As of 12 January, 2000, over 45,000 troops have been deployed to the Serbian province of Kosovo (See Map) with the mission of stopping the ethnic conflict that has plagued the region for over six centuries. NATO, felt compelled to act in defense of the Kosovars who, according to widely disseminated published media reports, were the victims of Serbian atrocities. Recently, however the scope and even the ethnic identity of the victims of these atrocities has been brought into serious question. NATO's decision to begin offensive military operations, as a result of these media reports, has caused much consternation in the West, but even more so in the Russian Republic. From the time of the Ottoman Turks to WWI, the province of Kosovo has been a point of contention and conflict. After the fall of the Soviet Union and the subsequent breakup of Yugoslavia, many in the largely Albanian population of Kosovo has sought independence from an increasingly diplomatically isolated Serbia, whose reported atrocities in Bonsia-Herzegovina has left it as an international pariah in the minds of the western media. The Serbs, responding to the murder of many of its civilians, including several policemen began a brutal assault on the Kovoar population and began forcing them towards Albania, where many Serbs felt they belonged. This mass exodus in the onset of winter propelled the international community to action. The Serbs having been seen to often in the past as aggressors, were demonized, causing action on the part of the UN security council and eventually NATO.
The use of military force is becoming a habit with the UN and NATO in the face of humanitarian problems and inter-ethnic conflict. It is seen by many, especially in the developing world and in Russia, and China as a convenient excuse to increase western influence. The actions of the Serbian's have been without excuse and its policy of ethnic cleaning is far too similar to atrocities committed during the second world war. The international community still felt it was necessary to break out of an ineffective method dealing with these problems, that being diplomacy, denunciation and economic sanctions. This left them with few options, and force was finally decided upon after much deliberation. Yet a military attack against a sovereign nation that had not declared war on NATO or its allies is and openly aggressive act. While the site of refugees being forced to flee in the cold is a heart wrenching site, these activities were going on inside the recognized international borders of a sovereign nation was a clear and demonstrable violation if international law and the UN charter which every NATO nation has signed. It set a dangerous precedent that the NATO and the UN can unilaterally interfere in the goings on inside a sovereign nation, and will use deadly force to enforce its will. That 'will' however, changes with the shifting sand and in the situation of Kosovo, goes against the specific principles enshrined in the Charter. This act of aggression, however well meaning, is a crime under international law. Of course such a categorization is beyond the capabilities of Western Governments and international media organizations. Yet the crimes of the Serbs should not be so coarsely overlooked, the forced deportation of thousands of civilians from their homes is a horrendous act that could only be perpetrated by a barbaric nation. It demanded a response from NATO.
The Kosovo problem, however, was made worse with the unnecessarily harsh treatment NATO allies, most notably the Americans, dealt with Russia throughout the entire Crisis. The patronizing attitude and diplomatic indifference to Russia's concerns, is one of the key reasons Russia and the West are headed even now to a renewal of cold war hostilities. The affront given the Yeltsin regime was too much for Russia's security services to endure. Within a few months Yeltsin, who had been seen by many as the only hope Russia had of joining Western economic and political institutions, was forced to resign. This has since elevated a former KGB officer and apparently anti-western bureaucrat, Vladimir Putin, to the pinnacle of Russia's political scene. This entire Kosovo intervention, and the way it was carried out has once again put an imperial face on these international institutions that those in the developing world will not soon forget.
With a troop deployment of almost 50 thousand men in the heart of Europe, which was to some degree under the sphere of influence of the Soviets during the cold war, the situation makes for a very sore spot in Russian/NATO relations. The situation can only remain stable as long as a credible military force is on the ground in Kosovo. This is a sad but stark reality that many in NATO and the US refuse to relay in honest terms to their supposedly democratic political systems (the voters). NATO and the Western so- called Democracies have done an end run around the desires of the general populations by downplaying the level and length of commitment that will be necessary to secure this very tentative and fragile peace in the Balkans.
Yet revenge attacks against Serbs whose only crime is being Serb is being reported by human rights groups. NATO is being accused of taking sides in the matter and allowing the acts of violent retribution go unpunished. Hence an increase in the commitment of US and other troops (UK?) may soon be in the offing, to prevent the perception of prejudicial treatment by KFOR against certain ethnic minorities.
The KLA are the primary group of self-styled freedom fighters that have sought independence from Serbia. They possessed dubious and intermittent support from the general population, and in many quarters, there was open hostility to what the KLA was doing to gain independence. Young men and boys were forced into conscription for a cause many did not believe in. The refugees were robbed at gun point by KLA units seeking goods, money and provisions. This caused a great deal of enemnity among the very people that the KLA ostensibly were attempting to liberate.
NATO soldiers are worried that armed conflict could erupt between ethnic Albanians and Serbs in Kosovo. This, coupled with the prospect of an unstable Albania could bring headaches to the NATO high command. Kosovo will be a political, and military football for the foreseeable future. The ethnic tension coupled with the accusations that some of the NATO contingent are favoring the Serbs over the Albanians is likely to put a serious stain on the reputation NATO and on the so called neutral peacekeeping force. A future long-term commitment of US troops is a foregone conclusion, regardless in a change in US Presidential administrations.
Kosovo will be with us for a long, long time. Copyright © 2000 Mark S. Watson
UK MOD - Kosovo page
US State Department Kosovo Page
Megastories Kosovo Page
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