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April 24, 2000

Facing Up to Kosova

This is a bad time to argue about whether or not we should have bombed the Serbs and placed troops in Kosova. It is an even worse time to talk about reducing the number of troops and resources we are willing to commit to the United Nations operation. Although Europe should handle security problems in its own backyard, it is not yet capable of doing so. Kosova is in crisis, and there is no alternative; the United States must contribute to its resolution. We accepted that responsibility when we bombed the Serbs and moved in NATO forces.

We occupied Kosova; now we need to help liberate it from chaos, violence, poverty, and maladministration. This means taking control of the province and—in cooperation with Kosovar Albanian and Serbian democrats—leading it in measured stages to independence. This also means taking resolute action against those who would disturb the peace, whether it is Serbian vigilantes in northern Mitrovica or Albanian "freedom fighters" (the UCPMB) in the Presevo Valley in southern Serbia, who receive weapons and supplies from eastern Kosova. Both groups must be disarmed and, if necessary, their leaders incarcerated.

We must shed the mythology, most recently expressed by NATO secretary-general Lord Robertson, that "we are rebuilding a multi-ethnic democracy in [Kosova]." Such a society never existed in Kosova in the first place, and now, after more than a decade of intense and bloody national struggle, including fierce Serbian ethnic cleansing campaigns in 1998–99, no such society can emerge.

Redrawing the boundaries of Kosova will only encourage demands for new boundaries all over the region. Partition holds the same dangers. Therefore, Kosova must eventually emerge as an independent country within its present borders. That means that the Serbs who are there have to be protected and that they must have internationally mandated access to their holy monasteries. But they must accommodate to a Kosovar Albanian state or leave, as many Kosovar Serbs already have. The same is true for the Albanians in the Presevo Valley: They must either live in Serbia in peace or leave on their own, again, as many already have. Under no circumstances, however, can ethnic cleansing be condoned or aided. Formal population transfers usually cause more problems than they solve.

Under Western tutelage, an independent Kosova could help stabilize the region, especially Macedonia and Albania. Large injections of capital from the European Union and the United States are endangered by the present uncertainty about Kosova's fate. A high-profile presence of NATO and the United States in Kosova might discourage Milosevic from his present attempts to destabilize Montenegro.

The Serbian loss of Kosova, legitimated by Milosevic's wanton aggression in the region, might also help the Serbian opposition remove him from power. The West could then reach out to Serbia to bring the country back to normalcy and its rightful place in the European community. Over the past decade, indecision in the Balkans has produced nothing but catastrophe.