Jane's Defense Weekly on Balkans

Greg Nowell GN842 at CNSVAX.Albany.Edu
Wed Apr 21 16:00:21 PDT 1999

http://defence.janes.com/ BALKAN ENDGAME?

Following devastating airstrikes in Yugoslavia, what are the options for an acceptable settlement on the ground? Richard Bassett examines the prospects for the future and the lessons of the past

In the wake of NATO's attack on Yugoslavia the Balkans ends the century much as it began; an expression of great power rivalry and a source of potentially destabilising conflict.

As at least one military historian of note, John Keegan, has written, the problems of Bosnia, Macedonia and indeed Kosovo would be wearily familiar to any official of the Austro-Hungarian empire posted to Sarajevo in 1908. The inevitable competing spheres of influence led the great 19th-century German Chancellor, Bismarck, to observe: "The Balkans are not worth the bones of a Pomeranian Grenadier."

If history is one of the inescapable millstones of the Balkans, geography is another. Albania today still lies across two of the most important routes that link Europe with the East.

Its appearance on the global stage, in 1912 at the Ambassador's conference, when it was described as the "child of Austria, with Italy acting as midwife" was an attempt to balance the pretensions of Russia's main protegé in the region, Serbia, and limit its access to the Mediterranean.

Today, there is still anxiety on the part of the western powers, notably the USA, over Serbian and, by extension, Russian influence over the eastern Mediterranean. At the same time, those in Europe (judging by recent comments from the French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, they include France) who, like Russia, are fretful of the "naked expansion of US power" in the aftermath of the Cold War, are equally keen to ensure that the Balkans does not become a US sphere of influence.

Former West German Chancellor, Helmut Schmidt, underlined his belief that this was just a new twist to the old game when he said in a recent interview: "Only the Americans would be naive enough to imagine that there could be a lasting peace in the Balkans".

If, after the airstrikes, Milosevic backs down and a multi-national force is deployed then that force may not be an entirely NATO entity.

Seen in the context of any future envisaged troop deployment in Kosovo, it is clear that Serbia could only sign up to a deployment which reflected an agreement between the powers (in this case the USA, on the one hand, and Russia and Moscow's supporters on the other).

Such an agreement has proved extremely difficult to reach, not least because of exaggerated demands on both sides which have had to be reined in by some very tough negotiation between US Secretary of State, Madelaine Albright and Russian prime minister and former KGB spymaster, Yevgeny Primakov.

But all the powers know that only when faced with a credible united front can Milosevic be persuaded to back down. Eventually the advantages of having the West disarm the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) may become apparent to the Serbs and the stationing of Russian troops will ensure the protection of their fellow Slav citizens in Kosovo.

One of the most sensitive issues is the exact positioning of the Russian contingent as this will inevitably be the de facto line of partition in the province. In the eyes of the KLA, the British and the French, traditional allies of the Serbs in two world wars, can also be relied on to defend the Serbs, though London and Paris would, with reason, deny this.

As the French and UK forces would come under a NATO commander, the KLA believes that US influence which is largely pro-Albanian would manage to prevent a too tough approach being taken towards the Albanians.

However, recent suggestions to shift the political control structure of the deployment from NATO to the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) would of course neutralise US influence and be an ominous development for the Albanians.

It is, however, quite feasible to see a de facto splintering of Kosovo into separate zones not dissimilar to those which divided Berlin, Vienna and Trieste and its hinterland after 1945, though presumably with more cordial relations between the various participating forces than during the Cold War. However, given the different interests of the participants and the fact that a NATO and Russian force would be sitting cheek by jowl under separate commands, it can be assumed that a great deal of time and energy will be devoted to working out the correct protocols to govern this interface of highly sensitive, and in practice divergent, commands.

However, even if in Kosovo there is an eventual resolution of the spheres-of-influence problem, the Albanian question, as is frequently mentioned, also spills into Macedonia and(less frequently mentioned) Montenegro.

Macedonia has an ethnic population of Albanians which comprises 23% of the country's entire population. Fears that it would try to break away from the republic have been behind the generally cordial ties between Skopje and Belgrade.

