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Western Press Review: West Seeking Silver Lining In The War Clouds

  • Don Hill



Prague, 13 April 1999 (RFE/RL) -- As NATO's bombardment of Yugoslavia enters its 20th day and the foreign ministers of the United States and Russia prepare to sit down for an extraordinary meeting in Oslo, much of the Western press commentary is focusing on the prospects for -- and the difficulties of -- finding political solutions to the Kosovo dilemma.

WASHINGTON POST: To encourage Russia's intercession, the Western alliance has dropped its past demands

As William Drozdiak puts it in a news analysis in today's Washington Post: "The (NATO) alliance's 19 foreign ministers launched a diplomatic offensive (yesterday) to convince Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic that he must halt military action in Kosovo before the bombing raids cause the destruction of his country." Drozdiak writes: "To encourage Russia's intercession, the Western alliance has dropped its past demands for a peacekeeping force led by NATO and now acknowledges that an 'international military presence' -- one that might include Russian, as well as NATO soldiers -- would be acceptable."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: The time has come to take a closer look at political solutions

From Brussels, correspondent Andreas Oldag comments in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung: "NATO has left nobody in doubt that it plans to continue its air raids on Yugoslavia. Military pressure on Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic is to be maintained. But a growing number of critical voices were heard at Monday's meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Brussels." Oldag writes: "German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer is by no means alone in arguing that the time has come to take a closer look at political solutions."

NEW YORK TIMES: A great deal more bombing and diplomacy should be employed before fateful decisions about the use of ground troops are made

That is true especially before the Western alliance gets involved in a ground war, The New York Times says in an editorial today. The Times says: "As the air war over Yugoslavia heads toward its fourth week, pressure is building on President Clinton to send ground forces into battle. (U.S.) Senator John McCain and other critics of the NATO campaign are right to open a national debate about military and diplomatic options, and the planning for all contingencies should begin. But there should be no illusions about the difficulties and potential costs of a land war. A great deal more bombing and diplomacy should be employed before Clinton and the nation make any fateful decisions about the use of ground troops."

ABC: Annan's plan gives priority to an international freedom force in Kosovo

An editorial in Spain's ABC newspaper outlines what it says is one diplomat's approach. ABC says: "U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan brought with him on his visit to Spain a five-point plan to settle the Kosovo conflict. This plan is very similar to the NATO position. One could almost say that the United Nations has identified entirely with the alliance's attitude. Annan's plan gives priority to an international freedom force in Kosovo. This force would not be subordinate to NATO but to the U.N. or the OSCE. This would require the Americans to forgo their sympathy for the independence dreams of the Kosovo guerillas. If the existing borders are strictly adhered to, Russia too could be drawn into the international consensus."

BOSTON GLOBE: A Slav union is a tough sell to the outside world

But other writers point out that it won't be easy. Serbia, too, has a political tactic, Moscow writer David Filipov says in an analysis in The Boston Globe. He writes: "Bombing Yugoslavia is one thing. But would NATO dare take on an alliance armed to the teeth with nuclear weapons and the latest in anti-aircraft missiles? Say, for example, one that included Russia? That is the question Yugoslav lawmakers hoped to raise (yesterday) as they overwhelmingly voted to include their land in a loose union of Slavs with the former Soviet republics of Belarus and Russia."

The idea has limited power, Filipov writes. He says: "But for a threat to work, the other side has to perceive it (as a credible threat). NATO foreign ministers attending a meeting in Brussels (yesterday) barely flinched at the Slav union proposal." The writer adds: "But a Slav union is a tough sell to the outside world. Calls for Slavic unity ignore NATO's support by Slav nations such as Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic."

DAILY TELEGRAPH: The rhetoric of Slavic brotherhood took a symbolic step towards reality

There's also a complicating political element at the Kremlin, Moscow correspondent Marcus Warren writes in a news analysis in London's Daily Telegraph. Warren says: "President Yeltsin won a respite from the relentless pressure of his enemies to hit back at NATO with action, not words, after a vote on his impeachment was postponed last night." The writer says: "However, the rhetoric of Slavic brotherhood took a symbolic step towards reality when the Yugoslav parliament voted overwhelmingly in favor of joining the loose union already linking Russia and Belarus."

