NATO sends troops, aid to Albania

Few options for allies after end of air war

Partition of Kosovo may have to be accepted

April 04, 1999|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- At the end of the air war over Yugoslavia, President Clinton and America's European allies may be forced to accept what none of them now publicly acknowledges: a partition of Kosovo that offers a protected enclave to ethnic Albanians and gives the rest to Serbia.

This may offer the only way to avoid three tougher choices, analysts say.

One is a ground war requiring tens of thousands of NATO troops to drive President Slobodan Milosevic's forces out of Kosovo.

Another is an all-out bombing campaign that hits Yugoslavia's most sensitive targets and Serbia's electrical supply, regardless of the consequences to civilians.

The third is a prolonged, Balkan-wide crisis in which the presence of hundreds of thousands of Albanian refugees eats away at the stability of fragile neighboring governments.

NATO appreciates that it is "up against someone with great resolve," Air Commodore David Wilby, a NATO spokesman, said last week.

But officials admit they didn't anticipate how harshly or quickly Milosevic would act.

"I don't think anybody could foresee the breadth of this brutality," Pentagon spokesman Kenneth Bacon said.

After 10 days of bombing, NATO's resolve is starting to waiver, with officials admitting that air power alone -- at least of the strength that NATO leaders were prepared to apply -- wasn't enough to crack Milosevic's repression machine.

Did the Clinton administration and the alliance miscalculate? Perhaps.

The administration may have drawn too rosy a view of the effectiveness of bombing after the use of airstrikes against the Bosnian Serbs in 1995 before the agreement that ended the earlier Balkan conflict.

The airstrikes were just one of several factors that turned the tide against the Bosnian Serbs, according to Ivo Daalder, who was at the White House at the time and is now a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution.

The Bosnian Croats took advantage of the bombing campaign to conduct a ground offensive that drove the Serbs out of a third of the territory they were occupying. During the same period, a rapid-reaction force of British, French and Dutch soldiers was pounding Serbian positions with artillery.

And Milo- sevic was ready to make a deal, brushing aside his allies among the Bosnian Serbs to become the chief negotiator at the Dayton, Ohio, peace talks.

After the Yugoslav government launched a crackdown against the Kosovo Liberation Army rebels last year, administration officials raised the threat of military force. But they did so as a diplomatic tool, without any obvious preparation.

Appearing June 21 on "Meet the Press," Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright bluntly warned Yugoslavia that it had to accept the peace plan of the six-nation "Contact Group."

It was, she said, "a package, not a menu. He has to pull back his forces." All options were open, she said, implying a military threat.

Officials began to stress the stakes for the West in the tiny, poor province populated mostly by ethnic Albanian Muslims.

"It could explode," envoy Richard C. Holbrooke said in early July. "And if it exploded and crossed international boundaries, you could unravel borders all the way down to Greece and all the way north into southeastern Europe. We don't want that."

Cease-fire collapses

Washington and U.S. allies continued to hope that the threat of force would push Milosevic into an agreement in February, even as a cease-fire collapsed and U.S. intelligence officials warned of a Serbian spring offensive in Kosovo.

CIA Director George Tenet, appearing Feb. 2 before Congress, warned of a "deterioration of the Kosovo crisis," adding, "If fighting escalates in the spring -- as we expect -- it will be bloodier than last year's.

"Belgrade will seek to crush the KLA once and for all, while the insurgents will have the capability to inflict heavier casualties."

After peace talks at Rambouillet, France, collapsed in February with neither the KLA nor Yugoslavia signing a deal, the Clinton administration watched as Yugoslavia intensified preparations for a major offensive.

But NATO refrained from responding in kind. The only NATO preparation evident to the Serbs was the deployment of thousands of peacekeepers into Macedonia to implement a future peace deal.

By the time the Rambouillet peace talks resumed in Paris in March, Milosevic had hardened his stand against the peace accord. Still, the administration hoped the threat of force would persuade him to accept the deal, dispatching Holbrooke to Belgrade.

Although Holbrooke came away empty-handed, he still didn't conclude that Milosevic was totally inflexible.

"He's always been tough to deal with. He's a formidable adversary, and negotiating with him is not a lot of fun," Holbrooke told Larry King on CNN Thursday. But he said that in his own dealings with the Yugoslav president, "we have achieved things in that process many times: most notably, peace in Bosnia with no Americans injured or wounded."

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