Balkan Primer (V) - Redrawing the Cells in a Hornets
Nest ... or ... the Case for a Declaration on War

April 21, 1999

Comment: #267
Discussion Thread:  #s 250, 251, 252, 253, 254, 255, 257, 258, 260, 261, 262, 263, 264, 265


[1] FR YUGOSLAVIA AND REGION/KOSOVO CRISIS 15 April 1999 YUGOSLAVIA: War Escalation. Oxford Analytica. 15 Apr 99
GREECE: War Ambivalence. Oxford Analytica. 15 Apr 99

[2] Simon Jenkins, "Three Strikes And Out: NATO is fighting a trio of wars with Milosevic - and none will succeed," London Times, April 21, 1999.

The BBC reported on April 20 that there are signs that the war in Kosovo is beginning to spill over into neighboring countries: at least 200 Yugoslav soldiers had crossed into the Croatian demilitarized zone from Montenegro, there are signs that Serbian ethnic cleansing operations are beginning inside Montenegro, and Serb and Albanian troops exchanged gunfire on the border between Kosovo and Albania.

Perhaps the most explosive spill over effect is developing in Macedonia, where 130,000 Kosovar refugees are facing harassment by an increasingly resentful local population. According to a recent AP report, Macedonian President Kiro Gligorov asked his nation's supreme defense council to declare a state of emergency. He said the refugee flood has created the greatest crisis to Macedonia's internal stability and external security since it seceded from Yugoslavia in 1991. He estimates the continuing flood of Kosovo Albanians into Macedonia could reach 400,000. Adding 400,000 Kosovar Albanians to Macedonia's population would drastically alter its fragile ethnic balance, which now stands at about 660,000 Macedonian Albanians and 1,340,000 Slavs.

Reference #1 contains two reports by Oxford Analytica that, while about a week old, provide useful primers on the complex relations inside the Balkan Hornets Nest, including some of the physical as well as political difficulties that must be surmounted if NATO is to launch a ground war. If these reports are accurate, opinion is uniform, albeit for different reasons, among Macedonia, Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, Turkey that Kosovo should NOT become independent.

On the other hand, the popular revulsion in the NATO countries to the atrocities committed by the Serbian regime (and perhaps a vague sense of guilt from having done nothing to prevent these atrocities or a vague sense that the bombing might have actually made it easier for Milosevic and his henchmen to unleash their terror) is creating a growing political momentum in the West to permanently remove Kosovo from Serbia and establish an independent Kosovo under NATO protection.

NATO may be repeating the Mistake of Mogadishu (MOM) by taking sides in a conflict we do not fully appreciate. NATO is becoming more dependent on a growing alliance with Albania, and consequently, NATO is increasing the risk of not being viewed as an impartial broker for dealing with the problem of Serb power by the other Slavic/Orthodox inhabitants of the Balkans Hornet's Nest.

Albania is the only Balkan nation that supports independence for Kosovo, and to make matters worse, there are irredentists in the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), a NATO ally now providing a surrogate ground force, who aspire to create a Greater Albania by annexing all of Kosovo and part of Macedonia and thereby undoing the changes made by the Treaty of San Stefano and the Congress of Berlin in 1878.

This question of Albanian irredentism may mean little to Americans, but I think it is of salient importance to the local dwellers in the Hornets Nest. What follows is a quick rendering of history by a non historian.

Albanian irredentism flows out of a tortured history of struggle and suffering by a fiercely independent but hopelessly outnumbered people (generally thought to have been descended from the ancient Illyrians) against the competing tides of conquest in Europe. Albania suffered horribly during almost 500 years of bondage to the Turks, and only achieved independence in 1912. The Ottomans divided Albania into 4 provinces, or "vilayets," for administrative purposes during their occupation: Shkodra, Kosova, Manastir, and Janina. When Russia defeated the Ottoman Empire during the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78, the Treaty of San Stefano (March 1878) led to the Congress of Berlin (June-July 1878), which together, opened to door for the European powers to begin micromanaging the borders of the emerging Balkan nations as they carved up the Sick Man of Europe. San Stefano forced Turkey to pay a huge indemnity and created the independent states of Serbia, Montenegro, and Rumania. The Congress of Berlin, June-July 1878, convened by the great European powers to contain the growing Russian influence in the Balkans (but included Russia) agreed on Austrian occupation of Bosnia-Hercegovina, and legitimated the recognition of Serbian, Montenegrin, and Rumanian independence, established autonomy for the northern part of Bulgaria, and gave a special status to southern Bulgaria, which remained part of the Ottoman Empire

