NATO's Disastrous Victory in Kosovo
The Situation in Kosovo Deteriorates Daily
JUNE 01, 2000 by DOUG BANDOW
Doug Bandow, a nationally syndicated columnist, is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and the author and editor of several books, including Tripwire: Korea and U.S. Foreign Policy in a Changed World.
A year ago the administration was beating the war drums in the Balkans. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, in particular, had proved more interested in bombing Serbia than encouraging a settlement. And bomb the United States did, for 78 days. The result is a policy of failure veering toward disaster.
NATO’s attack was to bring peace to Yugoslavia. But only bad news has followed.
Immediately after Washington’s “triumph” came the mass flight of ethnic Serbs, many of whom were transported by the United Nations. Explained Dennis Macnamara, spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, “some people we haven’t evacuated and who wanted it have lost their lives.” Croats, Gypsies, Jews, and even non-Albanian Muslims also fled.
Serbs who did not leave have been bombed, shot, kidnapped, beaten, and robbed. Scores of Orthodox churches, monasteries, and other religious sites have been despoiled. General Klaus Reinhardt, head of the NATO “peace-keeping” force (KFOR), admits that Kosovo remains too dangerous for the 150,000 to 230,000 refugees to return.
Reports the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe: “House burnings, blockades restricting freedom of movement, discriminatory treatment in schools, hospitals, humanitarian aid distribution and other public services based on ethnic background, and forced evictions from housing recall some of the worst practices of Kosovo’s recent past.” U.N. human rights representative Jiri Dienstbier similarly complains that the spring ethnic cleansing by Serbs was “replaced by the fall ethnic cleansing of Serbs, Romas, Bosniaks and other non-Albanians accompanied by the same atrocities.”
The situation deteriorates daily. Crimes against Serbs are down only because most have fled. Fighting between ethnic Albanians and Serbs in the mixed city of Kosovska Mitrovica is worsening.
Although leading Albanians formally disavow the violence, most do nothing to stop it. Those who speak out on behalf of tolerance are themselves threatened; local officials allied with moderate Ibrahim Rugova have been murdered.
The Kosovo Liberation Army has disarmed in name only, formally transmuting into the Kosovo Protection Corps. Armed thugs rule the night, and organized crime is spreading. The police and courts don’t function and no one, Albanian or Serb, is safe. Reports Steven Erlanger of the New York Times: “robberies, apartment thefts, extortion and even murders take place with near impunity.”
Human rights abuses by the Serbs were bad enough. Now the same practices are being carried out under the West’s authority. National Security Council adviser Sandy Berger’s response: to threaten ethnic Albanians with the loss of the “support of the international community.”
But more than a few Kosovars don’t care what the “international community” thinks. A U.N. bus was hit by an anti-tank rocket. Albanian snipers in Mitrovica have injured French peacekeepers, who in turn killed one of their attackers and arrested others. Halit Barani, head of the Human Rights Council, responded by calling the French “the same as the Serb soldiers.”
American and German troops were subsequently deployed to Mitrovica. When U.S. forces conducted an apartment-by-apartment search for weapons, breaking down doors along the way, they were met with a hail of stones, bottles, and ice by Serbian crowds. German soldiers were attacked as well.
Thus the Kosovo civil war rages on, with only a temporary lull in the worst violence. The United States must decide whether it is prepared to maintain its occupation for years, if not forever, or will do what it should have done last year—leave the Balkans to the Europeans.
NATO’s decision to intervene looks ever worse as hindsight lengthens. In early 1998 ethnic Serbs and Albanians were locked in a bitter guerrilla war, one like the conflicts in Colombia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, East Timor, Kashmir, Liberia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, and Turkey. Despite protestations to the contrary, the fighting was contained and threatened no major military power. Nor did Kosovo offer special humanitarian considerations: More people had died in a score of conflicts around the world. The only difference was that none of the other victims were white Europeans.
Nevertheless, NATO launched what by any criteria was a war of aggression. Washington piled on the propaganda, replicating the infamous “Belgian atrocities” claimed by the allies in World War I. But the claims of genocide were subsequently proved false.
Instead of saving lives, Washington sacrificed them. As many Serb civilians died under NATO bombs as ethnic Albanians had died during the preceding year. And it was the allied bombing that sparked the mass expulsion of ethnic Albanians.
Washington did eliminate Serb authority in the territory. But having allied itself with the KLA in war, the West now upholds formal Serbian rule, refusing to allow either independence or union with Albania. Only the Clinton administration could concoct such an incoherent policy.
America faces a situation similar to that at the end of the Spanish-American War. After defeating Madrid, the United States grabbed the Philippines, even though the archipelagic Spanish colony was irrelevant to the original dispute over Cuba.
During the conflict Washington allied itself with local independence fighters. Once the United States decided to become an imperial power, it found itself at war with those same forces, which had no desire to swap one colonial master for another. It took years and thousands of lives for Washington to suppress the guerrillas.
Today, NATO faces a choice between policy failure and policy disaster, as my Cato Institute colleague Gary Dempsey puts it.
If the alliance acknowledges reality and gives up on its original objective of preserving a multi-ethnic Kosovo under Serb suzerainty, it will suffer an embarrassing failure. The war will have been in vain; economic costs to the region will continue to mount; and the tremors loosed by the war will further destabilize the region, particularly Albania, Macedonia, and Montenegro.
However, the consequences are likely to be far worse if NATO attempts to achieve its objectives and stave off failure. Maintaining present policy is likely to turn the ethnic Albanian majority on the allied forces, creating disaster.
The best case would be overt hostility, growing demonstrations, and sporadic sniping and bomb attacks. The United States and its Western allies would then have to escalate or withdraw; neither would be easy to explain to their citizens.
Far worse is the possibility of a serious guerrilla conflict against the NATO occupiers. Try to justify that to American and European audiences: their sons and husbands dying to defend Serb sovereignty over Kosovo.
The United States should get out. Now.