Kosovo: Perspectives on a Crisis

From Bosnia to now Kosovo, the ongoing crisis in the Balkans has proved to be a humiliating sequence of events for the West. The European powers have proven completely incompetent, showing very little will to resolve the murderous conflicts in their own backyard. The United States has shown itself to be astonishingly inept and inconsistent in its policy regarding the breakup of Yugoslavia and all the problems that have ensued. Now we are embroiled in a complicated and messy conflict that is wrought with ethnic hatred and genocide. NATO’s motives are well intended, we should not tolerate ethnic cleansing. As a liberal democracy America is obligated to fight it, but we seem to have messed this all up somehow.

The U.S. has so far made many mistakes concerning the Kosovo situation. Although Milosevic is ultimately to blame for the horrid atrocities in Kosovo, the West could have and should have done a lot more to prevent the mass ‘cleansing’ of Kosovo of its Albanian majority. America’s handling of the Kosovo crisis sheds light on our present leaders’ inability to formulate a clear, coherent and credible foreign policy.

What is wrong with U.S. foreign policy today? To put it simply, there doesn’t seem to be one. America has acted erratically and without a clear idea of what its role should be. This needs to change fast. Every time the U.S. makes a foreign policy blunder, it loses credibility, and recently we have been losing credibility rather quickly. Policymakers in Washington don’t seem to know how America should act in today’s global community. Rather than seem to wander from crisis to crisis and act without purpose and without goals, the U.S. should come up with a clear vision of how it sees the word in the 21st century and what role the U.S. should play in that world.

Most importantly, we should never get ourselves involved in an international crisis without a goal. Officials in Washington and Brussels seem not to know exactly what NATO’s bombing campaign is meant to achieve. When do we stop? When can we declare victory? When the Serbs pull out of Kosovo, or when the Kosovars have a country of their own, or when Milosevic is no longer in power? As in other recent conflicts, most notably with Iraq, there seems to be no endgame, no goal. It is dangerous and damaging to American credibility when it involves itself in a military conflict without any explicit and obvious aim. So, if the U.S. is going to engage military forces, it should clearly define what its goals are, so Americans know when to declare a victory, legitimate in the eyes of the international community.

The unique philosophical roots of America should play a vital role in its foreign policy. Our values of liberal democracy, civil liberties and commitment to individual rights should be at the basis of our philosophy regarding the future of world politics. These values are an essential part of our national identity and our history; our behaviour and actions in the world should reflect our democratic traditions. These are the values that America should be proud to uphold and defend around the world on every continent.

Not only should the U.S. be a force for the perceived democratic-liberal good in the world, but it has an obligation to be. Because of our preponderance of political, economic, cultural and diplomatic domination around the world, we are the only power that can promote the values of democracy, freedom and human rights on the global stage. It is also in our interests to do so, because we are able to create a world that embraces our values and we can thus expand America’s reach and influence.

So, with this as a model for American foreign policy, how should we deal with the Kosovo situation?

First, we must define a clear-cut goal: Since we cannot expect the Kosovars to live under Serbian sovereignty after the trauma of their oppressive rule, we should support an independent Kosovo. NATO should be willing to protect the newly independent Kosovo and help build institutions that are necessary for a functioning European democracy. We should not stop there, though. Milosevic and his ultra-nationalist cronies in Belgrade are the single greatest destabilizing factor in the Balkans. They have caused so much damage in Bosnia and now in Kosovo, we simply cannot afford to have them in power any longer, for fear of what they may do next. They should be arrested and tried before the War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague. Twenty-first century Europe has no place for genocidal tyrants like Milosevic. Hopefully, in their absence, the Serbian people will elect leaders that are more in tune with the more mainstream views of their European counterparts.

Second, NATO must recognize that it should not have started off with a sporadic and light bombing campaign. As NATO is finally doing now, we should have always been forceful in our attacks. We should feel no sympathy for Milosevic and NATO should attack him with persistent and potent force. Yugoslavia’s government has been given enough warning; Milosevic had been told for months that if he would not agree to some sort of peace, NATO would bomb. Because of the consistent warnings on the part of the allies, NATO is justified in carrying out a forceful and determined bombing campaign.

Third, using Iraq as a recent example, NATO should have seen that bombing would not have been enough to force Milosevic to capitulate. NATO states should be willing to commit ground troops. We’ve gotten ourselves this deep into the conflict and, to maintain any semblance of credibility, we must finish the job. After a severe bombing campaign has weakened Yugoslavia’s army, we must send in a ground force of American, British, French, German and other NATO troops. The force would kick the Yugoslav army out of Kosovo and arrest Milosevic and his henchman. NATO leaders should not be afraid of the risks, and should be willing to commit a ground force that can rescue the Kosovars from the horrors of ethnic cleansing and bring those responsible for the killing to justice.

To me, this is the only comprehensive solution to the problem that we have gotten ourselves into, to maintain credibility we must follow it through with strength, vigor and force. To alleviate the painful suffering of the Kosovar Albanians and Serbian civilians caught in the cross fire, policymakers in Washington and the major European capitals should solve the Kosovo crisis as soon as possible. The Clinton Administration needs to create a Kosovo policy that has clear goals that promote the values of democracy, human rights and individual liberty. Hopefully in the future, our leaders will be able to formulate an all-encompassing foreign policy that will ensure that we will not end up with another disaster like Kosovo on our hands.