- The Washington Times - Monday, April 16, 2001

Five years after the Dayton accords and two years after the Kosovo air war, two of the architects of the Balkan quagmire, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Richard Holbrooke, persist in their efforts to spin a failed Balkan policy into their preferred historical footnotes.

Their April 8 articles in The Washington Post and New York Times, respectively, are nothing short of high-speed revisionism, shaped by their misreading of Balkan history. It is indeed a fallacy to assert or imply that human- or civil-rights abuses were the fundamental causes of five Balkan wars that made our intervention a moral imperative.

Neither empirical evidence nor the experience from our involvement support such an interpretation. Misreading history may make the nation-building enthusiasts feel good, but it will not bring peace to a region that is fond of repeating it.

The fragmentation of Yugoslavia and its consequences brought Western policy-makers face to face with a paradox first noted by the grand dame of Balkan history, Rebecca West: yesterday´s victims became today´s oppressors. Human or civil rights were hardly, if ever, the core cause of post-Cold War Balkan which is traceable to: the equation of ethnic separation with democratization; the acceptance of Cold War human dissenters as genuine democrats; the careless conversion of administrative boundaries into international borders; and the premature recognition of Yugoslav republics before they had addressed minority rights.

The results are apparent to all except the revisionists of Balkan history, among them Mrs. Albright and Mr. Holbrooke. In was in their watch that the old Yugoslavia, with many ethnic rivalries, was converted into five mini-Yugoslavias with exactly the same problems

Similarly, it was their propensity to social engineering that reduced NATO, history´s most successful defense alliance, into the United Nation´s subcontractor. Ambassador Holbrooke now advises the new administration not to waste time with policy review or "in assembling the team" (this sounds like an application for a "special envoy" job) but march headlong into a quagmire that the Clinton team left behind.

It is time for a reality check and a bold approach to a region that has the potential of rendering the Bush II administration as impotent as Jimmy Carter´s. The president does not need a policy review but a policy reversal to prevent allied casualties and a repetition of the Somalia syndrome.

Five general principles could serve as guides to a thorough policy re-evaluation and a needed course correction: First, as alluded above, policy-makers must realize that human and political rights were not and have never been the core concerns of the Albanian leaders in Kosovo, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) or of Sali Berisha and his followers in Albania.

These leaders, claims to the contrary notwithstanding, are refighting the wars of 1912 and 1940 and have a "Greater Albania" as their ultimate goal. Toward this goal,"victimhood status" becomes a means to an end, not a cause. It goes without saying that, whoever stands in the way of Albanian or Croat aspirations would eventually be treated as a "legitimate target"; and that includes peacekeepers.

It makes no sense to attribute recent events in FYROM as the work of "few fanatics," as Mrs. Albright and Mr. Holbrooke attempted to do. Similarly, it is a risky assumption to expect "moderate" leaders to save the day.

Second, it is imperative that the Bush administration take an unambiguous stand in support of existing Balkan borders. Delay on this score would make turmoil beyond the boundaries of former Yugoslavia a mathematical certainty. Historical patterns affirm that whenever Balkan warlords had secured external patrons, they always redoubled their efforts to implement long-dormant agendas even if that meant victimization of their own people.

Third, the notion of an independent Montenegro in the name of "self-determination" must be rejected for that republic´s own good. Montenegro is not a viable state. Independence for this Yugoslav republic with its 600,000 human inhabitants and an equal number of sheep would be an invitation to a three-way civil war: Serbs vs Montenegrins vs Albanians.

Under its current leadership that some find "democratic," Montenegro has been converted into a smuggling paradise in the service of the Albanian drug and prostitution cartels. But more importantly, an independent Montenegro (even if we assume the Serbs accept it) will have a 30 percent Albanian population and a Kosovo Liberation Army branch already in place. It will be a matter of time before the Skopje scenario is replicated Podgorica.

Fourth, periodic trial balloons about the desirability of convening a Lausanne-type conference to address "all outstanding Balkan issues and impose solutions" (an idea recently revived by Lord Owen) could open Pandora´s box. For starters, expectations of any major conference to deal with "all Balkan issues" will be an incentive for aggrieved ethnic groups from the Black Sea to the Adriatic to "create facts on the ground" in order to be included in its agenda.

Finally, hesitation to firmly uphold existing borders is not an option. Without border stability, foreign investors will stay away, socioeconomic interdependence (the pathway to durable stability) will be an illusion and violence could engulf states beyond the territory of former Yugoslavia.

Nikolaos A. Stavrou is professor of International Affairs at Howard University.


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