April 13, 1999
Could the Balkan war expand to Albania? Serbian troops invaded Albania for a short time today. After a report from ITN, Margaret Warner gives some historical background and talks with Albanian experts about the impoverished country.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, three views on today's events in Albania, and their implications. Retired Major General Edward Atkeson had a 33-year career in the army, much of it in intelligence work. He's now senior fellow at the Association of the US Army, a private advocacy group on behalf of the Army. Janusz Bugajski is director of East European Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies here in Washington; he is the author of "Nations in Turmoil: Conflict and Cooperation in Eastern Europe." And Charles Kupchan was director for European Affairs at the National Security Council from 1993 to '94. He is now a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, and associate professor at Georgetown University.
|'The poorest nation in Europe.'|
MARGARET WARNER: Welcome, gentlemen. Why did we see this kind of incursion today?
CHARLES KUPCHAN, Council on Foreign Relations: My guess is that Milosevic was sending Serb troops after the KLA. This has been a constant movement of troops back and forth across the border. I don't think that he really is interested in widening the war, but he is trying to decimate and shut down the liberation forces that have been coming over from -- from Albania into Kosovo.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you see this as a military significant incursion? We heard some of the people on the ground saying they saw this as really an escalation -- that you had Serb forces come in and even take a village in Albania.
MAJ. GEN. EDWARD ATKESON (RET.), US Army: I think it is a little much to say it is an escalation of the action. We've already seen them operating across the border into Macedonia , seizing three of our soldiers. But this is the sort of thing that we are very cognizant of. The risks that are taken as a result of that, we are beefing up our task force hawk that we sent in. While we originally planed to only put in a light infantry battalion minus a company or two we're beefing it up so it will be almost of brigade size with good healthy armor. We are very concerned about that.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you see it this way, that this is not an attempt by Serb forces to get and hold Albanian territory but just to go after the KLA?
JANUSZ BUGAJSKI, Center for Strategic & International Studies: Not just to go after the KLA, but I would envision a policy whereby they are trying to create a no-man's-land along the Albanian border, in other words destroy the villages close to the Kosovo border, and to prevent the KLA using this territory, using these paths, these new tracts, if you like, into Kosovo territory. So, I think it is part of a systematic scorch earth policy that the Serbs could extend into parts of Northern Albania.
MARGARET WARNER: Is that possible?
CHARLES KUPCHAN: I think that's probably what is going on. If you look at what has happened over on the Kosovo side of the border. The Serbs have moved in, they are fortifying and putting mines throughout the area. And so if he can actually get on to the Albanian side of the border and destroy some of the villages you have a zone which they can monitor quite easily and prevent arms continuing to flow from southern Albania to the North and into Kosovo.
|Helping the Kosovars.|
MARGARET WARNER: Help us understand why Albania has been helping the Kosovars -- and how much help -- both how much and why.
JANUSZ BUGAJSKI: Right. Well, let's put it this way, the Kosovars are part of the Albanian nation, if you like. The previous Albanian government and the current Albanian government have been very reticent in helping directly the KLA or the Kosovo Liberation Front within Kosovo itself. However, they've become increasingly drawn into the conflict as a result of the activities of the KLA in northern part of Albania, and now as a result of this refugee outflow. There's an outcry in Albania that simply the international community isn't doing enough, what they see as the genocide of the Albanian nation perpetrated by Milosevic. So, there's increasing cause, I think, within Albania -- and we've seen this in your report of recruits, not just Kosovars but Albanians heading towards the border to fight for Kosovo.
MARGARET WARNER: How significant militarily is this help and haven that Albania has been providing for the Kosovars? How helpful is it to the KLA?
MAJ. GEN. EDWARD ATKESON (RET.): Well, I think the KLA is completely dependent upon it. And you have Mr. Berisha out there who's sort of a local warlord supporting the elements of the KLA.
MARGARET WARNER: And this - to explain -- this is the gentleman we saw who was elected president and then -
MAJ. GEN. EDWARD ATKESON (RET.): That's right. The whole country came unsorted after that financial problem they had. And they opened up all the armories and everybody who wanted to clash -- got one. And so I'm not sure that we have really a coherent regime to deal with there right now. And the power in the North is really embedded in that KLA. A lot of people talk about why don't we back the KLA? Well, we're not really sure who they are or what they represent.
JANUSZ BUGAJSKI: If I could just jump in, I think one of the big dangers we should really be aware of is that if we don't manage to get the Kosovar population back into Kosovo, you could have increasing radicalization of politics within Albania. A fairly moderate government at the moment could well come under sustained pressure to adopt a greater Albanian program. That's an additional reason we should be committed to restoring Kosovo's sovereignty and getting the population back.
MARGARET WARNER: What is your view of the danger that Albania could be destabilized by this Kosovo crisis?
CHARLES KUPCHAN: I think what Janusz said is very important because one hears a lot in the American press about the Greater Albania. And Albania wants to get Kosovo; it wants to get the Macedonian part that's Albanian. But there really isn't a great deal of interest in Albania proper for this. Even Berisha, who was at the outer end of this debate, isn't really interested in some greater Albania. I think the real issue here is that of radicalization; that if you have continued refugee flows, continued ethnic cleansing inside Kosovo, that you shift politics inside Albania, which is relatively moderate right now, especially under the new government that took office last year.
