NATO’s war on Yugoslavia has failed catastrophically. The crimes against humanity that the alliance hoped to forestall continue to be visited upon the Albanian Kosovars. The war intensifies without moral, strategic or legal justification. It is time to halt the bombing and negotiate an end to the debacle.
If there was ever a compelling moral sanction for this war, it was to end the mass displacement, plunder, rape and murder of the Albanian Kosovars. But the morality of the cause was mocked by the incoherence of the response. The Administration’s bombing of the Serbian people, with whom President Clinton says we have no quarrel, has done nothing to help the Kosovars, whom the President seeks to defend. The human calamity continues, made more brutal by the bloodlust roused by NATO’s bombing. Now the bombing serves only as retribution, and as the civilian casualties mount, “surgical” bombing is again exposed as an oxymoron. It was a “smart” bomb that missed Yugoslavia and hit Bulgaria. It was a smart bomb that took out a bus in Kosovo. The Administration has now dispatched B-52s for missions with “dumb” bombs. But reducing Serbia to rubble will not defend the Kosovars; it will only claim the lives of more innocents to camouflage the failure of NATO’s strategy.
The strategic failure was driven not by military necessity but by political calculation. The President sensibly assumed that we wouldn’t accept the loss of American lives to save the Kosovars. He disastrously assumed that Slobodan Milosevic would fold after a few days of bombing. When Milosevic chose instead to escalate attacks on the Kosovars, the President intensified the bombing, leaving the victims to their fate. But if we are not prepared to defend the Kosovars with American lives, what moral right have we to make war on the Serbs? In the gulf between ends and means lies the slaughter and displacement of nearly a million Kosovars.
Had there been a national debate before this war, its moral and strategic incoherence might have been exposed. The Framers of the Constitution gave Congress the power to declare war. In the fateful decision to turn from peace to war, they wanted deliberation and collective wisdom, not secrecy and dispatch.
The Administration has admitted that it did not seek prior Congressional authorization for the bombing because it probably could not have gotten it. But presidential usurpation was abetted by Congress’s abdication of its war-making power. On April 28 Congress demonstrated the partisan irresponsibility that has made it worthy of contempt. In breathtaking sequence, Congress, propelled by the Republican leadership’s loathing for President Clinton, voted not to declare war, not to withdraw, against sending in troops and against endorsing the air war, even as it prepared to send billions to pay for whatever goes on. Shamefully, the Democratic leadership abandoned its position that wars must be authorized by Congress. Only forty-five members of the Democratic caucus stood up against their leaders to vote for a Republican-backed resolution demanding Congressional approval before the introduction of “ground elements” into Yugoslavia. The Senate was no better; with the leaders of both parties agreed, it voted 78-22 to table John McCain’s resolution authorizing ground forces after an insultingly short debate. The result is that the air war is now being waged in defiance of the Constitution and of Congress, as Representatives Tom Campbell, Dennis Kucinich and Marcy Kaptur argue in a lawsuit they recently filed.
With the collapse of the moral, strategic and legal basis for the war, the only sensible way out is a negotiated settlement. The Rev. Jesse Jackson and his rainbow mission did the nation good service by convincing Milosevic that the humanitarian gesture of releasing the POWs might “build a bridge of trust.” Administration spokesmen derided Milosevic’s act as a ploy and dismissed his offer to negotiate. The bombing, says Defense Secretary William Cohen, will intensify–as will the slaughter and starvation of the Kosovars and the despoliation of Yugoslavia.
This makes no sense. Milosevic’s act was a gesture, but a humane gesture that should be built upon. NATO’s release of two Serbian POWs would be a start. (This seemed imminent at press time.) A halt in the bombing should be accompanied by a guarantee of safe passage for international aid agencies to deliver food and medical care to the Kosovars starving in the hills.
For all the posturing, a negotiated settlement is the only realistic alternative. NATO has neither the plan nor the will to overrun Belgrade and force unconditional surrender. The broad terms of an agreement are already clear: Kosovo should regain autonomy but stay within Yugoslavia. Serbian troops should leave. The refugees–those who wish to–can then return, their homes rebuilt with Western aid.
The key question is how the peace will be enforced. Russia is calling for a UN peace-enforcement mission, which Milosevic has accepted, although he opposes a heavily armed occupying force. As Kosovars return with justifiable vengeance in mind, an occupying force will have to prevent violent acts of repression and retribution. Unarmed observers would be overwhelmed. But surely the question of how the UN force will be armed can be settled by creative negotiations.
When this war began, NATO sought to exclude Russia and avoid the UN, considering them part of the problem. Now both are seen as essential to the solution. Any peacekeeping force in Kosovo should act under UN, not NATO, authority. And any negotiated settlement will require Russian support and involvement.
The White House should take further initiatives for peace: Lay out terms for accepting the UN as the authority to enforce the peace, with Russia and non-NATO forces in a central role. Halt the bombing while the Russians and others negotiate. Seek an agreement to get food and medical aid to the Kosovars. Move boldly to end a failed war that desperately needs to be brought to a close. Only then will we be able to give assistance to the victims we want to help.