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Western Press Review: Kosovo End Game Slows

  • Anthony Georgieff
  • Don Hill



Prague, 8 June 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic draws like a black hole the attention and energy of Western press commentary, some outright negative, some awed by Milosevic's wiliness, some merely prescriptive.

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Milosevic has to go

The Sueddeutsche Zeitung's commentator Peter Muench takes a stand with the prescriptives. He writes: "Only a plan [for Kosovo] that tries to strengthen the moderates in Kosovo while undermining the extremes on either side offers any hope to the area. A Marshall Plan for the region needs more than just a fat bank account behind it. It also must establish a democratic society there. Having Slobodan Milosevic at the helm will make that as good as impossible. For the peace that prevailed across most of Yugoslavia over the weekend to become long-term peace, Milosevic has to go."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: The agreement at least represents a vindication for NATO

Los Angeles Times national political writer Ronald Brownstein, in an analysis, concludes that Milosevic's "apparent acceptance" of Western conditions for ending NATO's bombardment of Yugoslavia comprises a vindication for U.S. President Bill Clinton: "Given all the human suffering and physical destruction that has ravaged Kosovo these past 10 weeks, it would be an overstatement to say that Serbia's apparent acceptance of the West's peace terms would constitute a triumph for [U.S.] President [Bill] Clinton and NATO. But, at the least, the agreement would represent a vindication for them."

WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE: No amount of Western self-congratulation will revive the Kosovar victims

Nothing of the sort, writes U.S. strategic studies professor, Eliot Cohen, in a commentary published by the Wall Street Journal Europe. Cohen says: "It turns out that the air forces of countries representing something like half the productive capacity of the planet might have, in 2-1/2 months, beat into submission a small, isolated country whose gross domestic product is roughly one-fifteenth the size of the American defense budget. Judging by the euphoric reactions of commentators in the press -- before the latest Serbian antics stalled the negotiations -- this might be either a surprising demonstration of the power of technology or a manifestation of stagecraft and strategic skill hitherto unappreciated by critics of the Clinton Administration."

Cohen continues: "It is, of course, neither. Begin with the original objectives of this exercise, which were to deter the ethnic cleansing of Kosovo -- a failure; to prevent the Serbs from consummating it once started (another failure); to restore a viable Kosovar autonomous-but-not-independent political entity (to be seen). No amount of Western self-congratulation will revive the corpse of a single Kosovar lying in a mass grave, or restore the virginity of a raped Kosovar teen-ager."

WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE: The West fell for Milosevic's decision to bargain

"The West was had," comprises one theme of commentary. Also in the WSJ Europe, author and retired military officer Ralph Peters represents this baldly: "An iron maxim in fighting dictators, warlords and thugs is that they will try to cut a deal when cornered. Thanks to NATO's surprising unity, a broadening air campaign, a growing threat of ground troops, a Kosovo Liberation Army offensive that forced the Serb military to expose itself to air attack and, above all, to Slobodan Milosevic's personal fears following his indictment as a war criminal, Milosevic decided to bargain. The West fell for it."

GUARDIAN: With Milosevic nothing is ever quite clear-cut

A key condition needed to revivify the tantalizing promise of quiet over Kosovo, says The Guardian in an editorial, is that NATO and Russia find agreement. The London newspaper says also: "With Slobodan Milosevic nothing is ever quite as clear-cut as it first seems." The paper says: "The pessimistic version is that he never intended to fulfill [last week's peace agreement] but was only trying to get NATO's bombing halted."

AFTENPOSTEN: The West was had

Another member of the "the West was had" contingent is commentator Per Andes Madsen, writing in Norway's Aftenposten. He cites the ways that Milosevic can claim to his countrymen that he has won a victory, however pyrrhic: "The moment of truth has arrived for Slobodan Milosevic. It was in Kosovo that he started, through his nationalistic rhetoric, a series of wars in what was Yugoslavia ten years ago. He is now leaving Kosovo because he understands there is nothing else for him to win if the war had continued. A continued war would have meant more destruction without political gains. Milosevic's odds will rise if he can convince the Serbs that the surrender terms he has accepted are better than the Rambouillet plan, the rejection of which by himself led NATO to start the bombardments."

Madsen says: "Milosevic will emphasize two points -- the surrender terms ensure Yugoslavia's national sovereignty and integrity, as opposed to the Rambouillet proposal that envisaged what the Serbs were led to interpret as a referendum on Kosovo in three years' time. And the current agreement limits the NATO troop movements to Kosovo alone. Under Rambouillet, they would have been able to move about throughout the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia enjoying immunity from any prosecution."

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: Much evidence suggests Clinton has won a phoney peace

William Odom, former U.S. White House National Security Agency director under President Ronald Reagan, isn't sure yet. In a commentary in the International Herald Tribune, he writes: "Are we witnessing a diplomatic victory that will bring peace to the Balkans? Or will President Bill Clinton win the Neville Chamberlain memorial umbrella for accepting a phony peace. Let us hope for the former, although much evidence suggests the latter."

NEW YORK TIMES: The endgame with Milosevic is always difficult

The New York Times joins the "wily Milosevic" school in an editorial, which says: "Slobodan Milosevic is a master at using delay, surprise and confusion to divide his opponents, and he is now using all three to undermine the peace agreement that he accepted in Belgrade last week." The Times editorial concludes: "The endgame with Milosevic is always difficult, but unless he disowns the peace deal he endorsed, the mechanics for ending the war in an acceptable way can be worked out."

INDEPENDENT: Outrage within the officer corps lies behind Serbia's refusal to withdraw

But Robert Fisk, writing from Belgrade in The Independent, London, says Milosevic didn't really have much choice. Fisk comments: "Outrage within the officer corps of Yugoslavia's Third Army at what they regard as a surrender to NATO lies behind Serbia's refusal to withdraw from Kosovo and allow heavily armed NATO troops to deploy in the province."

WASHINGTON POST: It may be more prudent to leave Milosevic's fate in the hands of the Serbian people

Finally, discussing what comes afterwards, commentators reach consensus that the aftermath will be expensive, but not that Milosevic necessarily must be ousted. Balkans commentator D.G. Kousoulas writes in The Washington Post that ousting Milosevic might prove more expensive than keeping him: "After World War II, the recovery of a war-ravaged Europe had to rely almost exclusively on the United States. Now the recovery of the Balkans can rely on both the United States and the European Union -- democratic and prosperous countries that are also the fountainhead of technological innovation."

Kousoulas writes: "Should Slobodan Milosevic remain in power to administer the plan? We may find that it is more prudent and effective to leave his fate in the hands of the Serbian people."

DIE WELT: Economic recovery means a huge financial contribution from the EU

And in the German newspaper Die Welt, writers Andreas Middel and Cornelia Wolber second Kousoulas' notion that the EU will bear a heavy financial load. They say: "Even before the bombs have stopped falling, planning for the post-war Balkans is in full gear, and it already is clear to the European Union that the effort will take many years, and carry a huge price tag. Like German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker has made it clear that the economic recovery of this contentious corner of southeast Europe is an essential precondition for its democratization. And that means a huge financial contribution from the EU."

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