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Western Press Review: The West Remains Irresolute On Kosovo

  • Joel Blocker

Prague, 21 January 1999 (RFE/RL) -- "The West's Quandary in Kosovo" is how the Canadian daily Globe and Mail sums up its editorial today. Much Western press commentary is focusing on the troubled Serb province of Kosovo, where some 45 ethnic Albanian villages were allegedly massacred by Serbs late last week, and on what NATO's reaction should be. There is also some comment on the continuing threat of Russia's nuclear weapons, mentioned in a speech by U.S. President Bill Clinton on Tuesday (Jan. 19).

GLOBE AND MAIL: The West lingers in its rickety halfway house

In a signed editorial for the Globe and Mail, Marcus Gee writes: "Western leaders [are] in a fix. They could throw up their hands and allow the Serbians and the [ethnic Albanian rebels] to fight it out. But things might get a lot bloodier, and they would inevitably face the charge of allowing 'another Bosnia' to unfold....Alternatively, they could intervene in force against [Yugoslav President Slobodan] Milosevic and his army. But the rebels would seize the chance to take control of Kosovo and declare independence --precisely the outcome the West seeks to avoid."

Gee goes on: "It's unlikely that the West will have the stomach for either of these ...options. Instead, it will linger in its rickety halfway house, issuing outraged warnings whenever Mr. Milosevic goes too far, but acting only when shame makes it absolutely unavoidable; sending monitors to record the atrocities, but not troops to stop them; pushing a political solution based on a co-existence that nobody really wants."

He concludes: "If that sounds familiar, it should. The West was half in, half out of Bosnia for three long years, never confident enough to intervene with clarity and force; too conscience-ridden to let the chips fall where they might. Now it is happening all over again, and no one has the slightest idea how to stop it."

WASHINGTON POST: Now it is time to take a stand

The Washington Post wrote yesterday: "The U.S.-led military alliance that faced down the Soviet Union is planning a big celebration of its 50th birthday this Spring. But in a small province [of Serbia], the Alliance's credibility is being tested right now. If NATO and President [Bill] Clinton cannot stand up to Serb dictator Slobodan Milosevic in Kosovo, they might as well cancel the anniversary party right now. NATO will have shown itself to be useless."

The editorial went on: "[Milosevic] understands well that NATO has little appetite for involvement in another Balkan conflict. But NATO and the U.S. are involved and will remain so as long as Kosovo's instability threatens the entire region. Each time the alliance caves in to Mr. Milosevic, hoping to avoid taking the tough decisions, it only guarantees that the next crisis will be more difficult."

The paper concluded: "Now it is time to take a stand. NATO must prepare to use force, ground troops as well as air power, to enforce a cease-fire and an interim political settlement. As a first step, it should order the immediate withdrawal of the unarmed [OSCE] verifiers, so that they do not become Serb hostages if NATO uses force."

WASHINGTON POST: Milosevic has developed into a master tactician

On the same day, the Washington Post carried a commentary by Misha Glenny, an author and Balkan specialist. He wrote of Milosevic's possible motives for the killings Friday [Jan. 15] in the ethnic Albanian village of Racak: "[One explanation is that] Mr. Milosevic has no ideology and is committed to nothing except staying in power. To this end he has eschewed any coherent strategy while developing into a master tactician. His tactical skills, which are indeed great, have enabled him to remain the undisputed leader of Serbia for more than a decade."

Glenny continued: "The chief source of Mr. Milosevic's political legitimacy now reposes in his ability to manufacture ever greater crises that rally nationalist opinion and also allow him to pin the label 'traitors' on his opponents. He has wrecked the country in the process. Serbian security forces have been humiliated, and now appear capable only of attacks on defenseless civilians. The economy is a gangster's paradise, wrecked by sanctions and chronic mismanagement, and the people are cowed and paranoid."

The commentary also said: "All this has seriously eroded Mr. Milosevic's power base. In the last six months, he has been sacking the few pillars of his regime, most notably Jovica Stanisic, the head of his secret service. The election last year of a determined opponent in Montenegro, Serbia's sister republic, threatens the base of his federal power."

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: Slaughter in Kosovo prompts nothing but talk

In the International Herald Tribune today, the President of the humanitarian group Medecins du Monde complains that the "slaughter in Kosovo prompts nothing but talk." Jacky Mamou writes: "The attempt to dispatch a team of investigators from the International Criminal Tribunal in The the scene of the massacre was welcome.... But what is being passed off by the international community as a firm response is in reality only the application of a decision that remains devoid of meaning because of an absence of political will."

He concludes: "As long as we make do with explaining to Mr. Milosevic that his handling of the Kosovo crisis is not in keeping with his international commitments; as long as the OSCE, NATO, the [six-nation] Contact Group [on ex-Yugoslavia] and the [United Nations] Security Council let themselves be made into laughing stocks as they did [in] October by pretending to believe that Mr. Milosevic had withdrawn his troops from Kosovo; as long as the West continues to consider him the corner-stone upholding the Dayton [Bosnia] peace accords --Kosovo's civilians will continue to pay the price."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: The NATO allies can't have it all ways

The Los Angeles Times carries a commentary by Robert Hunter, former U.S. Ambassador to NATO. He writes: "Renewed fighting and atrocities in the Serbian province of Kosovo signal more tragedy ahead for its people and trouble for NATO. Failing a miracle agreement, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the Kosovo Liberation Army [UCK] are poised again to try their fortunes on the battlefield. NATO will face its most severe test since fighting stopped in Bosnia in 1995. It is by no means ready to pass that test."

Hunter goes on: "If fighting resumes in earnest, NATO faces an almost impossible dilemma. Its decision to use force --formally called an activation order-- remains in effect, and NATO's supreme commander could implement it at any time. But the allies in Brussels...have made clear that it would have to be politically blessed again. Last weekend, they decided not to do so."

