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Western Press Review: Sorting Out Kosovo

  • Joel Blocker
  • Anthony Georgieff

Prague, 30 March 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary today continues largely to focus on Kosovo. In Serbia's southern province, thousands of ethnic Albanians are being forced to abandon their homes, while NATO air strikes continue to pummel military installations across Yugoslavia. Commentators try to sort out the consequences of both actions.

WASHINGTON POST: The best hope for Kosovo continues to lie in an escalating air campaign

In the U.S., the Washington Post urges NATO to "stay the course." The paper's editorial says: "It will not be possible for NATO to save all the Kosovo civilians now vulnerable to Serbia's brutal campaign of ethnic cleansing. But that is no reason for the alliance to abandon or ease its attack against Serbia's military. On the contrary: NATO is right to intensify its air war and accelerate its effort to cripple the war machine now carrying out these atrocities. The campaign is only six days old. With each coming day, [Yugoslav President] Slobodan Milosevic's forces will become more vulnerable."

The editorial goes on: "Increasingly, it is suggested that NATO also should deploy ground troops. This is an option that [U.S.] President [Bill] Clinton was wrong to rule out from the start, and he is wrong to rule it out now....NATO should be exploring all possibilities to stop what increasingly looks like genocide. But in the short term, the best hope for Kosovo continues to lie in an escalating air campaign that will rob Mr. Milosevic of the tools of repression."

WASHINGTON POST: Serbia's atrocities are patent war crimes

On the opposite page, Washington Post columnist George Will warns of the misuse of the word "genocide" in describing Serbia's forceful eviction of ethnic Albanians from Kosovo. He writes: "Serbia's atrocities are not genocide --a campaign to exterminate an entire category of people-- but they are patent war crimes. They are intended to terrorize a people into flight. Their unintended consequence probably will be to get NATO into the nation-creation business."

Will adds that, after a week of war, "events are [now] in the saddle, riding NATO. If NATO makes Serbia so weak that Kosovo is safe, Kosovars will feel that secession is safe. What could then become unsafe is Europe between Germany and Russia. Ten percent to 15 percent of the 170 million people who live there are ethnic minorities within their nations."

WASHINGTON POST: A civilized Euro-Atlantic community cannot tolerate genocidal barbarity in its own midst

Former U.S. national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski is the author of another commentary on the same WP page today. He writes: "The problem with [NATO's primarily strategic bombing campaign] is that it gives the Serbs time to engage in mini-genocide and in mass ethnic cleansing in Kosovo. Moreover, a strategic air campaign mobilizes not only Serbian but international public opinion against a perceived attack on civilians. Last but not least, it conditions the Serbs to dig in their heels and wait for a break in Western resolve."

Brzezinski adds: "Whether one likes it or not, the events of the past week have transformed both the military and political dimensions of the Kosovo problem. A failure to prevail would precipitate a fundamental crisis of unity within NATO and a more anarchic global state of affairs. That fact should be faced squarely. Whatever one may think of Western diplomacy and of U.S. leadership over the past few months, the issue now has been joined. If the words 'never again' are to have any meaning, a civilized Euro-Atlantic community cannot tolerate genocidal barbarity in its own midst."

NEW YORK TIMES: The United States and its European allies must respond with alacrity on both fronts

The New York Times speaks of "terror in Kosovo" in its editorial. The paper writes: "Milosevic has answered six days of NATO aerial attack with a vicious campaign of terror against the ethnic Albanians of Kosovo, creating a military and refugee crisis of major proportions. The United States and its European allies must respond with alacrity on both fronts....Since the end of the Cold War, NATO has not faced a greater test of its unity."

The paper does not, however, favor the dispatch of NATO ground troops to Yugoslavia --or at least not yet. It says: "The...air campaign must be given time to work before other tactics are considered. Assembling a large enough ground force to seize control of Kosovo --as many as 200,000 troops might be required-- would take several weeks or more, making the option unsuitable for the immediate crisis. [Meanwhile, more should] be done to help care for the tens of thousands of refugees pouring across Kosovo's borders into neighboring Albania, Macedonia and Montenegro."

NEW YORK TIMES: Our strategic interest is that Kosovo not be independent...

The NYT's foreign-affairs columnist Thomas Friedman urges another course: "Bomb, Talk, Deal." He writes: "Now that NATO has made its point that it's serious about degrading the Yugoslav army --and [Milosevic] has made his point that you can pound, kill and curse the Serbs, but there's just one thing you can't do and that's make peace in the Balkans without them --it's time to get back to the negotiating table before this situation spins out of control."

He continues: "There is still a basis for a deal, but the Clinton team has to be much clearer about U.S. interests in Kosovo....We have neither a moral nor a strategic interest in the independence of Kosovo. Our moral interest in Kosovo is to prevent the murder of innocent civilians, which can be done in the context of protected autonomy for Kosovo's majority [ethnic] Albanian population. And our strategic interest is that Kosovo not be independent...because it would be an endless commitment, because it would send an unrealistic message to Basques, Kurds and other aggrieved ethnic groups that we will support their independence, and because Albania is already a failed state. It doesn't need a twin in Kosovo."

GLOBE AND MAIL DAILY: NATO had little choice but to launch air strikes

Canada's Globe and Mail daily, in an editorial titled "Bombs over Belgrade," writes in defense of the NATO raids: "As the villages of Kosovo burn and refugees flee daily in the tens of thousands, critics of the NATO air strikes against Yugoslavia deplore the bombing of a sovereign nation. To bomb, they suggest, is to provoke atrocities. But, surely, not to bomb is to permit the atrocities to continue."

