New crisis in Kosovo

United Press International
March 24, 2004 Wednesday 11:18 AM Eastern Time

Outside View: New crisis in Kosovo



The violence in Kosovo this past week has dealt a serious blow to the
credibility of the Western Alliance.

After promising for five years that NATO could provide security so
that the United Nations could lay the foundations for the
construction of a multiethnic, democratic Kosovo, a well-organized
campaign exposed the hollowness of Western guarantees. It also tests
the long-term commitment of the alliance to engage in successful

Only a few weeks ago, Kosovo was continuing to be promoted as a
successful exercise in nation building. Indeed, the United States was
even preparing to withdraw more forces from the international
protectorate, on the grounds that reconstruction efforts were
proceeding apace.

Of course, the violence that rocked Kosovo this past week is a grim
reminder that ignoring a problem does not make it go away.

The West has been so desperate, however, to paint Kosovo as a
“success” for humanitarian intervention and nation building — even
to the point of citing it as a precedent for how things should go in
Iraq — that warnings of problems bubbling below the surface were

Indeed, Washington Post reporter Dana Priest had noted that after
NATO forces entered the province in 1999, “A more enduring, invisible
battlefield emerged quickly. The peacekeepers of the NATO Kosovo
Force, or KFOR, didn’t even pretend to mobilize on it. It was a
battlefield on which the struggle for ultimate power and control was
waged by underground political structures and outlawed security

But NATO countries 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 — took a back seat to “not stirring things up.”
And so the province has simmered.

In February, Serbian intelligence alerted their Western counterparts
that there might be an upsurge in violence in Kosovo and in other
areas of the Balkans. On the eve of the violence, Marek Nowicki, the
United Nations ombudsman for Kosovo, complained to the Council of
Europe at a hearing in Paris that the human rights situation in the
province was “unacceptable.” But Nowicki went on to criticize
international authorities in the province for failing to support his
work, accusing U.N. officials of playing down his concerns and
declining to pressure local authorities to act on his

The violence directed against the Serbs of Kosovo — “an outbreak of
violence of this scale, of this speed, of this intensity,” according
to spokesman Derek Chappell — occurred under the watchful eyes of
more than 18,000 international peacekeepers. So this raises a very
serious question: What was NATO and the United Nations doing? How
could these attacks be planned and coordinated across the province
with no advance warning, no signs, no leaks? And what does this say
for the effectiveness of NATO peacekeepers?

Jonathan Eyal of London’s Royal United Services Institute maintains
that NATO “has simply grown too complacent. It has ignored repeated
intelligence warnings about a rising level of tension between
Kosovo’s communities” and so was unprepared to act.

The destruction of the 130-home Serbian village of Svinjare —
located less than a mile away from a base housing French NATO
peacekeepers — was just one in a series of incidents that one
Western diplomat said were attempts by local Albanians “to cleanse
the Serbs and create a fait accompli before any talks.” So the result
has been startled inaction in the face of what Adm. Gregory Johnson,
commander of NATO forces in southeastern Europe, characterized as
“almost amount(ing) to ethnic cleansing.”

Certainly, “multiethnicity” as a value defended in the new Kosovo
also has gone up in flames.

NATO’s performance in Kosovo does not inspire those locked in other
ethnic conflicts in the region — such as the Cypriots, the Armenians
of Nagorno-Karabakh, the secessionists regions of Georgia, or even
the Israelis and the Palestinians — to assume that any settlement
backed by NATO guarantees would provide real and genuine security.

Outward calm has returned to the province. But the damage to NATO’s
credibility may be much longer lasting.

(Nikolas K. Gvosdev is executive editor of The National Interest and
a senior fellow for strategic studies at The Nixon Center.)

(United Press International’s Outside View commentaries are written
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