Among our united interests is one to which we have paid little attention — respect for Serbia’s territorial integrity, based on hard choices. One of those choices is a clear NATO guarantee of Yugoslavia’s borders, including Kosovo, in exchange for extensive regional autonomy from Belgrade. Serbian police could be allowed to deploy in strength along the chaotic Albanian border in exchange for Serbian military withdrawal from Kosovo. Macedonia would also require help to control its borders. NATO and/or European Union military police or civilian observers, furthermore, could be deployed in Kosovo to monitor Serbian and Albanian police behavior. European cooperation to at least limit KLA recruitment, arms smuggling and fund-raising abroad would be another essential element of the deal. Unlike the abortive Rambouillet agreement, which included lip service for Serbia’s integrity but would put NATO forces “in country,” this strategy would use the Alliance to secure regional borders rather than build new nations. Such measures, rather than “bombs for peace” and winks toward Albanian irredentism, are more likely— though not certain— to bring at least a modicum of stability to the region.