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Western Press Review: NATO's Raids Evoke More Skepticism

  • Joel Blocker
  • Anthony Georgieff



Prague, 6 April 1999 (RFE/RL) -- A fortnight after NATO began its air strikes against Yugoslavia, western press commentators today continue to assess their impact -- many of them with increasing skepticism. Comments focus on Serbia's forced expulsion of tens of thousands of ethnic Albanians from Kosovo, as well as on the military consequences of the raids.

INFORMATION: NATO's first war has developed into a disaster

In Denmark, the daily Information writes critically in an editorial: "After just two weeks, NATO's first war has developed into a disaster. Most of the NATO aims set forth before the bombardments began have not been fulfilled. The people who NATO's operations should have helped are being driven out of their homes [by Serb forces] with unprecedented brutality. ... It is pitiful that this great tragedy has apparently taken NATO's commanders by surprise. After all, this was supposed to be the world's largest and most powerful military alliance."

The Copenhagen paper continues: "NATO's spokesmen now explain that the ethnic cleansing in Kosovo had been planned well in advance [of the strikes], but we can only wonder why NATO's intelligence arms had not been able to foresee what had been in the offing for such a long time. [And] this is not NATO's only failure. Its bombs did not inflict the damage in Belgrade they were supposed to. [Yugoslav President Slobodan] Milosevic is now stronger than before."

AFTENPOSTEN: An autonomous Kosovo now seems less possible

Writing in the Norwegian daily Aftenposten today, analyst Per Anders Madsen says, ironically, that "Milosevic did not follow the plans NATO had laid out for him." He writes: "A couple of days of intense bombings should have been sufficient. They have not been. ... Instead the battle for Kosovo has evolved into an Europe-wide drama whose end today is unpredictable." Madsen adds: "An autonomous Kosovo now seems less possible than before the NATO attacks and [Serbia's] ethnic cleansing upped the stakes [in the province]. When the war is over, Kosovo will either remain a part of Serbia, or will be an independent state, or will become a NATO protectorate."

SUEDDEUTSCH ZEITUNG: Wars are never won with bombs alone

In Germany's Sueddeutsche Zeitung today, editorial page editor Josef Joffe writes today: "The power of bombs continues to be overestimated. Wars are never won with bombs alone. Allied air forces dumped two million tons of bombs on Germany during World War Two, but it took infantrymen and tanks on the ground to beat Hitler's Third Reich. ... And Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic, apparently unshaken by two weeks of NATO pounding from the air, still has his troops wreaking havoc at will in Kosovo."

"Why," Joffe asks, "do politicians and strategists keep overestimating what they can accomplish with bombs? He suggests that one answer may be: "Air warfare is so tempting because it's like a one-night stand --plenty of satisfaction and no long-range obligations."

Joffe adds: "Today's post-modern man doesn't understand the Churchillian values of 'blood, sweat and tears' --he expects surgically precise air strikes that endanger neither his side's pilots nor civilians on the ground. ... Unfortunately, NATO's goal in Kosovo is beyond the abilities of even the smartest of smart bombs. The goal is to break [Milosevic's will] --and that may well require using more than bombs and missiles."

NUREMBURGER NACHRICHTEN: Assistance to those effected is the primary order of the day

Other German newspapers today concentrate on the plight of Kosovo's ethnic Albanians. In its editorial, the Nuremburger Nachrichten says that the forced "deportation of the Kosovars by Serbian militia is exactly the humanitarian crisis the West had hoped to prevent. The government in Bonn has recognized correctly that assistance to those effected is the primary order of the day."

NEUE OSNABRUECKER ZEITUNG: This is a case of emergency aid, not of immigration

The Neue Osnabruecker Zeitung agrees, calling the refugees' plight "a matter of life and death." The paper's editorial says: "There will be time enough later to discuss the costs involved or the quotas of refugees each country should admit. Of course, it would be more rational to have the refugees stay close to the Kosovo border, but if there are no other possibilities," the paper says, "then one should use Italy, Britain or Germany as alternatives. In any case, it would have to be made clear that this is a case of emergency aid, not of [permanent] immigration."

INDEPENDENT: The long-term effects will be to disperse the population of Kosovo across the whole world

Britain's Independent daily today says that "taking our share of refugees will help steady the Balkans." The paper writes in an editorial: "The Yugoslav wars of the past 10 years have produced few moral conundrums more difficult than the issue of taking in refugees from Kosovo. ... Foreign policy," the paper goes on, "is not best dictated by the gut. The sight of starving children, exhausted mothers and bearded men with their faces full of tears encourages the desire to bring the Kosovar Albanians away from the dangerously overcrowded borders of their homeland. The long-term effects of this will be to disperse the population of Kosovo nor only across Europe but across the whole world."

Still, the Independent adds, "Britain is right to be taking in refugees not as an alternative to helping them on Kosovo's borders but as a way of supplementing the efforts that are going on surrounding the province. The destabilization of Macedonia, Albania and Montenegro would benefit only Mr. Milosevic."

