The immediate cause of the conflict in Kosovo was Slobodan Milosevic, and his
oppression of the ethnic Albanians there for the preceding decade. Oppression
ultimately gave rise to violent opposition to Serb rule in the formation of the
Kosovo Liberation Army, and then to the spiral of violence that ensued in 1998
and 1999. But the antecedents of the war over Kosovo go back many centuries.
The most famous historical event of the millennium in Kosovo was probably the
1389 Battle of the Blackbirds, near Kosovo's present-day capital of Pristina.
There, Serb forces attempted to fend off the invading Turks, with ethnic
Albanians probably fighting on both sides of the battle. A subsequent battle
in Kosovo in 1448 between the Ottoman Turks and the Hungarians, together with
the fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans in 1453, sealed the fate of the
region. The Ottoman Empire would soon dominate, and in fact controlled Kosovo
into the 20th century. Looking back on these momentous events, 19th and 20th
century Serbian nationalists mythologized the 1389 battle and the role of
Kosovo in their nation's history more generally. In the process, they
portrayed the primarily Muslim Albanians essentially as sympathizers with the
Turkish invaders. The complex interaction of Serbs, Albanians, and Turks over
the ensuing centuries would provide grist for all parties' competing historical
perceptions, myths, fears, and vendettas.
Kosovo's population became increasingly ethnic Albanian during the period of
Ottoman rule. A decisive turning point, politically and demographically, was
the large Serbian exodus out of the region (and ultimately into Hungary) in the
late 17th century. It was caused by Ottoman armies pressing north, ultimately
to their defeat at Vienna against the Habsburg Dynasty during the
Ottoman-Habsburg War of 1683-1699. That war spelled the beginning of the end
for Ottoman rule in the Balkans, though as noted it would survive in Kosovo for
another two centuries.
In the early 20th century, the Ottoman Empire was forced to withdraw from the
Balkans, shortly before its complete collapse. Serbia, itself having regained
de facto independence in the early 1800s and formal state status in the 1878
Treaty of Berlin, then reasserted control over Kosovo in 1912. That was the
same year in which an independent Albanian state was created for the first
time--with many of the key moves on the road to independence occurring in
Kosovo, conferring on the territory historical importance for the Albanian
people comparable to what it holds for the Serbs. Serbia lost control of
Kosovo again during World War I. After the war both Serbia and Kosovo were
included as part of the new country of Yugoslavia.
Over the last century, Serbs drove large numbers of ethnic Albanians from
Kosovo at various times in what proved antecedents to Slobodan Milosevic's 1999
campaign to effectively cleanse the province of them. Nonetheless, ethnic
Albanians remained the majority population throughout the century, and in
recent decades became dominant numerically. Serbs and Montenegrins constituted
slightly less than 30 percent of the population in the early years of Tito's
rule, which lasted from 1945 until his death in 1980, gradually declining to
less than half that percentage in recent times due to Serb departures and high
Albanian birth rates. Whatever the recent population proportions, Kosovo is a
land to which both Serbs and Albanians have important and longstanding claims.
In short, both Serbs and ethnic Albanians have important claims and ties to
Kosovo. Yet it is the heartland or "Jerusalem" of neither people. As such,
claims by extremists on both sides that they have exclusive rights to the land
are false, as are claims that the peoples are so different from each other as
to be innately incapable of coexistence. In our view, the fact that Kosovo's
Albanians are now effectively in charge in the province--and that they
ultimately deserve their independence--has nothing to do with original claims
to the land. It has, instead, everything to do with Slobodan Milosevic's--and
his fellow Serbs'--treatment of the Kosovar Albanians in recent times.
As for the immediate causes of war, problems became serious shortly after the
death of Tito in 1980--even before the rise of Milosevic, who came to power in
Serbia in 1987 after exploiting the Kosovo issue and pledging to defend Serbs
there against the increasingly restive large ethnic Albanian majority. As
early as 1981, a year after the death of Tito, a student uprising in Pristina
gave rise to province-wide demonstrations against Yugoslav authorities and
perhaps dozens or even hundreds of deaths of ethnic Albanians. To Serbs, the
uprising was surprising in that Kosovo had been granted greater autonomy and
rights, including Albanian-language schools, under the 1974 revision of the
Yugoslav constitution; to Albanians, these new rights only made them hunger for
more, and the deteriorating economic conditions in the province together with
their second-class economic status there exacerbated the political tension.
Other tragic, if generally isolated, incidents through the 1980s further
divided Serbs from Albanians.
As part of his effort to consolidate power as president of Serbia (a position
he held until becoming president of Yugoslavia in 1997), Serb President
Slobodan Milosevic stripped Kosovo of its autonomy in 1989, thus denying the
Serb province its special status within the Yugoslav Federation that it had
enjoyed since the adoption of a new constitution in 1974. The Albanian
response to Milosevic's brazen action combined both the non-violent opposition
and establishment of parallel state structures championed by Ibrahim Rugova and
his Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK). In the following years, Rugova would be
elected and re-elected as Kosovo's "president" in independently held elections
among the Kosovar Albanian population.
The strategy pursued by Rugova and the LDK was founded on the hope and
expectation that in demonstrating its ability to run the territory in all but
name, the West would come to accept and, ultimately, recognize Kosovo's right
to be independent in the same way four other Yugoslav republics had in the
early 1990s. Support for separation from Yugoslavia was essentially universal;
according to a 1995 survey, 43 percent of all Kosovar Albanians wanted to join
Albania and the remaining 57 percent desired outright independence, with 0
percent favoring any other solution (including the status of independent
republic within Yugoslavia). That hope and expectation proved to be misplaced.
