Sat, 27 Mar 1999

It's Milosevic's move

NATO's relentless missile and air strikes against Yugoslavia begun on Wednesday have once again demonstrated how almost irrelevant national boundaries have become in this era of globalization. As cruise missiles and bombs launched from battle ships and aircraft continued to rain down on targets in Yugoslavia, Serbs living near the targeted military sites were stunned not only by the earth-shaking explosions, but by the question of why and how all this could have happened.

As for why, it was France's President Jacques Chirac who on Friday provided one of the most succinct and forceful answers to this question. Speaking in Berlin at a news conference after a European Union (EU) summit, Chirac explained that, "It was necessary to act to destroy, as much as possible, the potential military aggression of the Serbs -- or rather, of President (Slobodan Milosevic)."

"France and its allies," the French president said, "have said no to massacres, no to ethnic cleansing, no to oppression, no to everything that seriously jeopardizes the values that are the foundation of our humanism, our republic, our joint European values. By not acting today, by saying nothing, by doing nothing, this would amount to accepting barbarism and risking instability across the Balkans."

Obviously, the moral judgment of launching such an assault on a sovereign country can be questioned -- as indeed several governments friendly toward Belgrade have done. And in any case the use of military force as a means to settle problems, domestic or international, is always to be deplored.

However, in this particular case, all the blame for the assault cannot simply be put on the shoulders of NATO or the countries participating in the attack -- the Unites States, Britain and members of the European Union, all of whom have a part in the current actions.

After all, the attack did not come without warning, and was not launched without valid reason. It came after months of protracted but fruitless negotiations between Serbia and NATO representatives to end the fighting between Serbs and ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, on the Yugoslav-Albanian border. In the meantime, more than 2,000 people were killed in Kosovo and over 400,000 were left homeless.

Obviously, there are practical reasons, as well as humanitarian considerations, for why NATO can ill afford to let the Kosovo conflict fester. For one thing, with the conflict area right on the European Unions's doorstep, there is a good chance that instability -- political, social and economic -- might spill over into neighboring areas and cause more East European refugees to seek shelter in EU countries. For another, allowing the conflict to continue unchecked and possibly worsen could eventually compel NATO and the EU to intervene with even greater intensity, militarily or otherwise.

Fortunately, the undesirability of military action -- not to mention the relative ineffectiveness of air strikes alone -- is well enough realized by the NATO countries, who have left the door open for further negotiations, albeit this time on the condition that President Milosevic accept the peace plan drafted at Rambouillet. The ball is now in Milosevic's court. The best we can hope for at this stage is that the realization will soon dawn on the Yugoslav leader that he cannot indefinitely continue to ignore the rest of the world without paying the consequences.