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Valley Perspective | PERSPECTIVE ON THE BALKANS

It's Time to Consider Alternatives

A ground invasion of Kosovo could fail, a tragedy for the Kosovars and the entire world.

May 09, 1999|BRAD SHERMAN | Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Woodland Hills) is a member of the House Committee on International Relations

Last weekend, I toured the Kosovar refugee camps, visited our men and women at Avaino Air Force base in Italy, met with Albanian Prime Minister Pandeli Majko and, in Brussels, with U.S. Army Gen. Wesley K. Clark, NATO's commander.

My visits left me more convinced than ever that although it's possible our current military strategy in the Balkans will work, we must explore other approaches.

Although the efforts of the Rev. Jesse Jackson and the recent Group of 8 proposal offer promising possibilities for a resolution, the two sides still have a way to go before agreement can be reached. The problem lies not so much in any lack of effectiveness in the air war but rather in an inflexible diplomatic position and a reluctance to explore other methods of pressuring Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.

Until the first casualties of a ground war occur, it will be popular for American leaders to demand that Milosevic accept the NATO bargaining position, "take it or leave it." Many will say we cannot tolerate living in a world where countries are ruled by mass murderers.

However, we do tolerate living in a world in which countries are ruled by mass murderers. The current government in Sudan has killed nearly 2 million of its citizens. The government in Beijing includes many who took part in China's gulag and slave labor system, Tiananmen Square and the oppression of Tibet--acts that killed millions. We will not be able to depose all world leaders with blood on their hands, but neither do we have to turn our backs on the Kosovar refugees and their need to live in peace, security and autonomy.

The key in Kosovo is putting more pressure on Milosevic while letting the Russians know that they might be successful in negotiating a peace that Milosevic could accept.

One way to increase pressure on Milosevic is to train an army of Kosovo Albanians to use sophisticated heavy ground weapons. Milosevic would then realize that he would soon face not only a powerful NATO air force but also a well-trained, heavily armed army willing to take casualties to liberate Kosovo.

Until the G-8 agreement, NATO had been wedded to the Three Principles: complete withdrawal of Yugoslav forces from Kosovo, a NATO-led force occupying all of Kosovo and the return of all Kosovar refugees to their lands. This would lead to an independent Kosovo run by its justifiably angry Albanian majority. Thus the NATO position, through Serbian eyes, is that Yugoslavia must lose 100% of Kosovo--hardly a compromise.

Perhaps the greatest difference in the stated positions of NATO and those of Serbia relate to the makeup of the peacekeeping force. The G-8 plan modifies the NATO position by leaving the makeup of the international security force deliberately vague. Serbia, through Russian mediation, had suggested non-NATO peacekeepers under a United Nations flag, then added the possibility that NATO countries that had not bombed Yugoslavia would be included.

We should consider agreeing to two distinct peacekeeping forces for two different geographical segments of Kosovo. Region A would be patrolled by Russian or other forces favorably disposed to Serbia. It would consist of two or three areas geographically connected to Serbia or Montenegro and include the historic battlefield of Kosovo Polje, the Gracanica monastery and Pec (original site of the Serbian Orthodox Church).

Region B would be patrolled by a NATO-led peacekeeping force consisting of roughly 80% of Kosovo. All Serbian military and police forces would be required to immediately evacuate Region B.

The refugees with whom I met were in amazingly good spirits. There were smiles on the faces of almost everyone I talked to. One family even offered me refreshments.

But this attitude will change if we do not return these families to their country before winter. Many of the families I visited were living with six, seven or even 10 people in a canvas tent only 12 feet by 12 feet. A reasonable, quickly negotiated peace will meet their needs far better than a "total" victory won after months or years of war.

Like the G-8 proposal, any peace agreement should be brokered with the involvement of Russia. This would give the Serbs the assurances they need to make peace and provide an important measure of pride and prestige to the Russians.

I fear that too-rigid adherence to every detail of NATO's original bargaining position will lead to the introduction of NATO ground troops. If that happens, there is a risk that the casualties inflicted on the American contingent will be too heavy for the U.S. public to bear; the same can be said of the German public, the British, the French and the Italians. If one NATO ally withdraws, there will be increasing demands by the other NATO countries to show equal concern for their own soldiers.

Thus a ground invasion of Kosovo could fail. This would be a tragedy for the Kosovars, for NATO and for the Americans killed or wounded in a losing cause. Moreover, it would also be disastrous for the willingness of the American people to remain engaged in international affairs and to provide even limited assistance to the victims of atrocities in Sudan, Congo, Indonesia, Myanmar and elsewhere.

What would make such a failure even more tragic would be if historians eventually determined that we could have secured a chance for the Kosovars to live in peace, security and autonomy had we only adopted a realistic diplomatic strategy.

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