Making a bigger mess in the Balkans

Last week, NATO, a collective defense alliance formed in the early years of the Cold War, initiated an unofficial war against a sovereign state in the middle of Europe. It may prove to be one of the greater policy errors of the decade, setting precedents that cannot be broken and expanding conflict by attempting to contain it.

The United States is bombing Yugoslavia because it is fighting and killing its own citizens and refuses to sign an agreement permitting NATO troops to occupy the province of Kosovo.

But hasn’t anyone learned that aerial bombardment does not bring about cooperation, let alone compliance? It is impossible to win a war from the air. The Yugoslavs will not capitulate, forcing NATO to use ground troops. Such action would certainly elicit a response from Yugoslavia’s traditional allies, Russia and Belarus. NATO should be thankful Russia is in a weakened state or else the world would be facing a serious situation.

NATO leaders keep painting President Slobodan Milosevic of Yugoslavia as the main antagonist in all these affairs. What and who is Slobodan Milosevic? People say he is a man of low wit, but possesses tremendous cunning. Milosevic seems to only seek power, even if it means ceding territory. And the West has consistently helped him by giving him outs by vilifying him, isolating his country and now bombing his “people.”

There have been numerous calls for his overthrow, but who will replace him? Besides, the conflict in Kosovo lives beyond Milosevic. What most people fail to realize is that the Serbian people – who would never dream of losing the area considered the cradle of their civilization – must be convinced.

NATO just does not get it. It is bombing the very people it needs help from. In its infinite wisdom, NATO bombed another Yugoslav province, Montenegro. Montenegro is led by a pro-Western prime minister, Milo Djukanovic. He has been tapped as the man who would eventually lead Yugoslavia out of its decade-long isolation. What credibility can he have when NATO cruise missiles are raining down and killing Montenegrins?

NATO’s past actions have legitimated the Kosovo Liberation Army’s use of guerrilla warfare as a means of attaining political power. In seeking to destroy the Yugoslav army, NATO will only overturn the balance of power in the Balkans.

With members of Congress talking about arming the KLA and Russian shipments of fighter planes being intercepted allegedly en route to Yugoslavia, another Vietnam-style proxy war might be in the works.

This is a frustrating conflict with no quick fix. No one really has the moral high ground and no one is willing to concede anything. The Yugoslavian government would probably agree to limited autonomy, restored basic rights and a small observation force of Russian and European troops in Kosovo. But there could be no Germans and no NATO forces.

How can anyone presume to really know the Balkans, a region where misdeeds and lost battles are remembered for centuries? In Belgrade, in the park by the Kalemegdan Citadel, old men come out to play chess in the afternoons. These same old men were soldiers the last time Yugoslavia was a battleground for a wider conflict between foreign powers. Europe is closing out the 20th century with the Balkans in the same perilous condition as the last turn of the century.

-The writer is a sophomore majoring in international affairs.

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