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Rewarding Butchery in the Balkans

Kosovo: The West capitulates to Milosevic, the world's leading practitioner of ethnic warfare.

October 07, 1998|EDWARD N. LUTTWAK | Edward N. Luttwak is a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington

Faithfully observing the rituals established long ago by Henry Kissinger, President Clinton's national security advisor, Samuel R. "Sandy" Berger, on Thursday issued an ultimatum to President Slobodan Milosevic of Yugoslavia by giving a "background" briefing to selected reporters, who then cited "senior American officials."

On penalty of aerial bombardment, Milosevic was to stop further violence against Albanian civilians in Kosovo, to allow international relief efforts for the estimated 300,000 villagers expelled from their homes and to start negotiating in good faith an autonomy agreement for the Albanians of Kosovo.

One unusual thing about the ultimatum was that Milosevic was given two weeks to comply, instead of the canonical 24 hours. On that same day, U.S. and British representatives at the United Nations were denouncing the continued killings and expulsions in Kosovo in an attempt to obtain a Security Council resolution, but Berger in effect was allowing Milosevic two more weeks in which to kill and expel more Albanians.

As it was, his forces had already been given plenty of time to execute their carefully calculated campaign of repression; they did not need the two extra weeks. When Milosevic in March sent his "special police" and army artillery units into Kosovo, he had two aims. First, to terrorize the local Albanians into accepting continued "Yugoslav"--i.e., Serbian--rule with or without the fig leaf of nominal autonomy, by demonstrating to them that nobody--not the United Nations, not NATO, not the United States, let alone the European Community or Islamic solidarity--would protect them from whatever violence the Serbs chose to inflict, including outright massacre.

That aim has certainly been achieved. The best the U.N. Security Council could do even as late as Oct. 1, after many months of amply televised violence, was an "opinion"--an actual resolution was considered too offensive for Milosevic's delicate sensibilities. Nor did the Security Council threaten the use of force, of course: Both Russia and China oppose any "use of force" mandate as a matter of principle, anticipating the day when U.N. action might be directed against themselves over the Caucasus or Taiwan, respectively.

Russia, moreover, continues to support Serbia in general in the name of Slav/Orthodox solidarity, and so does France, though more quietly, because of a parodic version of classic power politics: Croatia and Slovenia have German affiliations, so the French must protect their influence over Serbia/Yugoslavia, whatever that may mean in 1998. Hence the Security Council merely expressed "alarm" and "concern" in calling for an immediate investigation of the latest killings by the Yugoslav government, in effect endorsing Milosevic's refusal to allow U.N. inspectors into Kosovo, while achieving the comic result of asking the killers to investigate themselves.

As for NATO--a far more plausible shield for the Albanians of Kosovo, one might have thought, given the alliance's eventually decisive role in nearby Bosnia--the two-week delay in Berger's ultimatum was specifically meant to allow time for NATO military preparations. That seems reasonable enough--even a small air attack requires target intelligence and countermeasures against air defenses--until one recalls that NATO had already threatened to bomb in June, only to do nothing at all while the level of violence kept rising.

In reality, the June threat was a pathetic attempt to deceive Milosevic. The French had in fact blocked any NATO attack by demanding an explicit authorization by the Security Council, in the full knowledge, of course, that Russia and China would veto any such move. While NATO was neutralized, the Americans and British neutralized themselves by deciding that they could not act on their own against mighty Serbia.

The U.S. military has continued to oppose any military action, fearing that it would lead to another indefinite entanglement as in Bosnia. It was decided nevertheless to declare that NATO was ready to bomb, hoping to trick Milosevic with a vulgar bluff. A better poker player than his divided opponents and kept fully informed by his friends in NATO, Milosevic reacted contemptuously by visibly intensifying the attacks in Kosovo during July, August and September.

Milosevic has been confirmed as the world's leading practitioner of ethnic warfare. Alone against the world's at least verbal opposition, with a mere 20,000 well-trained men backed up by a few artillery batteries, he has ensured that Kosovo will remain an obedient province of Serbia, even though 90% of its population is Albanian and clearly wants to be rid of Serbian rule.

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