The U.S. Role in Kosovo

Share

Introduction

I want to thank members of the Committee for theopportunity to testify on the Clinton administration's plan tointervene in the ongoing civil war in Kosovo. There may be no moreimportant foreign policy issue today.

Despite the administration's best intentions, itsproposal to bomb Serbia and initiate a long-term ground occupationof Kosovo is misguided in the extreme. The administration wouldattempt to impose an artificial settlement with little chance ofgenuine acceptance by either side. It would attempt to micromanagea guerrilla conflict, likely spreading nationalistic flamesthroughout the region. It would involve America in an undeclaredwar against a nation which has not threatened the U.S. or any U.S.ally. It would encourage permanent European dependence on Americato defend European interests with little relevance to America. Itwould turn humanitarianism on its head, basing intervention on theethnicity of the victims, allied status of the belligerents,relative strength of the contending political interests, andexpansiveness of the media coverage. Most important, it would putU.S. troops at risk without any serious, let alone vital, Americaninterest at stake.

Why Kosovo?

It has oft been said that the world is a dangerousplace, and it certainly is. But not particularly to the U.S. Mostmembers of the industrialized West, and especially America, are atpeace.

Unfortunately, conflict wracks many other countriesaround the world. There has been mass murder in Burundi, Cambodia,Rwanda, Sudan, and Uganda; brutal insurgencies in Angola, Congo,Ethiopia, Liberia, Mozambique, Sierra Leone, and Sri Lanka; bloodywars between Armenia and Azerbaijan, Ethiopia and Somalia, Indiaand Pakistan; endless civil war in Afghanistan; violent separatistcampaigns in Iraq (Kurds), Mexico (Chiapans), Northern Ireland(Irish Catholics), Russia (Chechens), Spain (Basques), and Turkey(Kurds); and varying strife in Burma, Georgia, India, Indonesia,Tajikistan, and elsewhere.

Then there is Kosovo. Without doubt, the situation istragic. Yet the one constant of guerrilla insurgencies and civilwars is their brutality. By both sides.

Slobodan Milosevic is a demagogic thug, but, in fact,the behavior of his government towards Albanians looks not unlikethat of the more democratic Turkish regime towards Kurds. TheSerbian government has caused untowards civilian casualties inKosovo, but its conduct does not exist in a vacuum. Last June aU.S. diplomat in Belgrade told me: "If you're a Serb, hell yes theKLA is a terrorist organization." Even ethnic Albanians admit thatthe KLA had targeted Serb policemen and other government employees,Serbs viewed as abusing Kosovars, as well as Albanian"collaborators." Each cycle of violence has spawned another.

The resulting suffering of Kosovars is obvious. Yetthe fighting in Kosovo barely rises to the status of atrocity intoday's world. It certainly does not constitute genocide, a termnow routinely tossed around with wild abandon. At least twice asmany people died in January alone in Sierra Leone than in Kosovolast year. As many people died in one three-day battle betweenTamil guerrillas and the Sri Lankan government last fall as inKosovo in all of 1998. By any normal standard events in Kosovo areless important than those in many other nations around theworld.

Indeed, the administration appears to be driven bywhat former British diplomat Jonathan Clarke has termed the"instinct for the capillary." Developments in China and Russia willhave a significant impact on shaping the future world order. TheU.S. remains at risk of being sucked into a war on the Koreanpeninsula. American economic prosperity could fade if Japan'seconomy collapsed. All of these issues deserve the administration'sfocused attention. The course of yet another third-rate civil wardoes not.

Nor is the administration acting on humanitarianconcerns, given the many worse conflicts which it currentlyignores. Indeed, contrast U.S. policy towards Turkey. A brutalcivil war is raging, and some 37,000 have died over the lastdecade. An oppressed people, the Kurds, is seeking the right ofself-determination. The central government engages in a variety ofmurderous practices, including destroying Kurdish villages, andruthlessly restricts civil liberties and political freedoms ofKurdish sympathizers.

