The Kosovo Question: Out of Altitude, Airspeed, and Ideas

April 11, 2000

Comment: #352

Discussion Thread:   #s in text


[1] Madeleine K. Albright, "Our Stake In Kosovo,"  New York Times, March 28, 2000.

[2] Julius Strauss, "Balkan Conflict May Overwhelm NATO," London Daily Telegraph, March 24, 2000.

[3] Misha Glenny, "NATO fights mission impossible in Kosovo," London Daily Telegraph, Issue 1759, March 19, 2000.

[4] STRATFOR.COM, "Balkan Futures," Weekly Global Intelligence Update
20 March 2000.

[5] "We Are Losing the Peace in Kosovo," Evening Report of Independent Albanian Economic Tribune, January 20, 2000.

[6] Jolyon Naegle, "Kosova, One Year On: Whose Responsibility?" RFE/RL BALKAN REPORT, Vol. 4, No. 23, 31 March 2000

[7] Eve-Ann Prentice, "Demonisation of the Serbian nation," Times [UK], March 28, 2000.

[8] Roy Gutman, Bias Seen In Judicial System In Kosovo: UN refuses to appoint judges above the fray," Long Island Newsday, April 2, 2000.

[9] Zeljko Bajic, "MACEDONIAN BOMBING SPECULATION RAGES: Macedonians suspect a government cover up over a series of recent bombings," Institute for War & Peace Reporting, IWPR'S BALKAN CRISIS REPORT, NO. 130, April 4, 2000


The rising anarchy, violence, and criminality in Kosovo beg the question: Should America change its policy in the Balkans? 

This message begins an occasional series of comments on the Kosovo Question.  We will address it from a number of different perspectives - for example, how did we get into this mess, where we are headed, what are the options, etc.  

As a practical matter, a decision to "stay the course" boils down to a decision to station American troops in Kosovo for a very long time. Let's begin by examining the authoritative argument in favor of such a decision.

That case was made on March 28 by Secretary of State Madeline Albright in the New York Times (Reference  1).  I urge you to read it before continuing.


That trouble is brewing in Kosovo and the South Balkans is beyond question.  For interested readers, References  2 through 6 provide British, American, and Albanian analyses of the deteriorating state of affairs in Kosovo.  Recall how Comment #351 discussed how the instability is spilling over into Southern Serbia and possibly Macedonia. Reference 9 describes a series of bombings of police stations in Macedonia that could be the beginning of an destabilization effort by either the Serbs or Albanians, depending on who you ask.  A recent TV documentary produced by the Cato Institute argues, among other things, that the war created regional economic instabilities that threaten democratic reforms in Bulgaria and Romania [re: Defense Week, April 10, 2000 Pg. 8].  Even Timothy Garton Ash, one of the most articulate and influential supporters of NATO's intervention, admits the conditions in Kosovo and Serbia are  spiraling downward into anarchy and madness [re: Timothy Garton Ash, "Anarchy & Madness," New York Review of Books, February 10, 2000.

Yet notwithstanding a flood of reports like cited above, Secretary of State Madeline Albright argues in Reference 1 below that we should continue the current policy unchanged, because the stakes in Kosovo are so high that the "costs and risks of quitting far exceed those of maintaining a stable Kosovo."

Albright rests her recommendation on three pillars presented as incontestable facts:  First, Milosevic rejected and international peace plan and increased a campaign of terror against the Albanian Kosovars. Second, the US and NATO responded and prevailed in the Serbo-NATO war. Third, having prevailed in war, the challenge is now to secure the peace, which will be costly, long, and hard. 

This is a simple black versus white argument, well-tuned to the sound-byte mentality now dominating American politics, but each pillar is in reality too weak a reed  to support her recommendation. The misconceptions underpinning each of them cry out for a serious national policy debate involving the Congress and the American people, perhaps via an extended series of open congressional hearing patterned after the Fulbright Hearings on the Vietnam War.

Let's see why:


Ms. Albright's phrase "rejected an international peace plan" is an subliminal allusion to the so-called Rambouillet Accord.  By so characterizing the decision to bomb, she conveys an image of a simple black-versus-white justification for the Sebo-NATO War. 

