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Hang together or hang separately?

International | An important American ally makes an uneasy peace with NATO's war in Kosovo

Issue: "Surviving the Y2K panic," April 3, 1999

in Athens - It may seem inevitable that the crisis in Kosovo would flare again. An agreement last October to put unarmed observers into the strife-torn Serbian province, while encouraging negotiations, never had a chance. With no middle ground between the independence sought by most Kosovars and domination insisted upon by the government of Slobodan Milosevic, it was doomed to fail. That left NATO attempting to impose an agreement through the threat of air strikes. In the meantime, Kosovo's Albanian guerrillas, the KLA, extended control while rejecting joint negotiations with Kosovo's long-time moderate political leader, Ibrahim Rugova. Belgrade was equally disinclined to consider autonomy for the province. It responded to KLA demands by reintroducing troops and launching new offensives. After the Clinton administration pushed the Albanians to sign a peace accord in Paris on March 18, Washington continued to threaten military intervention if Mr. Milosevic's government in Belgrade does not grant Kosovo autonomy and accept NATO occupation of its territory. Not all members of NATO share this enthusiasm for war. Greek Foreign Minister Theodoros Pangalos (who, shortly before the Kosovo agreement was signed, resigned over Greece's handling of the capture of Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan) publicly complained that NATO airstrikes "would destabilize the whole region." In public statements, the government of Greece, Kosovo's closest NATO neighbor, expresses support for a negotiated settlement to the conflict. But in private meetings, officials at every level emphasize their opposition to NATO-led military intervention. Government spokesman Dimitrios Reppas told WORLD that his government "doesn't want [NATO] forces to fight as a belligerent party against the other." Others in Greece share those concerns-from conservative opposition members of parliament and journalists to academics and businessmen. Thanos Veremis, president of the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy, said simply, "We should not bomb the Serbian side at this point." The Hellenic Foundation calls for "the complete integration of Yugoslavia into European structures and its involvement into the process of regional cooperation in southeastern Europe" rather than military confrontation. That course is in opposition to the policy of limited sanctions and threatened military strikes set by NATO and the Clinton administration. Hellenic Foundation analysts want carrots before sticks. They say, even if it were possible to overthrow Mr. Milosevic-and Greek officials, like most other Western analysts, believe airstrikes would not do so-such a result would not necessarily change Yugoslav policy toward Kosovo. Most Serbian political figures, whether nationalists or liberals, support Serb sovereignty in Kosovo. The issue has long been a difficult one for Greece, which shares important cultural, religious, and potentially significant economic ties with Serbia. Although popular enthusiasm for the Serb cause has faded, Athens strongly supports Belgrade's goal of maintaining Kosovo as part of Yugoslavia. The government spokesman, Mr. Reppas, told WORLD, "The border of Yugoslavia of course cannot be changed." Yannis Capsis, a member of the ruling PASOK party, argues that "except for the [Racak] atrocity, for which Milosevic should be blamed, the fact that he is trying to keep his country within its national territory is absolutely justified. America would do the same if Latins tried to give independence to California or Texas." As Kosovo's most proximate NATO neighbor, Greek officials are particularly sensitive to long-term issues. First, according to Mr. Pangalos: "No one has so far explained where and what would be bombed, what would be accomplished and what will happen afterwards." Airstrikes might damage military assets, but if Belgrade rejects the Western-brokered plan, attacks short of catastrophic are unlikely to change Serbian policy. Air attacks could mean that the 700 unarmed Western monitors become Serb hostages. Second, Greek officials are more skeptical of the apparent belief that the West can micromanage what they see as a guerrilla war. Mr. Reppas said that military strikes, particularly land operations, "would be opening the door to activities that instead of solving the problem would complicate the problem for the West." Although NATO officials pay lip service to the importance of pressuring the KLA, Undersecretary of Defense Dimitris Apostolakis warned, "We don't want to let the Albanians use NATO as the Albanian air force." Yet already it is evident that military intervention will aid the KLA, inflaming demands for independence. Where is the positive side to intervention? U.S. officials point to the lessons of Bosnia. "If diplomacy is not often coupled by the threat of force or the willingness to use force in an unstable environment like this, diplomacy is often ineffective," said the U.S. ambassador to Greece, Nicholas Burns. He told WORLD that Greece's quiet opposition to the NATO plan "reflects the wider difference between the U.S. and some of its European allies." Greek officials respond that the timing in Bosnia when the Dayton Accords were signed was critical. By then, Croats and Muslims had acquired sufficient weaponry to reverse the result on the ground, and the Serbs found that they were no longer masters of the war. In contrast, neither side in Kosovo is ready to quit fighting. Yet in Kosovo, concern for NATO "credibility" and the well-publicized loss of human life is pushing NATO members down the path of military intervention. Those justifying intervention cite atrocities like the killings in Racak, where 45 ethnic Albanians were massacred by Serb forces in January. Some outside observers believe the attack was in retaliation for an Albanian-led ambush that killed four Serb special policemen. Serbs say the dead were KLA guerrillas. A Finnish forensics investigation this month concluded that those killed at Racak were unarmed civilians, though questions remain about those results. The West's response-demanding to occupy with NATO forces what is internationally recognized as the sovereign territory of Yugoslavia-is unprecedented and hypocritical, Greek officials warn. They say the Clinton administration imposes a double standard, denouncing President Milosevic for depriving the Albanians in Kosovo of their right of self-determination, but not imposing that standard, for instance, on Turkey regarding its Kurdish minority. If NATO's threat of force succeeds in forcing an agreement, the ultimate result is likely to be greater instability. If the Serbs reduce their security forces, Belgrade's authority over the province will disappear and Kosovars desiring independence will have no incentive to moderate either their demands or their tactics. De facto independence would be only a matter of time. Independence, in the view of the Greeks, would be disastrous. Petros Molyviatis, a former diplomat and conservative member of parliament, said it is important "not to allow the change of external frontiers. If we do, it could blow up the Balkans." The Clinton administration and Western European members of NATO have given little heed to the Greek opposition telling them to keep the planes and troops at home.
-Mr. Bandow is a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute and former Special Assistant to President Reagan.

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