Courtesy Reuters

Clearing up Kosovo

By Morton Abramowitz

To the Editor:

The following observations are prompted by the articles on the former Yugoslavia in the September/October 1999 and November/December 1999 issues:

* One might deduce from those articles that the Kosovo problem started with the Rambouillet conference and that it was all Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's fault. But the fact is that it was the "boys" in the Bush and Clinton administrations who crafted the disastrous response to Yugoslavia's disintegration -- a decade-long episode, expressed recently in the Kosovo war, which is far from over. Had Albright's early and consistent stance against passivity, appeasement, and incrementalism in dealing with Serbia and Yugoslav President Slobodan Miloševic been followed, much grief and money, and many lives, might have been saved.

* The West went to Rambouillet to avoid bombing Serbia, not to find an excuse for bombing. Miloševic had violated the October 1998 Activation Order from the start. That violation was supposed to have "serious" consequences: remember the incessant warning, "the Activation Order is on the table." The final straw -- the massacre at Racak -- produced not a military response but more talk. No country wanted to bomb.

* The amazing but unmentioned aspect of the Rambouillet and Paris negotiations is that Miloševic passed up a golden opportunity -- he could have created havoc among the fractious Kosovars and destroyed the fragile consensus within NATO and among the Contact Group. All he had to do was appear to negotiate seriously on at least part of the draft proposals. He refused to do so -- why, I am not smart enough to say. Miloševic probably expected that the allies would not take military action or that any military response would be very limited (not a surprising judgment on his part). This behavior also fits the evidence that Miloševic had already decided to "solve" the Kosovo problem in a different way. In any event, he forced our hand.

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* Last, it borders on the obscene that the Clinton administration continues to characterize Bosnia and Kosovo as successes. Perhaps more than 200,000 people are dead, 3 million displaced, 2 protectorates have been established where Western forces will be for no one knows how long, and some $50 billion has been spent with much more to come. That is some success.

MORTON ABRAMOWITZ

Senior Fellow, Century Foundation