Milosevic's Aims in War and Diplomacy
Milosevic's Aims in War and Diplomacy
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
Report / Europe & Central Asia 4 minutes

Milosevic's Aims in War and Diplomacy

The limits of the West's resolve to enforce a solution to the crisis in the Balkans were freshly exposed last week at a press briefing by U.S. President Bill Clinton.

Executive Summary

The limits of the West’s resolve to enforce a solution to the crisis in the Balkans were freshly exposed last week at a press briefing by U.S. President Bill Clinton. Speaking to reporters on 6 May 1999, Clinton admitted that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic might well survive the current crisis and remain in power in Belgrade as long as he accepted the West’s terms for a settlement in Kosovo and permitted refugees to return home. He also made clear that a NATO invasion of Yugoslavia from the north, the one option open to the West that would facilitate the forcible removal of the Milosevic regime and with it the greatest single source of instability in the Balkans, was something “our (NATO’s) goals never entailed”[fn]BBC World (live coverage), 6 May 1999.Hide Footnote .

When the Yugoslav leader first began his grotesque campaign of ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, he envisaged three possible outcomes[fn]See ICG Montenegro Briefing Paper, Milosevic to Move on Montenegro, 23 April 1999.Hide Footnote :

  • Milosevic’s best case scenario involved the permanent expulsion of all or at least most ethnic Albanians from Kosovo, the eradication of the Kosovo Liberation Army and reassertion of Serbian control over the province.
  • A scenario with which Milosevic might live included the possibility of NATO taking over control of Kosovo but leaving Milosevic intact in Belgrade.
  • Finally, the third scenario, Milosevic’s worst nightmare, would see a NATO invasion of Yugoslavia from the north, through Vojvodina, the removal from power of Milosevic and his regime and the creation of a transitional government pending internationally-supervised democratic elections.

Milosevic was apparently confident from the outset that NATO lacked the will to pursue the third option. President Clinton’s recent remarks only confirm the soundness of Milosevic’s judgement. The only question now left open is how close the West will allow Milosevic to come to his preferred scenario.

This report, prepared by ICG’s Belgrade-based analyst, looks back on an extraordinary two months of war and diplomacy in the Balkans. It argues that Milosevic, while not actively willing NATO bombing, was prepared for that eventuality3 and examines how he has used it to his advantage.

The start of NATO’s air campaign on 24 March 1999 provided Milosevic with the cover to unleash his own ground war within Kosovo. Within hours of the first NATO missiles being fired, Yugoslav forces, including paramilitaries, embarked on the most vicious and extensive campaign of ethnic cleansing seen in Europe since World War II. An estimated 88 percent of the Kosovo population have been driven from their homes, the bulk forced to seek refuge outside of Yugoslavia.

For the first three weeks of NATO air strikes, Milosevic sought to shore up his position at home, assuming sweeping war-time powers, refusing to countenance any concessions to NATO’s demands and riding a wave of nationalist resentment directed against the West. During this phase of the conflict, Milosevic strove to emphasise that the Serbs was not alone in the world, holding out the prospect of Serbia’s allies, in particular Russia, intervening militarily to protect the country from attack. Much play was made of remarks by Russian President Boris Yeltsin and members of the Russian legislature that NATO’s action risked triggering a new world war.

From mid-April, however, Milosevic began to change his approach. With his objective of an ethnically cleansed Kosovo almost achieved, the Yugoslav leader signalled his willingness at  last to negotiate a peaceful settlement with the West. To help justify the about-turn, Milosevic sought to dampen down expectations that Russia would come to Yugoslavia’s defence. Instead, since mid-April, Russia has been seen as a distanced but trusted mediator who could broker a peace on terms acceptable to the Serbs.

What has been lacking in Milosevic’s recent peace overtures, however, has been any sign that the Yugoslav leader is ready to accede to the two minimal conditions of regional peace: the presence in Kosovo of NATO-led armed forces and the complete withdrawal of all Yugoslav forces from the province. Without such a guarantee there can be no security for civilians still left inside Kosovo nor for those who have fled the province and are now waiting anxiously for a sign that it will be safe to return home.

All the indications suggest that the West will, in the coming days or weeks, succumb to the temptation to negotiate a deal with Milosevic. The Yugoslav leader is running out of people to ethnically cleanse. The Alliance is running out of targets to bomb. The continued refusal of Western leaders to contemplate an intervention on the ground to take control of Kosovo and possibly the whole of Serbia leaves the West with few options other than to enter into talks.

The great danger now is that Milosevic will secure a deal that leaves him politically unscathed, his position at home assured, still able to control events in Kosovo. In such circumstances, not only will it be virtually impossible to reverse the effects of recent ethnic cleansing by Yugoslav forces on the ground in Kosovo but also Milosevic would be left with a free hand to stoke new crises and conflicts in the future.

In any diplomatic discussions with the Yugoslav leader, the West must not give any ground on the minimum conditions for peace in Kosovo – the withdrawal of all Yugoslav forces and the presence of a NATO-led force. If Milosevic continues to refuse to meet these demands the international community should immediately begin preparations for an invasion of Serbia proper.

Finally, any respite offered by diplomacy should not lead to complacency that the  Balkan problem has been solved. There can be no prospect of lasting peace and stability  in  the Balkans as long as Milosevic remains in power in Belgrade. Milosevic’s track record shows that he is likely to use any time he is given to craft new conflicts both within Yugoslavia and the region. In turn, the international community should use every opportunity to undermine Milosevic’s rule, build up democratic alternatives4 and be ready for ground action against Belgrade, staged from the north, if and when Milosevic threatens regional stability again in the future.

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