Despite denials by the ethnic Albanian leaders, there is no doubt that, situated as they are close to the Albanian frontier, the temptations of a future tie-up with a Greater Albania remain high on the agenda.

Even without the Albanian issue, Macedonia has long been a controversial hot spot where Greek, Bulgarian and Serbian interests collide. Greece has long contested the right of the Macedonians to use the name of Macedonia, saying that it implied a territorial claim over Greek territory. Moreover, Greek politicians until relatively recently attempted to undermine the new state at international forums and in discussions involving new trade links.

However, more recently under Russian, US and European pressure the Athens government has adopted a more supportive line, though this is of little comfort to the ethnic Albanian minority.

Bulgaria which has long maintained that Macedonian is only a Bulgarian dialect, has also become more supportive of the government in Skopje, though this is partly a result of the government, dominated by the newly elected VMRO party, enjoying traditional ties with Bulgaria.

Before the Second World War, Bulgaria financed with Italy the VMRO party which was then dedicated to destroying the newly created Yugoslav state and was implicated in the assassination of King Alexander of Yugoslavia in Marseilles in 1934.

The news earlier this month that Bulgaria is to donate 150 main battle tanks, including 115 T-55As, and nearly 150 artillery pieces caused some concern in western embassies. The concern was particularly acute over the arms import as the Bulgarian donation came on the heels of the supply by Germany of BTR-70 armoured personnel carriers. With all Macedonian army leave cancelled and the deployment of two brigades on the Albanian/Kosovo frontier, analysts fear that the arsenal now being created in this small country is a tinderbox awaiting ignition.

More ominously, the build-up of weapons, with the tacit agreement of Belgrade suggests that the future of Macedonia may have already been decided by its neighbours.

The emergence of Bulgaria as a regional player is also viewed with some disquiet in the region - traditionally Bulgaria and Serbia have a long history of emnity, though some analysts point to the old Comintern idea of a Serbian-Bulgarian federation possibly being revived. Such a development, however, has been described as two stranded swimmers linking hands across a sea of Macedonian troubles.

Certainly the agreement on 22 February by the Bulgarian and Macedonian governments to "put an end to the artificial problems between our two countries" suggests that events are moving rapidly towards some form of anti-Albanian front and that a military "solution" may be imminent.

The language of the February agreement is adamant in its reconciliation of the Bulgarian-Macedonian differences claiming that neither government will allow its territory to be used by groups hostile to the other. In diplomatic jargon this is a clear warning to Albanian groups smuggling weapons into or, indeed, out of Macedonia.

It remains to be seen whether this agreement stabilises Macedonia. The clear anti-Albanian implications of the agreement may drive the ethnic minority in Macedonia to desperate measures. Moreover, in the long-term, Bulgarian -Serbian-Greek rivalry over Macedonia is inevitable and partition may be unavoidable also here.

Montenegro also has a sizeable Albanian community though only forming 8% of the population. Moreover, in contrast to the Albanians in Macedonia and Kosovo, these Albanians are predominantly Catholic rather than Muslim.

However, Montenegro is at perhaps one of the most strategic points in the Adriatic. Already at the beginning of this century, the Imperial Austrian Navy saw the importance of the great bay of Kotor, which until the Second World War was one of the most naturally defensible harbours in the Adriatic.

Even today, the harbour is the major naval installation of the Yugoslav navy and is Serbia's vital access to the Adriatic. The harbour is guarded by the Prevlaka peninsular (see map) which has been the bone of contention between Serbia and Croatia since hostilities ended between those two countries four years ago. Croatia is adamant that it cannot cede control of the peninsular without endangering its own security interests although for the same reason, Serbia is determined to ensure that the peninsular is controlled by Belgrade. Otherwise the entire Serbian fleet and its facilities can be deployed only subject to Croatian veto. Unsurprisingly, these facilities were a priority target for NATO attack.

Partly for this reason, Serbia last year initiated a plan to move against Montenegro's democratically elected anti-Belgrade government. The plan met with considerable resistance among the upper ranks of the Yugoslav army, many of whose officers are Montenegrin and provoked the resignation of the Serbian Chief of the General staff, General Perisic.

