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Get Tough or Get Out

NATO Must Risk an Escalated Kosovo Campaign or Halt Air Strikes

Kris Schnee

Today, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization continues its airstrikes against the Serbian military in Kosovo, with the aim of crippling President Milosevic’s ability to wage a campaign of “ethnic cleansing” against Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian population. Over 500,000 refugees already have fled from their homes, and Serbian troops advance while United States-led warplanes struggle with both the enemy army and the Serbian air defense system.

So, now what?

The bombing continues, but will it do any good? So far, not much seems to have been accomplished. The air defense system is damaged but still dangerous; we have already lost one very valuable stealth fighter, and, even worse, American soldiers have already been captured and paraded on television. Meanwhile, we have not yet succeeded in stopping the oppression of the Kosovar Albanians. In a few more weeks, it may be over -- if Milosevic’s army is not completely destroyed, it will finish its job and get rid of the other few million “undesirables” in the Kosovo province.

Our current air-only campaign against military targets is a misguided half-measure. It will fail to stop Milosevic completely before the “cleansing” is finished. We may be spending vast amounts of money, and risking American lives, on a military action doomed to fail. Is there a better way to deal with this situation?

One option would be to get tough at last, and fight a war instead of half a war. Send tens of thousands of ground troops into Kosovo, and possibly the rest of Serbia, and destroy Milosevic’s army in the reliable way, with guns and tanks. But Serbia is not Iraq -- its military is formidable, and its mountainous terrain perilous to invading armies. In a war we may have thousands of deaths on our side alone -- unless Russia and China object strongly enough to our actions, in which case we will have another world war.

Even assuming that we don’t mind the casualties -- although even one dead soldier may provoke public outrage -- a ground war is simply impractical. Unlike the Middle East, the Kosovo area does not offer easy access for foreign powers; it would be slow and difficult even to bring a full army near Serbia. There is already a smaller “peacekeeping” force waiting nearby, but it is questionable whether its mission can be changed to actual assault. They can function well only if there is a peace agreement between Milosevic and the Kosovo Liberation Army. We can not expect peace from Milosevic except on his terms. He has promised that if the NATO airstrikes cease, his military will “start decreasing the presence of a part of its forces in Kosovo who are there for the purpose of defense against aggression.” (Translation: nothing).

We are involved in a civil war, not just a one-sided assault on civilians. Nor will the Serbians listen to reason and be nice, as Clinton seems to hope. The Serbian people seem to be strongly behind their “democratically-elected” leader and seem to support his vicious crusade. Kosovo is considered a “holy land” for the Serbs, who are obviously willing to shed as much blood as necessary to control it. Are we willing to take sides in this hellish conflict, and then -- even if we win -- to keep troops there, to restrain 10 million zealous Serbians for the indefinite future?

There is another strategy available, though most people will dislike it. Instead of using ground troops, we could take the war to the Serbian people themselves. Shift the bombers’ targets, and destroy the civilians’ power plants and factories. We can send the message that people who act like savages will not be allowed the tools of modern civilization. Denying electricity and hot water to the joyous Serbs who danced on our crashed jet’s wings last weekend may actually dampen their nationalistic pride, while killing their soldiers will only help it. We would have to use this strategy immediately, if it is to work at all.

The present events in Kosovo are terrible, and Milosevic is a villain. But there is not much we can do about it. Unless we -- America and the rest of NATO -- are willing to change our strategy and fight a real war with terrible consequences, or make our point clear by bombing cities, we probably cannot save the Kosovar Albanians from exile. If we lack the resolve to actually win the war, we should go home now, and not waste any more lives in futile combat.