Options for Kosovo (I) A Case for Mediation

April 17, 1999

Comment: #260

Discussion Thread:  #s - 250, 251, 252, 253, 254, 255, 257, 258


[1] JOHN R. KASICH, "Give Mediation Another Try," New York Times (Op-Ed), April 16, 1999. Attached.

The decision to go to war is the most important decision a government can make, yet United States is stumbling blindly toward a wider war in the Balkans, with unknowable ramifications for the entire world. The President created a Constitutional Crisis by using an entangling alliance, i.e., NATO, to commit U.S. air power to the bombing campaign against Serbia and, in effect subverted the war making prerogatives delegated by the Constitution to Congress. The Serbs cagily turned the doctrinaire rigidity of that air campaign against itself to quickly create as refugee crisis and dramatically change the situation on the ground in Kosovo [see comment 252]. Congress continues to abdicate its duty to have a serious debate over war with Serbia, much less pass a formal declaration of war on Serbia.

No one really knows where this extra-constitutional madness is taking us, and there is a growing debate over what to do. One thing is clear: Pressure is mounting to expand the war by increasing the list of bombing targets to include economic targets in Belgrade or by launching a ground offensive and violating the Constitution creates a crisis in governance that could weaken our internal cohesion just when it is needed the most.

How can we end the twin crises of an Unconstitutional Expanding War in Kosovo?

This is the first in an occasions series of comments describing different options for an end game to the Kosovo Crisis and the American Constitutional Crisis. I hope to present all sides of this issue, ideally without bias, as reasonable proposals become available.

One option is to stop fighting and go to the bargaining table. In Attachment 1 below, John Kasich, (R Ohio), Chairman of the House Budget Committee argues that it is in the national interest to end the fighting via a mediation involving Russia and the formation international peacekeeping force.

Chuck Spinney

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April 16, 1999
"Give Mediation Another Try"
New York Times (Op-Ed)

WASHINGTON -- Before our country steps any deeper into the Balkan conflict, it is essential that we stop and examine the Kosovo crisis in light of our vital national interests, our humanitarian obligations and our enduring need for a more peaceful, stable world. It would be a grave error to replace no long-term policy, which is what the Clinton Administration has executed thus far, with the wrong long-term policy.

The question we must answer is whether military intervention in a centuries-old civil war in the Balkans is likely to be resolved on our terms, or resolved over the long term. If so, intervention on the ground might be worth it, assuming casualties could be minimized. I have reluctantly concluded, however, that military intervention through air power or ground troops is not in the national interest. Nor will either achieve our goals.

Those who have called for ground troops have not specified the goal. Is it to take Kosovo, fortify it and occupy it for years, perhaps decades, against the Serbian threat? Or should the goal be to conquer all of Serbia, with incalculable consequences for wider Balkan stability? Is "victory" at all costs worth a bitterly hostile Russia? And would achieving it hurt our ability to respond on short notice to the world's other regional flashpoints?

Of course, no one can help but be moved by the plight of the Kosovo refugees. The United States has an obligation to get President Slobodan Milosevic of Yugoslavia to withdraw his forces from Kosovo. Just as surely, we need to help Albania and Macedonia economically. But military escalation is not the best way to achieve those goals.

The United States should encourage new attempts at a peaceful resolution, before this crisis flashes over into a wider conflict. The negotiations at Rambouillet Castle in France last winter were destined to fail because both parties were expected to agree to a draft document, without substantive changes. But it was unrealistic to expect Yugoslavia to accept the presence of a NATO implementation force in Yugoslavia and the probability of independence for Kosovo after three years. A sovereign country would probably not agree to such terms.

A realistic mediation needs the efforts of neutral parties. We need to involve the Russians, not only because of their influence with Serbia, but also because we must reward, not spurn, President Boris Yeltsin and other democratic forces for their efforts on behalf of peace. Rigidly rejecting their overtures would simply strengthen nationalist extremists like Vladimir Zhirinovsky. Other neutral countries, like Sweden and Ukraine, should also be encouraged to take part. And we must actively consult with countries in the region, including Italy, Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey.

Should Milosevic balk at such overtures, we could still apply military pressure from the air. Once a settlement is reached, an international force may be necessary to assist the return of refugees and reconstruction. We should be more flexible about the makeup of this force than we have been in the past.

World War I began in the Balkans because a great power, Austria-Hungary, scoffed at the idea that Russia would intervene on behalf of its Serbian ally. The world has turned over many times since 1914, but it could be an equally grave mistake to assume that the Russians will remain passive indefinitely. They have already sent truck convoys carrying relief supplies to Yugoslavia, and there is public agitation in Russia to send military equipment.

President Theodore Roosevelt understood when military action brought no advantage. When regional instability arose, like the war between Russia and Japan, his instinct was to be an "honest broker" and mediate peace. He was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for these efforts.

The United States should remain strongly engaged internationally, because regional instability will not solve itself. But we must choose our missions carefully. Power is a finite quantity; if we wantonly expend it, for any cause, we diminish ourselves.

A mediated settlement in Kosovo may not be politically popular at the moment, but it may look like the considerably wiser course in the future.

John R. Kasich is chairman of the House Budget Committee and a member of the House Armed Services Committee.