- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 29, 2001

A major geopolitical change is about to occur in Europe, and the pundits and politicians are silent. The final step in the dissolution of Marshal Josip Broz Titos Yugoslavia is about to begin.

Last Sunday, in Montenegro´s parliamentary elections, a majority of voters elected political parties who favor secession from the remnant of Yugoslavia. Pro-Milosevic communists in the Socialist Party, who opposed secession, won under 40 percent of the vote. The majority, though sufficient sentiment for separation, is not the two-thirds vote that President Milo Djukanovic sought. Nevertheless, it is sufficient for Mr. Djukanovic to schedule a referendum on independence this summer, which is expected to pass. Some tough negotiations will have to be conducted before then with the rearguard opposition in the Montenegrin and Serbian Socialist Parties.

The elections and the referendum will legitimize the de facto independence engineered over the past three years by Montenegrin President Djukanovic. This last secession of a constituent Yugoslav republic is the latest, but not the final, consequence of former Yugoslav dictator Slobodan Milosevic´s decade-long, terrorist Greater Serbian chauvinism.

The United States, the European Union, and the six-nation Contact Group (including Russia) have warned Mr. Djukanovic that they oppose Montenegro´s secession. It is too late for diplomatic pressures and protests to halt the dissolution. Nor will sanctions stop the inexorable impetus toward independence. Sanctions would simply beggar a poor people.

The United States and the European states are opposed in principle to any change in borders and they fear instability in the region will increase. They are wrong on the former, but right on the latter. The forced ethnic allegiances of the Balkans, remaining from World War II and the Cold War, have been changing the de facto borders for the past decade. That they have changed with violence is a consequence, shared with the nationalities themselves, of the European powers´ the United States being the paramount European power negligence in devising and implementing a strategic regional policy. The secession of Montenegro will embolden others to claim the denied rights of their distinctive national identities. These claims are but the final efflorescence of the nationalism that made modern Europe but was repressed in its eastern half for the past two centuries.

The first, most unsettling claim will be the Albanians´. The Kosovar Albanians, although needing no encouragement, will insist more forcefully on their independence and, in time, on their unification with Albania. United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244, which maintains the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Yugoslavia, has been nullified by developments developments that were readily foreseeable at its adoption. After all, the logic of the U.S. Kosovo Campaign is that territory´s independence. The conclusion to this logic can no longer be avoided by the U.S. and Europe.

The Kosovar claim will be compounded by the ongoing Albanian insurgencies in Presevo and Macedonia. They will not be fobbed off with diplomatic doubletalk and conditional concessions. Calling these nationalist insurgents terrorists is not a political strategy. The Albanian irredenta will have to be settled on a regional basis. The choice of solutions is simple and stark: either changes in constitutional orders or sovereign borders.

Other claims that will be strengthened are those of the peoples of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Already the Croats have asserted their desire to abandon their forced federation with the Muslim Slav Bosniaks. The Serbs of the so-called Srpska Republika in Bosnia, which was supposed to be dismantled, will not be far behind in their desire to join Serbia. The West then will have to find a political solution to the existence of the Muslim Slav Bosniaks, the original issue at the heart of the Bosnian war that the West tried to finesse. Obviously, Dayton is dead.

An immediate consequence of the Montenegrin secession will be that the Serbs will have to acknowledge that there were no Yugoslavs. The Serbs at last will have to look to Brussels, not Moscow, and become Europeans. But many hard looks backward because of Serbian resentment against the West, especially the United States, will delay democracy. The resentment will be rationalized because of guilt over corruption and collaboration and pride of place and party. This will split the polity for some time.

Clearly, Balkan geopolitics are still inviting and incomplete. An absence of interest, understanding and intestinal fortitude in answering their invitation allowed a tragic decade of death and destruction. There is no more time left to fritter away, if we don´t want more of the same. The United States ought to have a strategy for shaping the Balkans rather than letting the Balkans shape United States strategy and security.

Walter Jajko, an Eastern Europe specialist and a retired Air Force general and a former assistant to the defense secretary for intelligence oversight, is a professor at the Institute of World Politics.

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