War in The Balkans: Consequences of the Kosovo Conflict and Future Options for Kosovo and the Region
Europe Report N°61
19 Apr 1999
NATO’s strategy in the war with Yugoslavia over Kosovo isn’t working. As the Alliance’s bombing campaign enters its fourth week, it is Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic who is still winning the political game.
Western governments have fallen into a humanitarian trap – concentrating on the hundreds of thousands of refugees expelled from Kosovo while failing to address the appalling human tragedy still going on inside the province.
The present paper, prepared by International Crisis Group (ICG) analysts in Belgrade, Skopje, Tirana, Sarajevo, Washington DC, and Brussels, summarises the situation on the ground throughout the Balkans in the wake of recent events and examines the difficult choices facing Western leaders. It concludes with a comprehensive statement of policy recommendations designed to contribute both to a solution to the immediate crisis and to longer-term regional stability.
The crisis in Kosovo escalated dramatically on the night of 24 March 1999 with the launch by NATO of a campaign of intensive air strikes against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Yugoslavia). The NATO action, now entering its fourth week, followed Serbian refusal to accept the terms of the internationally-brokered Rambouillet Peace Agreement and an ominous build-up of Serbian forces in and along the borders of Kosovo.
The massive expulsion from Kosovo of more than 619,000 refugees and the internal displacement of an estimated 700,000 people have created an international refugee crisis not seen in Europe since the aftermath of World War II. Refugee accounts and satellite intelligence have revealed evidence of atrocities that many fear surpass those committed – by some of the same perpetrators – during the war in Bosnia. In recent days, Serbian forces have made incursions into northern Albania, killing civilians and raising the spectre of a wider war. The bombings have stirred fierce anti-NATO and anti-Western sentiments that many fear will set back the efforts toward democratisation in Serbia, Montenegro, and Bosnia in which the West has invested so much.
Because of the unanticipated severity of the ongoing humanitarian catastrophe, the destabilising effects of the Kosovo conflict on governments throughout the region have only begun to be appreciated. The international community has, understandably, focused much effort on providing food and shelter to the massive new population of refugees in Albania and Macedonia. While it is vital to do everything possible to help the refugees that have fled Kosovo, there is a danger of “humanitarianising” a crisis that is essentially political in nature. The rush to provide food and shelter to the refugees has tended to draw attention away from events inside Kosovo and the urgent need for a political and military strategy that addresses the root causes of the conflict. From the perspective of President Milosevic, this is extremely helpful. As the crisis unfolds, it is more important than ever for policymakers to keep a clear understanding of its consequences – for Yugoslavia and neighbouring countries – and the options for resolving it and for steadying the rest of the region.
NATO ground forces, removing Milosevic, stabilising Yugoslavia
It is increasingly clear that NATO cannot meet its objectives in Kosovo with air strikes alone. The alliance should therefore immediately prepare for, and at the earliest opportunity order the deployment of a ground force capable of entering Kosovo, securing safe zones along the Macedonian, Albanian, and Montenegrin borders, and ultimately establishing an international protectorate.
Ground intervention in Kosovo, however, will not in and of itself be sufficient to prevent further shock waves from destabilising Kosovo and the wider region. The primary goal of international policy in the Balkans should be to remove Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic – the single greatest cause of crisis and conflict in the region. While there is no simple way to effect his removal, there are a series of steps that can be taken which will likely hasten his departure. Western governments should refuse all further contact with the Yugoslav leader, effectively isolating his regime from the outside world. Economic sanctions should be maintained and the personal assets of Milosevic and other key regime officials targeted. State-run media transmitters should be destroyed or overridden by impartial news broadcasts. The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) should immediately commit the necessary resources to prepare indictments for Milosevic and other top Serbian officials on charges of command responsibility for war crimes and crimes against humanity, and NATO should move at the earliest opportunity to apprehend those indicted and to transport them for trial in the Hague. Far greater investment needs to be made toward strengthening a democratic alternative to the Belgrade regime.
In the longer term, once Milosevic has been removed and replaced by a more democratic leadership, the international community should be ready with some form of Marshall Plan for Yugoslavia designed to propel the country into the ranks of emerging east European democracies. In this context, the Balkans Stability Pact recently proposed by the European Union, which held out the prospect of the eventual integration of the countries of former Yugoslavia into NATO and the European Union, is welcome.
Albania and Macedonia: Managing the humanitarian crisis and building a foundation for the future
Reuniting refugees separated in the mass exodus from Kosovo and re-establishing legal ownership of abandoned property will be a complex task – complicated by the fact that many refugees were stripped of their identity papers by Serbian forces at the border. To help piece together essential information, UNHCR must move quickly to establish a computerised registry of names of refugees, together with specific details about the districts and villages of origin. As soon as possible this database should be posted on the Internet to help people re-establish contact with separated family members.
As summer approaches in Albania, the risk of a cholera epidemic among refugees is likely to increase. Plans should be drawn up now to improve standards of sanitation and to ensure adequate access to food, shelter, and medical facilities.
In Macedonia, NATO should continue to assist the government and aid agencies to construct new refugee accommodation and ensure adequate infrastructure in the camps. The UNHCR, supported by the OSCE, should be given the task of running the camps as well as registering and processing incoming refugees. The ICTY should immediately establish a presence at the border to take testimonials from refugees who have been the victim of, or witness to, alleged war crimes.
Significant international financial and technical assistance packages should be readied both for Albania and Macedonia, to allay the strain of the refugee crisis, to safeguard political stability in both countries, and to lay the groundwork for future economic growth and democratic reform.
Protecting Bosnia and Herzegovina from the Kosovo fall-out
Steps also need to be taken to minimise the negative impact of the Kosovo conflict on the Bosnian peace process, specifically in Republika Srpska, the Serb entity within Bosnia and Herzegovina, where tension is running at a post-war high. SFOR should take care not to provoke a backlash from the Serb population while at the same time being prepared to use force to put down any armed disturbances. Pressure should continue to be exerted on Serb radio and television broadcasters in Bosnia and Herzegovina to provide a more balanced account of the Kosovo conflict. The process of forming a new government for Republika Srpska should be accelerated. Milorad Dodik is still the best candidate to be prime minister, but he is not the only acceptable one, and the international community may well have to agree to the selection of Mladen Ivanic as prime minister. The prospect of international assistance, conditional on government co-operation with the Dayton Peace Agreement, should be used as an incentive to build a constructive relationship with the new government.
Looking ahead – the search for long-term regional solutions
Finally, the long-running crisis in the Balkans is unlikely to end with a solution to the Kosovo dispute. The past approach of dealing with each Balkan trouble spot in isolation has proved itself disastrous. Once the present crisis in Kosovo has been resolved and tensions in the region have been reduced, a new Conference on the Balkans should be convened to look at the future of the region as a whole.
The issue throughout the region is essentially the same, namely how to find a political framework which reconciles the legitimate interests of different ethnic groups sharing the same territory. The solution may be democratisation, but this entails more than just elections. To date, processes that have served to promote democracy elsewhere have largely proved destabilising in the region. Mechanisms tailored to local conditions should be explored, including redesigned electoral systems, regional security and disarmament treaties, the creation of a regional broadcasting network and regional and/or reciprocal commitments to “special measures” to protect the employment, property, educational and other rights of minorities.