The commentary adds: "It is too late to argue that Kosovo is just a civil war or that this is an 'internal matter.' By its actions so far, NATO has assumed responsibility for the conflict's outcome. Further, its aspiration to build a lasting European peace cannot weather renewed slaughter on its doorstep."

Hunter sums up: "The NATO allies can't have it all ways. They can't sit back in the hope that they will be rescued by routine diplomacy and, should that fail, be unwilling to run military risks either to accept Kosovo's independence or to foster the middle ground of an autonomous regime. Unless the NATO allies decide soon on an acceptable diplomatic outcome and are prepared to use force to back it up, the Washington [NATO 50th anniversary] summit will be about today's failure rather than tomorrow's promise."

DIE WELT: Kosovo will teach us whether we are Europeans

In Germany's Die Welt newspaper today, Nikolaus Blome writes: "The reality is that sorting out the bad guys from the good guys is tougher in Kosovo than it was in Bosnia. There are many reasons why the Kosovo Albanians should not have their own state, but the Albanians are justified in no longer believing in possible guarantees from the West for anything less."

His commentary goes on: "In the face of this dilemma, official European policies appear helpless and tired. All economic screws have been turned as far as they can be, but in vain. All diplomatic avenues appear to have been exhausted without any lasting success. Milosevic evades every western lure and threat, every carrot and stick. Just as in the case of Saddam Hussein, the strategists in the European capitals are becoming exhausted by the fact that they share no common language with him, not even the language of military threats."

Blome adds: "[NATO] is ready for operations but it is not pushing. It is waiting, as is right and proper, for a critical mass of political will in civilized Europe to dissociate itself from Milosevic's hand on the tiller and declare the only correct goal for the Balkans --to protect defenseless people and achieve peace at any price." And he concludes: "Kosovo will teach us whether we are Europeans --and it is time to find out."

NEUE OSNABRUECKER ZEITUNG: The West has too often shown a lack of backbone

Several other German newspapers comment briefly on Kosovo. The Neue Osnabruecker Zeitung discusses what it calls "the abortive mission" by NATO generals to Belgrade earlier this week. The paper notes that "Yugoslav President Milosevic refused to climb down over Kosovo," writing: "Although Belgrade is well aware of NATO's potential fire power, it won't panic. [That's because] the West has too often shown a lack of backbone out of fear of a possible escalation."

GENERAL ANZEIGER: Only military resolve can end this."

Bonn's General Anzeiger daily warns that "it is high time to look the truth squarely in the face: The next war is destined to take place in the Balkans and the community of nations won't prevent it because it doesn't want to." The paper's editorial continues: "The Yugoslav president is well aware of this. He toys with the rest of the world, and makes fools of its representatives. Only military resolve can end this."

TAGESZEITUNG: The international community's dilemma is that it has been trying to work out a political solution

In Berlin, the Tageszeitung says that "the international community's dilemma is that it has been trying to work out a political solution with someone who belongs in front of a war tribunal in The Hague for planning and instigating crimes against humanity both in Kosovo and elsewhere."

NEW YORK TIMES: Aid in dismantling former Soviet republics nuclear weapons pays dividends

Two U.S. newspapers today discuss the on-going danger posed by Russia's aging arsenal of mass-destruction weapons, an issue raised in President Clinton's State-of-the-Union address Tuesday night. The New York Times says that "no investment in American national security has paid higher dividends than the $2 billion Washington has spent over the last eight years to help Russia and other former Soviet republics dismantle nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. President Clinton was right [Tuesday] to call for significantly increased spending on such programs."

The editorial goes on: "Moscow's still-formidable stocks of nuclear bombs, nuclear ingredients and biological and chemical warfare agents pose a [continuing] danger. Much of this material is inadequately secured, and the workers guarding it are paid poorly or not at all. That creates an unacceptably high risk that some material could be sold to potential aggressors like Iraq, Libya, North Korea or Serbia."

The NYT concludes: "Some of the $4.5 billion the Administration is requesting for the next five years would be used to speed the safe disposal of bomb plutonium and chemical and biological weapons stocks, and further improve security at storage sites.... During the Cold War, the U.S. spent hundreds of thousands of millions of dollars to deter Russia from using its nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. It would not take much more than $10 billion to eliminate most of the risks from those weapons today."

WASHINGTON POST: The U.S. could take a leading role by urging that Soviet-era debt be written off

Although the Washington Post today also "welcomes [Mr. Clinton's] proposal to spend more to safeguard Russia's nuclear weaponry," the paper notes that Russia figured in his speech "only as a headache --a nuclear threat, a potential source of nuclear materials and technology falling into 'the wrong hands.'" That, it says, shows "how far the U.S.-Russia relationship has slipped. Early in his presidency, Mr. Clinton saw Russia as a challenge and an opportunity. Now he describes it only as a problem to be managed. This is understandable, but misguided."

The WP's editorial continues: "It is wrong to assume that Russia's troubles are bound to last forever. The Clinton Administration finds it easy to justify engagement with the one-party dictatorship that runs China, not so much because China is important today but because it may grow into an economic and military powerhouse. How much more important, then, to engage with a struggling democracy such as Russia that also, over the long term, may develop into a constructive and prosperous player on the world scene."

The paper asks: "What does this mean in practice? Russia's most pressing international problem is its external debt. It cannot possibly meet its obligations this year, and creditor nations and banks are going to have to work out a rescheduling. The U.S. could take a leading role by urging that Soviet-era debt be written off. Without rewarding Russia's poor economic performance, this would underline America's hope and belief that post-Soviet, democratic Russia is a new nation in a new era."