LAST WEEK we considered a worst-case scenario for the western allies in the crisis over Kosovo: their air strikes fail to force Serbia to come to the negotiating table ready to make concessions. This week, we look at another possibility: what happens if Serbia stops fighting and concedes what the western alliance wants - autonomy for the ethnic-Albanians with the possibility of a separate state some time in the future, respect for human rights and incorporation of the Albanian rebels in the police. If the Serbs, brought to their knees, make these concessions, will the Balkans house of cards collapse as Serbia's rivals take advantage of its plight?
The ethnic-Albanians: The first to try to take advantage of this might have been the ethnic-Albanians, a Muslim people who make up the majority of the population of Serbia's province of Kosovo. They would be tempted to seize southern Kosovo. But the western allies, on whom they depend, would make sure that this did not happen. The Albanians would be told to be patient.
Macedonia. A Serb collapse might stir the ethnic Albanians who make up a third of the population of next-door Macedonia. But the Albanian-Macedonians could not make a move: at least 10,000 NATO troops are stationed in Macedonia.
Croatia: The president, Franjo Tudjman, might be tempted to incorporate slabs of land in Bosnia & Hercegovina where ethnic Croats predominate. But Croatia will not do so because it would thereby destroy its fairly good standing in the eyes of the EU and NATO. It wants to join both.
Montenegro: This small state, dominated by Serbia, would do all it could to leave the rump Yugoslav federation and declare itself to be an independent country. Such an action would block Serbia's access to the Mediterranean but the Serbs could do nothing about it.
Bosnia & Hercegovina. Its Muslim leaders, sensing their power over a weak Serbia, would be sorely tempted to seize control of the "Brcko corridor" linking the main Serb area of Bosnia with a smaller, isolated area. This may be why the international force is tightening its control of the Brcko area.
Vojvodina. Serbia's northern province of Vojvodina has a big ethnic-Hungarian population. Any temptation to join next-door Hungary would, however, be promptly squelched by the Hungarian government, which is a member of NATO.
The chances are, therefore, that there will be no power vacuum in the Balkans if - and it was this week still a big if - NATO air strikes succeed in their objective. http://defence.janes.com/ *****