Balkan Primer (VI) - Kosovo: Looking Backward into
Looking Glass World All its Own

April 22, 1999

Comment: #268

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


Tim Judah, "Will There Be a War in Kosovo? " New York Review of Books, May 14, 1998

Predicting cause and effect relations in the Balkan Hornets' Nest is little like using learning curves to predict future weapons' costs: Actual outcomes are always different and usually much worse than desired outcomes (albeit for very different reasons). One year ago, Tim Judah reviewed two books about Kosovo and asked if a war was inevitable. Reference #1 is his report it is well worth close reading. Even though some of his predilections turned out very different from current events, the information contained in this report helps put these events into context. Unlike biased predictions of future costs, which are correctable, being wrong about what is going to happen in the Balkan Hornets Nest goes with the territory, and should not be held against any author who makes a reasoned attempt to understand the dynamic complexities of this troubled region.

Of particular interest is Judah's discussion of how NATO's view of the Kosovo question may have contributed inadvertently to Serb intransigence.

On the one hand, he points out that Kosovar Albanian politicians were demanding independence for Kosovo. On the other hand, he argued that the Serbs understood that the NATO nations and Russia would not support an independent Kosovo, because it could secede from Yugoslavia, like Bosnia, Croatia, and Slovenia. He writes that such a secession could have two unacceptable consequences for NATO: (1) It would unravel Bosnia and the Dayton Accords, because NATO could not prevent the Republic of Srpska from seceding from Bosnia and uniting with Serbia. Nor could they prevent an independent Kosovo from allying itself with or uniting with Albania. (2) It would unleash the Albanians in Macedonia (who represent a higher percentage of the population than Albanians in Serbia). They could attempt to secede and unite with Albania, thereby breaking up Macedonia. This could set off a wider Balkan War, possibly including Greece (which would not want to see Macedonia divided) and Turkey, which has been giving military support to Albania.

If Judah's assessment correctly portrayed the contemporaneous thinking of NATO planners, those individuals who argued that a short drive-by-shooting campaign against Serbia would bring the Serbs to the negotiating table were acting more like the Defense Department costers who stubbornly adhere to their learning curves, notwithstanding overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

Read Judah's article carefully, because its relevance goes well beyond this short and partial introduction.

Chuck Spinney

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