Last March, the American people and their representatives in Congress were indeed told that the bombing was necessary because Milosevic refused sign the Rambouillet Accord, but the story is a little more complicated that this simple phase suggests.

In March 1999, the American people were not told, nor, for that matter, were the members of the British, French, and Canadian parliaments told, that the Rambouillet document  was not an accord at all, but was in fact an unacceptable ultimatum, presented during 'negotiations' that were punctuated by repeated threats of bombing.  Nor were they told that reinforcing demands with threats of bombing is a blatant violation of Article 2(4) of the UN Charter, which clearly prohibits the use of military threats in international discourse. The American people and their Congress  were not told that the terms in Appendix B of the Rambouillet "Accord" amounted to a far more intrusive infringement of national sovereignty than the infamous Austro-Hungarian diktat of 1914, which Sir Edward Grey, the British foreign secretary in 1914, called "the most formidable demand ever imposed on one state by another." 

Ms. Albright lectures us that history teaches "Europe can not be secure when conflict engulfs the Balkans." 

It is indeed true that World War I was triggered by events in the Balkans.  But "history" yields a rather bizarre lesson if one compares Rambouillet to the 1914 diktat. Readers may recall it was the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914 by a Bosnian Serb (who was a citizen of Austria-Hungary but had links to Serbia) that provided the pretext for the conservative faction in Austria-Hungary to launch their long-desired splendid little war to solve once an for all their version of the Serbian question.   The Austro-Hungarians, led by Foreign Minister Count Berthold, reinforced by Germany's infamous "blank check," issued an unacceptable diktat to Serbia, with the idea of declaring war once Serbia rejected it.  Serbia refused as expected but jumped the gun with an immediate mobilization, which together with Austria's counter-mobilization and Russia's guarantee to Serbia, triggered the chain of interlocking mobilizations of the Great Powers, making World War I inevitable, leading to the destruction of the old European order, the establishment of communism in Russia, and the demonization, defeat, and subsequent radicalization of Germany that ultimately contributed to the rise of Hitler. 

Students of history will also recall that Serbia, when faced with 1914 diktat and the inevitability of a futile war, chose to attack a much stronger adversary, knowing full-well that she would be defeated.  By so doing, Serbia became the heroic poster child of the allies in World War I.  Bear in mind, half the male population of Serbia died in World War I.  So presenting the Serbian government with an even more egregious diktat in 1999 -- conditioned as the Serbian psyche is by ancient fatalistic myths of struggle, bellicosity, glory, slavery under the Ottomans, and victimization -- was like waving a red flag in front of a psychotic bull. 

In these circumstances, given Serbia's history of pugnacity in the face of overwhelming odds (which was reinforced by its bloody experiences in World War II), together with the highly developed vendetta cultures of the Balkans, it is hardly surprising that Serbia chose to escalate with terrifying brutality once the bombing started.

What is surprising is that NATO's planners and diplomats managed to forget history and somehow convinced themselves that a few days of cosmetic bombing would put enough pressure on the Serb military forces in Kosovo to bring Milosevic to the heel.  This miscalculation created the greatest European refugee crisis since World War II, painted NATO into a corner where its very existence was at risk, and thereby caused NATO to lash out in desperation with a brutal but unfocused strategy of bombing a civilian economy that could only be justified by demonizing an entire nation.

So, if one is going to invoke lessons of history in reference to the Serbo-NATO War, look not toward hackneyed memories of Munich and Neville Chamberlain but to Vienna and Count Berthold and the long-term consequences of the allies' expedient decision to whip up domestic political support by dehumanizing Germany in World War I [more on this fascinating parallel will appear in a subsequent comment].

