Soldiers in the Balkans usually take time off for the holidays. Falling temperatures and frosty precipitation provide a natural climate for a ceasefire every year among the Muslims and Croats and Serbs and Albanians warring against each other.
Not so this season. On Christmas Eve, Kosovo Liberation Army fighters and Serb forces clashed in the heaviest fighting since a fragile truce took effect in October. International peace monitors described it as "sporadic fighting," but that was just to keep their jobs. Yugoslav border guards killed 36 Albanian guerrillas trying to smuggle arms into Kosovo. Four days of artillery, mortar, and machine-gun fire across the snowy fields of Kosovo followed, leaving at least 13 people dead and more wounded.
Back in Bosnia, more than 7,000 American soldiers are wintering again. The troops marked their fourth Christmas as part of what was to have been a one-year NATO deployment. Critics argue that the deployment is proving interminable because the diplomacy behind it is flawed: The 1995 Dayton Accords was a mandate for U.S. troops to keep ethnic factions apart; at the same time, the political goal behind Dayton is to bring them together. That kind of
bi-polar thinking now extends to the 2,000 civilian observers NATO nations have sent to Kosovo to patrol the "peace."
If neither snow and ice nor peacekeepers can dampen ethnic rivalries in the region, what will?
Conservative policymakers have long argued that NATO troops are no solution to the bloody divisions in what they say should be regarded as a civil war.
"The U.S. cannot and should not delegate its superpower role in global security, but it can and must delegate regional peacekeeping to those local powers well-equipped to do it," wrote analyst John Hillen in one Heritage Foundation report.
Peter Kuzmic, a Croatian theologian and strategist, usually agrees with the conservative tack. But not this time.
"The United States should stop talking about lack of exit strategy in the Balkans," he told WORLD. "Focus on staying strategy. It will take a sustained effort of three to six years to build a multiethnic confederation in the countries of the former Yugoslavia, one where nationalism and religion cannot be used as propaganda to enlarge territories."
Mr. Kuzmic goes further. He says NATO troops should be moved from their fixed positions in Western Europe-where "the Berlin Wall is down and Germany is unified"-to southeastern Europe where conflict remains. He would recommend stationing them in Albania, Bosnia, or along the Dalmatian coast in Croatia.
That proposal met with enthusiasm, Mr. Kuzmic said, in sessions last year with congressional leaders and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Not so, however, with most conservative foreign-policy experts. John Bolton, an assistant secretary of state under former President George Bush, told WORLD: "The problem with wherever you put the troops is that the presence of the troops alone becomes a major factor inhibiting the resolution of divisions in Bosnia."
Any deployment along a ceasefire line, Mr. Bolton said, "becomes a de facto partition line. Look at Cyprus, India and Pakistan, North and South Korea. The military presence may stabilize and stop fighting, but may have the political effect of hardening division that exists. The reason I look for an exit strategy is that ultimately Bosnians have to decide how they want to live with each other."