In October, 1998, Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic ordered his troops into Kosovo to put down ethnic Albanian forces trying to win independence for the province. On March 24, 1999, the long-anticipated NATO air strikes began. It was the first-ever assault by NATO on a sovereign nation; it was also pretty useless. When the air campaign commenced, President Clinton addressed Americans and outlined three objectives: to "demonstrate the seriousness of NATO's purpose," to "deter an even bloodier offensive against innocent civilians in Kosovo," and to "damage the Serbian military's capacity to harm the people of Kosovo." Instead, the campaign demonstrated the seriousness of Jesse Jackson (he was able to get three American soldiers released by the Serbs, to the chagrin of the Clinton administration). It also resulted in a bloody offensive against civilians in the Chinese Embassy, which was bombed by mistake, and destroyed lots of property in Serbia and Kosovo. When the smoke cleared, many Kosovars returned to what was left of their villages and demanded from their Serbian neighbors an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. One who survived unpunished: indicted war criminal Slobodan Milosevic, who remained in power after agreeing to a weak peace accord in June. "We did not urge our citizens to throw rocks at the Chinese Embassy. I hope the Chinese don't misinterpret this. But enough is enough."
-Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), emphasizing that no one in the United States urged mob justice after Americans learned of Chinese nuclear espionage at Los Alamos. He was responding to the rioting at the U.S. embassy in Beijing following the accidental bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade by NATO forces. After the NATO bombing, the Chinese government did nothing to stop demonstrators from attacking the embassy, and even fanned the flames. The Communist Party helped organize the protests. Beijing police stood by passively as protesters lobbed rocks, pieces of concrete, and even Molotov cocktails. All's well that ends well, and by the end of the year the United States cut a deal and let China into the World Trade Organization-whose meeting in the United States was disrupted by rioting hoodlums in Seattle. Loser takes all
For diplomats whose job is cajoling Saddam Hussein to abide by a settlement to a war he reportedly lost, the year ended much as it began-in humiliation. UN weapons inspectors took their leave of Iraq last December, after it became clear that Mr. Hussein would not allow them to visit sites crucial to their investigation. That was a violation of the peace negotiated after the Persian Gulf War. Four days of bombing by U.S. and British forces and 500 cruise missiles later, Mr. Hussein did not blink. No weapons inspections took place in 1999. The reward for his ill behavior? Mr. Hussein has been periodically granted extensions on a three-year-old "oil-for-food program." Under the UN deal, Iraq can sell $5.3 billion in oil every six months. With the oil receipts it is supposed to buy only food, medicine, and other necessities, all meant to take the sting out of UN-imposed economic sanctions. In December the UN tried again its peculiar brand of tough love, extending the oil-for-food agreement only if weapons inspectors were allowed in-this time under a newly created UN agency (more U.S. "dues" at work, no doubt). Mr. Hussein said no thanks. And so the story goes. The only real difference a year later is the erosion in support for the U.S. position in favor of the overtures. France joined permanent Security Council members China and Russia in voting against the deal. New face, old power plays
Across Eastern Europe and the former Soviet republics, happy celebrations swelled to mark a decade free from the shackles of Moscow party bosses. But all was not a party in Moscow. President Boris Yeltsin spent much of his last full year in office horizontal, repeatedly hospitalized with pneumonia and other ailments. The country's first democratically elected president, now 68, will leave office after elections next June. Political focus shifted to potential successors, who jockeyed to take control of the legislature in Dec. 19 parliamentary elections. With reform-minded legislators, led by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, taking seats from the dominant Communist Party, the former superpower may take stock of its soiled reputation. Russia stands to lose crucial overseas loans after it was discovered that crony capitalists, likely including public officials, had siphoned billions in Russia's International Monetary Fund allowance into overseas accounts. Overseas investors were also outraged by a re-invasion of Chechnya. The offensive, which began in September, has been largely engineered by Mr. Putin. Change of address
- B.J. Habibie, successor to the 32-year reign of President Suharto, was turned out of office overnight in Indonesia, after an electoral assembly gave him a no-confidence vote and inaugurated Abdurrahman Wahid, a Muslim cleric popularly known as Gus Dur.
- Nelson Mandela voluntarily stepped down as South Africa's first democratically elected president to make way for successor Thabo Mbeki.
- Olusegun Obasanjo became president of Nigeria, restoring democracy to Africa's most populous country.