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Waist Deep in the Balkans and Sinking: Washington Confronts the Crisis in Macedonia, Cato Policy Analysis No. 397

Waist Deep in the Balkans and Sinking: Washington Confronts the Crisis in Macedonia, Cato Policy Analysis No. 397

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Published by Cato Institute
Executive Summary

The eruption of fighting in Macedonia and in Serbia's Presevo Valley has underscored the bankruptcy of Washington's Balkan policy. NATO cited as its principal reasons for intervening in Kosovo in 1999 the need to stop ethnic cleansing and to prevent a wider war. Yet, since NATO assumed control of Kosovo, there has been a massive reverse ethnic cleansing as Albanian nationalists have driven nearly 90 percent of the province's non-Albanian people from their homes. And now the Kosovo Liberation Army and its offshoots have expanded armed conflict into southern Serbia and Macedonia.

Even as the current round of fighting fades, there are ample signs of trouble ahead. By wresting Kosovo from Belgrade's control, the United States and its NATO allies gave Albanian nationalists a base of operations from which they can foment insurgencies across the borders. Their ultimate goal is to create an ethnically pure "Greater Albania" that includes not only Kosovo and Albania but large portions of Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, and Greece.

Rather than face that reality, proponents of current U.S. policy circulate far-fetched myths about the nature of the struggle in the Balkans. Having ignored the accurate warnings about the KLA issued by critics of the original Kosovo mission, interventionists are repeating the same kind of errors.

If the United States insists on staying in Kosovo, it faces three unpalatable options. Option 1 is passive accommodation--looking the other way while the KLA pursues its agenda. That approach might minimize the danger to American military personnel, but it would virtually guarantee a wider Balkan war in the long run. Option 2 is assertive mediation. That approach risks getting the United States into the middle of the dispute between Albanian nationalists and the governments of Serbia and Macedonia. Option 3 is aggressive confrontation. The United States would conclude that the KLA is now the enemy and would try to crush the Albanian nationalist cause. That strategy would likely lead to serious armed conflict and American casualties.

Instead of trying to choose the least dreadful option, Washington should extricate U.S. forces from Kosovo forthwith and transfer responsibility to the European Union. America has no economic or strategic interests that warrant the risks it is incurring. U.S. and European security interests are separable. The United States should disengage and let the Europeans grapple with making the hard decisions.
Executive Summary

The eruption of fighting in Macedonia and in Serbia's Presevo Valley has underscored the bankruptcy of Washington's Balkan policy. NATO cited as its principal reasons for intervening in Kosovo in 1999 the need to stop ethnic cleansing and to prevent a wider war. Yet, since NATO assumed control of Kosovo, there has been a massive reverse ethnic cleansing as Albanian nationalists have driven nearly 90 percent of the province's non-Albanian people from their homes. And now the Kosovo Liberation Army and its offshoots have expanded armed conflict into southern Serbia and Macedonia.

Even as the current round of fighting fades, there are ample signs of trouble ahead. By wresting Kosovo from Belgrade's control, the United States and its NATO allies gave Albanian nationalists a base of operations from which they can foment insurgencies across the borders. Their ultimate goal is to create an ethnically pure "Greater Albania" that includes not only Kosovo and Albania but large portions of Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, and Greece.

Rather than face that reality, proponents of current U.S. policy circulate far-fetched myths about the nature of the struggle in the Balkans. Having ignored the accurate warnings about the KLA issued by critics of the original Kosovo mission, interventionists are repeating the same kind of errors.

If the United States insists on staying in Kosovo, it faces three unpalatable options. Option 1 is passive accommodation--looking the other way while the KLA pursues its agenda. That approach might minimize the danger to American military personnel, but it would virtually guarantee a wider Balkan war in the long run. Option 2 is assertive mediation. That approach risks getting the United States into the middle of the dispute between Albanian nationalists and the governments of Serbia and Macedonia. Option 3 is aggressive confrontation. The United States would conclude that the KLA is now the enemy and would try to crush the Albanian nationalist cause. That strategy would likely lead to serious armed conflict and American casualties.

Instead of trying to choose the least dreadful option, Washington should extricate U.S. forces from Kosovo forthwith and transfer responsibility to the European Union. America has no economic or strategic interests that warrant the risks it is incurring. U.S. and European security interests are separable. The United States should disengage and let the Europeans grapple with making the hard decisions.

