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Yugoslavia -- Retired U.S. Generals Discuss Possible Move In Montenegro

Sunday's presidential election in Yugoslavia is sparking widespread concern that President Slobodan Milosevic may try to intervene militarily against the pro-Western Yugoslav republic of Montenegro. This could serve to deflect attention from possible fraudulent claims of an electoral victory by Milosevic. RFE/RL correspondent Jolyon Naegele attended a conference in Prague at which several retired U.S. generals discussed a possible Balkan intervention by NATO to thwart such a move.

Prague, 22 September 2000 (RFE/RL) -- NATO's top military commander during last year's bombing campaign against Yugoslavia, retired U.S. General Wesley Clark, says Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic should recalculate if he thinks he can get away with a crackdown in Montenegro.

Clark told RFE/RL that although NATO can maintain stability in the Balkans even if Milosevic continues to rule, overall progress in the region can not be achieved without his stepping down or removal.

"It is time for Milosevic to go. But that is a decision for the people of Serbia. They have to see it. They have to make those calls. In the meantime, I think that the nations of the West have made it perfectly clear that they are going to ensure that there is no threat to the stability of the region outside Serbia."

Clark says that NATO is militarily prepared to respond in a variety of ways to any aggression by Milosevic. But he emphasizes that the decision on whether and how to respond would be made by the leaders of the alliance's 19 member states.

Clark says all legal aspects of a possible intervention would be up for examination by NATO as the first order of business if trouble arises in Montenegro. But he draws a firm distinction between the actual practicality of a military intervention by NATO and international legal and political questions. He says there should be no misunderstanding on the part of any Serbian authorities: NATO has the military capabilities to do what it is asked to do.

Looking at past NATO interventions in the former Yugoslavia, Clark suggested that there is no legal precedent for intervening in Montenegro. He told participants in a conference in Prague on Balkan reconstruction that NATO intervened in Bosnia not in a civil war but rather "against international aggression aided and abetted by Serbia against the sovereign state of Bosnia."

Clark warns that the case of Montenegro is different.

"Montenegro is part of Yugoslavia. It is not an independent country. What does it take to make it independent? A declaration of independence by President [Milo] Djukanovic? A referendum on independence? A referendum followed by a period of two weeks, two months, two years of de facto independence as well as de jure [that is, by law] independence?"

But retired U.S. four-star General Jack Merritt, who is active on the boards of several U.S. foreign policy institutions, responded by reminding Clark of the justification for NATO's intervention in Kosovo last year.

"Actually, Kosovo constituted an intervention in a sovereign entity, right? All of the pronouncements at the time were that this was done for humanitarian reasons and in fact there were pronouncements at the time that humanitarian reasons trumped the Treaty of Westphalia and classical sovereignty."

The Treaty of Westphalia of 1648 ended the Thirty Years War and established the European system of sovereign nation states.

Merritt pointed out NATO's air strikes last year were aimed at -- and eventually succeeded -- in forcing the withdrawal of Yugoslav troops from the Serbian province of Kosovo. That, he said, created a precedent for interfering in the sovereignty of another state and so may be used by Western leaders as a precedent for intervening in Montenegro.

But Clark and Merritt both warn that the possibility of a crisis erupting in Montenegro comes at a time when moves are afoot in the U.S. Congress to terminate or further limit U.S. participation in peacekeeping activities in the Balkans.

Clark says posing the question of how long U.S. and other NATO forces will remain in Kosovo and Bosnia is driven, as he puts it, "by a disinclination to stay involved." In his words, "you can't put a timetable on it, and asking for the timetable is not a neutral question." But he says NATO will remain in the Balkans for as long as is necessary:

"And the simple truth is we are not going to resolve this problem unless the international community stays involved. If we get out of our engagement in the region, then the region will adopt some form of government under the leadership of some leaders who are the strongest, the toughest and the most corrupt and can survive."

Clark says failure to resolve the region's problems will only result in further outflows of people in search of a better life abroad.