Wilcox of Rochester, NY asks:
How likely would a greater Balkans war be if NATO and the U.S.
did not get involved in the crisis in Kosovo? How can the U.S.
promote long term stability and peace in the region-what should
our policy be?
and NATO involvement in Kosovo is absolutely critical to averting
a wider Balkan war, the potential for which exists in part because
of their failures to compel Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic
to address the issue at the 1995 Dayton peace talks.
Kosovo is cherished by Serbs for its cultural, religious, mythological
and historic significance. It is to Serbs as the West Bank is
to Jews. These sentiments have long been exploited by Milosevic
to maintain his authoritarian rule, first by using Kosovo to re-awaken
the Serbian nationalism that brought him to power and led to the
collapse of former Yugoslavia. He is now exploiting it to re-consolidate
his power, which had been badly shaken by his sellouts of Serbs
in Bosnia and Croatia, and to divert his people's attention from
the economic disaster into which he has led them. Absent U.S.
and NATO involvement in Kosovo, the Serbian offensive against
the Kosovo Liberation Army that exploded into a wholesale onslaught
against ethnic Albanian civilians would persist. With the Albanian
and Montenegrin borders now closed, there is a potential for a
huge mass of refugees to flow toward Macedonia, exacerbating existing
tensions in that impoverished, nascent democracy between majority
Macedonians and its sizable ethnic Albanian minority. Strife in
Macedonia could unleash even larger refugee flows into Greece
and Bulgaria, prompting them to intervene in a country for which
both harbor historic territorial aspirations. Should Orthodox
Christian Greece intervene, Turkey could come in on the side of
the mostly Muslim Albanians, destroying NATO cohesion and igniting
a Balkan-wide war with serious implications for relations between
the West and the Islamic world.
The only way to ensure long-term stability in the region is promoting
democratic change in Serbia that would lead to Milosevic's ouster.
As the homeland of the largest nationality in the Balkans, Serbia
is the region's political center of gravity. As Europe's harshest
post-cold war despot, Milosevic depends on conflict to maintain
his rule, which rests on police repression, a corrupt elite that
controls the economic resources, the army, and organized crime
allied with the state. As long as Milosevic governs, he will be
the primary source of regional instability. He is now using the
threat of airstrikes as cover to impose total control over the
free flow of information in Serbia, instituting media restrictions
harsher than those during the Tito era. He has closed several
radio stations and newspapers and is purging courts and universities.
Many experts believe this campaign against "traitors" and "defeatism"
may go on to target what is left of the independent media and
the tiny Democratic opposition, including Milosevic's chief rival,
Montenegrin President Mile Djukanovic, a proponent of Western-style
economic and political reforms.
Throughout its involvement in the Balkans, the U.S. has failed
to press for democratization -- independent media, depoliticized
judicial and educational systems, accountable government, rule
of law and economic reforms -- in Serbia (and to a lesser extent
Croatia, which also remains a serious problem, especially in its
continued political interference in Bosnia). This is what it now
needs to do aggressively. Until now, the main U.S. focus has been
ensuring that Milosevic holds up his end of the Dayton accords
in Bosnia. Now it is working with him in Kosovo. This means broadening
a cooperative relationship that strengthens his rule, leaves leading
indicted war criminals on the loose and compromises U.S. values
of democracy, human rights and freedom.
U.S. taxpayers are also having to shell out billions of dollars
in peacekeeping costs and humanitarian aid required as a result
of four wars and 250,000 deaths for which Milosevic is mainly
Alex Dragnich responds:
Greater Balkan wars were threatened not by NATO and U.S. non-involvement,
but by help coming to the Kosovo Liberation Army from Albania
and Albanians in Europe and the U.S. U.S. policy chould be to
promote a negotiated settlement, and this means getting the Albanians
to accept autonomy within Serbia.