But the administration has voiced no outrage,proposed no bombing, demanded no occupation. To the contrary,Washington supplies the weapons Ankara uses to repress Kurdishseparatists and apparently helped Turkey capture rebel headAbdullah Ocalan. There is much to criticize about Ocalan's PKK, ofcourse, but one could make similar judgments regarding the KosovoLiberation Army (KLA). Hypocritical is perhaps the most charitablecharacterization of the administration's policy.

In such a circumstance, what could warrant U.S.intervention? All of the proposed justifications fall farshort.

The administration would attempt to impose anartificial settlement with little chance of genuine acceptance byeither side. The administration has developed a nearly 100-pageagreement setting forth a variety of complicated governmentinstitutions and convoluted enforcement processes. It may representa creative response to a law school final exam question; it doesnot represent the aspirations of the Albanian or the Serbianpeople. As such, the system would be inherently unstable and couldbe sustained only with a permanent foreign occupation.

If Belgrade refuses to sign, air strikes might damagemilitary assets, but attacks anything short of catastrophic areunlikely to change Yugoslavia's policy towards the province.Slobodan Milosevic may be an ineffective nationalist, but hisascent to and hold on power has always been based on nationalism.He has already lost the Serbs in Bosnia and Croatia. The loss ofKosovo would be far more threatening to his political future thanNATO attacks, which would allow him to pose as Yugoslavia'sdefender against the aggressive West.

Even in the unlikely event that NATO action drove himfrom power, his successors are likely to be no less committed tomaintaining Yugoslav sovereignty over Kosovo. Even Western orientedopposition figures, such as Vesna Pesic and Zoran Djindjic, believeKosovo to be part of Serbia. Moreover, though they wouldundoubtedly rule with a far gentler hand, most Albanians appear tohave moved beyond the point of accepting Serbian sovereignty in anyform under anyone.

The experience in Bosnia, a nation which exists onlyin the imagination of Western officials, should serve as a caution.It is Bosnia that "animates our policy towards Kosovo," NicholasBurns, U.S. ambassador to Greece, told me during a recent trip toAthens. Burns said that the Clinton administration "learned a verybitter lesson in the Bosnian War, that if diplomacy is not oftencoupled by the threat of force or the willingness to use force inan unstable environment like this, diplomacy is oftenineffective."

Yet Washington encouraged the Muslims to kill theLisbon accord, which would have settled the conflict before theworst of the fighting. And a skeptical Foreign Ministry official inGreece, the country closest to the Balkans wars, privately countersBurns, observing that "timing is very relevant." By the time ofDayton "everyone had become war weary" and the Croats and Muslimshad gained the weapons necessary to match the Serbs on theground.

Moreover, even though the U.S. has spent $12 billionand occupied Bosnia for more than three years, the Dayton scheme isa bust. As my Cato Institute colleague Gary Dempsey puts it,"Reintegration is grinding to a halt." Nationalists dominatepolitics and refugees are not returning home; there is littlehome-grown economic growth.

The kind of democracy being taught by the West morerepresents Boss Tweed than George Washington, as the West simplyforces Bosnians to live under under a government that representsnone of them. The High Representative in Bosnia, Carlos Westendorphas chosen the so-called country's currency and flag. Only lastweek Westendorp dismissed the elected president of the Serbianrepublic. Not surprisingly, there is no local support for this"country" imposed from outside and there is no end in sight for amission which was originally supposed to last just a year. Thewithdrawal of U.S. troops, warns the Clinton administration, wouldlead to Bosnia's collapse.

Intervention in Kosovo, would be even more perverse.Not only does the West have no answer - its autonomy proposalsatisfies no one and could be enforced only through yet anotherinterminable occupation - but the two sides are not ready to quitfighting. The only thing worse than occupying Bosnia would bebombing Serb military units and patrolling Kosovo's border withAlbania in an attempt to cut off the insurgents' armsshipments.

