Waging peace in Kosovo U.S. pressure: Another European crisis that Europeans alone cannot solve.

March 20, 1998

THE INSTITUTIONS of Europe can no more enforce peace on Serbia's rebellious province of Kosovo than they could quell Serbia's earlier wars in Bosnia and Croatia. Should European powers back different sides, as they did in the early days of Yugoslavia's breakup, many thousands of Albanians would be slaughtered and Kosovo would be in flames.

That's why the United States properly mounted a two-pronged diplomatic offensive. While President Clinton's Balkans trouble-shooter, Robert S. Gelbard, was trying to scale down Kosovo Albanians' demands for independence, Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott was trying to end Serbia's repression. Mr. Gelbard was to be in Baltimore on Tuesday, addressing the Baltimore Council on Foreign Affairs (a deputy stood in), when he found himself flying to Pristina, capital of Kosovo.

Their visits nearly coincided with that of the Russian foreign minister to Belgrade, to be followed by his French and German counterparts. Only if the contact group of these four countries plus Britain and Italy give the same message has it any hope of getting through. This failed to occur during the breakup of Yugoslavia in the late 1980s.

There is a chance of unity. The world outside the former Yugoslavia condemns Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic's crackdown and executions of ethnic Albanians, "outrageous acts" in Mr. Gelbard's words. It equally opposes the demands of leaders of Kosovo's 1.8 million people for "independence," a nonviable way station on the road to incorporation into neighboring Albania. That would amount to an aggression by Muslim Albania against Orthodox Christian Serbia, likely to bring in Greece and Bulgaria in behalf of fellow Orthodox and Turkey in defense of Europe's indigenous Muslims.

What's left is autonomy, what Mr. Talbott calls "a relationship between the [Yugoslav] central government and the minority in Kosovo that allows the Kosovo Albanians to feel like full citizens of their country." The absence of this escalated Albanian demands.

President Milosevic's rump Yugoslavia endures economic sanctions, mob rule and social disintegration. Mr. Milosevic cares no more than Iraq's Saddam Hussein does for the suffering of his people. Such European institutions as NATO and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) have failed to impose order. The Albanians, to their credit, have ,, kept massive demonstrations peaceful.

The U.S. role is once again necessary in Europe. But unity of the six major powers in the contact group is the only language with a chance of persuading Mr. Milosevic and his Albanian adversaries to seek accommodation.

Pub Date: 3/20/98

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