WASHINGTON POST: A country of 10 million people has held the mighty West at bay

A former U.S. diplomat who advised the Albanian delegation at the peace talks in Rambouillet and Paris warns that whatever the solution sought, the Balkans have cost too much to allow major issues -- such as the problem of Milosevic -- to remain unresolved in any deal. Morton Abramowitz writes in a commentary published by The Washington Post: "We are finally coming to the crux of the Balkan war: Slobodan Milosevic, Serbian nationalism and the future of Serbia. Can we face the issue, or do we kick the can down the road once again? Unlike the two Balkan wars of the early 20th century, which were also deadly and brutal but short, the Balkan War at the end of the century has gone on, incredibly, for most of eight years. U.S. policy has gone from 'we have no dog in that fight' in 1991, to American troops deployed in three countries -- soon a fourth -- while we are at war with a fifth. The mighty West has been held at bay by a country of 10 million people. The world has spent well over $50 billion in the former Yugoslavia, and the bill for Kosovo is not in."

WASHINGTON POST: Surely there is a better way

One problem, discussed in The Washington Post by Walter R. Roberts, a retired U.S. foreign service officer and author, is that there appears to be no clear answer to the question, "What does the West really want?" He writes: "Some American politicians (leave) the impression that unconditional surrender is their only acceptable resolution, since they call for more bombing, ground troops and eventual victory. What is expected after victory? A NATO-installed Serb government? It is highly unlikely that any responsible Serb politician would undertake such a task. A NATO protectorate with 10 million restless Serbs? If we travel this road, the Balkans will not be at peace for a long, long time. Surely there is a better way."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: It's not evident that NATO has found its new role

Whatever the outcome, that NATO has been irrevocably changed seems certain. So writes Raymond L. Garthoff, a retired Brookings Institution senior fellow. Garthoff says in a commentary published by The Los Angeles Times: "NATO's 50th anniversary had been expected not only to celebrate its successful contribution to keeping the peace throughout the Cold War, but also to herald its expanded role, as U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright said, in keeping the peace for its next 50 years."

Garthoff writes: "What had not been expected was that the fireworks for the 50th would pale beside a month of NATO's nightly bombing of Yugoslavia. The question is whether NATO is to remain an alliance for collective defense or be transformed into a collective security enforcer." The commentator says: "Bombing Yugoslavia was NATO's action of choice, not because it was most likely to succeed, but because it was the easiest to undertake."

The writer concludes: "NATO, the old NATO, made a major contribution to maintaining the peace through 40 years of the Cold War by credible and reliable readiness to defend its members." For 10 years, Garthoff writes, NATO has been seeking an appropriate new role. It's not evident that NATO has found one, the writer says.

DIE WELT: We need cooperation with Russia, but the Russians need cooperation with us even more

Writing from Brussels in Germany's Die Welt, commentator Andreas Mittel, examining the same issue, sees Russia as a potential plus, as well as a problem. Mittel writes: "NATO has been at war for nearly three weeks, which is an unusual state of affairs for (an alliance) that claims to be 'the most successful peace movement of all time.' " He writes: "The war in the Balkans has done more than (overshadow NATO's 50th) anniversary celebrations. It also has cast a new light on plans for a new strategic concept for NATO. The present one dates back to 1991 and envisages maintaining the strategic balance as one of NATO's fundamental objectives. But that has been superfluous since the break-up of the Soviet Union."

Mittel says: "Yet NATO is prepared should Russia continue strictly to reject intervention in Kosovo. (German General Klaus Naumann, chairman of NATO's military committee), accurately describes the situation in Kosovo as follows: 'We need cooperation with Russia, but the Russians need cooperation with us even more. And that does not just apply to the war over Kosovo.' "

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