Some might be tempted, nevertheless, to argue that Milosevic had no intention of reaching an agreement at Rambouillet, and therefore Ms. Albright's characterization is appropriate under the circumstances,

Jonathan Eyal, director of studies at the Royal United Services Institute in London, for example, recently argued "all available evidence" suggests Milosevic realized the concept of autonomy and self-administration advocated for Kosovo in at Rambouillet was unlikely to work, and therefore, he faced only two choices: lose the province by (1) negotiated settlement or (2) by war.  He chose war, believing he might be able to keep part of Kosovo in a worst case scenario [re: The Irish Times, April 4, 2000].               
Even if Eyals has correctly diagnosed Milosevic's state of mind in March 1999, Milosevic's rejection of Rambouillet did not justify a military intervention in terms of international law.  In such circumstances, the UN Charter requires the use of force to be a last resort, taken only after all peaceful alternatives have failed and only if authorized by the Security Council.  Neither condition was met when the Nato countries chose to use Milosevic's rejection of Rambouillet as a casus belli to initiate the bombing of Yugoslavia.

Furthermore, by hiding the fact that Milosevic was given a deal he had to refuse, the negotiators at Rambouillet guaranteed that United States and its allies would go to war without a meaningful Constitutional debate at home.  By holding the American people and the legal ideals of the Constitution in contempt, the American leadership violated one of the most important and ancient axioms of war - namely the principle of "moral influence," or the requirement to treat one's own people with faithfulness and justice, so that they will have the same aim as their leadership and will be willing to bear the exceptional burdens of sacrifice, hardship, and danger that accompany any decision to go to war [see, for example, the third passage of the first chapter of Sun Tzu, "The Art of War" (Griffith or Cleary translations) written around 400 BC]. 

Now the strategic chickens attending the self-inflicted wounds at Rambouillet and at home are coming home to roost, because a continuation of the current policy requires those people previously held in contempt to acquiesce  to a fait accompli and then gladly bear the sacrifice of treasure and possibly blood for a very long time.


Ms. Albright's second premise is that NATO prevailed in the Serbo-NATO War.  But this premise depends on how one defines the word 'prevail.' The traditional concept of victory implies one imposes his own terms on the defeated adversary while removing the grounds for a future conflict.  Does NATO's victory meet this standard?

In fact, we still can not answer confidently the question posed in the series of comments, entitled "Why did Slovo Cave?" [see Comment #s 293, 294, 295, 297].

To be sure, the basis of Serbian oppression in Kosovo has been removed: the Serbs are out, NATO is in, and the Albanian refugees have returned. It is also true that NATO's bombers succeeded in pounding Slobo's depressed economic infrastructure into ruins and put more than 400,000 civilians out of work.  This, no doubt, was a major factor inducing Milosevic to negotiate a settlement.  But our sense of military prowess should be conditioned by the fact that the Air Force had to used the resources needed to fight a major regional war to destroy an economy with a GDP of only two-thirds the size of that produced in Fairfax County, Virginia.

Moreover, in March 1999, the American people were told NATO was not going to war against the Serbian people.  The original aim of the war was to deter or stop Milosevic's oppression in Kosovo by degrading and destroying his means of oppression, i.e., Serbian army and police units in Kosovo.  Yet in June, viewers of CNN watched incredulously as the Serbian army left Kosovo intact, well-victualed, and virtually undamaged.  On the scene NATO investigators subsequently found only 26 destroyed armored vehicles (14 tanks and 12 mostly obsolete WWII vintage self-propelled guns, some of which appear to have been non-operational before the war). 

Nor did the retreat of the Serbian army imply NATO ended the war on its own terms.  By agreeing to the G-8 conditions in early May 1999, NATO dropped the most onerous demands of the Rambouillet Accord  -- i.e., Appendix B, the call for a referendum on independence after three years, and NATO's command over the entire Kosovo occupation.  The G-8 conditions then became the vehicle for obtaining crucial Russian support in what ultimately became the UN cease fire resolution, which precipitated the Serbian withdrawal.

In fact, the ambivalent outcome of the Serbo-NATO War is clear from the language  of the "surrender" document itself - the cease fire resolution, i.e., UNSCR 1244.  This resolution says Kosovo will become a self-governing, multi-ethnic, autonomous province within the territorial integrity of Yugoslavia under the UN's administration.  But it provides no definition of what this means, nor does it lay out a plan for a transition to the end state, whatever that may be.