A move against Montenegro is still likely, however, for the strategic reasons outlined above especially if western funds, particularly from Germany, continue to pour into Montenegro in an attempt to detach the leadership there from Milosevic's control. As well as German attention, Montenegro remains a traditional focus for Russian activity. Before 1914, the Russians established the biggest of the legations in the Montenegrin capital.

During the Cold War, a small but significant remnant of this legacy remained in the shape of the small Soviet merchantman spy-vessel which remained at anchor in the bay of Kotor, despite Tito's break with the Comintern in 1948. It was a token presence but one which underlined the Churchill-Stalin deal that Yugoslavia should be divided 50-50.

For the West that meant a Yugoslavia that was not part of the Warsaw Pact. For the Soviets that meant despite the formal break no offensive activity or alliance with NATO. For both sides there were small intelligence favours of which the Kotor merchantman was one.

Russia's views on events in Montenegro are likely to be consonant with those of Serbia and therefore hostile to any moves that appear to detach the country from the Serbian orbit.

Thus as the century ends, the problems of the region remain bound up with the ambitions and aspirations of the global powers as well as the hopes of different ethnic groups. It is therefore perhaps illuminating to examine in some detail the solutions those powers sought to impose on the region in those times.

Before the First World War, diplomacy was secret though in practice there were no secrets between ambassadors and those involved in foreign affairs. An exception, perhaps, occurred during the First World War with the controversial Treaty of London which lured Italy into breaking its alliance with Austria and Germany in order to gain territory at Vienna's expense.

Fortunately for students of diplomacy in the Balkans, the treaty was published when the Bolsheviks came to power in Russia in 1917.

In addition to the clauses relevant to Italy's northern territorial acquisitions, there were several which underlined the status of the Adriatic Ð the region which is now so hotly contested.

Italy was given important rights over the direction of Albania's foreign policy. Albania itself remained partitioned between Serbia, Greece and Italy which had rights over the port of Vlore (Valona), the key to the Straits of Otranto.

The rump Albania was designated a Muslim state to be governed from Tirana, a concession few European states would tolerate today in a period of increasing religious polarisation and anti-islamic feeling. Above all, however, the signatories to the treaty, which included Russia and France, all agreed to work together to prevent the Balkans becoming an area of dispute between them. In the attempted agreements hammered out between NATO and Russia the spirit of this Treaty can still be seen, however different the territorial lines drawn on the map today. Although the USA is a new player in this game, there are reasons to think that it does wish to work through consensus though it may not understand as vividly as the Europeans the potential dangers of an uncontrolled conflict originating in the Balkans. NATO's surprise guarantee of Albania's territorial integrity last week is incompatible with the Treaty of London's intentions.

In any event the USA's room for manoeuvre has been dramatically cut down by the coalition of European and Russian forces which are traditionally pro-Serbian. It remains to be seen what the USA can do for the Albanians despite all the talk of this being a "single-polar world".

For its part, the UK, for which the Balkans has always been a traditional area of expertise, remains committed to establishing a lasting solution for the region. Although it no longer stands at England's imperial jugular, the region remains critical to the Mediterranean and the long-term interests of Europe. As far as London is concerned, it is synonymous with the 500-year-old game of erecting a balance of power.

The interests of the third partner, Russia, however, remain perhaps the most constant -preservation of some presence, albeit a token one, along the Adriatic and the prevention of the peninsular being dominated by any one power. Here the activities of the USA are a cause for serious alarm in Russian strategic counsels.

The precarious internal situation in Russia also militates against the confidence-building measures the West feels are essential to any joint solution of the Balkans crisis. The obvious policy disputes between Russian President Boris Yeltsin and Primakov may be just questions of degree but they continue to overshadow the ability to come to agreements at the highest level which can be seen as having a chance of sticking.

Yet without such an agreement there is every indication that the Balkans will continue to smoulder and that the flames of ethnic cleansing will continue to blaze for several years to come.

Richard Bassett, JDW's Business Editor, is a former Central Europe correspondent for the Times of London

-- Gregory P. Nowell Associate Professor Department of Political Science, Milne 100 State University of New York 135 Western Ave. Albany, New York 12222

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