Should NATO intervene in the war-torn province of Kosovo?
June 22, 1998
in this forum:
What is NATO trying to achieve in Kosovo? As Kosovo is a part of Yugoslavia, does Russia not see an analogy with its own problems in Chechnya? What is the difference between Kosovo and Bosnia? What are the possibilities of fighting in Kosovo leading to a greater war in the region? Do you think the NATO plan is the right plan for resolving the crisis? Miladin Milic of Sydney, Australia, asks: I am really puzzled about NATO objectives in Kosovo. What is NATO trying to achieve in Kosovo? Wouldn't this send a green light to every single ethnic minority in other sovereign countries to appeal for NATO help?
Stephen Walker of the Balkan Institute responds:
The discussions about possible NATO intervention are the result of concerns that the current crisis in Kosovo could "spill over" to neighboring countries, leading to a broader Balkan war that could involve NATO countries Greece and Turkey. In order to prevent such spill-over, early intervention to stop the conflict in Kosovo has been considered.
Two ideas have been widely discussed. First, NATO considered placing troops along the Albanian border with Kosovo and keeping U.N. troops along Macedonia's border with Kosovo which are already there. NATO allies quickly realized, however, that trying to contain the crisis in this manner would only give Serbian strongman Slobodan Miloševic a "green light" to continue his attacks on Kosovo's Albanian majority, thereby escalating the crisis.
More recently, NATO has considered the option of using air strikes to force Miloševic to stop his attacks, withdraw his forces from Kosovo, and engage in serious negotiations with the Kosovars. This may be the only viable option for heading off a broader war. Unfortunately, the Clinton Administration remains reluctant to use force and several NATO allies prefer to secure a U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing force first, despite a likely Russian and/or Chinese veto.
Susan Woodward of the Brookings Institution responds:
There is much to be said in favor of your concern, that NATO's assertive posture toward the Kosovo problem in the past month could encourage any ethnic minority that is territorially concentrated and demanding autonomy or even secession to swing the balance of their struggle in their favor with international help. Albanians in Kosovo are not the first group in the former Yugoslavia who appear to be winning as a result of radicals willing to provoke violence and a skillful propaganda campaign with international audiences to appear to be victims. Nonetheless, NATO would not be in this position if the Serbian and Yugoslav governments had been willing in the period 1992 to the present to find an internal political solution to the political status of Albanians in Kosovo, and if they had not responded to KLA provocations with such force, attacking whole villages, creating thousands of refugees, further radicalizing the Kosovo population, and threatening regional instability.
NATO has two objectives at the moment. The first is to protect the peace process in Bosnia and Herzegovina by keeping the two conflicts, Bosnia and Kosovo, as separate as possible. The second is to prevent the escalating dynamic of violence in Kosovo from spreading to neighbors--particularly Albania and Macedonia--such that regional instability could reverse the gains since July 1997 in restabilizing Albania, could lead to the breakup of Macedonia, with a war similar to that of Bosnia, where ethnically mixed populations would fight for territory, and could even draw in two NATO allies, Greece and Turkey, on opposite sides.
NATO aims to use pressure on the militarily stronger party, Yugoslav President Slobodan Miloševic, to get negotiations between the Serbian and Albanian delegations going again. The lesson that Western leaders draw from their failure to prevent or stop the wars in Croatia and in Bosnia is that they acted "too little too late," and that "only diplomacy backed by a credible threat of force" can succeed. The idea is to act early, with sufficient threat of force to be credible, but in support of a diplomatic, negotiated solution.
It seems to me that NATO Ambassadors have gotten ahead of diplomacy over the past two weeks, and that without a more constructive political framework for their actions, NATO credibility could again be harmed and the conflict in Kosovo could get much worse fast.