Even the commander of NATO's air campaign acknowledged this failure in a recent speech to the Air Force's annual warfare symposium in Orlando, Florida.  Lieutenant General Michael Short observed candidly "If you see what is happening in Mitrovica, you don't know who won in Kosovo," in part because the desired "end state" was never defined [Sandra Erwin, "Airman Ponder Do's and Don'ts," National Defense, April 2000].

Curiously, the contradiction between Ms. Albright's claim of "prevailing" and the unfinished nature of the Serbo-NATO war is evident in her own logic, when she says the Balkans will remain a tinderbox as long a Milosevic remains in power.  The contradiction is also implied by her rhetorical movement away from the goal of establishing a "multi-ethnic democracy" to a goal of achieving a condition of "peaceful co-existence" in Kosovo, which implies a change in UNSCR 1244. 

So, the clearest observation one can make about the veracity of the claim "having prevailed in war" is that the outcome of this war embodies competing impressions of what happened. 

One conclusion is beyond dispute, however: NATO's actions clearly did not remove the basis for a future conflict. 

In fact, a speculative case can even be made (but not proved) that Slobo didn't cave, but instead, merely beat an operational level retreat to continue the conflict by other means [see Comment #307]. This is consistent with the observation that Milosevic (Serbia?) and the Albanian Kosovars are now actively pursuing goals antithetical to even the loose language of the cease fire agreement.  This brings us to the weaknesses in the third pillar of Secretary Albright's wobbly triad.


The third pillar propping up Ms. Albright's  is her claim that the "price of perseverance" is affordable and the "obstacles to success can be overcome."

Since the term "perseverance" implies the ability to persist over TIME in spite of counter influences or opposition, the question of affordability is therefore a function of time as well as the objectives and strength of the opposition.

Curiously, her argument pays lip service to both.  Let us examine each of these issues in turn.

III A. The Question of TIME

Ultimately, the question of time boils down to how long we can expect to commit our troops to Kosovo, if the current policy continues unchanged. 

Albright skirts this issue with oblique phraseology.  First, when setting the stage for her argument, she notes "The journey from conflict to cooperation is not made overnight." She concludes by saying, "The day may come when a Kosovo-scale operation can be managed without the help of the United States, but it has not come yet." 

So, she makes the case for perseverance with a vague reference to "overnight," then uses the word "may" to indicate she is either unwilling or unable to tell us how long that time will be.  Why be so vague?

Fortunately, others with an equally credible understanding of the situation have made some educated guesses about how long we "may" have to stay in Kosovo.

Unfortunately, however, depending on who you ask, the answer could be 10, 20, 30, or even 55 years!

Consider the words of Bernard Kouchner, the UN administrator in Kosovo, for example.  In a recent interview with French Communist newspaper L'Humanite, Kouchner said reconciliation between Albanians and Serbs into some sort of multi-ethnic self-governing province is "absolutely impossible."  He concluded the problem in Kosovo is primarily "political," as opposed to being one of reconstruction, and the best one can hope for in the near term is some form of a "peaceful coexistence" that guarantees each group's security.  But such a guarantee is pregnant with the corollary of an open-ended requirement for stationing of peacekeepers, including Americans, to enforce that co-existence.   Koucher indirectly confirmed the logic of this by implying we could stay in Kosovo for as long as 30 years when he told L'Humanite, ''Who is crazy enough to think that in eight months we could have done what they haven't been able to do in Ireland for 30 years?'' [AP-NY-03-18-00 1114EST]

Gen. Klaus Reinhardt, the outgoing commander of the NATO-led KFOR, also compared Kosovo to Northern Ireland but was more optimistic than Kouchner when he told Reuters NATO led peacekeepers could remain in Kosovo for five to ten years. [CNN March 17, 2000, web posted at: 10:41 AM EST].

