Opportunity for NATO in Kosovo?
By John Sitilides <email@example.com>,
Executive Director, The Western Policy Center1
Friday, April 2 1999 2
Serbia continues to withstand massive air strikes against its military
targets, as NATO forces carry out their orders to terminate Slobodan
Milosevic's military campaign against Kosovo. Milosevic has
successfully defied his adversaries, confounded Western strategists,
and moved closer to achieving his aims in Kosovo even under the
relentless pounding of NATO missiles and bombs.
At the end of the day, the Kosovo crisis remains unresolved. Will
there be autonomy or independence for the Serb province? What becomes
of the hundreds of thousands of refugees in Albania, F.Y.R. Macedonia,
and Greece? How is a recurrence of war prevented? And what are the
opportunities and pitfalls for NATO as the 50th anniversary
Diplomats are desperate to prevent the Kosovo war from spreading onto
a wider European battlefield, and Russian President Boris Yeltsin and
Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, emerging from their pre-war
humiliation, are trying to reassert Moscow's relevance in Balkan and
broader European affairs.
Our European allies have put on a face of bravery and resolve to mask
the political schisms developing each day that television broadcasts
images of hungry and desperate Kosovar women and children against a
backdrop of bombing runs that seem to produce few positive results. As
the rarely mentioned but quietly creeping bombing deadline -
artificially imposed by the opening of the NATO summit in Washington
on April 23 - nears, Washington and Brussels would do well to exploit
a potential opportunity to end the air campaign and avoid a divisive
inter-alliance debate about a possible ground offensive against Serb
NATO members would certainly sign onto an arrangement that
accomplishes the stated objectives of the military campaign, that is,
Yugoslavia's return to the negotiating table and an end to the ethnic
cleansing against Kosovar Albanians, under preserved American and NATO
credibility. With the cohesiveness of NATO a foremost priority, allies
closest to the battlefield, such as Italy and Greece, have begun
exploring risks for peace.
Greece, a member of both NATO and the European Union, which enjoys
friendly ties to Serbia, has forcefully condemned Milosevic's ethnic
cleansing campaign. At the same time, the Greek government is defying
domestic opposition from extremist groups to keep open the port
facilities in Thessaloniki, through which essential reinforcements
such as military vehicles and logistical supplies are being
transported to NATO peacekeepers now stationed in F.Y.R. Macedonia.
NATO Secretary General Javier Solana has not ruled out initiatives by
NATO members other than the U.S. to strike the right deal to secure a
just end to the war. Greece's more impartial stance offers the
opportunity to deliver a clear and blunt message to Belgrade on behalf
of the alliance: the end of the war is a decision wholly dependent
Athens may be able to persuade Milosevic to suspend the siege of
Kosovo immediately and return to the negotiating table, if there is
understanding that the agreement signed by the Kosovar Albanian
delegation at Rambouillet remains flexible. Specifically, the return
of refugees to an autonomous Kosovo could be monitored under a
non-NATO peacekeeping force consisting of troops from NATO countries;
from Russia, which has cooperated with the West in Bosnia; and from
non-area neutral countries experienced in peacekeeping, such as
Argentina and New Zealand. This force could be built upon the concept
of the Southeast European Brigade (SEEBRIG), the multinational Balkan
peacekeeping task force to be led by Greece, Italy, and Turkey.
Unless one posits that the credibility of NATO is utterly at stake,
the Rambouillet agreement is not sacrosanct. Milosevic was ready to
sign an earlier agreement brokered by U.S. Ambassador to F.Y.R.
Macedonia Christopher Hill that provided for a non-NATO force to
monitor the implementation of the agreement.
That deal was shattered by Western deferral to the Kosovo Liberation
Army (KLA), understood by Balkan experts as the military arm of
authoritarian Sali Berisha, former president of Albania, who is
rousing Albanian nationalism as his doorway to power once more. In the
process, Kosovo's more moderate, duly elected political leadership was
utterly marginalized during peace negotiations. Astoundingly, American
officials only one year ago accurately charged the KLA with employing
terrorist tactics to assault Serbian and ethnic Albanian civilians as
part of a larger campaign to achieve independence from Yugoslavia
through the forcible change of internationally recognized borders.
The NATO alliance, which has assumed the burden of ending the Kosovo
conflict between the KLA and Serb forces, has an obligation to impress
upon the Kosovar Albanians that they can have peace, they can have
land, and they can have autonomy - but they cannot have independence.
Otherwise, in the months and years ahead, NATO should prepare for
similar conflicts and burdens when Yugoslavia's republic of Montenegro
and Serbia's province of Vojvodina on the Hungarian border move toward
independence, or when a growing Albanian minority in F.Y.R. Macedonia
demands secession in order to be annexed to Albania.
Milosevic is continuing the violent expulsion of ethnic Albanians from
the northern half of Kosovo, where Kosovo's capital Pristina, historic
Orthodox Christian monasteries, and rich natural resources are
situated. Having pushed the remaining Kosovars into a smaller area
comprised of the southern half of Kosovo proper, he may be ready to
accept cease-fire incentives. Yugoslavia's signing of an agreement,
after an impressive show of allied military might, Greece's stern
admonitions, and a little help from Russia, can open the door to
longer-term stability in the Balkans.
The immediate outcome? Washington declares victory. NATO
proclaims its mission accomplished. Ethnic cleansing against Kosovar
Albanians ends under restored freedom and self-rule. Serbia acquiesces
to the creation of a smaller autonomous province beyond its effective
control. Greece, Italy, and Turkey, together, lead the regional
peacekeeping mission. Yugoslavia's international borders remain
unchanged. Secessionist minorities are discouraged. The U.S.-Russia
partnership, high on President Clinton's agenda, is back on track.
The alternative? Western armed forces planning for a grueling ground
assault against ferocious, battle-tested Serb fighters. Tens of
thousands more civilians killed and maimed. Hundreds of thousands of
refugees facing no imminent end to mass suffering. The potential
destabilization of Greece and F.Y.R. Macedonia through large-scale
refugee absorption and ethnic Albanian agitation. New calls for a
Greater Albania by Berisha's forces. Continued Western frustration and
potential failure at the hands of the wily, authoritarian Serbian
remnant of old-style Communism. Devastated NATO credibility,
especially among new member states and future candidates in the
And all this against the backdrop of NATO officials and
diplomats gathering in Washington in three weeks to celebrate the
alliance's 50th anniversary, clinking their champagne glasses,
toasting the end of the Cold War ten years ago, and pondering their
relevance in Kosovo, Europe, and the world.
[The Western Policy Center is a public policy corporation promoting
U.S. geostrategic interests and Western institutions in southeastern
Europe by strengthening the debate on American foreign policy toward
NATO allies Greece and Turkey, and toward Cyprus. Based in California
since 1994, the Center opened new offices in Washington, D.C. in
This article was published as an op-ed in the April 2, 1999 issue of the Washington Times.