Max Sawicky sawicky at epinet.org
Tue Apr 27 00:48:57 PDT 1999

Sound familiar?



The Sunday Telegraph 25 April 1999


by Edward Luttwak

"We will keep bombing until Milosevic steps down", insisted your Prime Minister last week. He was instantly corrected by Jamie Shea, NATO's spokesman: "We will keep bombing," he stressed, "until Milosevic backs down". The tumble over terminology identifies a fundamental fissure in NATO - a fissure running through not just the means to be employed in the war, but what the point of it is.

When the war began, NATO's aims were clear and limited. The aim of the war was not an independent Kosovo, or the overthrow of President Milosevic, the man now routinely referred to as the Butcher of the Balkans, the new Hitler, and a genocidal war criminal. It was, in fact, to reinforce Milosevic's position within Serbia.

The United States, led by Madeleine Albright, US Secretary of State, persuasively argued that only Milosevic could deliver an agreement on Kosovo. The Serbian opposition was and is much more determined to hold onto Kosovo, at whatever cost, than he is. If Milosevic was to be able to sign the Rambouillet agreement, which the Kosovar Albanians had ratified, he would have to have the excuse that he had no alternative. NATO bombing would, it was thought, be enough to show the Serbs that their President had "no alternative".

The limited aim of an autonomous, but not independent, Kosovo - a Kosovo with its own law-courts, but without its own army or Foreign Ministry - had a series of very clear and specific implications for the means by which NATO was to fight the war. First, the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) was not to be armed or trained. Second, the force used against Serbia should be deployed in a very measured way. Its point was not to destroy Milosevic, but to persuade him back to the negotiating table. Far from being regarded as an enemy of humanity, he was believed, when the war started, to be an indispensible figure to NATO: for he was the only Serb politician capable of resolving the Kosovo question on NATO's lines.

There was, therefore, no question of attacking Milosevic's apparatus of power or his political infrastructure, still less his person. So NATO's plan of attack was extremely gentle. There were less than 50 targets on the original first phase bombing offensive. Most of them were minor, remote air defence targets. If you wondered why, in the first two weeks, all those bombing missions were cancelled because of a few clouds, here's the reason: the aim was not to hurt Milosevic, but to give him an excuse for capitulating to NATO on Kosovo. That aim suited Western politicians perfectly for another reason: none of them wanted to see any of their pilots get hurt. A campaign which did no real damage to Serbia would also be one which did not risk the lives of any NATO pilots.

"War lite" was therefore to everyone's taste. Unfortunately, Milosevic refused to walk down the path NATO made out for him. Instead of rushing into NATO's open arms, he sent his police units into Kosovo and proceeded to evict as many Kosova Albanians as possible, as quickly as he could. Milosevic's failure to behave according to plan has caused a rapid re-appraisal of NATO's war aims. It has also dramatically altered the means which must be used to achieve them.

What is the aim of the war now the original justification for it, and the strategy behind it, have both been shredded? NATO has started bombing Milosevic's power base. It has targeted his home, his TV station, and his party's headquarters. But let us be clear: the change of tactics has not come about because politicians like Clinton and Blair have suddenly "discovered" that Milosevic is guilty of genocide. Everyone with any involvement in policy towards the Balkans has known for years that Milosevic was guilty of mass murder. His behaviour in Kosovo, though hideous, is so far relatively mild compared to the genocide he perpetrated in Bosnia. There is some evidence that he over-ruled some of the real ultras who recommended the "Bosnian solution" to the Kosovo problem: massacring all Kosova Albanians, rather than just expelling them, which has been Milosevic's policy.

No, the targetting of Milosevic is simply a reflection of frustration at his failure to act as he was supposed to. It is a familiar pattern: a dictator is demonised as a monster only when Western foreign policy fails, and he ceases to respond in a predictable way to threats and offers. It happened with Saddam, with whom the US and Britain were happy to "do business" when he behaved as predicted - despite his hideous cruelty and use of chemical weapons against his own people. Only when statecraft failed, and he did something quite unpredicted - invaded Kuwait - was he turned into "the new Hitler".

The motives behind targetting Milosevic are no more "moral" than they were in the case of Saddam. NATO's aims are in disarray as a consequence. Everyone recognises that Milosevic remains the least horrible Serbian leader amongst a very horrible bunch. Removing him would make the situation worse, by ensuring he was replaced by a harder line nationalist. So what is the aim of the war?

There are two competing answers to that question. One is the creation of an independent Kosovo. This could not be done without a full scale invasion by NATO. It does not seem very likely. A NATO which is unwilling to fly planes below 15,000 ft because of the risk to its pilots' lives is not going to risk the deaths of thousands of ground troops. That aim is opposed by some NATO members, and does not yet have US backing. Without the US, it will remain a gleam in Tony Blair's eye.

The other alternative is much more likely. It is to persuade Milosevic to agree to some compromise. The hope is that the bombing, if it is intense enough, will force Milosevic to turn to the Russians, empowering them to negotiate a settlement with NATO. Any deal would inevitably involve the partition of Kosovo, with the Serbians hanging on to the resource-rich north, whilst the south would be an international "protectorate" run by a mixed force of NATO, Russians, and "non aligned" countries.

That would, of course, be a victory for Milosevic. But that does not stop many NATO leaders from fervently praying for it. It would allow NATO to exit the war with some dignity intact: it could be "spun" to suggest that NATO had achieved a homeland for the Kosovars and peace in the Balkans.

A great power congress to solve Kosovo would be like the great 19th century congress of Berlin, which re-drew the map of Europe. It would not have much to do with ethics. But then no foreign policy ever does. It is the greatest of your present Government's illusions, or its most chilling cynicism, to pretend that its foreign policy is, or could be, any different. _____________

Edward Luttwak is a member of the National Security Study Group of the US Department of Defence.

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