On the other hand, Ambassador Christopher Hill, the chief U.S. negotiator during the Rambouillet debacle, is more pessimistic than Reinhardt.  Speaking to an audience assembled in Little Compton Rhode Island, Hill said that the obstacles in Kosovo were so great, the province could remain a U.N. protectorate protected by NATO-led peacekeepers for another 20 years.  While claiming soothingly that Kosovo was headed in the right direction, whatever that is, he acknowledged the people of Kosovo must create democratic institutions. He said the Albanians must show respect for a multiethnic society, because when the U.N. and NATO eventually leave Kosovo, they intend to leave behind what Kouchner said was absolutely impossible -- a self-functioning, but not independent multi-cultural state - clearly implying that Kosovo would remain part of Yugoslavia in some kind of autonomous status, in accordance with the vague formula of the UN cease fire agreement  (UNSCR 1244). [Providence Journal-Bulletin, February 28, 2000, Pg. 1B]

Perhaps hoping his audience would forget last year's confident belief that two or three days of cosmetic bombing would fix the Kosovo problem, Hill urged patience, saying "We need to have a little humility in our belief that we can turn this around overnight."

Hill has reason for his belated sense of humility - shortly after his speech, Hashim Thaci, the most powerful Albanian politician in Kosovo, gave a fiery speech trashing Hill's goal of a non-independent, multi-cultural state.  He told more than 20,000 people assembled in Prekaz, Kosovo, "The legendary commander Adem Jashari [a KLA warlord killed 2 years ago] wanted a single Kosovo, free and independent. We will bring that about.  Mitrovica, like all the other parts of Kosovo, will be liberated. Kosovo will be ruled by Kosovars" [Agence France Presse, March 5, 2000].

Tim Judah, one of the more thoughtful and less polemic advocates of intervention, an author who has written widely and I think credibly on the Balkans, says Americans may have to stay in Kosovo for 55 years. This commitment is necessary, he argues, because the West is trapped between "two unappealing choices" - (1) withdraw and let events sort themselves out by violence and further destabilization to other countries like Macedonia or (2) continue to "hold the line." Judah concludes that Americans had "better get used to the fact" that American troops will "be in the Balkans in 2055" [New York Times, February 15 (op-ed)]. 

Summing up: Reinhardt - 5 to 10 years; Hill - 20 years; Kouchner - 30 years; Judah - 55 years. Evidently, Ms. Albright did not choose her words loosely when she conditioned her view of the future by saying the "day MAY come" [emphasis added]. 

The simple fact is no one has a clue how long America will stay in Kosovo if the current policy is continued, but a range of 10 to 55 years suggests the forces opposing progress in Kosovo must be very powerful indeed.

III B. Question of Opposition to Progress and Confrontation Dynamics

Opposition to progress is a function of the goals as well as the strength of the opposing parties. Ms. Albright's op-ed is also silent on these subjects, however. 

With regard to overcoming the opposition, she dismisses the issue lightly, saying "Those ready to give up on Kosovo point to recent incidents of ethnic violence there.  We share these concerns, and international authorities are addressing them by beefing up resources, tightening security, and marginalizing and disarming extremists" [but] "the risk that angry individuals will generate disturbances remains significant." 

Compare her words to anarchy, chaos, corruption, and violence described by British, American, and Albanian sources in  References 2-6 and by Timothy Garton Ash in "Anarchy and Madness."  One wonders if they are talking about the same place.

Albright says nothing conflicting goals of the opposing parties creating these problems, other than making a reference to the continuing presence of Milosevic and the profound "depth of estrangement between factions."  Yet the central question for making a judgment about the wisdom of "staying the course" is how we intend to neutralize the confrontation dynamics created by the clash of goals being pursued by each adversary.

On this question, all Ms. Albright tells us is that a "dangerous world will grow rapidly more dangerous"  if we change our policy.

In fairness, it is probably impossible to say with certainty what motives and goals are actuating the descent into a more dangerous Kosovo.  On the other hand, analyses like that by Stratfor in Reference 4 show it is possible for one to assemble working hypotheses about the short and long term goals of the opposing forces.  Such a structure could at least serve as a starting point for building a more substantive inquiry into the character of the stakes and issues in Kosovo.

What follows, for better or worse, is my attempt to show how such a structure might be constructed.

Hypothesis - Serb Goals:  To the extent that the Serbs have any goals beyond the mere survival of Slobodan Milosevic, they now seem defensive in nature.  The short term goal may be a partition of the Northern Sector of Kosovo, including a good chunk of the Trepca mining complex, and perhaps protecting Serb minorities and religious monuments in small ghettos located throughout the rest of Kosovo.

