Belgrade Needs Help but the Aid Must Have Firm Conditions
Belgrade Needs Help but the Aid Must Have Firm Conditions
Op-Ed / Europe & Central Asia 3 minutes

Belgrade Needs Help but the Aid Must Have Firm Conditions

Transferring Slobodan Milosevic to The Hague would be the most dramatic gesture Belgrade could make to prove that it is serious about shedding his legacy of extremist nationalism. A decree making this possible was announced by the Yugoslav government last weekend after Parliament blocked the passage of a law to the same effect. This might, on the face of it, be enthusiastically greeted by the international community.

But should it? Mr. Milosevic himself was a master at wrapping political intentions in a veil of legal respectability. A decree is no guarantee of action, and already it is being challenged as unconstitutional by Mr. Milosevic's lawyers. It may be weeks before we know if the decree is legal, and even longer before we know what it will mean in terms of genuine cooperation on indicted war criminals.

Meanwhile governments must decide whether to attend this week's Brussels donors' conference. The European Union has indicated that it will participate. Washington has been more cautious, demanding first to see a positive policy in Belgrade toward the Hague tribunal. But it is likely now that Washington will give Yugoslavia the benefit of the doubt and attend the conference.

So far so good for President Vojislav Kostunica. There is no question that Serbia, heavily in debt, badly damaged by NATO's bombs and milked by years of cronyism and corruption, desperately needs the $1.2 billion it hopes that donors will pledge this week.

But donor governments will be making a great mistake if they promise that money without attaching conditions that will help restore regional stability and continue to give Belgrade's reformers leverage to free Serbia of Mr. Milosevic's malignant heritage. Sending him to The Hague, along with the 12 or more other indicted war crimes suspects currently in Serbia, is an essential part of the equation. But in many ways it is equally if not more important to reverse nationalist Serbian policies in Bosnia and Kosovo. The donors' conference provides a rare opportunity to speed that process.

The Bosnian Serb entity, Republika Srpska, is a safe haven for indicted war criminals, including the wartime leader Radovan Karadzic and the military chief Ratko Mladic. Separatist officials openly violate the Dayton accords by blocking the return of refugees and efforts to establish a functioning multiethnic government.

The lack of security for non-Serbs is one of the main reasons why NATO maintains a large military presence in Bosnia. Yet Belgrade provides substantial funding for Republika Srpska's armed forces. Almost 4,000 officers hold dual rank in the Yugoslav and Bosnian Serb armies. Belgrade trains them and pays their salaries and pensions. Stopping these payments, severing military ties and making it clear to Bosnia's Serbs that their future lies only within Bosnia are all conditions that should be placed on aid.

Belgrade also shirks its obligations in Kosovo, which cannot begin to be stabilized without elected authorities to assume responsibility for law and order. It urged the boycotting of local elections in Kosovo last year, and is not encouraging Serbs to vote in the assembly elections scheduled for November, called under the terms of UN Resolution 1244. This simply perpetuates the belligerent all-or-nothing approach of the Milosevic era.

It is also clear that until some steps are taken toward resolving the province's final status, ethnic Albanian extremists will continue to be tempted to set political agendas by violence. Belgrade's lack of cooperation with the UN Mission in Kosovo should therefore be the third category of conditions on aid.

Skeptics may question whether conditionality works. But when the U.S. Congress set a March 31, 2001, deadline for cooperation in exchange for aid, Mr. Milosevic was arrested. And few doubt that last weekend's hurried decree was timed to influence decisions about the donors' conference.

The United States and the EU should work together to apply a common strategy that conditions all the aid they pledge in Brussels on Belgrade's cooperation on the Hague tribunal, Bosnia and Kosovo. These issues will determine whether Serbia can be a factor for stability in the Balkans.

In the months ahead, the donor countries must monitor Belgrade's performance, so that aid is tied to action, not merely to promises. After the utter misery they have caused in the last decade, nobody wants to see unreconstructed nationalists, from Yugoslavia or anywhere else, laughing all the way to the bank.

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