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U.S.: Senate Panel Examines Kosovo's Status

The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Thursday held a hearing to examine the status of Kosovo one year after the U.S.-led NATO bombing campaign there. RFE/RL Senior Correspondent Lisa McAdams reports on the broad debate:

Washington, 9 June 2000 (RFE/RL) -- A senior U.S. State Department official says violence remains a major challenge to the international effort to secure peace and promote democracy in Kosovo. But others who joined on Thursday the Senate Foreign Relations Committee debate on Kosovo -- one year after the U.S.-led NATO bombing campaign -- said a "drifting" U.S. policy was to blame.

Ambassador James Pardew opened the witness testimony. Pardew serves as the principal U.S. deputy and special advisor for Kosovo and Dayton peace plan implementation for Bosnia. He reiterated U.S. condemnation of recent ethnic Albanian attacks against Kosovar Serbs. He also urged local Kosovar Albanian leaders and civilians to work with the UN mission (UNMIK) and the NATO-led multinational KFOR peacekeeping force to stop the attacks, which he characterized as one of the biggest challenges presently facing the international community in Kosovo.

Pardew also said the U.S. remains firm in its belief that there needs to be a regime change in Serbia, before things can improve in Kosovo and beyond:

"The continued retention of power by the (Yugoslav President Slobodan) Milosevic regime in Belgrade obstructs progress in Kosovo, as it does elsewhere in the region. The sooner the Milosevic regime is replaced by democratic alternatives, the sooner the region can begin to heal. The recent crackdown on independent media and students shows that the regime is fearful, brittle and in a downward spiral. We continue to oppose those individuals and actions which reinforce Milosevic, and we support those who promote democratic alternatives."

Pardew also reiterated long-standing U.S. policy that the issue of Kosovo's final status must be "set aside for now," as the West seeks to promote democracy, autonomy, and economic development.

Pardew's comments were later taken to task by Paul Williams, an assistant professor of law and International relations at American University. Williams, who noted his previous service as an advisor to the Kosovo Albanian delegation during the Rambouillet peace talks, as well as previous State Department service, said U.S. policy on Kosovo is "flawed."

"To date, the U.S. government has not articulated a meaningful objective and has pursued only a tactical approach to the crisis in Kosovo, and to the broader crisis in the former Yugoslavia. If this vacuum of strategic policy continues, the United States will be unable to extricate its military forces from either Bosnia or Kosovo in the foreseeable future, and will find itself confronted with perpetual conflict and crises, as it has for the past decade in this region."

Williams said one way in which the U.S. could move beyond a purely tactical approach would be in crafting an aggressive strategy to confront Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and deny him the fruits of aggression. At present, Williams says U.S. diplomats and policymakers rather seem to favor what he characterized as a passive, shadowy strategy of waiting for democratic transition in Serbia to remove Milosevic from power.

Morton Abramowitz, who sits on the board of trustees for the independent International Crisis Group, agrees more decisive action is needed. Abramowitz, who is a former assistant secretary of state for intelligence and research, said not only is U.S. policy adrift, but so too in his view is allied determination.

Abramowitz noted that there seems to be a broad consensus that the issue of Kosovo's status could be better dealt with once Milosevic leaves the scene. But he put forth the following view and query to counter current thinking:

"One problem with this approach is that no one is smart enough to figure out when Milosevic will lose power. However, this is significant, the weakness of his regime, his departure could be delayed a long time. We've seen that with (Cuban President Fidel) Castro. We've seen that with (Iraqi President) Saddam Hussein. It could be delayed a long time, creating tension and instability in Kosovo. Should power and responsibility continue to be denied the Albanians?"

Moreover, Abramowitz said it is not at all clear that a post-Milosevic government will have the desire or the political backing to accept a change in Kosovo's status. He said one could then reasonably argue that it is better for the international community and the Serbian opposition to change Kosovo's status while Milosevic is in charge.

Abramowitz said he also believed it was of primary importance for U.S. policymakers to make it clear to the people of Kosovo, and the world at large, that while the status of Kosovo has yet to be determined, Serbian rule will not return to Kosovo.

In short, Abramowitz said the United States either starts to set the rules for a transition to what may be eventual Kosovo independence, or it allows itself and its European allies to be held hostage to events in Kosovo and the region.

Janusz Bugajski, the Director of East European Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies(CSIS) in Washington, was even more direct:

"Most policymakers unfortunately still adhere to the conventional wisdom that an independent Kosovo would destabilize the Balkans. In reality, it seems to me it is the forcible maintenance of Yugoslavia, in which we are now really accomplices, that continues to generate instability."

Bugajski said independence for Kosovo could have several positive ramifications -- namely, restoring Kosovar confidence in the international community. He said it could also help preclude a potential radicalization of Albanian politics, as long-term ambiguity on the status question in his view "undermines the democrats and favors the demagogues."