MARGARET WARNER: And this is the government now back in Tirana, the capital to the South.
CHARLES KUPCHAN: Capital, which really doesn't have control over much more than Tirana. But they are trying to build ties to the West, to have good relation with Macedonia and Greece. And that gets put at risk by having this continued influx and instability of the border in the North.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you think that the US has a major strategic interest in Albania remaining however stable it is now, somewhat stable? I mean -
MAJ. GEN. EDWARD ATKESON (RET.): I think we have an interest in all of the Balkans being as stable as we can possibly make it. And I don't have a great deal of hope for us being able to accomplish much until we have a greater presence there. If there's a political decision to deploy ground forces in there, I think we would probably be able to offer a great deal -- a greater sense of security and stability, which right now we can't do. And that's one of the problems I think people have mixed up the concept of deployment versus employment. We could well deploy troops without necessarily committing them to combat. And they have all kinds of ancillary benefits.
MARGARET WARNER: Let's go back to the stability within Albania. Now they also have these 300,000 refugees. They've actually welcomed these refugees, unlike the Macedonians, but how can they possibly even support that number of refugees?
JANUSZ BUGAJSKI: Well, in many cases the refugees are staying with families, families that are already very poor, that already have a large number of children, very little space, very little food. You can imagine a situation of basic social unrest as a result of lack of resources, a breakdown of infrastructure, a breakdown of food supplies. We need a massive humanitarian effort. I mean what we've seen now maybe can see the refugees through for a few weeks. But if we are talking about several months or maybe even years before they can return to Kosovo, that's what we need to be prepared for.
MARGARET WARNER: What do you see the impact of this huge refugee flow on Albania and its stability internally?
CHARLES KUPCHAN: A huge drain on a country that is not really a functioning state. It has very poor infrastructure, very high unemployment -- a huge portion of the population between the ages of 19-40 left because of the poor economic conditions. They went to Italy. They went to Greece. So you're talking about a mass of brain drain. So you are taking the refugees and putting them on top of a country that's barely holding together, and just one other point that the general, I think, alluded to. It's important to realize how poor the infrastructure is, especially in the North. Even if we wanted to put troops in there, very difficult to find a road to get them up there, very difficult to have logistical support. It's tough country.
MARGARET WARNER: We do - we have to go - the US or NATO would have to go up over very steep mountains to come back down near the border, correct, from Tirana, from the airport?
MAJ. GEN. EDWARD ATKESON (RET.): No, the principal peaks that you run into there actually surround Kosovo is kind of like a horse shoe open on the eastern side. So the border between Albania and Kosovo is quite distinct. While it might be difficult to locate specifically on the ground, you've got peaks there of six to eight thousand feet.
|Albania as a hostile power?|
MARGARET WARNER: So, do you think we're going to see more of these kinds of incursions such that we saw today by the Serbian forces?
JANUSZ BUGAJSKI: I would expect so and I would also imagine there may be an additional purpose to this. I think Milosevic may also be testing our resolve, particularly now that we are committed to deploying a force in Albania. He may be testing our resolve to see whether we will respond to these incursions. The Albanian government has already called for massive response by NATO. NATO could well be drawn into a ground war, I think along the border between Kosovo and Albania.
MARGARET WARNER: Well, certainly when the Apache helicopters come, describe how different that will make the NATO presence in Albania, General.
MAJ. GEN. EDWARD ATKESON (RET.): Well, the Apaches will probably be based back at Tirana at the airport there. Then what we want to do is build forward bases for armament and for fuel so that the aircraft can operate at their full design range, but they don't have to come all the way back to their bed down to refuel and rearm. So it's the security of those bases that we have to be concerned about and it's very serious.
MARGARET WARNER: So wouldn't then Milosevic actually be accurate in that point seeing Albania very much as a hostile power, providing bases for NATO operations, just as Italy is?
CHARLES KUPCHAN: Well, part of the problem is that he holds the cards, and that without significant ground troops in either Albania or Macedonia, he can sort of do what he wants. He can come across the border and come back. The Apaches will help, but they are not going to really change the strategic landscape. And so I think unless we actually deploy some serious firepower on the ground there, he will continue to have a free hand in this kind of behavior.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you think we're looking at a situation in which for the duration of this crisis at least Albania is, for all intents and purposes now, a NATO protectorate?
JANUSZ BUGAJSKI: I think so. I think that's the way it's heading. And I think so is Macedonia , and eventually so will Kosovo.
CHARLES KUPCHAN: And Hungary and most of the rest of the region except for Serbia.
JANUSZ BUGAJSKI: I wouldn't call Hungary a protectorate as such. It's a NATO member. I think there are two groups emerging, NATO members and NATO protectorates in Eastern Europe.
MARGARET WARNER: And what are the implications of that for NATO?
CHARLES KUPCHAN: I think it remains to be seen whether we're actually prepared to stay the course in Yugoslavia. The NATO countries have gotten their toes wet, and they may pull and run before they do this. But the bottom line is we are already there. Bosnia, for example, is a NATO protectorate. And so for those who say, we're going to get more and more dragged in, we're already there. So it seems to me the commitment has been made.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Well, thank you, gentlemen, very much.
MAJ. GEN. EDWARD ATKESON (RET.): A pleasure.
CHARLES KUPCHAN: Thank you.
JANUSZ BUGAJSKI: Thank you.