02 October 1998

NATO is Kindling Balkan Tinderbox

2 October 1998
The Times of India

NATO is Kindling Balkan Tinderbox


IF NATO has its way, the civil war in Kosovo could soon engulf the entire Balkans. The US-led military alliance is today on the verge of intervening in the bloody conflict between the Yugoslav
government (i.e. Serbia) and the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), which is fighting for the independence of the Albanian-dominated region. Plans for the bombardment of Serb targets have already been drawn up.

The legal mandate for NATO intervention is, however, shaky. Although UN Security Council resolution 1199 described the Kosovo situation as a ``threat to international peace and security'' and insisted Yugoslavia end its campaign against the KLA, it stopped short of authorising force. Indeed, the resolution states that the UNSC would meet again to consider any further measures. The Russian and French representatives emphasised this point in the debate. Thus even in narrow legal terms, those favouring enforcement would have to seek explicit authorisation first.

If NATO were to attack anyway -- as the US says it has the right to do -- this would be bad in law. Security Council resolutions, even when drafted under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, do
not constitute open-ended invitations for any country or collective to use force as and when it decides to do so.

Internal Problem

Even if an attack on Yugoslavia were authorised, intervention in Kosovo remains problematic. A NATO attack is bound adversely to affect the stability of the Balkans. The KLA will not accept anything less than full independence. But an independent Kosovo would unleash irredentist dynamics in the region: Kosovo and Albania would come together and perhaps try and incorporate Albanian-speaking parts of Macedonia. On the other hand, given the anarchic situation in Albania itself, Greece may feel compelled to safeguard the interests of the Greek minority in the south of that country and assume an interventionist role. Macedonia and Bulgaria would also feel unsettled and Turkey is unlikely to remain aloof.

Furthermore, since Kosovo is a part of Yugoslavia, the fighting there is legally an internal problem. Of course, every country facing the demand for self-determination by some section must conform to international humanitarian law. There is simply no justification for the
atrocities Mr Slobodan Milosevic's government has been accused of committing in Kosovo. Yet, does the world really want to establish a precedent whereby the big powers are authorised to take punitive measures against states prosecuting civil wars? Can we expect Turkey, for example, to be subjected to a similar attack for its war against the urds? In the Kosovo case, the UN has also accused the KLA of committing atrocities. Under such circumstances, it is difficult to believe that intervention favouring one protagonist is aimed at upholding humanitarian law. Rather, the motivation would appear to be purely political.

The identity of the KLA's principal benefactors is the subject of intense speculation. A report in The European last week cited French intelligence sources as saying the KLA was being trained and equipped by German civil and military intelligence (BND and MAD) ``with the aim of cementing German influence in the Balkan area and tackling the refugee problem''. Other reports speak of US covert operations.

Serb Repression

Even if these allegations are true, the Yugoslav government must still bear primary responsibility for creating the conditions under which various big powers have been able to fish in troubled waters. The 1974 Constitution gave Kosovo the status of a `Socialist Autonomous Province' and not of a `Republic' (like Serbia, Bosnia, etc ). That arrangement worked well up to a point but eventually its limitations became apparent to the Kosovars. In April 1981, demonstrations in favour of republic status were held in Pristina, the Kosovo capital. Sadly, that demand was met with repression and recentralisation. Eventually, the province's autonomy was annulled and it was absorbed into Serbia.

A decade before the secession of Croatia and Slovenia in 1991, the break-up of Yugoslavia was presaged by the suppression of the Kosovars. Rather than renovate its political institutions as the times were demanding, Yugoslavia sought to turn the clock back, granting less rights to its people instead of more. Today, the country is a piteous shadow of its former self, an open sore which draws the unwelcome attention of big powers seeking to carve out new spheres of influence. Just like the Ottoman, Habsburg and Russian competition in the region in the 19th century, NATO intervention today is being planned solely for the strategic gains this will bring to its largest members, while every country in the Balkans will end up paying the price.

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