It would attempt to micromanage a guerrilla conflict,likely spreading nationalistic flames throughout the region. Theadministration obviously believes that NATO can push Yugoslaviahard enough to force autonomy, without pushing so hard as to yieldindependence, for Kosovo. This is an illusion. If the U.S.effectively provides the KLA with an air force by bombing Serbforces if Belgrade says no, or largely eliminates Serb authoritywithin Kosovo and creates a military shield for slow-motionAlbanian secession if Belgrade says yes- -or both, shouldBelgrade's acquiescence be acquired through military action - theresult is likely to be increased pressure for not only anindependent Kosova, but a larger Albania, incorporating Kosovo, thenation of Albania, western Macedonia, and perhaps much more.

When I visited Kosovo last June, I did not find asingle ethnic Albanian interested in autonomy. Although many werecautious when discussing the possibility of a greater Albania -obviously the question arises, which group would end up in charge?- they freely criticized Macedonia's treatment of its Albanianminority. And virtually every television satellite dish was turnedtowards Tirana.

The KLA's agenda is clear. Last year spokesman JakupKrasniqi said his organization was "was fighting for the liberationof all occupied Albanian territories," including the westernsection of Macedonia, whose population is one-fourth Albanian, "andtheir unification with Albania." The KLA may sign on theadministration's dotted line, but that doesn't mean any, let aloneall, of its different factions have changed their ultimateobjective. Even the moderate Kosovo political leadership isunlikely to accept autonomy, whatever the formalities of anyagreement. Dr. Alush Gashi, an adviser to Ibrahim Rugova, told meduring a visit to Kosovo last June: "Independence isinevitable."

Many residents of Albania, from which KLA recruitsand supplies are flowing into Kosovo, and much of the internationalAlbanian diaspora, from which financial support is flowing intoKosovo, also support this wider agenda. Indeed, the AlbanianAmerican Civic League includes on its website a map showingAlbania, Kosovo, western Macedonia (along with its capital,Skopje), southeastern Montenegro (along with its cpaital,Podgorica), northern Greece, and southern Serbia (north of Kosovo).It is a breathtaking agenda.

Administration protestations against Kosovanindependence have done nothing to dampen transnational ethnicsentiments. Indeed, during my visit I found several Kosovars whobelieved that America backed their cause unreservedly, despite theadministration's statements. One student opined that PresidentClinton was simply lying to the American people about the issue tosooth their concerns.

There is nothing in NATO actions to change thatimpression. At the time, one U.S. official complained to me thatadministration statements last year (which weren't even directlybacked by force) "obviously play into the perception that the U.S.is here to help the Albanians." The threat of air strikes even moreobviously aids the cause of independence. The choice of Robert Doleas the envoy to the Albanian negotiators also sends a clear signalof administration favor for the Albanian cause.

Nor is the proposed agreement truly balanced. It isrelative easy to count Serb personnel, but virtually impossible tomonitor KLA activities. Indeed, an administration concerned aboutcasualties is not likely to press too hard to disarm the KLA, aprocess that proved infeasible in Somalia under similarly difficultcircumstances. Most important, there is no Albanian target for NATOto pressure to enforce the accord. Its implementation would merelybecome a new starting point for the struggle for Albanianindependence.

For this reason Greece, the nation closest to theconflict, is extremely uncomfortable over proposed NATOintervention. In private meetings during a recent trip to Athens Ifound that officials at every level went out of their way toemphasize their opposition to Western military intervention. Onetop Foreign Ministry official complained that "if force was used itwould have spillover consequences for us." Such concerns are alsovoiced outside of government, by members of the conservative NewDemocracy party, academics, businessmen, and journalists.

A former diplomat and conservative member ofparliament, Petros Molyviatis, says the important thing is "not toallow the change of external frontiers. If we do, it could blow upthe Balkans." Unfortunately, the administration plan makes thismore rather than less likely. The point is, the U.S. would beaiding the very group most likely to spread instability southward,into Macedonia and Greece. Milosevic is a brute, but he is noHitler; his ambitions are limited to Kosovo. Those of the KLA arenot.

