Carnage in Kosovo: Wheres the Western resolve?

National Review Online
March 22 2004

Carnage in Kosovo
Where’s the Western resolve?

By Nikolas K. Gvosdev

The world should be watching Kosovo, but it probably isn’t. In the
United States, many believe that the dispatch of additional forces to
the troubled province of Kosovo “solved” the crisis. The problem is,
the damage to NATO’s credibility has already been done – and is
worsening by the day. The alliance that for 50 years was prepared to
spit in Joe Stalin’s eye is frightened to death by rampaging ethnic

The whole premise of the American-led intervention in 1999 was that
the Western Alliance could stop ethnic cleansing “at the heart of
Europe” and bring the conditions necessary for the creation of a
peaceful, multiethnic society. It was an embarrassment, of course,
that in the first weeks of NATO’s deployment nearly 100 Serbian
Orthodox holy sites were destroyed and some two-thirds of the
province’s Serb population (along with other non-Albanian ethnic
groups) were ethnically cleansed. But the line adopted in Washington,
London, Berlin, and Paris was that once NATO was firmly in control of
Kosovo these outrages would cease. The Serbs who remained in the
province took the West at its word.

The latest outbreak of violence, which in a three-day period has
already left 25 churches and monasteries – including UNESCO-protected
sites – in ruins and made nearly 4,000 people homeless took place
under the noses of 18,000 international peacekeepers and exposes the
hollowness of Western guarantees. No one should have been caught by
surprise. “It was planned in advance,” said Derek Chappell, the
U.N.’s Kosovo Mission spokesman. Another put it more forcefully:
“This is planned, coordinated, one-way violence from the Albanians
against the Serbs. It is spreading and has been brewing for the past
week…. Wherever there is a Serbian population there is Albanian
action against them.” International officials have used the terms
“pogrom” and “Kristallnacht” to describe the violence against the

And yet, even in the last few weeks, the NATO mission in Kosovo has
been touted as an example of successful peacekeeping. Over the last
year, proposals have been advanced for deploying NATO forces to keep
the peace in other sensitive areas in the Balkans and the Greater
Middle East such as Moldova and Georgia, among the two communities in
Cyprus, and between Israel and the Palestinians once a settlement is
reached. After the events of this past week, does anyone believe that
others will trust NATO promises?

Two sad lessons have been communicated. The first is that NATO
countries have placed such a high value on “no-casualty” missions
that aggressive and effective peacekeeping – including disarming
militias, hunting down war criminals and combating organized crime
and terrorist groups – takes a back seat to “not stirring things up.”
Even if the deployment of additional U.S. and British forces this
week to Kosovo calms things down, we simply return to the pre-March
2004 status quo.

The second is that ethnic cleansing still works as a strategy,
despite all the West’s moralizing. Throughout the region, there has
been a clear logic at work: When an ethnic community that forms an
overall minority in a country wants to purse self-determination, it
finds it useful to establish itself as the absolute majority in the
territory in question. The Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh, the Abkhaz,
and the Turkish Cypriots all found it politically expedient to push
out residents of the titular majority (Azeris, Georgians, Greek
Cypriots, respectively) to bolster their case for separation.

Kosovo was supposed to be different. Then-president Clinton and Prime
Minister Blair stated that the West had to draw the line and stop
this cycle of violence. The immense power of the Western Alliance was
to be deployed to first reverse the expulsion of the Kosovo Albanians
by Slobodan Milosevic, and then to make members of all Kosovo
communities feel safe and secure, so as to construct civil society
and lay the foundations for democracy. The whole justification for
ending actual Serbian jurisdiction over Kosovo and placing it in the
hands of an international authority backed by NATO firepower was to
prevent any further ethnic cleansing.

And now you find that many of the same people who pushed for
intervention in 1999 are arguing that, regretfully, the only solution
is to push for an independent Kosovo. Yet the attempt to advance a
political agenda through the use of violence and terror tactics
should be of particular concern to the West. Apparently NATO, the
grand alliance prepared to stop the forces of the Soviet Union from
overwhelming Western Europe, is unable to prevent mobs from
frustrating the West’s stated desire to ensure that ethnic cleansing
will not be legitimized.

The Bush administration can throw up its hands and do nothing – and,
in so doing, kiss goodbye to any hope of solving the area’s other
protracted conflicts. Or, it can take action to make a reality the
declaration made on Friday by Deputy Secretary of State Richard
Armitage and Foreign Minister of Serbia and Montenegro Goran
Svilanovic that “no party can be allowed to profit or advance a
political agenda through violence.”

And it is essential that the West not abandon its commitment to
“standards before status” with regard to Kosovo. Aid and assistance
must be made conditional upon a fundamental improvement of the
security of the non-Albanian population. As far as the reality on the
ground is concerned, we are back to June 1999: We need to start from
scratch in how we approach the province’s governance. The failures of
the past five years do not provide a workable foundation for further

It may be that the ultimate solution to Kosovo is cantonization
between an Albanian and a Serbian entity (with extraterritorial
supervision for Orthodox sites in an Albanian zone). But that should
come about through negotiation and compromise, not murder and arson.

In Iraq and in Kosovo and elsewhere, the United States has made
promises about providing peace and security. Extremists and
terrorists everywhere are challenging America’s commitment to seeing
its promises through. And others are watching to see how our resolve
holds up.

– Nikolas K. Gvosdev is a senior fellow for strategic studies at the
Nixon Center