The long term goal may be to buy time in the hope that (1) the continuing instability, (2) the accumulating revulsion with Albanian excesses, and (3) the increasing cost to Europe of isolating a state at the crossroads of the Balkans will combine to exhaust the UNMIK/NATO mission and open the door to a compromise settlement more to Serbia's liking.

Hypothesis  - Albanian Goals: In contrast to the murky goals of Serbia, the short-term goal of the Kosovar Albanians seems quite clear - complete independence for a mono-ethnic Kosovo, including the Northern sector, or at least that part containing the entire Mitrovica industrial region, including the dilapidated Trepca mining complex, which is considered to be the most valuable piece of real estate in Kosovo.  The Albanians might be willing to give up the Serbian area  north of Mitrovica/Trepca in exchange for the territory known as East Kosovo in Southern Serbia. [The mounting tensions in Southern Serbia and the ominous strategic implications for the South Balkans were discussed in Comment #351.] 

The long-term goal of the Kosovoar Albanians is less clear, but in its most extreme form, it could be some kind of a Greater  Kosovo made up of the Albanian regions in Southern Serbia, Montenegro, and Macedonia, or even union of all these regions with Albania into a Greater Albania. [Ms. Albright tacitly acknowledged such expansionist desires during a recent visit to Albania last February, when she said the international community would no more accept a Greater Albania than it would a Greater Serbia or a Greater Croatia. Source: Chicago Tribune, February 20, 2000.]

With respect to their interactions with NATO/UNMIK, as well as Serbia, the Albanians now have the initiative.  Their goals are clearly offensive because they are aggressively trying to change the ambiguous status quo of UNSCR 1244 into an agreement on their terms.  It is equally clear that Nato/UNMIK and Serbia are reacting to their actions, albeit in different ways and with different objectives. 

With these goals in mind, we can begin to tease out an abstract structure describing the ongoing confrontation.

Hypothesis - Confrontation Dynamics & the Fallacy of Demonization: In terms of the interaction between offense and defense, one observation is clear: events in Kosovo are not following a plan but are evolving unpredictably out of a spontaneous interplay of chance with necessity.  While the uncompromising Albanian drive for independence is the prime force now actuating the chaotic evolution, their efforts are not under tight central control, because their ethnic cleansing operations are accompanied by spontaneous local motivations, like revenge (murder and burning) and greed (looting, drug trafficking, gun running, extortion, kidnapping and forced prostitution, etc.), as well as factional or clan-based infighting for political power.   On the other hand, the widespread criminality and ethnic intolerance accompanying the Albanian actions, together with the potential for conflict in neighboring Montenegro, Sanzak, Southern Serbia, or Macedonia has created a latent reservoir of instability for Milosevic to exploit tactically, should he choose to do so, albeit from a defensive perspective. By waiting, probing, and testing, the wily Slobo may hope to find or create an opening that enables him to regain some of the initiative and perhaps even transition to an offensive strategy at operational or strategic levels of conflict.

In these circumstances, getting rid of Milosevic, while desirable, would not necessarily solve the problem, any more that getting rid of George Wallace would have solved Alabama's racial conflict in 1963.  In fact, at least one important Albanian leader believes Milosevic's continued presence is needed by the Albanian extremists who are bent on goal of complete independence.

This seemingly paradoxical possibility was suggested recently by Agim Chequ (or Ceku in Serbo-Croatian as he used to spell it), Commander of the Kosovo Protection Corps (KPC).  In a recent interview with the Zagreb daily "Globus," Chequ, a former Croatian military officer of Albanian descent, told Globus it would benefit the KPC if Milosevic remained in power.  He laid out his reasons as follows: (1) If Milosevic's opposition came to power in Serbia, the international community would probably force the Kosovar Albanians to negotiate a settlement.  (2) But all the major opposition parties in Serbia criticize Milosevic the most for losing Kosovo.  (3) So if the opposition parties came to power, the post-Milosevic Serbian government would probably want to return the province to Serbia [in accordance with the territorial integrity clause of UNSCR 1244].  (4) A return of Kosovo to Serbia, however, would lead to further political clashes. [source: FreeB92 News, 03/25/2000]. 