The paper goes on: "The bloodshed in Kosovo did not begin with NATO. It began with the Serbs, specifically with...Milosevic's brutal and relentless campaign against the majority ethnic Albanians. The prologue to bombs over Belgrade has been crimes against humanity under the transparent camouflage of 'ethnic cleansing'....In the end, NATO -- against Russia's vehement objections -- had little choice but to launch air strikes to try to force Yugoslavia to sign a peace agreement with the ethnic Albanians or, failing that, to inflict enough damage on its military that it could no longer wage war against its own citizens."

INDEPENDENT: There is no other way that NATO can prevent the pogroms

In Britain, the Independent newspaper says that "NATO cannot delay in sending in troops to protect Kosovo." The editorial argues that "the war in Yugoslavia has [now] escalated beyond NATO's initial aims. The evidence that women and children --and worryingly few men-- are fleeing from Kosovo...proves that the war has become a potentially genocidal conflict....NATO must now change tactics [and] send in ground troops to establish a protectorate over Kosovo.

The paper notes that "there is already a partial precedent for this step in the shape of NATO's presence in Bosnia....Establishing a [Kosovo] protectorate will entail casualties [but] there is no other way, short of an invasion of Yugoslavia, that NATO can prevent the pogroms that occurred in Bosnia."

DAILY TELEGRAPH: Planners should be drawing up options for the deployment of ground troops in Kosovo

The Daily Telegraph also favors the quick dispatch of NATO ground troops. The paper writes: "The stark choice now facing NATO leaders is whether to deploy their own ground troops in Kosovo before much of the province becomes the scorched earth familiar from an earlier campaign of ethnic cleansing in Bosnia....If, after attacking a sovereign state for the first time in its history, NATO fails to get Mr. Milosevic off the Kosovars' back, it will suffer a devastating blow to it prestige."

The DT goes on: "Next month, [NATO] is due to celebrate its 50th birthday in Washington.... In the meantime, as a matter of urgency, it planners should be drawing up options for the deployment of ground troops in Kosovo. Otherwise, the party could prove horribly embarrassing."

GUARDIAN: The pressure to move in on the ground can only grow

The Guardian, too, seems to be edging slowly toward support for NATO ground troops in Yugoslavia. It writes: "To stick to air strikes alone is to conduct an arms-length rescue mission, one that's only prepared to intervene when it's at no, or low, risk. In the words of Philippe Morillon, the French general who once led United Nations peace-keeping forces in Bosnia: 'What kind of soldier is ready to kill but not to die?' In the General's view, the delusion of 'zero-casualty' warfare is a recipe for paralysis."

The paper adds: "What's needed [now] is either a more viable diplomatic answer or proof that the current reliance of air power is working. If neither of those are forthcoming, then the pressure to move in on the ground can only grow."

INFORMATION: Russia may yet have an important part to play....

Denmark's daily Information says that today's visit to Belgrade by Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov may give Russia what it calls "a key [diplomatic] role" in resolving the crisis through negotiations. The paper writes: "Ironically, Russia --the country which forced NATO to decide to act in Yugoslavia without a mandate from the UN-- may yet have an important part to play....Russia must be part of the peace process in order to secure a lasting settlement in the Balkans."

The paper adds: "Regardless of its current economic and military weakness, Russia remains an important regional power. It is in the West's --and particularly in Europe's-- long-term interests to include this power in any decision-making process. Ideally, this can happen by including Russia in a future peacekeeping corps in Kosovo. This would also mean a re-establishment of its [now suspended] cooperative ties with NATO."

AFTENPOSTEN: The outcome of the fight in NATO may be even less predictable than it is in Kosovo

In Norway, the daily Aftenposten's foreign editor Nils Morten Udgaard comments: "The West is dreaming of conducting a war without casualties in Kosovo. In the Balkans, as during the 1991 Gulf War, the international community is getting proof of the radically altered nature of warfare at the end of this century. First and foremost, the life of every single [Western] soldier is highly prized [making the] war popular in the West. But that popularity will rapidly diminish if Western soldiers start returning home in coffins."

The commentary continues: "But our democracies' sensitivity to the loss of human life has its tactical disadvantages. Every solider now has a face and an identity. This is enormous progress (for Western civilization)....But the reality in the Balkans is different. If the dream of winning this war without casualties does not materialize, the fight will be transferred to the [political corridors of the] 19 NATO states. The outcome of the fight there may be even less predictable than it is in Kosovo."

REUTLINGINER GENERAL-ANZEIGER: A federal structure would be the best solution for Yugoslavia

Germany's Reutlinginer General-Anzeiger argues against the deployment of NATO peacekeeping forces in Kosovo. Instead, the paper says, NATO should join the six-nation Contact Group on Yugoslavia in backing the stationing of UN troops in the province, together with OSCE observers "to document human-rights violations." The paper also urges the convoking of "a regional [Balkan] conference which would include Yugoslavia, its neighbors and the Contact Group." It believes that "a federal structure would be the best solution for Yugoslavia, but that presumes," it adds, "that the people there still have the will to live together."

THUERINGEER ALLGEMEINE: Kosovo has no chance of ever being an equal partner

Another German daily, the Thueringer Allgemeine, is more pessimistic, saying: "It's time to admit that Kosovo has no chance of ever being an equal partner in the rump-Yugoslavia. It favors setting up "a UN protectorate in Kosovo. Otherwise," it argues, "there is no effective way of preventing Milosevic from again turning the thumb screws."