The catastrophic effects of the air war against Serbia subvert the Clinton Administration’s declared humanitarian intentions. Instead of tying Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic’s hands, the bombing encourages Serbian nationalists for whom no price is too great to pay to hold on to Kosovo, the symbol of Serbian national identity. It also provides Milosevic cover to evict foreign journalists, shut down independent Serbian media like Radio B92 and rid the country of international monitors. And instead of bringing Albanian Kosovars a measure of security, the bombing hands Milosevic a predictable strategic chance to implement his long-planned scheme to brutally remove Albanian Kosovars from selected areas. The bombing has left the Kosovars far worse off than before the NATO offensive: The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said that 115,000 refugees had been displaced in the last week of March as a result of the Kosovo conflict–the largest number of them scattered to Albania, Macedonia and Montenegro–with their homes torched and their leaders murdered.
With neither Europe nor the United States willing or likely to commit ground troops, this bombing campaign appears to risk little and has more to do with salvaging NATO credibility than saving Kosovar lives. The Administration and the allies have always been ambivalent about the Balkans. They want credit for ending ethnic violence but aren’t willing to pay the price for suppressing it. The contradiction is at the center of what US officials call “coercive diplomacy”–based on the threat of military force, limited by an unwillingness to sustain casualties. The shrewd Milosevic called the Administration’s bluff: If the alliance failed to follow through on its bombing threats, he’d be David to the NATO Goliath; if bombing began, his ground forces could accelerate the creation of Albanian-free zones. And while the Western news media focused on Kosovo, Milosevic could launch a second war–this one on dissent within Serbia. As Vojin Dimitrijevic, director of the Belgrade Center for Human Rights, reports, the bombing has wiped out ten years’ effort to lay the foundations of a Serbian civil society.
While the ordeal of Kosovar Albanians grows more alarming by the day, many in the Administration view the NATO war on Yugoslavia as the basis of what Michael T. Klare suggests, on page 5, is a new international military order. With this intervention, NATO is transformed from a defensive alliance to an offensive pact claiming the right to enforce continental stability. This contradicts the promises made to reassure Russia about NATO’s expansion into central Europe. To that add the Administration’s decision to act purposefully without UN sanction: In the run-up to the bombing, France sought a UN Security Council resolution to authorize NATO peacekeeping deployment; Washington refused, insisting that NATO has the right to act independently of the UN.
With this step, the Administration once again degraded the UN’s authority and marginalized Security Council members Russia and China as actors on the diplomatic stage. It was the latest in a series of ill-considered moves, including the new missile defense plan, that have pushed US-Russian relations to their lowest point since the end of the cold war. Without a cooperative relationship with a stable Russia, few large security questions–from the Balkans to nuclear perils–can be resolved. But by our policy in Kosovo, which has unified the entire Russian political spectrum in opposition, we have contributed to the further destabilization of that country at a moment when the post-Yeltsin succession struggle is under way.