It would involve America in an undeclared war againsta nation which has not threatened the U.S. or any U.S. ally.Traditionally, war has been thought to be a last resort. Yet thisadministration is implementing the most militaristic program in atleast two decades. The President used U.S. troops to try to rebuildSomalian society, bombed Serbian insurgents in Bosnia, warned ofpossible military action against North Korea, occupied Haiti, senttroops to Macedonia and Bosnia, has undertaken military exercisesaround the world, is launching regular attacks on Iraq, and nowthreatens war against Yugoslavia over Kosovo.

The President argues that Washington must not allowsmall conflicts to "fester and spread." But U.S. policy hasconsistently failed. Somalia was a disaster, reconciliation is afantasy in Bosnia, Haiti now enjoys a presidential instead ofmilitary dictatorship, only diplomacy kept the peace in Korea, Iraqremains recalcitrant, and U.S. threats have changed nothing inKosovo.

More fundamental, however, is the principle. What isthe standard for making war? That is, what justifies the extremestep of unleashing death and destruction on another people?Traditionally it has been a military threat against the U.S.

Yet Yugoslavia has done nothing against America orany of its allies. Grant that Serbian treatment of Kosovars hasbeen atrocious. So has the Turkish handling of Kurds. And theconduct of Indonesia in East Timor. As well as the behavior of twoscore other governments in a variety of conflicts around the globe.Is war the right remedy in these cases?

Indeed, the administration is not threatening war tostop human rights abuses. Rather, it wants to force compliance withan international diktat to establish an unstable, jerry-riggedautonomous government to be backed by a permament foreignoccupation of what is considered internationally to be indisputablyYugoslavian land.

Were any other nation to make such a demand,Washington would consider it high hubris. Were any other nation tomake such a demand of the U.S. - to, say, occupy SouthernCalifornia ("Azatland" to Mexican irredentists) to monitorrelations between an anglo-dominated government and growingHispanic population - Washington would consider it to bejustification for war. Indeed, the national governmentunequivocally rejected British and French attempts to mediate theCivil War and threatened war should those nations recognize theConfederacy.

Warmongering in the name of peace is an oxymoron.There will almost certainly be times in the future when Americawill have to consider war against other nations. But Washingtonshould restrict this most serious of threats to the most serious ofdangers. By threatening to bomb Yugoslavia if it does not agree toaccept the administration's preferred settlement plan, thePresident is trivializing war, the most monstrous of humanpractices.

It would encourage permanent European dependence onAmerica to defend European interests with little relevance toAmerica. There should be little doubt that events in Kosovo aremore relevant to Europe than America. Yet the U.S. is beingexpected to take the lead in Kosovo. More than that, Washington ispushing a form of military intervention with which some Europeanstates are quite uncomfortable. It is bad enough to wage war forEurope rather than America when supported by the Europeans. Itmakes little sense to do so when they don't.

There is a longer term concern, however. NATO wascreated a half century ago to provide a defense shield behind whichthe Europeans could rebuild. The alliance was never intended toprovide a permanent subsidy, especially one to populous andprosperous states after the opposing hegemonic threat haddisappeared.

In fact, the giants of American foreign policy whocreated NATO would be appalled at continued U.S. domination of thealliance. After all, Dean Acheson assured Congress thatWashington's troop presence would be only temporary, intended toprotect the war-torn nations until they could stand on their own.In 1951 Dwight D. Eisenhower, NATO's first Supreme Commander,argued that the U.S. should "set clear limits" on the length oftime it would maintain forces in Europe. A decade later, he warned:"Permanent troop establishments abroad" will "discourage thedevelopment of the necessary military strength Western Europeancountries should provide for themselves."

Experience has borne out Eisenhower's fears. Althoughthe Europeans were always far more at risk than was the U.S., theynever matched America's defense effort. Even today they devote amuch smaller percentage of their GDPs to the military, on averageabout half that of the U.S. Washington spends 60 percent more ondefense than do all NATO's European partners combined, even thoughthe latter possess a larger economy and population.

Their preference for social over military spending ismatched by a reluctance to act without America. The Europeanswhined about the fighting in Bosnia but preferred not to act alone.Without U.S. pressure NATO would not be preparing to make war onSerbia.