On the other hand, the European map drawers of 1878 considered Albania to be part of the Ottoman Empire (even today, Albanians are sometimes referred to as 'Turks' by Serbian, Macedonian, and Montenegran Slavs), so rather than establishing an independent state, they carved up the vilayet structure and transferred much of it to its new neighbors -- major portions of the Vilayet of Shkodra went to Montenegro, the Vilayet of Kosova went to Serbia, the Vilayet of Manastir went to Macedonia, and the Vilayet of Janina went to Greece.

What remained after the division of the 4 Vilayets comprises the nation of Albania as we know it today. Albanian irredentists would like to return some of the old Vilayet territory to Albania, an aim that is stoutly rejected by all its neighbors. Until recently, Albanian irredentism has been considered more of a curiosity that a threat by its neighbors, because of Albania was weak, primitive, and poor. But that attitude may be changing, because Albania is now part of a growing alliance with NATO, Albanian refugees are on the move, and the NATO long knives are out to punish fellow Slavs in Serbia.

Compounding these political problems is the fact that conditions on the ground in Kosovo have now changed fundamentally. In Reference #2, Simon Jenkins of the London Times argues that NATO is fighting or about to fight three wars against Milosevic (A) combating a humanitarian disaster and reversing refugee flows, (B) the air war to coerce Serbian regime to change its mind, and (C) a ground war to rectify the failures of A & B.

I believe Jenkins is correct that Wars A, B, & C are being fought as separate wars by NATO, but the picture is more complicated than his one-sided view. In Comment #252, I tried to show why I think Wars A, B, & C can be thought of as seamless parts of a high-speed, combined-arms 4th Generation War of two phases, if viewed from the Serbian perspective. In Phase I, the Serbs employed guerrilla tactics with their air defense system to distract NATO from an ethnic cleansing schwerpunkt aimed at quickly creating refugee crises outside of Kosovo, and in Phase II, the Serbs are using the welter of refugee crises outside of Kosovo to overload NATO and buy the time needed to mop up, consolidate the defensive position inside Kosovo, and thereby raise the price of NATO's War C to an unacceptable level.

Jenkins argues that the price of such a ground war is now too high. He says a NATO-ruled Kosovo would be even more burnt and barren than it is now, and that conditions have changed so much on the ground that Kosovo cannot be rendered "autonomously" Albanian, only autonomously NATO. A ground war, in Jenkins' view, would do little more than change the guard over Kosovo's empty fields and rotting corpses. They are Mr Milosevic's doing, for which his people and perhaps a court of law will one day hold him to account, but Jenkins argues that NATO should not be a party to yet more killing, for the simple reason that War C cannot rectify War A.

I do not know if Jenkins' conclusion is factually or morally correct, but when one combines the obvious changes on the ground with the political problems in the Hornets Nest, the argument that a successful ground war could create a stable future in the Balkans is by no means self evident.

Wars take on an unstoppable life of their own even when its continuation is insane, as any student of WW I knows. Before allowing an entangling alliance to drag the US deeper into an extra-constitutional, undeclared self-feeding war, the President and Congress, through process of proposal and rational debate, should stop the sound bytes and abide by their constitutional duty to tell the people WHAT exactly THEIR country is trying to achieve, WHY a successful ground war will contribute to this end, and HOW spilling American blood and treasure will create conditions for long term stability in the Balkans Hornets Nest and thereby serve to protect and strengthen our national interests.

Woodrow Wilson tried to redraw the map of a troubled area he did not understand at the real Versailles in 1919; hopefully we will see a better performance in the 1999 theater of Versailles on the Potomac, but the first step in this direction must be to clarify the question of Kosovo with an open debate ending with an up or down vote to declare war on Serbia.

Chuck Spinney

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