Kosovo never stood at the center of U.S. and European Balkan policy and, so
long as wide-scale violence had not occurred, it would never be at the center
of that policy. When push came to shove, the West chose to consider
independence only for Yugoslavia's republics, not for autonomous provinces
within those republics.
The United States and its European allies recognized that the Kosovo region
represented a potentially dangerous powder keg in the midst of a highly
volatile region. With Albanians living in at least four different countries
(Albania, Greece, Macedonia, and Yugoslavia), anything that stoked Albanian
nationalism could prove to be highly destabilizing for Kosovo's neighbors, not
least Macedonia whose population consists of a potentially volatile mix of
Slavs and Albanians, who comprise a substantial minority in the country.
Widespread violence in Kosovo was therefore to be avoided at almost any cost.
This explains why the Bush Administration, which otherwise had a hands-off
policy toward Yugoslavia's breakup, decided in late 1992 to respond to
indications that Serbia might be contemplating a violent crackdown against the
increasingly independent Albanian population in Kosovo by issuing a stern
warning that such action would lead to U.S. military action. This so-called
Christmas warning was reiterated by the Clinton administration within a month
of taking office in 1993.
On the whole, however, Kosovo occupied a distinctly secondary place in U.S. and
western policy toward the region. Indeed, unlike Bosnia, Croatia, and the
other former Yugoslav republics, Kosovo was regarded as an integral part of
Serbia rather than as a constituent part of the federation that broke up in the
early 1990s. Thus, whereas the republics were regarded as new states that
emerged from Yugoslavia's dissolution and thus enjoyed sovereign rights, this
status did not apply to the autonomous provinces (Kosovo and Vojdvodina) even
though these had enjoyed many of the same prerogatives the republics had,
including their own constitution, government, judiciary, central bank, and a
seat alongside the republics in Yugoslav's federal presidency. As a result,
the issue for the western policy in Kosovo was not self-determination or
national rights, but how to protect minority and human rights in a territory
where the majority population is oppressed by the minority.
Almost from the beginning, therefore, U.S. and European policy toward Kosovo
was limited to increasing pressure on Belgrade to improve the human rights
situation in the territory and establish conditions for greater autonomy and
self-government. These demands were raised as matter of course in all
diplomatic dealings with the Belgrade government, and even after sanctions on
Serbia were lifted following the conclusion of a Bosnian peace agreement, an
"outer wall" of sanctions remained in place partly to encourage the Serb
government to comply with them. However, Kosovo would not occupy a central
place in the concerns of U.S. and other diplomats dealing with the Balkans, as
became apparent during the negotiations on a Bosnian peace agreement in Dayton
in 1995. There, the focus of international effort was on ending the violence
in Bosnia rather than preventing its occurrence in Kosovo. Not only were the
issues to be resolved in Dayton highly complex and negotiations very intense,
the fact that Milosevic's cooperation was critical to success weakened the
negotiators' ability to exact the concessions that would have been necessary
for progress on the Kosovo issue.
Although the failure to address Kosovo in Dayton was understandable, the lack
of international attention to (or even interest for) the issue dealt a major
setback to Rugova's strategy of non-violence. It became increasingly clear in
the second half of the 1990s that the Serbs would not change their repressive
policy toward the territory and that the international community would do
little to effect a change in Serb policy, let alone endorse the Kosovars'
demand for independence. For many ethnic Albanians, one conclusion was
inescapable: only violence begets international attention. A once-shadowy
group--the Kosovo Liberation Army--soon took advantage of this realization and
started to engage in sporadic violence, harassing and even killing Serb
policemen and other authority figures. Its levels of violence were fairly
modest; the KLA claimed to have killed ten Serbs in the two-year period up to
early 1998. Nonetheless, the situation was deteriorating.
In March 1998, Serb security forces stoked the fires by massacring 85 people in
a clear attempt to stem the KLA's growing importance in Kosovo. At that point,
the violence in Kosovo had reached a critical threshold that demanded sustained
international attention. Unless stopped by a third party, the ethnic Albanian
population and Slobodan Milosevic's Serbian nationalists were headed directly
for war. The only remaining questions were two: did the western world care
enough about Kosovo to be true to its 1992 Christmas warning, and would it find
an integrated strategy involving both diplomacy and the threat of force that
would succeed in getting the local parties off their collision course? The
respective answers to these questions were, clearly, yes and no.
The rest of this book explains how these and other questions were raised, and
answered, during the critical eighteen-month period from early 1998 through
mid-1999 when Kosovo was a top concern of western policymakers. Chapters 2 and
3 focus on the pre-war period, up to and including the Rambouillet negotiations
of early 1999. Chapters 4 and 5, respectively entitled "losing the war" and
"winning the war," trace the 78-day war and identify its key elements and
milestones. Chapter 6 addresses three key policy questions: did NATO win the
war?, was the war inevitable?, and why did Milosevic ultimately capitulate?
Finally, Chapter 7 draws several lessons for future policy towards coercive
diplomacy and humanitarian intervention.
Excerpted from Winning Ugly: NATO's War to Save Kosovo, by Ivo
Daalder and Michael O'Hanlon. To be published June, 2000 by the Brookings
Institution Press. Reprinted with permission|
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