A Separate Peace?

Published on October 5, 2006, The National Interest

Category: Violence Against Christian Serbs and Their Holy Places

by Doug Bandow

Most people think of Kosovo in the past tense. Democratic critics of the Bush Administration cite Kosovo as a "good war." Allied negotiators refer to Kosovo's final status—independence in some form—as a foregone conclusion.

The Western alliance would prefer to forget the Kosovo war, having become responsible for one of the largest episodes of ethnic cleansing in the Balkans. The ninth round of U.N.-sponsored talks on Kosovo recently ended with no agreement. Observes Albert Rohan, in charge of the Vienna negotiations: "We're approaching a moment where by talking alone we won't accomplish the goal. We could talk for another ten years and not change anything."

Unfortunately, the United States and Europeans guaranteed failure by attempting to predetermine the results. The ethnic Albanians know that the West is desperate to get out. They have no reason to make any concessions beyond formalistic promises to respect the Serb minority, promises which are unlikely to be kept by them or enforced by the allies.

The Serbian government has offered everything save independence.  After all, which Western government has cheerfully cut itself into pieces?  Czechoslovakia begins and ends the list. Belgrade has received no reward for its concessions. Instead, Serbia is supposed to accept prospective membership in the EU as payment for services rendered.

Even as the U.S. and Europeans decided on independence, their deteriorating relationship with Russia raises the possibility of resistance by Moscow.  China also has indicated disquiet at the forcible dismemberment of Serbia. If either power vetoes an allied UN resolution, the Balkans will become a
global problem.

From the beginning Western officials have lived in a fantasy world. They believed that they could maintain a multi-ethnic territory after the war. It is no surprise, however, that the ethnic Albanians, after using the American-supplied air force to eject the Serbian military, saw no need to retain the Serbian population.

To the contrary, the victorious ethnic majority kicked out roughly a quarter million Serbs, Roma, Jews, and non-Albanian Muslims. The few remaining Serbs were regularly attacked. In March 2004 some 4000 Serbs were displaced as rioters destroyed homes, farms, churches, and monasteries.

While the Albanian political leadership did not publicly support the attacks, its complicity is likely: the government is led by former guerrilla leaders guilty of war-time atrocities. They also have been implicated in the explosion of organized crime, including sex trafficking.

Although Islam was never much of a factor in the past, radical Islam appears to be on the rise, Christian converts have been threatened, and some analysts believe that terrorists have infiltrated the Balkans through Bosnia and Kosovo.  "Sex, crime, terrorism, it's all there," one U.S. diplomat recently told me.

Despite seven years of Western occupation, Kosovo isn't ready for autonomy, let alone independence. Joseph Grieboski of the Institute on Religion and Public Policy warns:

"the present record of rule of law, protection of the rights of religious and ethnic minorities, and the return/resettlement of internally displaced people by the Provisional Authority of Kosovo—all of which are indispensable for democratic governance—have been gravely unsatisfactory."

There's no easy solution. The majority ethnic Albanian community, understandably, does not want to live under Belgrade. Just as understandably, the minority Serbs (and Roma) do want to live under Albanian rule.  The Serbs who currently dominate the northern city of Mitrovica, near the rest of Serbia, likely would forcibly resist control by Pristina.  None of Kosovo's neighbors, except Albania, desires the UN to forcibly redraw Serbia's borders.

Thus, a dramatic international train wreck beckons. The West decides on independence for Kosovo. Serbia refuses to agree, and the pro-Western coalition is replaced by a government dominated by the nationalist/populist Serbian Radical Party. The EU ends any membership hopes for Belgrade. Russia vetoes a UN resolution granting independence.

The United States and Europeans move ahead without UN approval. Individual assaults on Kosovo's Serbs increase. Those in Mitrovica refuse to acquiesce to Albanian rule and are forcibly repressed by Pristina. Thousands more refugees flood into Serbia, which prepares to intervene.  The West threatens war on behalf of the Albanian majority even as the latter finishes the job of ethnically cleansing Kosovo. Allied officials talk about protecting democracy.

Although the worst case might not occur, there is no best case. To reach an acceptable compromise, allied officials need to return to the so-called reality-based community.

First, final status negotiations should be negotiations. The ethnic Albanians should understand that intransigence does not guarantee victory.

Second, multi-culturalism is not a worthwhile objective. One proposal, disliked by Washington, is to leave Mitrovica with Belgrade while granting Kosovo independence. This may or may not be a good idea, but Western officials pushing to partition Serbia cannot object to it in principle.

Third, independence will not magically transform Kosovo into a model of Western civility. To the contrary, independence will reduce allied leverage. If the ethnic Albanian majority tolerates human rights abuses when it has yet to win independence, how likely is it to act differently once it is granted independence?

Fourth, conditional independence would be equivalent to full independence. Allied governments will not return should Kosovo violate its commitments.

Fifth, it is easy to carve up other people's countries. Serbia has been routinely denounced for opposing proposals to detach Kosovo, rather like blaming a rape victim for resisting her attacker. The Serbs, no less than the ethnic Albanians, are entitled to defend their perceived interests.

Sixth, Belgrade should be integrated into Europe even if it refuses to validate the latest iteration of a flawed allied policy. Attempting to blackmail Belgrade will generate long-term hostility and is likely to fail.

For some time the received wisdom was that Kosovo would be granted independence, despite Serbia's opposition. However, unease with this prospect is appropriately growing. The impending impasse in the Vienna talks makes it imperative that the West insist upon negotiations that really mean negotiations, rather than unconditional surrender by Belgrade.


Doug Bandow is a member of the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy and the author of the forthcoming Foreign Follies: America's New Global Empire (Xulon Press).  A former special assistant to President Ronald Reagan, he is a member of the Advisory Board of the American Council for Kosovo.


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