Reference 9, which describes the division of opinion over the question of whether Albanian extremists or Serbs are responsible for bombing police stations in the Albanian region of Macedonia, is another example of the complex confrontation dynamics now shaping the conflict in the South Balkans.

By failing to acknowledge the even the existence of Albanian goals as actuating forces in the confrontation dynamics, Ms. Albright's op-ed grossly oversimplifies the ongoing the conflict in the South Balkans. Moreover, by omission, she introduces a subtle pro-independence bias that is inconsistent with the terms of the UN cease fire resolution.

This bias also feeds the ongoing propensity to assign all the blame for the cruelties perpetrated by all the belligerents in the Yugoslavian wars of secession on Serbia [Reference 7].  It is also evident in anti-Serb biases during the application of the law by UNMIK/NATO authorities charged with creating a multi-ethnic society in Kosovo described in Reference 8 [The author, Roy Gutman, is certainly not regarded as  'pro-Serb,' having won a Pulitzer for exposing Serbian atrocities in Bosnia].  One of the lessons that should have been learned from the denouement of  World War I was that demonization of Germany during the war created counter-productive biases among the victors which "justified" an unbalanced peace treaty and sowed the seeds of further conflict as well as the rise of a truly demonic regime.


Although it is clear that the politics of Slobodan Milosevic have been the major cause of the decade-long crisis in the Balkans, the actions of Serbia are not the only cause of the crisis.  There are many other causes, some of which are a legacy of the violence of the Balkan Wars (1912-13), WWI, and WWII, with others reaching reach far back into the misty recesses of time, and yet others emerging in the 1970s and 1980s out of the breakdown of the peculiar Titoist system of checks and balances, the economic consequences of worldwide stagflation, and the local opportunism of nationalist politicians struggling to survive the collapse of communism. 

If America is going to stay in the Balkans for another 10, 20, 30, or 55 years, policy makers have a moral obligation to explain these complexities to the Congress and more importantly to the American people, who will asked to bear the burden.

Ms. Albright's case for maintaining the status quo does not come close to meeting this standard. 

I have tried to show why each pillar of her argument is wobbly, if not profoundly defective.  We simply do not know if the price of perseverance is affordable.

The question of whether or not American ought to "stay the course" in Kosovo is too serious a question to be resolved by shallow rhetoric on the op-ed pages aimed at securing the passage of a supplemental budget request.  It is doubly important to have a sound foreign policy debate over America's involvement and goals in the Balkans, because the duplicity at the beginning of the Kosovo intervention violated the axiom of moral influence and opened up a strategic vulnerability that could be exploited by our adversaries - who may turn out to be Albanians as well as Serbs.  

The key to perseverance is for the people to have the same aim as their government, so that they will gladly bear the sacrifice and burden of a long-term commitment.  As Lyndon Johnson discovered, one can squander moral influence and get away with it in the short term, but deception creates dangerous strategic vulnerabilities that accumulate and grow more poisonous over the long term.  He learned that these vulnerabilities can be exploited by foreign as well as domestic adversaries.  When the people discover they have been led into a long dark tunnel with no light at its end, history tells us they will pull the plug when the going gets tough.  Our withdrawals from Beirut and Somalia suggest this propensity is increasing.

But there is a reason that goes beyond the military question of strategic necessity or diplomatic questions of grand strategy.  The Framers of the Constitution designed the system of checks and balances to prevent the rise of unaccountable or, in their words, tyrannical power.  They understood their system could not function effectively if the separate branches of the Federal Government used their monopolistic control of information to misrepresent the nature of their activities or to bias the choices facing the entire system of shared power. Without reliable information, it is impossible to hold the individuals and agencies accountable for their separate actions and intentions, and the grand design for resolving disputes and determining policy via a system of checks and balances becomes, to paraphrase Mr. Madison, a prologue to a farce or a tragedy or both.

Let us hope our leaders will pay attention to the lessons of history so this will not turn out to be the case in Kosovo.  If the current level of debate is any indicator, the prospects are not auspicious.

Chuck Spinney

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