In the eyes of some, this demonstrates the necessityof American leadership. However, by acting when the Europeanschoose not to guarantees continued European passivity. So long asthey can induce Washington to subsidize their defense and moderatetheir conflicts, they have no incentive to organize independently.Indeed, it is obviously against their interest to solve problemswithout America, since that would discourage U.S. paternalism inthe future.

Instead of constantly bailing Europe out of itstroubles - troubles which, in contrast to those in times past, donot threaten its very existence - America should exercise toughlove and set the Europeans free to make their own decisions andbear the resulting consequences. If the U.S. does not, it will beforever hostage to local conflicts which are irrelevant to Americaninterests. Let the members of the European Union, with a combinedGDP of $8 trillion, population of nearly 400 million, and armedforces of more than one million sort out the problems of theBalkans, if they believe doing so to be worth the cost.

At least the contention that the Europeans won't actis a serious, if flawed, argument for intervention. Simplyridiculous is the claim that aerial bombing of Serbia and groundoccupation of Kosovo are necessary to save NATO. For instance,Robert Hunter of the Rand Corporation complains that "If fightingin Kosovo goes on unabated at the time of NATO's 50th anniversarysummit in Washington this April, the focus will not be on its newstrategic concept or grand visions. Kosovo will overshadow bothcelebration of the past and plans for the future."

Those who share this view would have the U.S. go towar to preserve the European alliance. But this turns a means intoan end. Alliances are created to deter and win wars; Hunter woulduse war to preserve and strengthen an alliance. If NATO can'tsurvive the existence of a civil war beyond its jurisdiction, it isready to join the Warsaw Pact in the dustbin of history.

It would turn humanitarianism on its head, basingintervention on the ethnicity of the victims, allied status of thebelligerents, relative strength of the contending politicalinterests, and expansiveness of the media coverage. Like all civilwars, the fighting in Kosovo is ugly. But it is impossible to takeadministration, and NATO, moralizing seriously.

Washington and other leading European governments arenormally willing to tolerate genocide and mass murder around theglobe - witness Cambodia decades ago, Sudan continuously for years,and Burundi and Rwanda more recently. The West is also ever-readyto ignore brutal civil wars and anti-secessionist campaignsconducted by allies. NATO members are offended only when othernations play by the same rules.

In 1991 the West encouraged the break-up ofYugoslavia. Then the U.S. and Europeans decided that Serbs were notentitled to likewise secede from Croatia and Bosnia, the latter ofwhich burgeoned into a particularly bloody conflict. NATOeventually lent its air force to Muslims in Bosnia and helpedimpose the bizarre Dayton accord, under which three antagonisticgroups are supposed to live together in an artificial state ruledby international bureaucrats. The same hypocrisy is being playedout in Kosovo - Washington unreservedly supports Britain, Spain,and Turkey, for instance, in dealing with violent separatists, hasplaced no pressure on Macedonia to offer autonomy to its ethnicAlbanians, and ignores mass violence most everywhere else aroundthe globe.

Although America need not act everywhere if itdesires to implement a policy of humanitarian intervention, someobjective standards to determine when are necessary. Theadministration has articulated none.

In practice, Washington seems prepared to usemilitary force under three conditions:

  • those being killed are white Europeans;
  • the perceived aggressor is not a U.S. ally;
  • there is saturation media coverage of the conflict.

This makes a mockery of the humanitarian pretentionsadvanced by Western leaders. Nor is there anything compassionateabout sending others off to fight. It's one thing to ask young men(and now young women) to risk their lives for their own politicalcommunity. It is quite another thing for armchair warriors to havethem die righting international wrongs for other nations.

The administration's unprincipled humanitarianismcreates severe practical problems as well. Perversely, itencourages intensification of local conflict. For instance, Kosovarleaders understand the importance of positive media coverage.Rugova adviser Alush Gashi admitted to me last June that theprospect of NATO intervention "depends on how we look on CNN.People need to see victims in their living rooms." The Albaniandiaspora also recognizes the importance of political lobbying,something more traditionally associated with a desire for farmsubsidies at home than bombing campaigns abroad. Thus, instancessuch as the killings in Racak, which appear to be the ugly butnormal violence surrounding insurgencies (the U.S. governmentcommitted far worse in suppressing Filipino independence a centuryago), are manipulated by foreign parties and domestic interests forpolicy ends, in this case, U.S. intervention.

