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Bombing for Dollars
Gabriel Claret • Doing the European Union’s dirty work in Kosovo • May 1999

If the United States and its European allies expected a swift resolution to the conflict in Kosovo, they have been proven bitterly wrong. In waging a war against Serbia and its bellicose leader Slobodan Milosevic, NATO has set into motion a chain of events which calls for far greater involvement than any member of the Western military alliance had initially foreseen.

The stated aim of the air strikes over Yugoslavia was originally to enforce the terms of the Rambouillet peace settlement. The settlement had been an unsuccessful attempt to peacefully end a decade of tensions and skirmishes between the predominantly ethnic Albanian population of the Yugoslav province of Kosovo, and its Serb authorities. The settlement provided Kosovars with some measure of autonomy, and stipulated that a foreign peacekeeping force be stationed in the region to prevent either side from violating the agreement. Kosovar delegates at Rambouillet had grudgingly agreed to the conditions set forth, while the Serb delegates flatly dismissed them, arguing that they infringed on their nation’s sovereignty.

Far from cowing the Serbs into a meeker stance, NATO’s air strikes and the subsequent expulsion of Western observers from Yugoslavia, have served as a catalyst for the policy of ethnic cleansing Milosevic has long desired. With a free hand in Kosovo, Milosevic can only hope to extend the duration of the war to methodically and irreversibly deport the two million ethnic Albanians who inhabit Kosovo. The ease with which Serbian paramilitary troops have been deployed throughout Kosovo since the end of March is sufficient proof that NATO will not reach its stated objective unless it sends ground troops in what would doubtless be the largest military offensive in Europe since 1945.

Air raids may have depleted Serbia’s industry and its capacity to engage our F-16s in air combat, but they have not reduced the Serbian soldiers’ morale and willingness to risk their lives for a land made sacred by the blood their forebears shed six centuries ago (see Matthew MacLean, “The Crimes of the K.L.A.”). One of the basic assumptions of NATO in the current conflict was that the hardships imposed by war will make Milosevic unpopular with his countrymen, and either lead to his overthrow or make him reconsider his brutal policies. Neither seems likely. Instead of this view, Serbs have rallied around their flag and exhibited unfettered animosity against NATO countries and in particular the U.S.

The civil war currently raging in Yugoslavia has exceeded in intensity and proportion any of the previous conflicts that have torn the Balkans apart in our decade. It has also made projected postwar peace plans unrealistic. First, plans for Kosovo’s relative autonomy need to be abandoned in favor of full-fledged independence. It would be ludicrous to think that the province’s population could ever again consent to the slightest degree of control from Serbia after it has fallen prey to genocide. Second, given the speed at which Serbs are now decimating Albanian Kosovars, and our inability (or unwillingness?) to affect the humanitarian situation, we must contemplate the prospect that there may no longer be a Kosovar nation in existence by the time we fight the Serbs where it really matters, on the battlefield.

Waging a war on land is not an appealing prospect. The chances of casualties are much higher, especially if war is conducted on mountainous terrain as in Yugoslavia; Gallup polls reveal that two out of three Americans believe the United States has a moral duty to intervene in Kosovo, and yet the same number deem any loss of American lives unacceptable. Some will say that America is still haunted by memories of the Vietnam War, in which a blind administration sent 60,000 American youths to their deaths. It is only natural that people value their own lives and the lives of their soldiers. Yet there was not an equivalent national outcry about the much greater human sacrifice made by the United States during World War II. We could delude ourselves into imagining that men did not value their lives as much before the rise of consumerist society as we do now, or we could face the plain fact that we feel little responsibility—let alone moral obligation—to intervene in places like Vietnam or Kosovo. If the American, British, and French governments were truly selfless champions of human rights, they would not consistently rule out the option of sending in ground forces, as British Prime Minister Tony Blair and U.S. President Bill Clinton have done repeatedly.

It is the emerging European Union’s responsibility to police its own backyard, not the duty of its American ally. Western Europe’s less-than-modest contribution to the war effort is disheartening, in part because it appears to be financially motivated. Indeed, at a time when the E.U. is pondering the benefits of eastward expansion, it does not intend to antagonize any prospective member. It would rather let the United States take the blame for the bombing of Serbia. The E.U.’s unspoken reasoning runs something like this: If someone must make an enemy of the Serbs, it should be the Americans, not us. That’s good for European business and the monetary union. All this is not to say that the members of the E.U. do not want to promote human rights; its citizens are indeed alarmed by the escalation in atrocities. But rather than stomp its feet and show that it will not tolerate the very same war crimes that sent American and Soviet tanks rolling into Europe half a century ago, the E.U. subordinates its ethical concerns to economic matters.

The United States has the military might to provide the impetus for an effective intervention in the Balkans. But is it willing to save foreign lives at the cost of American lives? The survival of two million human beings cannot be won solely by depleting Serbia’s arsenal by air. We are faced with a war in its noblest sense, one that must be fought for and by men; a war that requires genuine compassion and heroism. America is justifiably nervous about its involvement in such a remote part of the world. The American government may even come to doubt in the weeks to come its legitimate role as the world’s police, and perhaps face the much deeper commitment it has towards insuring the safety of its own people. As for the European nations supporting the United States’ intervention in Kosovo, they should begin to grasp their own responsibility as neighboring powers. Having the U.S. act as a cop in every hot spot in the world is neither viable, honorable, or desirable for them. It amounts to being treated like children and will never foster a stable world order.

—Gabriel Claret is a sophomore in Jonathan Edwards College

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