- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 1, 2000

A substantial Kosovo war literature has sprouted during the year since NATO's victory over Serbia, and "Winning Ugly" by Ivo Daalder and Michael O'Hanlon is probably the most impressive contribution to date. The book is a detailed account of the diplomatic and military struggle with Slobodan Milosevic, with the Russians, within the NATO alliance, and within the Clinton administration. It manages to achieve a fair and balanced treatment of the successes and shortcomings of NATO's first hot war.

The authors competently trace the background of the crisis, starting with the Dayton process which failed to tackle the Kosovo issue and thus effectively surrendered ground to Belgrade. Indeed, throughout the 1990s the West neglected Kosovo primarily because there was no large-scale violence and the Albanian leadership was committed to Gandhian strategies. The most important lesson of the Kosovo conflict, which the authors insufficiently elaborate, is that violence captures international attention and raises the chances of intervention. It took the Albanians nearly a decade to understand this lesson, and the Montenegrins may soon come to the same conclusion.

Ultimately, there was no credible alternative to NATO military intervention and delaying the inevitable simply encouraged Mr. Milosevic to believe that he could depopulate the territory and murder its most prominent leaders. The book effectively dismisses the naive critics who charged that more negotiations were needed to avert war. In fact, the lack of initial resolve and incessant compromises actually encouraged Mr. Milosevic's ambitions.

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright emerges as one of the few policy-makers who understood the perverted mind of Mr. Milosevic and was not hoodwinked (like some American mediators) by his negotiating strategies or held captive by the diplomatic version of the "Stockholm syndrome," whereby hostages sympathize with their terrorist captors.

NATO's conduct of the war itself was a lesson in ineptitude and miscalculation. The first few weeks of operations were a picnic with fireworks for Serbia. The early discounting of a ground intervention by allied leaders convinced Mr. Milosevic that he could wait out the war while NATO's consensus evaporated. It was only when Washington intensified the bombing and signaled that ground forces would be prepared that Belgrade capitulated.

The authors rightly point out that the biggest success of the war, in addition to saving thousands of lives, was the preservation of NATO's cohesion and credibility. But NATO's victory was achieved despite the failure of many of its leaders to understand the basic ingredients of any successful war: military surprise, overwhelming power and unflinching determination.

But the military mistakes have been overshadowed by political failures in postwar Kosovo. For an indefinite time, the region will remain an international ward, without any inspiring vision for its future status. The United Nations mandate in Kosovo is ultimately designed to return Kosovo to Belgrade's jurisdiction. A large-scale international presence with NATO troops as its core will continue until conditions have been met for a peaceful reintegration of the territory.

Such a scenario has raised serious questions about the self-determination of Kosovo's population and the instabilities likely to be generated by any planned reintegration into Serbia or Yugoslavia. In order to avoid future destabilization or permanent dependence on outside agencies, self-determination and independence for Kosovo should be the primary objective of international leaders. Such a step would help restore Kosovar confidence in the "international community" and help preclude a potential radicalization of Albanian politics since long-term ambiguity on the status question undermines the region's democrats and favors its demagogues.

The "non-status" stalemate or the proposed return of Kosovo to Belgrade's control may exacerbate the problems already faced by international actors seeking to guarantee security and build credible local institutions. Most policy-makers still adhere to the conventional wisdom that an independent Kosovo will destabilize the Balkans. In reality, it is the forcible maintenance of Yugoslavia that continues to generate instability.

The next American administration could be the first to pre-empt and outsmart Mr. Milosevic by pushing for the independence of both Kosovo and Montenegro, thereby finally eliminating the criminal state of Yugoslavia. Acceptance of independence will undercut the threat of a new Serbian takeover by delegitimizing Belgrade's incessant provocations of the two territories. Building the structures of statehood will also give both the internationals and the locals a concrete goal toward which political, institutional and economic reconstruction can be directed. This will also provide America with its frequently vaunted "exit strategy" if not a rigid timetable for departure.

Janusz Bugajski is director of East European Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

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