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Western Press Review: Coping With New Turmoil In The Balkans

Prague, 8 March 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Much of today's commentary in the Western press focuses on the new violence in the Balkans as ethnic Albanian rebels step up attacks along the Kosovo-Macedonian border. Is a return to all-out war in the area inevitable? The commentators consider the roles of NATO, economics, and U.S. military tradition in fighting what may be a losing battle in the region.


An editorial in Britain's "Times" daily says NATO must act decisively to curb the ethnic Albanian militants. It says the Albanian provocations along the Macedonian border over the past week are "a calculated attempt to start a fresh war, a disgraceful exploitation of the West's readiness to sacrifice lives in fighting Slobodan Milosevic's repression of the Kosovar Albanians and the culmination of the continuing lawlessness in Kosovo, marked by intolerance, criminality and corruption."

The paper adds: "So seriously does NATO take the extremism of men who have never accepted the disbandment of the KLA [that is, Kosovo Liberation Army, or UCK] and are determined to win full independence by armed struggle that it is now ready to see a 'phased and conditional' return of Serb troops to the buffer zones. These zones were set up to protect the liberated Kosovars from revenge attacks by the beaten Yugoslav Army. They were not intended to be safe havens for terrorists."

The editorial goes on to say that the turnaround has been encouraged by Belgrade's restraint in observing the cease-fire and asking NATO to handle the security issues rather than moving unilaterally against the militants. It finds that Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica's apparent willingness to allow a limited number of Serb troops back into Kosovo to administer border controls is good news for NATO but "anathema" to most Kosovar Albanians.

The paper says further: "NATO's immediate task must be to reinforce the security of Macedonia, the most fragile state in the Balkans. But the message to Kosovo and its rulers must be that continuing violence, far from hastening self-determination, may so sicken a disillusioned West that aid, interest and protection may fast melt away."


A comment in today's "International Herald Tribune" addresses Kosovo's prospects for post-conflict economic viability. John Maresca, president of the Geneva-based Business Humanitarian Forum, writes: "The economy is in ruins. So-called socially owned enterprises, the biggest businesses in Kosovo before the war, are at a standstill." He adds: "Last year 400 non-governmental organizations were present in Kosovo, meaning foreigners renting apartments, hiring drivers and interpreters and funding reconstruction and rehabilitation projects. Now there are 200 NGOs. This dramatic decline is likely to continue."

Perhaps the worse indicator in Kosovo, he writes, is unemployment: estimates say as many as 70 percent of Kosovar workers are unable to find a job. Maresca writes: "If no new jobs are created, many young Kosovars will turn to crime, or will be ready volunteers for Serb-baiting or guerrilla warfare."

Humanitarian aid officials, he adds, should begin to make investment considerations a part of their thinking, despite what Maresca calls their traditional "distaste" for business. He adds: "Economic recovery from conflicts [cannot] take place without private business investment."

Maresca says it is late in the game to begin thinking about solutions to Kosovo's shattered economy, but suggests an 11th-hour plan: "The best bet for attracting [foreign] investment is to bring potential investors to Kosovo. They can meet Kosovar business people who are resourceful and energetic. They can see the resources, in mining, manufacturing and agriculture, as well as an abundant and hardworking labor force."

"And," he adds. "they can walk in the streets of Pristina, a bustling European city filled with markets, restaurants and cafes, and see for themselves that there is a future there, if only Europeans and others with an interest in the Balkans will help."


Also in today's "International Herald Tribune," columnist William Pfaff comments on what he sees as the "absolutist" U.S. attitude towards war and peace. He writes that beginning with the Civil War, "[the American way of war] has been rightly described as 'annihilation,' using material superiority to physically crush the enemy by direct assault."

Pfaff continues: "Since Vietnam, the fear that casualties would destroy popular support for military action has dominated U.S. planning." Such a policy, he says, can be seen as a violation of basic military conduct: "This employment of technology deprives the profession of arms of a chivalric honor: that the soldier's offer to sacrifice his own life justifies his dealing of death to others. Military practice now comes closer to murder than to traditional warfare. But such is the option offered by technology, and the U.S. public approves, as does the soldier, who naturally does not want to die."

However, he says, the Bush administration may, in a small way, be challenging that model in its push to see more financial efficiency in the U.S. military. In his proposal to unilaterally reduce nuclear weapons stocks and promote budget competition among the U.S. armed services based on "demonstrated effectiveness," President George W. Bush -- according to Pfaff -- is pushing reform on a military that is reluctant to give up its technological muscle.