GUARDIAN: Every calculation in the conflict has been proved disastrously wrong

The Guardian writes that the Kosovo "crisis [has turned into a] catastrophe [and the Kosovar] refugees are paying the price." The paper's editorial goes on to say: "Every calculation in the conflict has, so far, been proved disastrously wrong. The short, sharp shock to stop Slobodan Milosevic has not worked, and the humanitarian crisis has turned into a catastrophe. But the most disturbing realization," the paper adds, "is that Mr. Milosevic is successfully outwitting us."

The editorial goes on: "At each stage of this crisis, our planning has been woefully lagging behind events on the ground; arrogantly, we had no contingency plans in place. Brisk talk now of stepping up the war ... may be hopeful for the long term, but it is irrelevant to the fate of 65,000 refugees in Blace [Macedonia] or the hundreds of thousands trudging along the roads to the Macedonian border."

WASHINGTON POST: NATO must undo Mr. Milosevic's brutal handiwork

The Washington Post agrees that "with his calculatedly evil campaign against the people of Kosovo, Slobodan Milosevic has created a problem and a challenge that NATO did not anticipate. Whether NATO should have known better, and who is responsible for its failure of anticipation -- these are legitimate questions. But," the paper's editorial argues, "they are not the principal questions. What matters most now is that NATO adjust to the new reality and make clear that it will undo Mr. Milosevic's brutal handiwork, no matter how long it takes."

The WP continues: "What it will take to undo Serbia's ethnic cleansing is not yet clear, nor is there any reason for NATO to spell out its intentions to Mr. Milosevic. Certainly, President [Bill] Clinton should abandon his pledge not to send troops into a 'non-permissive' environment; that commitment provided needless comfort to Mr. Milosevic from the beginning and is certainly out of place now. NATO and the U.S. military should begin preparing for all contingencies, including the deployment of a NATO ground force to escort the Kosovars home.

"In the meantime," the paper adds, "the air campaign should be pursued and intensified. NATO has been too slow to go after the tanks and other forces that are directly attacking Kosovo civilians. ... Prevailing in this contest may take time," the WP concludes. "Mr. Milosevic has shown himself, beyond any plausible deniability, to be a war criminal of fierce determination. NATO must respond accordingly or pay a price for many years to come."

WASHINGTON POST: What counts now is to open the path to diplomacy by winning the air war

Opposite its editorial page today, the Washington Post runs a commentary by Warren Zimmerman, a former U.S. ambassador to Yugoslavia, who urges NATO to "get on with the air war." Zimmerman says: "Whatever mistakes of intelligence and execution have been made by NATO, the important task now is to maintain the determination ... to keep the bombing going and to target it much more on Kosovo, where the atrocities are taking place. For the U.S. and its allies to descend into a frenzy of blame, self-doubt or panicky reversals would be to ensure Milosevic's success."

Zimmerman adds: "The credible threat of a ground war by NATO would have strengthened the West's hand. But even assuming the doubtful acceptance of a ground offensive by U.S. and European publics, it is difficult to see how it can be brought to bear quickly enough to be decisive." And he concludes: "The allied military campaign is off to a miserable start, but it is too early to say it has failed. If and when it can stop the expulsions and decimate Milosevic's military power, diplomatic options will emerge, though they will be limited. .... What counts now is to open the path to diplomacy by winning the air war."

NEW YORK TIMES: The road to peace in Kosovo may yet run through Moscow



The New York Times today reiterates its opposition to committing U.S. and other NATO ground troops to Kosovo, saying: "With improving weather and additional aircraft, NATO air power will eventually begin to hobble the Serbian military and weaken Milosevic's stranglehold on [the province]. If Milosevic concludes that the balance of power is shifting in NATO's favor, he will doubtless start looking for a deal that allows him to remain in power. ... Clinton and NATO [will then also] be looking for a negotiated resolution."

The editorial also says: "The road to peace in Kosovo may yet run through Moscow. Despite Russia's rhetorical belligerence about the NATO air campaign and Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov's failed diplomatic mission to Belgrade last week, Russia has the credentials and motivation to play a constructive role in ending the conflict. ... Russia could greatly enhance its international stature by brokering a political settlement. ... The White House," the paper concludes, "should be working behind the scenes to encourage a constructive Russian role."

NEW YORK TIMES: The strategy will require much tougher sticks and much fatter carrots

The New York Times foreign-affairs columnist Thomas Friedman takes another view of the matter He says that the Clinton administration and NATO have sought to use "air power to try to reverse the bad things happening in Kosovo. But [their] unwillingness to commit ground troops to actually expel the Serbs from Kosovo is an admission that its liberation is not worth the loss of many, if any, U.S. [or other NATO] lives."

Friedman's commentary continues: "It is too early to say this strategy will not achieve an acceptable outcome in Kosovo, and that troops will have to be sent in. What one can say now, though, is that for this strategy to work will require much tougher sticks and much fatter carrots.

"Regarding the sticks," Friedman says, "... 12 days of surgical bombing was never going to turn Serbia around. Let's see what 12 weeks of less than surgical bombing does. Give war a chance. ... As for the carrots," he adds, "... let's dangle two options before the Serbs right now -- either a ... deal that would give the Kosovars internationally protected autonomy in a Kosovo still under Serb sovereignty, or a partition of Kosovo. The Serbs would get the northwest sliver, which contains their Orthodox monasteries and holy sites, and the Kosovo Albanians would get the remaining 90 percent, with an international peacekeeping force separating them."

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