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Western Press Review: First Reactions To NATO Strikes

Prague, 25 March 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentators were quick, and numerous, in reacting to last night's start of NATO air strikes against Serb military sites across Yugoslavia. Most comments approve the move, but some suggest it risks a wider war in the Balkans. Still others warn that only the commitment of NATO ground troops to Yugoslavia could persuade its President, Slobodan Milosevic, to sign peace accords for Kosovo drafted in France earlier this month.

FINANCIAL TIMES: War and diplomacy are indistinguishable

Our brief selections from today's flood of first-reaction comments to the strikes begins with the West European press. In Britain, the Financial Times warns that "giving their armed forces the green light to bomb Yugoslavia should not be an excuse for NATO's politicians to abdicate control. Their military strategy," the paper's editorial says, "should be tailored to isolate....Milosevic. The risk is he might be bolstered by a rising [Serbian] tide of anti-NATO sentiment."

The FT also fears that "disproportionately heavy air strikes could splinter Alliance unity, fuel Russia's opposition, and contribute to widening the war....So," it concludes, "in the coming days and nights, NATO should limit its attacks to what is needed to halt Serb aggression in Kosovo...and be ready to respond to any serious peace overture from Belgrade. As [German military historian Carl von] Clausewitz taught, war and diplomacy are indistinguishable."

DAILY TELEGRAPH: Milosevic broke the taboo on mixing politics with nationalism

Today's Daily Telegraph carries an historically oriented analysis by Alec Russell that says "historians will appreciate the grim symmetry of the crisis over Kosovo. The bloody disintegration of the former Yugoslavia began in the 'Serbs' Jerusalem' [that is, in Kosovo] more than a decade ago --and now the process seems likely to climax there." He recalls that Yugoslavia's "Communist leader, Marshal Tito, was determined to quash [Serb] nationalist hankerings when he forged a [postwar Yugoslav] federation."

But, Russell continues, Milosevic broke what the analyst calls the old "Yugoslav taboo on mixing politics with nationalism" when he told Kosovar Serbs 12 years ago [April 1997): "Yugoslavia does not exist without Kosovo!" That, he adds, triggered the disintegration of the Federation, and led directly to today's crisis.

IRISH TIMES: This military escalation is a clear breach of the agreements reached in October

In Dublin, the Irish Times today writes in an editorial: "The [NATO] attacks are being undertaken without express approval by the United Nations Security Council and thus are not legally justified. This is deeply regrettable," the paper believes. "But given [Milosevic's] outright refusal to accept the Rambouillet accords on Kosovo and the sharp escalation of repression against the territory's population, it is not possible to argue that it is without political or moral justification."

The IT also says: "This military escalation by Serbia against the Kosovar population is a clear breach of the agreements reached in October about demilitarizing the conflict. It is a piece of pure bad faith when measured against the...years of negotiations in ex-Yugoslavia. It is altogether in keeping with [Milosevic's] dictatorial approach, which has been geared to keep himself in power by opportunistically stoking up ethnic conflicts. The one in Kosovo has grave potential to spread throughout the region..."

LE FIGARO: When it comes to war, good intentions are not enough

Three French national newspapers also comment on the NATO strikes. Le Figaro's editorial, signed by Pierre Rousselin and titled "NATO's Risky Bet," says that "the Allies' aim is totally honorable: Forcing Milosevic to accept a peace plan for Kosovo that accords great autonomy to Serbia's southern province, whose population is 90 percent ethnic Albanian. But," the editorial goes on, "when it comes to war, good intentions are not enough. You also need means that correspond to the goal. It's easy to begin a war, but one never knows how it will end."

Rousselin adds: "Whatever happens,...the risk of a general war in the Balkans is today a real one. Milosevic may very well be tempted to play this worst of possible cards...."

LIBERATION: Milosevic has in effect set a trap for the Alliance

Liberation's Foreign Editor Jacques Almaric is even more skeptical of the air strikes' likely effects. He writes in a signed editorial headed "Trap that, "in accepting the punishment of NATO bombs and cruise missiles, Milosevic has in effect...set a trap for the Alliance: to come engage him in combat in order to impose by force the idea of autonomy for Kosovo..."

"Are the Western nations prepared to accept the challenge?" the editorial asks. "Have they even seriously considered it? Nothing," it goes on, "would indicate that but rather the contrary: No [NATO] nation has publicly declared it is ready for combat on the ground; the U.S., in fact, was the first among them to exclude the possibility."

LE MONDE: This crisis will determine Europe's profile in the 21st century

Le Monde is more positive in its appraisal, calling the NATO strikes "a historic turning point" for Europe. The paper writes in its editorial: "There's nothing banal about the war that is about to begin in Kosovo, in the Balkans. This crisis," the paper says, "will determine Europe's profile in the 21st century, the manner in which differences among its nations are settled, the role that NATO will play and its relations with Russia..."

The paper adds: "The bombardments are intended to make Mr. Milosevic yield and to end the Serb offensive against the Kosovars. Their success is not guaranteed," the editorial concludes. "They could embroil the West in a process that leads in the end to ground warfare against a Serb army that is no mere under-trained militia. But the risks match what is actually at stake: the possible return of barbarism in Europe."

CORRIERE DELLA SERA: The crisis is developing into the most dangerous European war since 1945

Italy's Corriere Della Sera writes: "Milosevic could not bear the loss of sovereignty in Kosovo without foregoing his throne in Belgrade. [At the same time,] NATO was no longer capable of hiding behind mere condemnation without turning into a paper tiger. This double reality," the paper goes on, "is developing into the most dangerous European war since 1945."

