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Western Press Review: Kosovo Assessments

  • Joel Blocker

Prague, 31 May 1999 (RFE/RL) -- The Kosovo crisis continues to dominate Western press commentary today, as it did over the weekend. Commentators and analysts assess Kosovo's likely effects on the European Union's future policy toward the Balkans and its defense posture, the importance of last week's indictment by an international tribunal of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, and other important aspects of the two-and-a-half-month-old conflict.

FINANCIAL TIMES: Early EU membership is not the answer to the Balkans' troubles

Britain's Financial Times asks today, "What should the European Union do once the [Kosovo] fighting stops?" The paper is skeptical of what it calls recent "heady talk [by Western leaders] about a mini-Marshall plan and early EU and NATO membership [for Balkan nations. British Prime Minister] Tony Blair is a case in point," the editorial adds, noting that "on his recent Balkan trips, he promised both Romania and Bulgaria support in their efforts to open negotiations over EU membership."

Blair's rhetoric, the FT continues, "has created the impression in Sofia and Bucharest that their support for NATO in [its Kosovo] action will somehow accelerate EU membership. This," it says, "could be a dangerous illusion....Early EU membership," it believes, "is not the answer to the Balkans' troubles." Instead, the paper urges the EU to increase its aid to the Balkan countries. "The Union," it notes, "currently distributes far more in the richer countries of Eastern Europe [which are currently official candidates for EU entry] than in poorer states."

The editorial also says that the EU should be "more generous in its trade policy [with the Balkans], encourage intra-Balkan cooperation...and explore ways of making associate membership [status] more meaningful." Finally, the FT concludes, membership for the Balkan states in NATO is "not [going to be] easily achieved [either], given the cost of modernizing the region's military, but it could be secured more easily than EU entry."

IRISH TIMES: Kosovo has given the defense debate a new impetus

In the Irish Times today, the paper's European Correspondent Patrick Smyth discusses Kosovo's likely impact on the debate on EU defense policy due to take place at the EU summit in Cologne later this week (June 3 and 4). His analysis begins: "Talk of Kosovo, and the EU's ambitious plans for a stability pact for the postwar Balkans, will be complemented by an ambitious reflection on how to develop what has been called Europe's new security identity. In essence," he goes on, the Union's 15 "leaders will discuss how, instead of relying on U.S. leadership, the EU can assume military responsibility through NATO for peace in the whole region."

Smyth continues: "Kosovo has given the defense debate a new impetus, indeed an imperative....The road we are heading down has been well sign-posted. The [1997] Amsterdam Treaty gave the Union its first military dimension, [then] strictly confined to a peace-keeping, peace-enforcing and humanitarian role....To accomplish these tasks, the EU would borrow assets from NATO through the West European Union (WEU), incorporation of which into the EU has been raised as a possibility."

The analyst doubts, however, that much progress will be made at Cologne: "Diplomats," he says, "expect the summit to do little more than express general aspirations and pass the ball on to the incoming Finnish presidency. Progress at the Helsinki summit in December will certainly be informed by the Finns' sensitivity to neutrals' aspirations. But movement there will undoubtedly be toward giving the Union a real military capability."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: The indictment clarifies the intervention's purpose

Several commentators discuss the international tribunal's indictment of Milosevic and four other high Yugoslav officials for war crimes in Kosovo. Los Angeles Times Syndicate columnist William Pfaff calls the decision of The Hague-based United Nations court "an unprecedented assertion of the jurisdiction of international law [and says that it] has brought a fundamental change to the NATO intervention in Yugoslavia."

"The indictment," the commentator believes, "clarifies [the intervention's] purpose, lends to it a legal authority that had been lacking and rules out a compromise with the [Yugoslav] President that some have been willing, if not eager, to consider. Until now," he continues, "NATO's [action] has been interpreted by its critics, and by Yugoslavs themselves, as arbitrary and illegal, a case of American unilateralism....[But] the tribunal...has now provided a mandate for Mr. Milosevic's arrest for exactly those crimes which motivated the NATO intervention."