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The eruption of fighting in Macedonia and inSerbia’s Presevo Valley has underscored the bank-ruptcy of Washington’s Balkan policy. NATO citedas its principal reasons for intervening in Kosovo in1999 the need to stop ethnic cleansing and to pre-vent a wider war. Yet, since NATO assumed controlof Kosovo, there has been a massive reverse ethniccleansing as Albanian nationalists have driven near-ly 90 percent of the province’s non-Albanian peoplefrom their homes. And now the Kosovo LiberationArmy and its offshoots have expanded armed con-flict into southern Serbia and Macedonia.Even as the current round of fighting fades,there are ample signs of trouble ahead. By wrest-ing Kosovo from Belgrade’s control, the UnitedStates and its NATO allies gave Albanian nation-alists a base of operations from which they canfoment insurgencies across the borders. Theirultimate goal is to create an ethnically pure“Greater Albania” that includes not only Kosovoand Albania but large portions of Serbia,Montenegro, Macedonia, and Greece.Rather than face that reality, proponents ofcurrent U.S. policy circulate far-fetched mythsabout the nature of the struggle in the Balkans.Having ignored the accurate warnings about theKLA issued by critics of the original Kosovo mis-sion, interventionists are repeating the samekind of errors.If the United States insists on staying in Kosovo,it faces three unpalatable options. Option 1 is
pas- siveaccommodation 
 —looking the other way while theKLA pursues its agenda. That approach might min-imize the danger to American military personnel,but it would virtually guarantee a wider Balkan warin the long run. Option 2 is
assertivemediation 
. Thatapproach risks getting the United States into themiddle of the dispute between Albanian national-ists and the governments of Serbia and Macedonia.Option 3 is
aggressiveconfrontatio
. The UnitedStates would conclude that the KLA is now theenemy and would try to crush the Albanian nation-alist cause. That strategy would likely lead to seri-ous armed conflict and American casualties.Instead of trying to choose the least dreadfuloption, Washington should extricate U.S. forcesfrom Kosovo forthwith and transfer responsibility tothe European Union. America has no economic orstrategic interests that warrant the risks it is incur-ring. U.S. and European security interests are separa-ble. The United States should disengage and let theEuropeans grapple with making the hard decisions.
Waist Deep in the Balkans and Sinkin
Washington Confronts the Crisis in Macedoni
by Ted Galen Carpenter
 _____________________________________________________________________________________________________
Ted Galen Carpenter isvice president for defense and foreign policy studiesat the Cato Institute.
Executive Summary
No. 397April 30, 2001
 
As soon as NATOassumed controlof Kosovo, theKosovoLiberation Armybegan a systemat-ic campaign to ridthe province ofnon-Albanians.
Introduction
NATO’s Kosovo intervention has been ill-starred since its inception. U.S. policymakersassumed that Yugoslav president SlobodanMilosevic would capitulate during negotiationsand accept a NATO occupation force in theprovince. Even when that did not happen andthe alliance decided to take military action,Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and otherU.S. officials were confident that a few days ofbombing would do the trick. Instead, the airbombardment went on for 78 days, at a cost ofmany innocent lives, before Milosevic gave in.American proponents of the missionemphasized two reasons for taking action.The first was to stop the Milosevic regimefrom cleansing the province of its ethnic-Albanian inhabitants. Some of the moreoverwrought advocates of intervention evenaccused Milosevic of genocide although onlya few more than 2,000 people (includingcombat fatalities) had perished in more than13 months of fighting before the onset ofNATO’s bombing campaign.The second reason interventionists citedrepeatedly was the need to prevent the disor-der in Kosovo from triggering a wider war inthe Balkans. President Clinton himself madethat point explicitly: “We act to prevent awider war; to defuse a powder keg at the heartof Europe.” He added, “Let a fire burn in thisarea and the flames will spread.”
1
On both counts, U.S. policy has failed. Ethniccleansing has certainly taken place. Almost assoon as NATO assumed control of Kosovo inJune 1999, the Kosovo Liberation Army began asystematic campaign to rid the province of non-Albanians. Not only was the Serbian minority atarget, but some 70,000 Roma (the so-calledGypsies) were driven out as well as thousands ofMontenegrins, Bulgarians, Jews, and Macedoni-ans. By the spring of 2000, more than 250,000non-Albanians of a prewar population of 350,000were refugees in neighboring countries.
2
Sixmonths later the United Nations and theOrganization for Security and Cooperation inEurope estimated that 90 percent of Kosovo’snon-Albanian people had been forced to leavetheir homes.
3
Most of the non-Albanians whohad not fled the province were huddled togetherin a small number of heavily guarded NATOenclaves. The cleansing has been accompanied byhundreds of murders. In addition to those con-firmed deaths, nearly 2,000 people simply disap-peared. One must conclude that most of themwere kidnapped and murdered. NATO provedeither unable or unwilling to stem the monoeth-nic tide in Kosovo.The other goal of U.S. and NATO policytoprevent a wider warclearly has not fared welleither. As early as the spring of 2000, there was evi-dence of insurgent activity in the Presevo Valley(that portion of southern Serbia directly adjacentto Kosovo). KLA-inspired fighters operatingunder the name of the Liberation Army ofPresevo, Medvedja, and Bujanovac exploited thethree-mile-wide buffer zone inside Serbia whereNATO insisted that Serbian security forces mustnot intrude. The ostensible reason for creatingthe buffer zone was to prevent incidents betweenSerbian and NATO military units. The Albanianinsurgents, however, operated with impunitywithin the zone and used it as a base of operationsfrom which to launch attacks against Serbianpolice personnel and other targets in the PresevoValley. By early 2001 a full-scale insurgency wasunder way.During the same period, episodes of violencein Macedonia began to be reported. At first it wasnot clear whether those incidents were part of apattern, but it was suspicious that the over-whelming majority occurred in the heavily eth-nic-Albanian northern and western parts of thecountry. Those incidents increased in both num-ber and severity in late 2000 and the beginning of2001. By early March it was apparent that a majorinsurgency was under way in Macedonia. Thewider war had come to the Balkans.
Wearing Blinders: The WestExcuses or Ignores KLAOutrages in Kosovo
Western policymakers and other propo-nents of an activist policy in the Balkans failed
2
 
