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? Chris Hicks of Tampa, FL, asks: What are the possibilities of fighting in Kosovo leading to a greater war in the region?
Susan Woodward of the Brookings Institution responds:
The possibility grows greater every day. Once the dynamic of violence between the two sides gets to the point that neither side can retreat and stop it on their own--a point that we are close to now--then its dynamic will spread. The first stage is the growing radicalization of the Kosovo population, responding with fear or anger to the actions of Serbian police, because they either decide to join the KLA directly and begin to fight or they begin to arm in self-defense and think defensively first about physical security. This makes it ever more difficult to get compromise, negotiation, and a cooling down of emotions. NATO could still act to stop the violence and restore a sense of physical security to the population, without taking sides in the conflict, but it must find a legal basis to do such an intervention, and it does not seem inclined to think of this conflict as one in which the Serbs also need help.
The second stage is the result of refugee flows in Albania, Montenegro, and Macedonia. Although the United Nations High Commission for Refugees and other refugee and humanitarian organizations are managing this flow, and can continue to do so up to a certain limit, the fact that many are housed in family homes in all three states means that the populations in those countries cannot remain neutral. They can begin to demand that their governments act, or the shift in local demographic balances (such as many more Albanians in Montenegro or Macedonia) can destabilize ethnic relations in those countries. In addition the flow of weapons, mercenaries, and other war materiel through the northeastern corner of Albania, an area outside the reach of government control and under that of Prime Minister Nano's rival, the former president Salih Berisha and his circle, could destabilize Albania further, adding ever more guns to a country that has not yet disarmed from its collapse a year ago and adding ever more incentive to make money from smuggling and to use the conflict to regain power in Tirana. Chaos in Albania could lead to war in Albania.
The third stage would be the destabilization of Montenegro--which is evenly divided between those who want independence from Yugoslavia and those who identify as Serbs and want to be part of Serbia--and of Macedonia, where the northwestern counties are like Kosovo--overwhelmingly Albanian in population and containing radical leaders who have long been demanding autonomy and eventual independence to join with Kosovo and Albania in a single Albanian state. If fighting in Kosovo becomes a pan-Albanian fight for independence, then a war will begin in Macedonia like that in Bosnia because Albanians are spread all over the country and because there are many other ethnic minorities that would have to decide which side to take in a war.
The fourth stage would be the preemptive actions of Greece and Bulgaria against the spread of refugees and war--creating security buffers in Macedonia or closing the border. This would make the conflict worse, and it would likely prompt Turkey to respond--either directly in the conflict, or in its relations with Greece elsewhere (such as Cyprus or the Aegean).
Stephen Walker of the Balkan Institute responds:
There is a real and imminent danger of the was spreading to Albania and Macedonia. In my estimation, the greatest threat is to Macedonia, where an ethnic Albanian minority (25 percent or more of Macedonia's population) is increasingly restive and there more extreme elements seek to break away and join a "Greater Albania." They are becoming armed and support the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA). The KLA is reportedly recruiting in Macedonia and is receiving supplies through Macedonia as well.
If the Macedonian Albanians rise up, Macedonia could collapse as a country. This could lead to Greece and Bulgaria trying to grab parts of Macedonian territory. Turkey could become involved as well.
The only way to prevent this is to try to stop the conflict in Kosovo itself, since containment would likely be an exercise in futility. This means forcing Miloševic to stop the attacks in Kosovo and withdraw his forces and find at least an interim arrangement with the Kosovars that might buy time. Maybe an arrangement like in Chechnya, where the Chechens get a level of autonomy that feels like independence but stops short of international recognition. Independence for Kosovo, at this point, would likely still lead to the Albanians in Macedonia trying to break away, leading to the broader war.