- The Washington Times - Friday, March 30, 2001

NATO officials are shocked, shocked to find ethnic Albanian guerrillas on the march against Serbia and Macedonia. The alliance is considering military action against insurgents who want a greater Albania. Washington should cut and run.
In 1998, ethnic Albanians in Kosovo were pressing a brutal campaign for independence against Serbia. U.S. Ambassador Robert Gelbard labeled them "terrorists."
But in 1999, Washington decided they were freedom fighters. It attempted to impose an unrealistic diktat on Yugoslavia; when that failed, Washington, with NATO in tow, lent the KLA its air force.
Western diplomats explained they only supported Kosovos autonomy within Serbia. And they expected the Kosovars to make up with the Serbs.
No such luck. The ethnic Albanians kicked out most of the Serbs.
And the violence continues. In February, Albanians blew up a bus of Serbs visiting family graves, killing seven.
The problem is not just Kosovo. Although the KLA has formally disbanded, Albanian guerrillas are now active in Serbia north of Kosovo.
Insurgents also are fighting in western Macedonia, forcing Skopje to call up reserves and move tanks into threatened areas.
"The danger of civil war is there; we are very close to a major conflict," warns Carlo Ungaro, a representative of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
One Western diplomat blames NATO, which "has never made it clear enough to the Albanians that we are not there to ensure Albanian independence and promote Albanian interests, but were there to promote our interests, which are a stable Balkans."
Why, however, should Albanians care that NATO wants stability? They want Kosovos independence.
Now the West faces potential disaster. The NATO ambassadors agreed more troops should be sent to Kosovo, but member states refused to commit more troops.
NATO did decide to shrink the buffer zone outside Kosovo and cooperate with Serb forces. Even this is a prescription for war, however.
Lt. Brandon Griffin of the 82nd Airborne told The Washington Post: "As the buffer zone gets smaller and theres less room for them to maneuver, I think itll get hotter."
The Bush administration also moved 150 soldiers closer to the Kosovo-Macedonia border. Secretary of State Colin Powell told a congressional hearing, we "are doing what we can, short of becoming one of the major belligerents in the contest." But already American forces have gotten into a gunfight with rebels.
Some analysts are calling for another war. Opines USA Today: "A strong, swift U.S. response is needed, not just in Macedonia but against ethnic-Albanian aggression generally."
Ethnic Albanian aggression? Which differs from the KLAs activities in 1999 precisely how?
Slobodan Milosevic may be gone, but the Albanians are nationalists for whom ethnic identity transcends Yugoslavian or Macedonian citizenship. A former KLA leader in Kosovo explains: "We will remain a threat to stability because for us the status quo is unfair."
Macedonian rebels cite grievances a desire for education in Albanian, for instance that seem important enough for them to take up arms. One of them told The New York Times: "I am fighting for the liberation of my territory."
Still, "We should not allow borders to be redrawn by force," says German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer. But that is precisely what NATO did in 1999 when it effectively detached Kosovo from Serbia.
The Wall Street Journal considers the insurgents to be bad guys: the KLA "is responsible for the murders of ethnic Albanians whose politics are less radical than its own." But thats what the KLA did in 1999.
The only conceivable argument for continued involvement is that the West has irretrievably destabilized the region. To walk away now would be unseemly.
But getting further involved would be disastrous. As one Western diplomat admitted to the New York Times: "Confronting Albanian extremists could cost lives, which is the Pentagons nightmare, and it could make NATO forces a target in Kosovo itself."
The U.S. has nothing at stake to warrant such a risk. The Balkans is peripheral, a backwater far from the Western European states, which Washington spent a half-century defending from potential Soviet aggression.
Still, the administration worries about alliance solidarity. Under European pressure, Secretary Powell declared: "We went in together, and we will come out together."
But the Balkans is far more important to Europe than to the United States. Moreover, Washington is still expected to garrison Western Europe, Asia, and most everywhere else, even as Europe cuts its military outlays. America should bring home its troops.
If the Albanian Kosovars "ever expect to rule themselves, much less be independent, they should show some responsibility," exclaimed one British military officer.
But its a little late to expect NATOs allies to learn better manners. The West sowed the wind; it is now reaping the whirlwind.Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute.


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