Politics & Policy

Carnage in Kosovo

Where's the Western resolve?

The world should be watching Kosovo, but it probably isn’t. In the United States, many believe that the dispatch of additional forces to the troubled province of Kosovo “solved” the crisis. The problem is, the damage to NATO’s credibility has already been done–and is worsening by the day. The alliance that for 50 years was prepared to spit in Joe Stalin’s eye is frightened to death by rampaging ethnic cleansers.

The whole premise of the American-led intervention in 1999 was that the Western Alliance could stop ethnic cleansing “at the heart of Europe” and bring the conditions necessary for the creation of a peaceful, multiethnic society. It was an embarrassment, of course, that in the first weeks of NATO’s deployment nearly 100 Serbian Orthodox holy sites were destroyed and some two-thirds of the province’s Serb population (along with other non-Albanian ethnic groups) were ethnically cleansed. But the line adopted in Washington, London, Berlin, and Paris was that once NATO was firmly in control of Kosovo these outrages would cease. The Serbs who remained in the province took the West at its word.

The latest outbreak of violence, which in a three-day period has already left 25 churches and monasteries–including UNESCO-protected sites–in ruins and made nearly 4,000 people homeless took place under the noses of 18,000 international peacekeepers and exposes the hollowness of Western guarantees. No one should have been caught by surprise. “It was planned in advance,” said Derek Chappell, the U.N.’s Kosovo Mission spokesman. Another put it more forcefully: “This is planned, coordinated, one-way violence from the Albanians against the Serbs. It is spreading and has been brewing for the past week…. Wherever there is a Serbian population there is Albanian action against them.” International officials have used the terms “pogrom” and “Kristallnacht” to describe the violence against the Serbs.

And yet, even in the last few weeks, the NATO mission in Kosovo has been touted as an example of successful peacekeeping. Over the last year, proposals have been advanced for deploying NATO forces to keep the peace in other sensitive areas in the Balkans and the Greater Middle East such as Moldova and Georgia, among the two communities in Cyprus, and between Israel and the Palestinians once a settlement is reached. After the events of this past week, does anyone believe that others will trust NATO promises?

Two sad lessons have been communicated. The first is that NATO countries have placed such a high value on “no-casualty” missions that aggressive and effective peacekeeping–including disarming militias, hunting down war criminals and combating organized crime and terrorist groups–takes a back seat to “not stirring things up.” Even if the deployment of additional U.S. and British forces this week to Kosovo calms things down, we simply return to the pre-March 2004 status quo.

The second is that ethnic cleansing still works as a strategy, despite all the West’s moralizing. Throughout the region, there has been a clear logic at work: When an ethnic community that forms an overall minority in a country wants to purse self-determination, it finds it useful to establish itself as the absolute majority in the territory in question. The Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh, the Abkhaz, and the Turkish Cypriots all found it politically expedient to push out residents of the titular majority (Azeris, Georgians, Greek Cypriots, respectively) to bolster their case for separation.

Kosovo was supposed to be different. Then-president Clinton and Prime Minister Blair stated that the West had to draw the line and stop this cycle of violence. The immense power of the Western Alliance was to be deployed to first reverse the expulsion of the Kosovo Albanians by Slobodan Milosevic, and then to make members of all Kosovo communities feel safe and secure, so as to construct civil society and lay the foundations for democracy. The whole justification for ending actual Serbian jurisdiction over Kosovo and placing it in the hands of an international authority backed by NATO firepower was to prevent any further ethnic cleansing.

And now you find that many of the same people who pushed for intervention in 1999 are arguing that, regretfully, the only solution is to push for an independent Kosovo. Yet the attempt to advance a political agenda through the use of violence and terror tactics should be of particular concern to the West. Apparently NATO, the grand alliance prepared to stop the forces of the Soviet Union from overwhelming Western Europe, is unable to prevent mobs from frustrating the West’s stated desire to ensure that ethnic cleansing will not be legitimized.

The Bush administration can throw up its hands and do nothing–and, in so doing, kiss goodbye to any hope of solving the area’s other protracted conflicts. Or, it can take action to make a reality the declaration made on Friday by Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and Foreign Minister of Serbia and Montenegro Goran Svilanovic that “no party can be allowed to profit or advance a political agenda through violence.”

And it is essential that the West not abandon its commitment to “standards before status” with regard to Kosovo. Aid and assistance must be made conditional upon a fundamental improvement of the security of the non-Albanian population. As far as the reality on the ground is concerned, we are back to June 1999: We need to start from scratch in how we approach the province’s governance. The failures of the past five years do not provide a workable foundation for further progress.

It may be that the ultimate solution to Kosovo is cantonization between an Albanian and a Serbian entity (with extraterritorial supervision for Orthodox sites in an Albanian zone). But that should come about through negotiation and compromise, not murder and arson.

In Iraq and in Kosovo and elsewhere, the United States has made promises about providing peace and security. Extremists and terrorists everywhere are challenging America’s commitment to seeing its promises through. And others are watching to see how our resolve holds up.

Nikolas K. Gvosdev is a senior fellow for strategic studies at the Nixon Center.

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