Pfaff goes on to outline three different Kosovo scenarios. In one, he says, "Serbian forces would be pushed out of Kosovo and, with Russian participation, an international protectorate would be established....That [he calls] the optimistic scenario. The pessimistic one is a major ground war. The worst scenario of all, a settlement giving Mr. Milosevic victory, appears to be eliminated by the Hague tribunal."

WALL STREET JOURNAL: This indictment puts in the dock the whole program to which so many Serbians subscribe

In the Wall Street Journal Europe today, analysts Sonia Biserko and Anthony Borden, see the tribunal's indictment as marking "a historic moment for the Serbian people [and presenting them] with a crucial challenge: As a state," they write, "Serbia now needs to look inwardly and consider the issue of its responsibility for a decade of atrocities in the Balkans."

The analysis continues: "Milosevic was elected head of state three times. During this time, the opposition has attacked his regime for its failure to achieve [the goal] of a Greater Serbia, rather than the goal itself or even the horrid means used [to attain it]....All those in Serbia who have lent support to the regime...and to the implementation of its designs are...also, in different degrees, implicated--politically, if not criminally."

Biserko and Borden add: "As such, this indictment puts in the dock not just [five high Yugoslav] officials, but the whole program to which so many Serbians subscribe....Whether or not Milosevic is ever put on trial, Serbia clearly needs to start an honest and deep debate over the indictment itself....To build a future," they conclude, "Serbia must first come to terms with its recent and terrible past."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: The Milosevic indictment puts the West in an embarrassing position

In Germany's Sueddeutsche Zeitung over the weekend (May 29), analyst Stefan Ulrich assesses the political implications of the tribunal's decision and comes to a different conclusion. "The Milosevic indictment," he says, "puts the West in an embarrassing position." He adds that the indictment has exposed "some grotesque positions on the part of NATO countries. From Bonn to Paris to Washington, universal applause has greeted the indictment--right along with pledges to keep trying to negotiate an agreement with the Belgrade dictator."

Ulrich continues: "German leaders are reported to be secretly dismayed by the decision and the question it implicitly poses: Can a wanted war criminal be a party to peace negotiations? If so, that leaves the court and its indictment looking silly...Imagine that representatives of the Alliance and Milosevic are sharing a table and the NATO representative passes a pen to Milosevic, who signs an armistice....The statesmen shake hands, Milosevic sets the pen down and suddenly United Nations representatives burst into the meeting, storm the conference table, clap handcuffs on him and drag him off to face the court."

He concludes: "Of course, everyone in the West, knowing it won't end like that, tries to hide his uncertainty under vague phrases....And in the meantime, the talks, investigations and air raids will keep going on until hell freezes over in Belgrade."

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: We must seize the chance to end this bloody century on a note of hope

In a commentary carried today by the International Herald Tribune today, UN Human Right Commissioner Mary Robinson says the Kosovo crisis "is above all a human-rights crisis that seriously challenges our understanding of human rights in the world....What good," she asks, "are all our conventions and agreements if the most basic human rights can be trampled on as brutally as they have been in that province? What do the undertakings of governments count for if they perpetrate such gross violations?"

Robinson, who visited Kosovo earlier this month, goes on to say that the evidence collected there by her Commission's staff, shows "that Serbian military and police forces and paramilitary units have carried out with chilling determination a well-planned program of forcible expulsion of ethnic Albanians." But, she adds, "the abuses now taking place should come as no surprise....For years there were reports from UN human-rights monitors...about the need for action to address a deteriorating situation in Kosovo."

She concludes: "We cannot make up for the ignominy of the Bosnias, Rwandas and Somalias of this decade, but [with Kosovo] we at least have the chance to end this bloody century on a note of hope. We must seize that chance."