Why did Slobo Cave? (VI) ... What If He Didn't?

August 16, 1999

Comment: #307

Discussion Thread:  #s 293, 294, 295, 297, 305, & 306


[1] "Serb war criminals seize north Kosovo," Independent (UK), August 15, 1999

[2] Peter Finn, "Kosovo Hostility Aimed at NATO: Ethnic Albanians See Pro-Serb Tilt," Washington Post, August 14, 1999, Page A01

[3] CARLOTTA GALL, "Kosovo Force Cracks Down On Guerrillas," New York Times, August 15, 1999.

[4] Philip Smucker, "UN official threatens KLA over Serb exodus," Telegraph (UK), August 16, 1999.

We know that the Serb Army left Kosovo intact, but we don't know why Slobo caved. In Comment #305, I postulated 6 possible hypotheses that might help to explain why Slobo suddenly folded his hand on June 3. It turns out there may be yet another hypothesis. Consider what follows to be speculation, call it H7:

H7: Perhaps Slobo viewed the peace formula brokered by Chernomydin and Ahtisaari as a operational-level retreat (rather than a defeat) and he aimed to use this retreat to stop the bombing while sucking NATO into a quagmire. A quagmire might set the stage for a partial recovery via a partition of Kosovo, leaving NATO holding the booby prize of keeping a lid on the rest of Kosovo in order to prevent Albanian irredentism from destabilizing Macedonia and possibly northern Greece.

It is important to remember that the peace formula approved by the UN has some good points from Slobo's perspective. It does not include the unacceptable Rambouillet demand for a referendum on eventual independence for all of Kosovo nor did it demand for the right of free movement of NATO troops throughout Yugoslavia (Appendix B of the Rambouillet Accord). While it does let NATO forces into Kosovo, the fuzzy goal of multi-culturalism in an apartheid society also makes NATO responsible for protecting minority Serbs and policing majority Albanians in Kosovo.

Moreover, the arrangement -- substantial autonomy without violating the territorial integrity of Yugoslavia (Serbia) -- is the SAME failed formula that bedeviled Yugoslavia since its constitutional revision of 1974. Since Slobo already knew the 1974 constitution did not pacify the Kosovar Albanians' desire for complete independence in the 1980s, well before Serbia revoked Kosovo's autonomy in 1989 (see Reference  #2, Comment #306 for a description of unrest in 1987), it would not be too hard for him to foresee that a rehash of this formula would not satisfy the Albanaians in 1999, particularly since the Albanians were enraged further by latest round of Serb ethnic leasing.

So it is quite possible Slobo hoped NATO would eventually become enmeshed in a muti-sided confrontation as it tried to reconcile the irreconcilable. If NATO found itself as a policeman in a quagmire like Northern Ireland, with no end in sight, it might eventually opt for a partition as the easiest way out, with the small mineral-rich northern sector centered on Kosovska Mitrovica, going to Serbia. Bear in mind, many advocates of partition have argued that the northern sector should go to the Serbs, and while it does not contain the most important holy sites, its mines make it the economic prize of Kosovo.

Sound crazy? Is Spinney seeing visions in cloud formations? Probably but note the four references to this message.

The report in the Independent [Reference #1] suggests that a de facto partition may be already in progress. NATO military intelligence officials say Serb paramilitary forces, including some of Arkan's Tigers, have either remained in Northern Kosovo or have returned. Serbs control the routes into Serbia from Kosovoska Mitrovica and are using their control of northern region as a base for arms smuggling, drug running, and gang warfare. Bear in mind, Serbs are being driven into ghetto-like enclaves, and Kosovska Mitrovica is now by far the largest enclave of Serbs remaining in Kosovo. Note also that this report says the French Defense Minister acknowledges the presence of Serb paramilitary forces but dismisses it as being insignificant strivings of local guerrilla chiefs.

References #2, #3, and #4 suggest the complimentary confrontation with the KLA may also be developing. In Reference #2, Peter Finn of the Washington Post reports that the Albanians may be turning on their liberators. According to Finn, the Albanians believe the Russians and French are sympathetic to the Serbs. In Reference #3, Carlotta Gall reports in the New York Times that NATO is clamping down on the KLA. According to Gall, the KLA has refused to disarm and feels humiliated by NATO and the UN, particularly by the decision not to let the KLA become a local police force or national guard (the language saying NATO would consider this possibility was a major factor in getting the KLA to agree to the demilitarization agreement). In Reference #4 Philip Smucker reports that Bernard Kouchner, the Head of UN mission, says the ethnic cleansing of Serbs will be a clear defeat for the international community. Kouchner warns KLA to stop expelling Serbs or face a confrontation. General Sir Mike Jackson, the commander of KFOR, has ordered KFOR to seize KLA arms caches.

Smucker says the Albanians have driven out over 170,000 Serbs since the cease fire and destroyed 200 villages and 41 churches. If true, the ethnic cleansing of Serbs is now proportionally more complete than that of Albanians in the Spring, so according to the criterion set by Kouchner, NATO and the UN are now on the verge of a defeat. The only way to turn the situation around would be to devise a formula that provides the degree of protection needed to induce large numbers of Serbs to return to Kosovo -- which brings us back to partition with NATO holding the booby prize.

One of the most tantalizing uncertainties in this hypothesis relates to the roles being played by the Russians and the French. While the sympathies of the Russians are well known, the French role is less well understood. We do know that both countries were instrumental in brokering the peace formula that Milosevic agreed to on June 3 [see Comment 305, Ref #2 for a discussion of the French influence]. Both have a history of supporting Serb aspirations in the Twentieth Century.

Chuck Spinney

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