Column

Bombing Yugoslavia is wrong, wrong, wrong

The NATO policy towards Kosovo embraces wilful ignorance and tragedy. Its cost cannot be underestimated.

Barbara Amiel April 12 1999
Column

Bombing Yugoslavia is wrong, wrong, wrong

The NATO policy towards Kosovo embraces wilful ignorance and tragedy. Its cost cannot be underestimated.

Barbara Amiel April 12 1999

Bombing Yugoslavia is wrong, wrong, wrong

Column

The NATO policy towards Kosovo embraces wilful ignorance and tragedy. Its cost cannot be underestimated.

Barbara Amiel

Where is Monica now that the world really needs her? When she was around, action in the Oval Office focused on more accessible areas than Kosovo. Now, Bill has time on his hands and we have trouble on ours.

I cannot find a single redeeming aspect to the current policy of bombing attacks on Yugoslavia: if the aim was to subdue the singularly unpleasant Slobodan Milosevic, the bombing has simply united Serbs around him. If it was to protect the Albanian Kosovars, we have aided their destruction. If it was to stabilize the Balkans, we have upped instability. If it was to protect our national interest against Greater Serbia, we risk more in creating a Greater Albania, which could inflame Muslim minorities in Macedonia as well as upsetting the delicate relationship between the Muslim Turks and the Orthodox Greeks.

This NATO policy discredits NATO itself, the United States of America, and the intelligence of the West’s military. The cost of this policy, fiscally, morally and geopolitically, cannot be underestimated. When communism started collapsing in the mid-’80s, not only in the Soviet Union but in all the republics that constituted the former Yugoslavia (Croatia,

Slovenia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro,

Macedonia and Serbia), the leaders who ran those republics shifted to nationalism to cling to power. Unsurprisingly, most old Communists brought their same totalitarian spirit to their newly minted nationalism. Serbia was to Yugoslavia as Russia was to the USSR—the nerve centre keeping the republics together by force. Communist oppression was much less virulent in Yugoslavia than in the Soviet Union, but the people felt themselves under a double oppression—that of communism itself and that of the Serbs. (Tito himself was a Croat, but then Stalin was a Georgian, Hitler an Austrian and Napoleon a Corsican. History has lots of dictators from ethnic groups separate from their subjects.) Unfortunately, the nationalism that replaced communism was born before democracy and liberalism took root. Instead of recognizing that the best way for the West to deal with totalitarian nationalism was to quickly serve notice that the Serbs could not keep the federation together against the people’s will, the United States and Canada initially tried to prevent its breakup. We told these restless nationalities not to rock the boat. But Slovenia and Croatia were genuine definable entities up until the end of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and ought to have immediately been recognized as independent countries.

After armed clashes between Serbs and Croats, the world belatedly told Serbia that it couldn’t hold its confederation together by force. At this point, if you are still with me, we got the horror of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Unlike Slovenia and Croatia (each of which comprises essentially one ethnic group and one language), the for-

mer Yugoslav provinces of Bosnia and Herzegovina were made up of three distinct religious groups: the Bosnian Muslims, the Bosnian Serbs (largely Greek Orthodox), and the Roman Catholic Croats. The separation of Bosnia-Herzegovina sparked a fight between all Serbs and the Bosnian Muslims—a genuine civil war. The peace agreement concluded in Dayton, Ohio, in November, 1995, created de facto ethnic cleansing, with Bosnia-Herzegovina divided into a Muslim-Croat federation and a Serbian area that calls itself the Republic of Serbska and wants union with Serbia.

Kosovo, meanwhile, is a landlocked region that has been part of the pan-Slav nation for centuries. It is entirely unrealistic to expect the Serbs to give up Kosovo. That would be like the United States giving up Texas or California should Mexicans become the majority there. We could get Serbia to give up Kosovo, but that would require defeating Serbia militarily. Of course you could bomb Serbia for two months, or eight months, or however long it would take to drive it back into the Stone Age by destroying its electrical and water supplies, all its infrastructure and so forth. Our will could then be imposed. Kill enough Serbs and you will get a victory. But how can NATO justify wresting away a province from a sovereign power by massive slaughter?

The NATO policy towards Kosovo embraces wilfull ignorance and tragedy. The Kosovars were split between groups that wanted their autonomy back and those that wanted full independence. Our “peacemaking,” with the promise that we would back it up with bombing if the Serbs didn’t sign, encouraged Kosovar separatists—just as we encouraged the Kurds against Saddam (and a whole list of betrayed dissidents from the Hungarians in 1956 to the Vietnam boat people in 1979). If we had stayed out of it, Kosovo would have had to reach an accommodation with the Serbs. The regime would have been hostile, but Kosovo would not have been blasted to bits. When I wrote some time ago that this dispute had to be worked out locally, I was accused of being inhumane. Now, look at the refugees fleeing Serbian slaughter and our bombing. How much more humane is this current policy?

In a Pentagon briefing last week, spokesman Ken Bacon explained how food supplies that could feed 400,000 people for six months had been dropped in the region. And where did they put these supplies? In Kosovo, Belgrade and Montenegro—that is, all inside Yugoslavia. Because, explained Mr. Bacon, during the Bosnian war they had deposited food supplies in Belgrade, and relief organizations there had no trouble shipping them out to Bosnia. A bright six-year-old might have explained to the Pentagon that there is a difference between the Bosnian conflict in which the Serbs were siding with one of the parties and this nightmare. We’re feeding the hand we are bombing. Six-year-olds would be too smart to do that.