Clinton’s Kosovo “Victory”


When it appeared that Belgrade had accepted the G-8 framework for peace in Kosovo, Clinton administration officials and their defenders began to tout the success of NATO's air war against Yugoslavia. Pentagon spokesman Kenneth Bacon, for example, claimed, "No matter where we are today, we're there because of the steady, professional, and strong application of air power over the last 10 weeks." Similarly, Paul Begala, former Clinton aide turned political commentator, proclaimed, "By God, [the air war's critics] were wrong."

Such gloating proved premature; negotiations are now tenuous. Furthermore,the truth of the matter is that Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic isnotgiving in to NATO's bombs. Milosevic achieved his political and strategicgoals weeks ago: He secured his grip on power inside Yugoslavia and pushedethnic Albanians out of a huge swath of Kosovo. His latest diplomaticactions are aimed at buying more time and eventually locking in his gains.

Moreover, Milosevic gets a better deal under the G-8 framework than underthe peace plan that Western powers tried to prod Belgrade into signing lastMarch in Rambouillet, France. Look closely at the G-8 framework endorsedby the Yugoslav government. Three of the provisions that made theRambouillet plan unacceptable to Belgrade are gone.

First, the Rambouillet agreement stipulated that NATO troops would not belimited to the province of Kosovo but could deploy anywhere in Yugoslavia.Specifically, Chapter 7, Appendix B, Section 8 of the document stated:"NATOpersonnel shall enjoy, together with their vehicles, vessels, aircraft, andequipment, free and unrestricted passage and unimpeded access throughouttheFRY [Federal Republic of Yugoslavia] including associated air-space andterritorial waters. This shall include, but not be limited to, the rightofbivouac, maneuver, billet, and utilization of any areas or facilities asrequired for support, training, and operations." As far as Belgrade wasconcerned, that provision was a recipe for NATO occupation of Yugoslavia.The G-8 agreement, however, speaks only of a "deployment in Kosovo ofeffective international civil and security presences."

Second, the Rambouillet agreement would have guaranteed that Kosovo'spopulation, which is overwhelmingly non-Serb, could vote to secede fromYugoslavia after three years of interim administration. Chapter 8, Article1, Section 3 of the agreement stated: "Three years after the entry intoforce of this Agreement, an international meeting shall be convened todetermine the mechanism for a final settlement for Kosovo, on the basis ofthe will of the people [and the] opinions of relevant authorities." TheG-8agreement, however, makes no reference to a referendum after three yearsandclearly states that the political administration of Kosovo must beconsistent with "principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity of theFederal Republic of Yugoslavia."

Third, the Rambouillet agreement would have mandated the deployment of NATOtroops on a NATO mission. The G-8 agreement, however, refers to an"international security presence, with substantial NATO participation,"thatwill operate "under UN auspices, . . . acting as may be decided underChapter VII of the Charter." Authority for the Kosovo operation will beshifted to the United Nations, where Yugoslavia has two key allies in theSecurity Council, Russia and China.

What's more, a footnote to the G-8 agreement states, "It is understood thatRussia's position is that the Russian contingent [to the Kosovopeacekeepingmission] will not be under NATO command and its relationship to theinternational presence will be governed by relevant additional agreements."Under the G-8 plan, Russia could have its own administrative sector inKosovo. Given the cultural and historical ties between Russians and Serbs,ethnic Albanian refugees are unlikely to return to a Russian sector. Theresult would be the de facto partition of Kosovo, something Milosevicprobably desired from the outset.

But this "Rambouillet-lite" peace accord is only the latest episode in anongoing fiasco. The Clinton administration's ill-conceived Kosovo policyhas failed to meet almost all of its objectives, especially the protectionof Kosovar Albanian civilians and the stabilization of the Balkans.

Even if the impasse is broken and an agreement is signed, the war hasalready caused enormous problems. U.S.-Russian relations are at a postColdWar low, and the prospects for pro-Western candidates in this winter'sRussian parliamentary elections are bleak. Russia still has more than6,000aging nuclear missiles; the election of anti-Western forces could doom theSTART II arms control agreement.

This Clinton "victory" also means deploying U.S. troops for yet anothermulti-billion-dollar, open-ended military commitment. Beyond that, U.S.soldiers involved in the operation will be obligated under the G-8agreementto disarm the Kosovo Liberation Army, which still seeks an independentKosovo. Thanks to the Clinton administration, Milosevic may get the lastlaugh, as Belgrade's headache becomes Washington's headache.

Gary Dempsey

Gary Dempsey is a foreign policy analyst at the Cato Institute.