NATO’s Balkan Disaster: A Year Later

This article appeared in the Korea Herald, June 8, 1999.

The year 2000 has dawned: An uneasy calm reigns in the Balkans. The bombs have stopped falling. NATO has seemingly triumphed.

The majority of Serb security units have withdrawn from Kosovo, easingthe heavy-handed repression characteristic of the last two years. Alas, ruinsare all that remain of many Kosovar villages.

Hundreds of thousands of refugees still populate camps in Albania and Macedonia. European and Russian peacekeeping forces have been unable -and, more importantly, unwilling - to suppress continuing attacks across theAlbanian border by the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA). Angry young refugees unwillingto return to Kosovo nominally controlled by Serbia are flocking to theguerrillas.

Serbs have slowly begun to rebuild, but much of Yugoslavia remainsrubble. Slobodan Milosevic is still entrenched in power; his family and friendscontrol the modest aid money flowing in from the West. Milosevic continues toskillfully tarnish democratic politicians' reputations with the taint of disloyaltyin the midst of a seemingly endless national crisis.

Tensions are growing between ethnic Albanians, Albanian refugees and the Macedonian government. Montenegro is being squeezed between theSerb-dominated Yugoslav government and KLA guerrillas, operating with the aid of ethnic Albanian refugees still in Montenegro. Clashes have occurred betweenethnic Hungarians and Serbs in Yugoslavia's northern territory of Vojvodina.

Albania grows more chaotic every day. The central government's writ runs little further north than the capital of Tirana, while ousted presidentSali Berisha - dedicated to overthrowing Albania's government - steadily gains influence through his alliance with the KLA. Arms and recruits flow to theKLA, which promises to liberate Kosovo, irrespective of the ongoing diplomatic negotiations.

Tensions are escalating in Bosnia. Croats and Muslims alike have begun jostling for position. Although they watch each other warily, they aremost interested in devouring the so-called Republic of Srpska, inhabited byethnic Serbs. Croatia and Bosnia believe this time Belgrade could do little tosave its fellow Serbs.

In Greece popular opinion remains harshly negative toward the allianceand the war. The economic costs have been high, hampering Athens' plan toadopt the euro in 2001. Greece's growing belief that it cannot count on fellowmembers of NATO in a confrontation with Turkey has caused Athens to accelerate itsmilitary build-up and strengthen ties with Moscow.

A presidential election is in full swing in Russia, with one nationalistor another expected to win. Animus toward the West in general and the UnitedStates in particular has been a constant campaign theme. Moscow has grown more recalcitrant regarding both economic market reform and high-technology transfers.

Moreover, Russia and China have used their position on the U.N. Security Council to frustrate American desires in Kosovo. Both countries demandedlimits on the peacekeeping mission's goals and powers. Beijing emphasized that itwould not allow the U.N. to become a tool of U.S. hegemony. Concerns about Washington's arrogance are expressed by other nations as well, such asIndia.

Recriminations were even worse among NATO members. London ended upresenting what it believed to be the Clinton administration's premature capitulationin accepting the settlement peddled by Moscow. Clinton, in turn, blamedCongress, which sharply criticized Europe for free-riding, given its minor military contribution to the war.

Germany's Red-Green coalition barely survived. Chancellor GerhardSchroeder had found himself hard-pressed to prevent a split within his own Social Democratic Party. Italy's coalition sought to recover politically bypromising that it, like Greece, would support no more aggressive, "out-of-area" operations.

In fact, NATO's enthusiasm for its new mission of making war on behalfof peace, joyously promoted at its 50th anniversary celebration in 1999, had largely dissipated. Many NATO officials privately described Kosovo as aPyrrhic victory: one so costly that another such triumph would undo the alliance. Several European nations, particularly France and Germany, discussedproposals to invigorate the Western European Union and EuroCorps in order to reduce Europe's military dependence on the United States.

Meanwhile, the slaughter continued around the globe. Turkey launchedanother military operation into Iraq to suppress Kurdish guerrillas. Civil warblazed in Sri Lanka. Kashmiris continued to fight for independence from India.

Cease-fires came and went in Sierra Leone. The killing escalated incountries ranging from Angola to Sudan. Not a peep was heard from the governments ofBill Clinton or Tony Blair.

Obviously, it is difficult to foresee what the new year will bring. Butin Yugoslavia, NATO combined high hubris with spectacular ignorance and overwhelming incompetence. The allied nations are likely to find theirsupposed victory almost as expensive as defeat. Unfortunately, the Balkans - and,indeed, the rest of the world - is going to pay the price for a long time.

Doug Bandow

Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and former special assistant to President Reagan.