It adds: "The use of force will perhaps pressure the Serbian dictator to see reason without forcing him to lose face. But in the Balkan powder keg --the cradle of so many tragedies, with the Italian coast within reach of fire-- the use of force could lead to an unstoppable chain reaction of unpacified nationalism and an overt settlement of old accounts."

Some German dailies today find themselves in a moral dilemma. Few question the right of NATO to strike militarily against Yugoslavia, but several still wonder whether international law has been broken, and whether the road taken by NATO will lead to the desired goal.

NUREMBURGER ZEITUNG: The West must break the backbone of Yugoslavia's military might

The Nuremburger Zeitung says: "It's important for the West to break the backbone of Yugoslavia's military might in this first-strike phase and [believes] all the indications are that NATO is determined to do just that."

SAARBRUECKER ZEITUNG: Aggression must not pay

The Saarbruecker Zeitung reminds its readers that "the West did not want this war in Kosovo. But it now has it," the paper adds, "and on the brink of the 21st Century it must be fought to establish the point that aggression must not pay."

In Bavaria, the Muenchner Merkur bemoans "the fact that for too long aggression seemed to pay, that Europe displayed a frightening lack of both consensus and responsibility, and that it took the 'global policeman' --the U.S.-- to bring us to the point where Milosevic has been rebuffed." The paper calls on Europe to "grow up [and] take its fate into its own hands."

NORDWEST ZEITUNG: Germans seem to be taking their military involvement in their stride

On that point, several German newspapers note that, in this conflict, post-war Germany has come of age. The Nordwest Zeitung points out that "it's the first time that forces of Germany's Bundeswehr [army] are engaged with weapons within the NATO alliance. This distinguishes matters from the [1991] Gulf war, where Germany preferred an expensive ringside seat. It's noteworthy," the paper adds, "that Germans seem to be taking their military involvement in their stride."

MITTELDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: The results of the conflict could be with us for long

Two German dailies worry about the air strikes' unpredictable consequences. The Mitteldeutsche Zeitung says that "this is war, even though our politicians prefer to speak about 'airstrikes.'" It adds: "The results of the conflict could be with us for long after the military events are over, since NATO has now broken the convention that a UN mandate is necessary for such military action."

FULDAER ZEITUNG: What will happen after the bombing stops?

Last night's attacks have also left a bitter after-taste at the Fuldaer Zeitung. The paper asks: "What will happen the day after the bombing stops?" It says that military action "cannot resolve the intricate problems of bringing long-term stability to the Balkans."

WASHINGTON POST: Now NATO must conduct a substantial campaign

U.S. press comment is largely --but not entirely-- more positive about the strikes. In an editorial, the Washington Post says: "A resort to force can never be considered an ideal outcome of a diplomatic standoff. But President [Bill] Clinton and his fellow NATO leaders were right yesterday to attack the forces of...Slobodan Milosevic."

"That Balkan tyrant," the paper continues, "ignored ample -- indeed, more than ample-- warnings and apparently decided that provoking a bombing campaign would serve his short-term interests. Now NATO must conduct a substantial enough campaign to ensure that any political benefits are outweighed by lasting harm to Mr. Milosevic's war machine."

WASHINGTON POST: Power exerted without clear priorities is power wasted

But the same paper's foreign-affairs columnist, Jim Hoagland, is far more critical. "What next?" he asks, warning that "power exerted without clear priorities and purpose is power wasted." Hoagland says that "in Kosovo and elsewhere, Clinton's foreign policy looks aimless....In both the Balkans and the Persian Gulf, [Clinton's] over-reliance on threat-based diplomacy has painted [him] into a dangerous corner that he seeks to exit by bombing."

The commentary goes on: "Clinton's luck may hold in Kosovo, but it is hard to escape the feeling that the President and his aides had not the foggiest notion of how this episode would turn out as they launched it --because they did not know except in the most immediate sense how they wanted it to turn out."

NEW YORK TIMES: There is a need for steadiness, persistence and unity

Declaring that "the air attacks are warranted," the New York Times writes in its editorial today: "With the start of NATO air and missile attacks on Yugoslavia Wednesday, the long-running crisis over Kosovo has entered a new, uncertain and decidedly more dangerous phase. More broadly, the attacks mark an important watershed for the Atlantic alliance. While NATO planes attacked Serbian militias in Bosnia a few years ago, the alliance had never before unleashed its military power against a sovereign state."

The NYT continues: "Yet there can be no guarantee that air strikes alone will force Milosevic to compromise, and no clear consensus on what military or diplomatic steps to take if air power proves insufficient....Yugoslavia's army is one the largest and toughest in Europe....These factors point up the need for a steadiness, persistence and unity from the NATO allies now that the attack has been made."

WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE: No good options remain

The Wall Street Journal Europe is doubtful that what it considers NATO's belated response to Milosevic will prove effective. The paper writes that there is no "endgame" in the West's policy toward Kosovo because "the West's leadership has played the game so poorly the past decade. For that, the paper adds, "we are now paying a price: No good options remain."

The WSJ concludes: "Kosovo is not an accident, it didn't just happen. It is the product of mistakes. The biggest mistake is assuming that by ignoring a problem, the West in general and the U.S. in particular can stay uninvolved. The lesson is that this is n-o-t an option, that in today's world the real option is learning how to involve sooner, smarter and therefore smaller."