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Kosovo peace elusive, but possible


At this stage in the Kosovo conflict, multiple parties have already embraced violence, and the resulting dynamic of escalation is fully engaged. Consequently, prescriptions for peace are increasingly difficult to write due to missed opportunities and the perception of restricted choices that always accompany violence.

This situation is akin to my hopping on a public bus only to find the driver speeding wildly down the road, ignoring all the warning signs and heading straight toward the cliff. When I ask him to brake, the driver says it won’t do any good, because the gas pedal is now taped to the floorboards. As the bus hurtles right up to the edge of the cliff, I implore the driver to turn away. He yells back at me that if I don’t like how he is driving, I can try it for awhile.

Perhaps the Kosovo cliff is still far enough off that a different approach may yet have some effect. Among possible approaches are the following.

Short-term efforts

  • NATO countries must immediately and drastically increase immigration levels. To bomb Kosovo relentlessly in order to "help" the Kosovars without also opening borders only compounds the ethical quagmire in which the NATO bombing campaign is deeply mired. For example, the United States is using weaponry hardened by depleted uranium, polluting the environment and exposing the remaining civilian population to unwarranted dangers for many years to come.
  • NATO allies should drop leaflets that encourage desertions. Serbia is forcibly conscripting young men to wage its genocidal campaign. But most people are not eager to commit war crimes. The Kosovo Liberation Army is also conscripting ethnic Albanians who are trying to flee the advances of the Serbian army. The leaflets should promise political asylum and educational training to objectors and deserters from either armed force, and receiving centers must be set up along border areas.
  • NATO must immediately turn to massive food, clothing and medicine airdrops wherever the Kosovo civilian population is now clustered. The Clinton administration has ruled this out because the low elevations required for accurate drops exposes pilots and crews to enemy fire. But I thought our volunteer armed forces already agreed to risk their lives and to follow orders unless their consciences said otherwise. If nothing else, at least ask for volunteers for these missions and then get out of the way of the volunteer stampede.
  • Call an emergency session of the U.N. General Assembly (not the Security Council) to fashion a broad-based U.N. response. This should be part of a larger move away from NATO and toward the United Nations and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe as the primary international organizations playing a third-party role.
  • Russia should be granted a far more substantive diplomatic role, since it is Serbia’s traditional ally in the region.
  • Use international mediators who are perceived to be neutral by all principal parties. George Mitchell’s success in Ireland and Nelson Mandela’s breakthrough in arranging Libya’s handover of the agents accused of the Lockerbie bombing exemplify how important this factor can be. The more intractable and violent a conflict is, the more relevant this principle of conflict resolution becomes.
  • Create and/or seize every opportunity to get back to the negotiating table, but once there, don’t repeat the multitude of mistakes committed at the Rambouillet talks. This time, build both trust and ownership early on by giving the principal parties more input into the location, the timing, the agenda, the makeup of third parties and the structure of the talks. Don’t marginalize Kosovar civil society and nonviolent groups by overemphasizing the role of the Kosovo Liberation Army in the negotiations. Don’t arrive with a preordained plan drawn up by outsiders to be imposed under the threat of bombing (in the case of Serbia) or withdrawal of support (in the case of the Kosovo Liberation Army). Don’t use NATO troops or monitors to implement any agreement, but rely on a U.N. force drawn from multiple countries beyond the West.

Every conflict is nested inside other, larger conflicts and impacts their escalation or resolution. We must, therefore, always think about long-range efforts even while we work for resolution of the current situation. In that regard, the following steps are critical.

Long-range issues

  • The United States ought to pay its U.N. dues on time, promptly take care of its unconscionable backlog of past dues, and the United States and NATO must stop usurping the U.N.’s legitimate role in protecting international peace.
  • The United States should aggressively support the rapid establishment of the International Criminal Court, a move the Clinton team opposed at a U.N. conference this summer in Rome.
  • A Global Code of Conflict on Arms Transfers should be developed to reduce the irresponsible and shortsighted sale of weaponry worldwide.
  • Consistent and thoroughgoing U.S. adherence to international law and the conventions of war are critical if others are to be expected to do the same.

Implementation of these measures and adherence to the principles undergirding them are only a partial answer to the current escalation of the conflicts in Serbia and Kosovo. Other missing ingredients will have to come from the principal parties themselves. The relentless bombing by NATO decreases the likelihood of that happening anytime soon.

Patrick Coy is a professor in the Center for Applied Conflict Management and the Department of Political Science at Kent State University.

National Catholic Reporter, April 23, 1999