to understand what was occurring under theirvery noses. The KLA’s systematic campaign ofterror and ethnic cleansing was typically dis-missed as uncoordinated acts of revengeagainst Serbs by Albanian Kosovars who hadsuffered grievously at the hands of theBelgrade regime. (Among other problems withsuch excuses was that they did not explain whythe Roma and other non-Albanians were alsotargets.) Although interventionists offeredperfunctory condemnations of such acts ofviolence, exculpatory comments about theAlbanians’ justifiable feelings of rage invari-ably followed. State Department spokesmanJames Rubin’s comments were typical: “TheAlbanians are angry—It’s irrational emotional-ism.”
4
The reasoning of Brookings Institutionscholars Ivo H. Daalder and Michael E.O’Hanlon was more nuanced but still excul-patory: “There has been a regrettable degree ofreverse ‘ethnic cleansing’ of Serbs by ethnicAlbanians since June 10, 1999, but it is neithersurprising in the aftermath of this type of con-flict nor realistically preventable. Nor is itcomparable to what happened to the ethnicAlbanians in the spring of 1999—or for thatmatter in 1998.”
5
In reality, there are substan-tially more refugees from Kosovo living out-side the province now than there were the daybefore NATO’s bombing campaign started.Only the ethnicity of the victims has changed.Indeed, the harshest comments of U.S.and other Western officials continued to bereserved for Slobodan Milosevic—as thoughhe were still the main problem in Kosovo.Commenting on the strife in the ethnicallydivided city of Mitrovica in February 2000,U.S. ambassador to the United NationsRichard Holbrooke stated: “I think there isno question who is responsible for it. It’sBelgrade.”
6
Supporters of NATO’s peacekeeping mis-sion grasped at straws to show that the oper-ation was going well. For example, NATOsecretary general George Robertson and oth-ers cited the declining murder rate in Kosovoin 2000 as evidence that things were gettingbetter. Albright boasted that “the murderrate in Kosovo is now lower than in manyAmerican cities.”
7
Similarly, Clinton’snational security adviser, Sandy Berger,crowed, “The murder rate has declined by 90percent in the past year.”
8
The
New York Time
opined in November 2000 that “Kosovo isgenerally a less violent place than it was lastyear.”
9
But, as Cato Institute foreign policyanalyst Gary Dempsey points out, suchclaims failed to take into account “that themurder rate had fallen in Kosovo preciselybecause the province had been virtuallycleansed of non-Albanian murder targets.”
10
Interventionists engaged in other wishfulthinking. They hailed the KLA’s pledge todisband and disarm, even as NATO troopskept uncovering large caches of weapons andammunition.
11
As incidents proliferated inthe Presevo Valley, supporters of the Kosovomission spent most of their energy warningabout Belgrade’s desire to reestablish controlover the area and denied that the disorderswere part of a strategy to create a “GreaterAlbania.”
12
A
Washington Pos
editorial perfect-ly captured the naive conventional wisdom:“Albanians struck inside Serbia because theybelieve, with some justification, thatSlobodan Milosevic’s forces had begun theethnic cleansing of a small Albanian-popu-lated area abutting Kosovo.”
13
Even afterMilosevic was ousted from office and a newdemocratic government had taken power,interventionists repeatedly warned about thedanger of shrinking the buffer zone or allow-ing Serbian security forces back into any por-tion of that zone.
14
Meanwhile, Albaniannationalist insurgents operated there withincreasing impunity. In December 2000Michael Radu, senior fellow with the ForeignPolicy Institute, correctly concluded, “We aresimply witnessing Albanian expansionismunder the very nose of NATO troops.
15
Onlywith great reluctance did NATO finally allowSerbian security forces limited access to thebuffer zone in late February 2001.
16
New York Times 
correspondent StevenErlanger concisely describes the implicit bar-gain that has characterized U.S. and NATOpolicy in Kosovo since June 1999: “After thewar, NATO decided it had to placate and co-opt
3
Supporters ofNATO’s peace-keeping missiongrasped at strawsto show that theoperation wasgoing well.

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