Prague, 26 March 1999 (RFE/RL) -- With more distance comes greater perspective: As NATO airstrikes across Yugoslavia continue, Western press commentators are taking a second look at the Alliance's attempt to force Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to accept the international peace plan for Kosovo negotiated in France early this month. Today's comments are much more critical than yesterday's first reactions.
ECONOMIST: The West has stumbled into one of its riskiest ventures
Britain's weekly Economist sets the tone in its lead editorial: "The West," it writes, "has stumbled into one of its riskiest ventures since World War Two. It may pick itself up," the magazine goes on, "and emerge standing proud and erect, having been a decisive force for good. Or," it warns, "it may fall flat, with NATO, its military club, weaker than at any time in its 50 years of life, and the Balkans ablaze."
The editorial also argues that "NATO's 19 members, despite their initial unity, are deeply uneasy about the operation.... Their hesitations have already encouraged [Milosevic] in his refusal to make concessions at the negotiating table; they could yet curtail a military campaign that should go on for weeks if it is to have any chance of achieving its aims.... To increase the chances of success," it argues, the West "for a start...should do its utmost to tell the Serb people [that] in Western eyes, and not just those of Russia... their country is pivotal and has an important role to play in Europe..."
DAILY TELEGRAPH: Kosovo is entitled to independence
The Daily Telegraph discerns "beyond the exercise of air power a gaping void in Western policy." Several Western leaders, it says, have "chosen to put the emphasis on the humanitarian aspect of the operation. It is as if the Alliance were conducting an armed Band Aid designed solely to ease the plight of refugees from Serb oppression."
The editorial continues: "That...is a worthy goal, but only as part of a wider strategy that seeks to get Belgrade off the Kosovars' back once and for all. Independence is the status to which Kosovo is entitled. The old Titoist federation has disappeared and with it any constitutional reason why the province should consider itself bound to the rump that remains. ...Yet," the paper says, "this obvious, and just, solution to the problem of Kosovo is never mentioned by Western leaders."
NEW YORK TIMES: NATO must move quickly to destroy Yugoslavia's remaining defenses
The New York Times seeks today, in its third editorial on the subject in three days, to define what it calls "the aims of air war in Kosovo." The paper writes: "Conventional wisdom holds that air power alone cannot bring Belgrade to the bargaining table. But," the paper says, "it may well be able to ease Yugoslav military pressure on Kosovo."
The NYT goes on: "To achieve that goal, NATO must move quickly to destroy Yugoslavia's remaining anti-aircraft defenses and then move on to Yugoslav tanks and troops in Kosovo. The risk of casualties among NATO pilots will increase as cruise missiles and stealth fighters and bombers are now joined by more vulnerable aircraft. Yugoslav military casualties are certain to increase as well."
NEW YORK TIMES: The Serbs will target the U.S. contingent with guns and hate
The New York Times' own columnist A.M. Rosenthal is more skeptical about the NATO operation's success. He writes: "NATO is supposed to be for defense of its members. But it now attacks non-member Serbia...because Serbia is led by a louse. ... The attack may bring about Serbian surrender on Kosovo, but not for long. Serbs' passion for another rebirth will rise again."
The commentary continues: "[The Serbs] will target [an eventual] NATO occupation force, particularly the U.S. contingent, with guns and hate. Can we live with that? It was not guns but the hate of virtually the entire population that drove [the U.S.] quickly out of Somalia [several years ago]." Rosenthal adds: "Serbs are as likely to give up Kosovo willingly because the Albanians want it as Israelis are to give up Jerusalem because the Arabs want it."
SUEDDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: The West had an opportunity to establish an international presence in Serbia
In Germany's Sueddeutsche Zeitung today, Serbian opposition leader Zoran Djindjic says that a misguided Western policy is actually in no small part responsible for the weakness of the Serb opposition to President Milosevic today. In an interview with the paper, he adds: "The West had an opportunity in October 1998 to establish an international presence in Serbia. Then Milosevic volunteered to let OSCE [Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe] observers into the country. But out of the agreed-upon 2,000 monitors, only 1400 arrived in the course of eight months."
Djindjic goes on to say: "The authority of the OSCE might have been extended and their numbers increased. This would have been a development which could have exerted pressure on Milosevic. [But] I now have the impression that the international community has set itself radical aims, thereby joining [Kosovo's ethnic] Albanians in the radicalization merry-go-round."
SUEDDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Milosevic should not bet on his troops
Also in the SZ today, Editorial Director Josef Joffe argues that "the Yugoslav armed forces are not as good as their reputation." He writes: "The very term 'Yugoslav army' conjures up images of the 'heroic resistance' of the Tito partisans who were said to have tamed hundreds of thousands of Wehrmacht [World War Two German army] soldiers. That," he believes, "is a mythical interpretation of the past which has nothing to do with the present situation."
Joffe goes on: "Yugoslav resistance in World War Two had the benefit of material support from the U.S. and Britain. Today, Milosevic's defenders of the fatherland are -- apart from Russian support -- completely isolated. So, he concludes, "Milosevic should not bet on his troops being able to beat NATO -- even less so in view of the reality that the West, in contrast to Hitler, is not thinking of becoming embroiled in a ground war where the home side holds a tactical advantage."
HEILBRONNER STIMME: Cynics can be sure the outcome will be worse than the wars that preceded it
Several other German newspapers today are skeptical of NATO's achieving its goals in Yugoslavia. The Heilbronner Stimme says "the conflict over Kosovo is likely to follow the law of averages in the Balkans. That," it, comments, "would mean that cynics can be sure the outcome will be worse than the wars that preceded it."
The paper adds: "The 1991 war in Slovenia cost 80 lives, the war with Croatia 11,000. Four years of fighting over Bosnia-Herzegovina left 200,000 people dead. In Kosovo, we now have a few hundred dead, 500 ruined villages and 450,000 war refugees. And an end to the tragedy is not in sight."
PFORZHEIMER ZEITUNG: Permanent peace has seldom been achieved by force
The Pforzheimer Zeitung argues that "permanent peace anyway has seldom been achieved by force." But the paper acknowledges that "without massive military pressure, Serbia's warmonger Milosevic will continue his campaign in Kosovo." It urges, nevertheless, that "NATO countries employ every possible political means, including continued diplomacy and economic pressure, in order to achieve peace."
REUTLINGEN GENERAL-ANZEIGER: NATO has increasingly become the global policeman
The Reutlingen General-Anzeiger comments that "the Russians and the Chinese may view the NATO strikes as an attack against the UN, but UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan himself sees things differently." The paper's editorial goes on: "There are unresolved questions of international law [related to Kosovo], but now perhaps the world community will seriously consider re-shaping the world body. NATO has increasingly become the global policeman only because the UN has proved it couldn't do it."
DARMSTAEDTER ECHO: Milosevic has damaged Europe's peaceful development
The Darmstaedter Echo declares "adamantly that this is not a NATO war. Milosevic himself started it eight years ago," the paper argues. "He has not only burdened the people of former Yugoslavia with immeasurable suffering; he has severely damaged Europe's peaceful development."
NORDBAYERISCHER KURIER: Sometimes force is the only way to prevent dictators from committing further crimes
And the Nordbayerischer Kurier looks to history to explain its support for the NATO strikes against Serbia. "Those who are to blame for the attacks are sitting in Belgrade and nowhere else," the paper says. It adds: "War is never the best solution. But a glance at German history shows that sometimes force is the only way to prevent dictators from committing further crimes."