The west finally accepted the necessity to bomb Yugoslavia on March 25, after their repeated attempts to help Milosevic to solve his Kosova problem were rebuffed. However, the strategy they implemented, and the predictable results of the first few days of their attacks, raise serious questions about their genuine intentions.
The Serbs’ campaign against the Kosovars, which had been been running for over a year at low-medium level, was immediately intensified, particularly in northern and western Kosova, and in the capital Pristina. The Serbs unleashed a savage drive of genocide and ethnic cleansing for which preparations had obviously been carefully laid in advance. While the area’s few Serb residents placed markers on their doors to show that they should not be attacked, Serbian troops and police drove tens of thousands of Kosovars from their homes, killing, looting and pillaging as they went. Many of the worst features of the Serbs’ campaigns in Bosnia have been repeated: the separation and murder of the menfolk; the targeting of professionals and intellectuals; and the razing and torching of entire villages to make any resettlement unlikely.
In the first days of the NATO bombing, the Serbs were given a free hand in Kosova as the west concentrated on hitting Yugoslav air defences and military installations in Serbia. Once the Serbs’ campaign was underway, NATO’s shift to Serb targets in Kosova was much too late.
The breadth of NATO’s strikes surprised observers because it amounted to all- out war on Yugoslavia, which no-one expected. The resultant war atmosphere inside Serbia has lead to Milosevic’s position being consolidated, and total opposition to the west and the Kosovars. This situation has been used to justify Milosevic’s suppression of opposition inside Serbia.
If the west’s intention had been to help the Kosovars, as they said, a better strategy for NATO would have been to limit their attacks to Serbian targets inside Kosova. Had Kosova been made into a no-go area for the Serb military, by the sort of intense attacks that the west has proved capable of elsewhere in the past, while the rest of Serbia remained largely untouched, the Serbs would have had little option but to withdraw from Kosova. By making the whole country a war-zone, Milosevic has been strengthened, not weakened.
The west’s strategy of attacking military factories, depots and other support structures would make sense only if they expected to fight a long war against Yugoslavia. This is not going to happen, as the west is reluctant to get involved on the ground. With the Kosovars under immediate attack, concentrating on such background targets makes little sense.
As the attacks started, western leaders insisted that their only objective was to force Milosevic to accept the Rambouillet agreement which the Kosovars had signed a week earlier. The use of force as an instrument of persuasion, alongside diplomatic efforts, is well established. But again, the west’s bombing strategy is inconsistent with this objective. For force to be effective in this way, it should have been limited to Serb targets in Kosova rather than taking the form of all-out war on Yugoslavia as a whole. A limited attack could have been used by Milosevic to justify reaching a settlement with the Kosovars–especially as the settlement the west has offered is so good for him. All-out war makes any concession on Milosevic’s part a surrender, and much harder to swallow.
Since the NATO attacks started, and the results on the ground have been seen, western leaders have maintained an aggressive stance, warning that they are willing to maintain the bombing for as long as it takes to achieve their objectives. However, time actually works against them. Their stated objectives require a quick settlement. All a prolongued war will do now is give the Serbs more time to ‘cleanse’ Kosova of its Muslim people.
Western leaders such as Bill Clinton, Madeleine Albright, Tony Blair and Robin Cook have loudly declared that the Serbs will not be permitted to keep any of the gains thay are now making in Kosova. However, this is unrealistic talk without the political will to put ground troops in. The experience of Bosnia shows that the gains the Serbs make are unlikely ever to be relinquished. The Kosovars massacred cannot be brought back to life, and those driven from their homes are unlikely to be permitted to return.
How then can we explain the west’s wholly illogical position here? It must be seen in the overall context of their strategy towards Kosova from the outset. This has been to insist that the Kosovars relinquish all claims to independence, and to support the Serbs’ position that Kosova is an integral part of Serbia. The fear of the emergence of a strong Muslim state in Europe remains paramount in western thinking.
Had the west been genuinely concerned for the welfare of the Kosovars, they should have acted a year ago, at least. The situation on the ground in Kosovar has not become seriously worse between March 1998 and March 1999. The west has chosen to ignore and downplay the Kosovars’ suffering, and the Serbs’ aggression, during this time. The west has also demanded, as a precondition to helping the Kosovars, that they renounce independence. They expected, reasonably enough, that Milosevic would accept their assistance in this matter. But Milosevic is not a reasonable man. Eventually, six months after the west first backed down from a threat to bomb the Serbs over Kosova, Milosevic pushed the west too far, and is being punished–not for his murderous policies in Kosova, but for his refusal to submit to the western dictat.
What next? The west needs a face-saving way out of a war which they tried desperately to avoid. This is likely to take the form of a peace deal by which Milosevic will be obliged to make certain concessions to the west while maintaining effective control over Kosova. Russian prime minister Primakov is in Belgrade as this update is written; he may well be the conduit through which such a deal is reached. What is certain is that Kosova is no nearer independence.
Milosevic has changed the situation on the ground in Kosova far more in a week than he had managed in the previous year. Most of these gains will be effectively legitimised in any peace settlement now reached; the west is more concerned with keeping poor Muslim refugees out of western Europe than with protecting the Kosovars’ rights and interests. One option that has been floated is the partition of Kosova, with the Serbs being granted full control over the northern and western regions that they have worked hard to cleanse, while Kosovars are permitted autonomy in a rump territory, still within Yugoslavia.
Over the ten years since Milosevic trampled over the Kosovars in the name of Serbian nationalism in order to rise to power in the old Yugoslavia, much has changed in the region. But one thing that hasn’t is his ability to manipulate the west to his advantage.
Although Muslims are understandably pleased to see Milosevic getting some stick, they should not be fooled by what is happening. The Kosovars, who have suffered greatly through western inaction over the last year, are suffering even more now thanks to the west’s strategy, and are unlikely to gain anything even in the long run. Milosevic is an evil enemy indeed; but the west–the killers of millions of Muslims in Iraq and the sponsors of Zionist Israel–is no friend either. Satisfaction at seeing two enemies fighting each other should be tempered by the reality that the Muslims will never be allowed to gain from their quarrel.
Muslimedia: April 1-15, 1999