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June 6, 1998
. Vreme News Digest Agency No 348
What would happen in case of a military intervention in Kosovo

NATO at Gazimsetan

by Milos Vasic

The NATO council, its foreign ministers, and the organization's headquarters made a number of prompt decisions on the Kosovo crisis since May 11. The initial idea of reinforcing the Albanian and Macedonian borders with Yugoslavia has become a project envisaging a full-scale NATO intervention  in Kosovo. Nothing has changed in Serbia's southern province from December; low intensity clashes result in victims on a daily basis. Milosevic and his ground troops, bolstered by the presence of Jovica Stanisic and his special forces, stick to the rules applied in previous "dirty little wars": free-fire zones, scorched land, search and destroy. The only missing  bits are "strategic villages", strategic shelling and a chemical defoliation of the forests. A war like that could last another few years without  causing much global concern. So why is NATO upset? The organization has not offered an explanation for the concern of its ministers and generals.

THEORY AND PRACTICE: It is uncharacteristic for international bureaucratic organization such as the UN, NATO, the EU and others to make simple decisions based on simple facts. The former Yugoslavia's example shows that  such institutions are prone to rifts, plots, competing with each other, and having their own little competitions between the current and former great powers. They are also subject to personal ambitions and greed, shortcomings and vices so typical for human beings but magnified by the sheer power of these institutions. All that hampers the system and slows it down.  These institutions often take an eternity to come to terms and take action, by which time a problem has escalated and become harder to solve. A former NATO secretary general told Vreme that the Balkan wars fought between 1990 and 1995 could have been stopped immediately, in the summer of 1991. He said a brief, but decisive intervention in Dubrovnik could have stopped all the mayhem that followed, but the idea wasn't approved when it should have been. The great powers, unfortunately often referred to as " the international community", needed seven years to realize who they were dealing with in the Balkans. Perhaps no one should have had greater expectations from people who took Ratko Mladic seriously when he threatened to bomb Rome, Florence, and London and actually opened an inquiry into rumors that Arkan has a secret weapon called "elypton". Only a few chosen individuals and major intelligence services did their field work and how many of their reports were actually used in making relevant political decisions? The great powers took Milosevic's bluffs seriously for years. That was because you talk to the strong and not the weak in politics. However, things changed and the weak became strong after Milosevic lost three  wars, signed everything he was told to and told the population that there never was a war in Serbia. He also said that it could have been much worse and that we would never bow. That's when Milosevic's tactics went to kingdom come, for he has been forced to show his cards ever since the Dayton accords.

What has all this got to do with Kosovo? NATO has seen the reasons, the results and the price of Milosevic's quests in Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia. Like the previous three, Kosovo is separate case with its own specific set of rules. All ethnic Albanians in the province are unifying and demanding the right to self-determination. This process is inevitable in the long run as Milosevic and the great powers, all of which bought his ethnic rehabilitation rhetoric, made it inevitable. As an extended and armed hand of the great powers, NATO faces the following situation in Kosovo: a  90 percent ethnic Albanian population, of whom at least 60 percent are people under 30 years of age with no future apart from the one promised by  their shadow government. Serbian police act like an elephant in a china shop as they control only what they can see through the barrels of their guns, while the Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK) is becoming a serious guerrilla movement for all the above-mentioned reasons. There is no political solution in sight because Milosevic can't explain to the Serbs that ethnic Albanians are neither an enemy nor inferior breed nor can Rugova push back the  UCK even if Milosevic helped him by withdrawing his troops and giving Kosovo back the 1974 autonomy. The war in Kosovo is there and it's inevitable,  but NATO and other institutions in charge have realized this.
NATO's past experience with Milosevic will therefore predetermine the organization's future tactics. Knowing that Milosevic is prepared to make the situation in Kosovo unbearable for himself and everyone else before bargaining for less than he had when he started, NATO will have to define the thin line determining its tolerance to violence in the southern Serbian  province. The organization has substantial military potentials in Kosovo 's immediate neighborhood - Greece, Macedonia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Italy and very soon Albania. This fact makes a military intervention very probable, for withdrawing troops from so many distant locations and deploying them again is too expensive even for great powers. Transport will be the main problem should NATO opt for an intervention, for it's hard to believe that Serbia and Montenegro will provide NATO troops a passage to Kosovo. Communication and transport from the Albanian end is difficult, so Macedonia is the only remaining solution. Vreme's sources in that former Yugoslav republic say that the UN troops have brought with them far more weapons than required for their symbolic presence on Macedonia's border with Yugoslavia.

Some sources say the weaponry deployed is standard equipment for a NATO division. If that is true, all NATO needs to do is bring its troops. If the operation goes ahead in favorable weather conditions, penetration is possible from many directions in Albania. A NATO military intrusion from Albanian territory could be a test and a challenge for the organization, for Kosovo's terrain is much like Bosnia's except that NATO only did individual maneuvers in Bosnia encountering hardly any resistance at all. A military intervention in Kosovo would therefore also be an experience relevant for future operations on similar terrain.

An operation like that requires and implies complete domination in the air and technical superiority. In terms of tactics and politics, Kosovo is  battlefront where compromise is not an option for NATO if it opts for  military intervention. Kosovo isn't Bosnia for the local Serbian population is tiny and the alien army is inferior and based in Yugoslavia. NATO would have the full support of the armed ethnic Albanians, who are prepared  to take over local authority at all levels - from police stations to borders. That is only one step away from acquiring a state and the ethnic Albanians have been preparing to take that step for quite some time. Politically speaking NATO's decision to start a military intervention in Kosovo  would rest on human rights violations, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. All that is reflected by the Hague Tribunal's sudden interest in the activities of some Serbian police chiefs in Kosovo. The whole thing resembles the Dayton accords.  Rugova is now being treated as Milosevic's equal, and NATO's officials are expressing their alleged concern that clashes might spill over into Macedonia and Albania. Just like in 1991, Milosevic is being persuaded to keep living with the ethnic Albanians in a " loose federation", as if that was ever possible.

If events in Croatia and Bosnia are anything to judge by, NATO troops will show up in Kosovo's sacred field Gazimestan in a few months.

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