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The Case Against Intervention in Kosovo | The Nation

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The Case Against Intervention in Kosovo

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Paradoxically, unless Serbia quickly knuckles under to NATO bombing, the effect of Kosovo intervention may be to rupture fatally the very alliance the airstrikes were intended to solidify. If the Serbs refuse to capitulate, the alliance's fragile unity will likely dissolve. Indeed, a bare forty-eight hours after the bombing commenced, Greece and Italy already were expressing unease with the air campaign.

About the Author

Christopher Layne
Christopher Layne is a visiting scholar at the Center for International Studies at USC.
Benjamin Schwarz
Benjamin Schwarz, a correspondent for The Atlantic Monthly, is former executive editor of The World Policy Journal.

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The President's argument that, absent US intervention in Kosovo, the war will engulf the entire Balkan region, pit Greece against Turkey and "destabilize" all of Europe is nothing more than a recycled version of the long-discredited domino theory. But, aside from the theory's general flaws, Clinton's specific application of it to Kosovo is problematic.

After all, the Administration's grand strategy of "Engagement and Enlargement" is based explicitly on the convictions that democracies do not fight other democracies and that international institutions foster peace among their members. Washington considers both Greece and Turkey democracies, and both are members of the same institution--NATO. So, in essence, the Clinton Administration is waging war in Kosovo to forestall a Greco-Turkish conflict that, according to the Administration's own core foreign policy assumptions, cannot occur. Also, to the extent that the Kosovo conflict does "spill over" into neighboring Macedonia and Albania, NATO's attacks are likely to be the proximate cause. Rather than dampening Serbian military attacks against Kosovo's ethnic Albanians, NATO's airstrikes have intensified Serbian aggression, which in turn has caused more Albanians to flee Kosovo. Meanwhile, the likelihood of cross-border clashes has increased, because the KLA will undoubtedly use refugee camps in Albania as bases of operations. The violent anti-US/NATO demonstrations in Macedonia in reaction to the bombing clearly illustrate how NATO intervention is contributing to regional destabilization, but even if war spreads to neighboring Albania and Macedonia, instability in those states poses no greater intrinsic threat to US interests than does the conflict in Kosovo.

President Clinton says that if the United States allows a fire to burn in the Balkans, "the flames will spread," but one way to fight forest fires is let the fire burn itself out. Wars end when both sides are exhausted, or when one side realizes it has been defeated and abandons the struggle. In the other Balkan conflict, in Bosnia, the war might have ended with fewer dead if the Bosnian Muslims had tried to negotiate an accommodation with the Serbs much earlier in the conflict. One of the reasons they didn't do so is that they believed NATO would eventually rescue them. But they did not simply rely on the natural course of events to bring NATO into the conflict. Rather, to create sympathy in the West for their cause, they manipulated the situation and engaged in clever propaganda. A decisive moment in the Bosnian conflict occurred in early 1994, when a mortar shell exploded in a crowded Sarajevo marketplace, killing and maiming scores of civilians. The Serbs were immediately blamed for this atrocity, and NATO's intervention followed shortly thereafter. The evidence that the Bosnian Serbs were responsible is, at best, highly inconclusive. In fact, as former British foreign secretary David Owen reports in his account of his tenure as the European Union's Balkan peace envoy, there is strong evidence that the Bosnian Muslims fired the offending mortar shell themselves to fabricate an incident that would spur NATO intervention to relieve the siege of Sarajevo. In Kosovo, as US and NATO officials have acknowledged off the record, the United States has been subject to similar provocations, as the KLA has maneuvered to bring NATO into the war as its de facto air force.

Clinton has also been unable to think through the short- and medium-term implications of NATO intervention. US and NATO officials say that air power will compel Serbia to abide by the alliance's wishes. But as World War II, Vietnam and the Persian Gulf War demonstrated, air power alone does not win wars. To prevail over an opponent, one must prevail on the ground. The Clinton Administration, however, has created its own mythology about air power's efficacy, contending that the NATO bombing of the Bosnian Serbs in the summer of 1995 forced them to negotiate at Dayton. In fact, the decisive event that ended the Bosnian war was the successful summer 1995 ground offensive against the Bosnian Serbs launched by the Croatian Army.

So air power is highly unlikely to break Serbia's will. The US Strategic Bombing Survey found that the Allied bombing of German cities during World War II actually stiffened German civilians' will to resist. In the Vietnam War, the United States again tried unsuccessfully to use bombing to crack the North's will to prosecute the war. The airstrikes against Serbia are no more likely to succeed in their objective than did those in Southeast Asia. In World War II, of course, even the awesome military power of Nazi Germany could not subdue the (mostly Serb) Yugoslav resistance. And throughout the cold war, the Serb-led Yugoslav Army prepared to resist a possible Soviet invasion with the same tactics, and tenacity, it had employed successfully against the Nazis.

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