He writes: "The [U.S.] military has resisted reform. The navy insists on maintaining carrier battle groups to patrol the oceans at a time when no navy on earth is remotely capable of challenging it. [The air force] has been in a measure/counter-measure race with itself, demanding ever greater leaps in leading-edge technologies. [And] the army resists low-intensity operations -- peacekeeping, and border policing in Kosovo, for example -- which happen to be the useful tasks actually needed at the moment."


A comment in today's "Wall Street Journal Europe" considers the Albanian claim to exclusive control in the border area between Macedonia and Kosovo. James Pettifer writes: "Albanians make up a quarter of Macedonia's population, a religious and linguistic minority small enough to have grievances but too large to be ignored."

Pettifer goes on: "There will no doubt be global calls for a simple anti-terrorist operation against the Albanians. [But] reflexive politics here would be a mistake. The root of the crisis does not lie in Macedonia, which has bad but still containable ethnic tensions, but in Kosovo itself," where, he says, Albanian paramilitary groups are "flourishing," but moderate Albanian leadership is being "ignored."

The majority of Macedonia's Albanians, he says, are not zealous supporters of the "Greater Albania" that fuels the ambitions of militants. Macedonian Albanians are traditionally moderate and would be "happy" to remain a minority community, he adds, particularly if human rights standards in the area rise.

However, Pettifer writes: "Unfortunately for Macedonia, the preferred current option in Europe is to nurse Kosovo back to Yugoslavia under moderate leadership. As the majority of Kosovars will not accept this, Macedonia will continue to experience difficulties for some time."


Two other pieces focused on statue-smashing in Afghanistan and Israel's new unified government. Reuel Marc Gerecht, writing in the "New York Times," says: "The anti-idol declaration by [Taliban leader] Mullah Muhammad Omar ought to be seen for what it is above all else: a crystal-clear signal that Osama bin Laden, the Saudi terrorist who has lived in Afghanistan since 1996, has found a true spiritual brother in the Taliban movement."

He adds: "In a country demarcated by land mines, burned-out tanks, and blown-up roads, bridges, dams, schools and power grids, Mullah Omar and Mr. bin Laden have become mythical figures."

The United States, the author argues, has been too slow to acknowledge the "international dimension" of the Afghanistan crisis. The Clinton administration, with only mild remonstrations against cruelty to women, accepted the Taliban's presence even after the appearance of bin Laden.

Gerecht writes: "Pretending that [the U.S. has] a robust counter-terrorist program picking apart Mr. bin Laden's organization -- while he and his followers nearly sink an American destroyer in Yemen -- is delusional and dangerous." The only realistic option? "Play realpolitik the old-fashioned way."

He explains: "It is too late to save Bamiyan's [Buddha statues], but it is not too late for the United States to play hardball. The Bush administration could give a small slice of the multi-billion-dollar counter-terrorist budget to [Ahmed Shah Massoud]" -- the sole guerilla commander remaining in Afghanistan still contesting Taliban rule.

"Massoud, a devout Muslim, is unquestionably one of the greatest guerilla commanders of our era. He detests the Taliban's treatment of women; he has no truck with Mr. bin Laden. A literate man, he is no doubt horrified by the most recent attack on Afghanistan's Buddhist patrimony." By joining forces with Massoud, Gerecht argues, the U.S. might finally convince the Taliban and its Pakistani supporters to turn over bin Laden.


An editorial in the "Washington Post" says: "The sheer breadth of Ariel Sharon's new Israeli government testifies to the success of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in unifying Israelis."

It elaborates: "This degree of national consensus is possible only because Mr. Arafat, with his cultivation of the continuing violence in the territories and his inability to do business with the previous Israeli government, convinced most Israelis of the impossibility of any peace agreement at the present time. Under such circumstances, the differences between hawk and dove -- so clear when peace seems possible -- begin to fade."

The consensus, however, also creates the problem of a patchwork policy that sends different messages to different countries. The editorial commends Sharon's generous inclusion of Labor Party members and moderate policy guidelines. But Sharon's appointment of so-called "ultra-hawks" Rehavam Zeevi and Avigdor Lieberman, the editorial says, "send the signal that [Sharon] either does not understand or does not care how his government will be received by the Arab world."

However, it says, "the reality is that, the symbolism of their inclusion aside, neither the right-wingers nor the Laborites may end up having a great deal of influence. [It] is therefore Mr. Sharon and his intentions that matter -- and these remain obscure."