Most important, it would put U.S. troops at riskwithout any serious, let alone vital, American interest at stake.To paraphrase German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, the Balkans isnot worth the bones of a single healthy American rifleman.Yugoslavia obviously poses no direct threat to the U.S. or any U.S.ally.

Some argue that there are indirect dangers: failingto act risks another continental, if not global, conflict.Contended former German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel: "Everythingmust be done to insure that another awful conflagration does notexplode in Europe."

It is a paranoid fantasy to imagine Serbia aloneinaugurating such a conflict, however. Serbian legions will not bemarching on Ankara, Athens, or Tirana, let alone Berlin, Moscow, orParis. Only if other states joined in could the war become aserious one.

This was, of course, the same argument used forWestern intervention in Bosnia. Yet the Yugoslavian civil war,running from Slovenia through Bosnia, lasted longer than World WarI without expanding beyond Yugoslavia. The lesson is obvious: it isbetter for surrounding states to remain aloof rather than tointervene in ethnic strife, thereby building firebreaks to ratherthan transmission belts for war.

Even if the conflict in Kosovo spilled over intoAlbania and Macedonia, no major power would join the conflict, instark contrast to World War I. The worst case would be aGreco-Turkish war, but both countries have made clear bothprivately and publicly that neither is interested in intervening inthe Balkans. In fact, violence in Kosovo is the least likely sparkfor such a conflict. Should Ankara and Athens exchange blows, it isfar more likely to occur over the Aegean islands, Cyprus, orterritorial sea claims. Moreover, as noted earlier, NATO'sintervention on behalf of the KLA would only energize advocates ofa greater Albania.

The most important point, however, is that anyresulting instability is a European, not an American, problem. TheU.S. has a vital interest in preventing a hostile hegemonic powerfrom dominating Europe. Washington does not have even a minorinterest in preventing Europe from having to deal with the detritusin the Balkans left over from the Cold War. Instability on theperiphery of Europe has other consequences - economic and cultural,for instance - but they are minimal. To call this a vital interest,as does the administration, suggests that it is incapable ofsetting priorities.

Indeed, intervention in the Balkans risks losing thefar more important game involving Russia. Moscow's futuredevelopment remains worrisome and uncertain. Yet NATO attacks onand occupation of Yugoslavia, which shares longstanding Slavic tieswith Russia, would exacerbate tensions already inflamed by theexpansion of NATO. Of even greater concern, America's willingnessto meddle in areas of serious, if not vital interest, to Russia(including the Transcaucasus) risk inflaming domestic nationalism,thereby encouraging development of a less cooperative regime inMoscow.

Where America's interests are so slight, Washingtonhas no business risking the lives of U.S. servicemen. At least inBosnia the respective combatants had largely fought themselves out.They have not in Kosovo. There Serbs would have every incentive toharm foreign occupiers who had bombed or threatened to bomb theirnation, while Albanians would have every incentive to causeincidents likely to be blamed on the Serbs. And the mountainous,wooded border between Albania and Kosovo is tailor made forinfiltration and guerrilla attacks should NATO forces actuallyattempt to interdict Albanian reinforcements.

Conclusion

"We're in the middle of trying to deal with a verycomplicated situation, has explained Secretary of State MadeleineAlbright. But she and her colleagues are doing a bad job of it. Itis hard to imagine a circumstance in which U.S. militaryintervention would be less appropriate.

Unfortunately, Wilsonian war-mongering has become afixture of American foreign policy. The strife in Kosovo isprecisely the sort of conflict that Washington should avoid.Ensnaring the U.S. in the tragedy would only make the situationmore tragic. Congress should clearly and unequivocally reject theadministration's dangerous plans.

Doug Bandow

International Relations Committee
United States House of Representatives