Official warns against early departure by U.S.

Kosovo situation unlike Vietnam, Somalia, says State Department planner

May 07, 1999|By Jay Hancock | Jay Hancock,SUN STAFF

As Western powers and Russia move closer to agreement on a joint military force to keep peace in Kosovo, a top State Department official made clear yesterday that, for the United States, such a commitment should not be short-term.

"There is not an early exit strategy from this region. If we try to leave early the conflict will resume," said Morton Halperin, policy planning director for the department.

"We are in there for a long time" if the United States sends troops as part of a peace force, he told the Baltimore Council on Foreign Affairs, filling in for Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott. "We were in Europe for 50 years" after World War II.

Agreeing with independent analysts who see Kosovo as an important crucible of international relations for the post-Cold War world, Halperin repeatedly emphasized the dangers of accepting anything less than Serbian withdrawal from Kosovo, an end to hostilities and an international peacekeeping force.

The forced exile of ethnic Albanians from Kosovo, and the world's response, he said, are "as important as almost any event any of us can remember or will experience. It is an epic struggle. It is not merely NATO vs. Milosevic. It is civilization vs. barbarism."

While the sensitive question of how Russia and NATO would meld militarily in any Kosovo operation was still suspended yesterday, Halperin rejected an alternative: an international force under the command of the United Nations.

"We are going to have to have an effective military force," he said. "We believe that force can operate under the endorsement of the United Nations." But, he added, "the only institution that is capable of fielding forces with effective military capability is NATO."

Despite weeks of bombing with apparently little effect on Yugoslavia's "ethnic cleansing" campaign in Kosovo, Halperin denied that Western powers are moving closer to a compromise with Yugoslavian President Slobodan Milosevic.

"Mr. Milosevic is not winning," he said. "If he or anybody else thinks we are going to capitulate, he is wrong."

He disputed questioners who compared a U.S. presence in Kosovo to the country's experience in Vietnam in the 1960s and 1970s or in Somalia a few years ago.

In both cases, one agonizingly drawn out, the other one brief, the country suffered casualties and humiliation after what at first seemed a minor foray got out of hand.

"The situation with Kosovo is very different," he said. "Kosovo is more than 90 percent [ethnic] Albanian. We are not talking about moving into a territory where a significant amount of the population is hostile to what we want to do."

Halperin argued against an independent Kosovo. "We do not believe that is the right solution," he said. The administration has advocated an autonomous Kosovo within a pacified Yugoslavia.

He maintained that unrelenting NATO air attacks are having their effect on Milosevic.

"What we are doing day in and day out is dismantling the machinery and infrastructure of Mr. Milosevic's destruction," he said, calling it "a permanent, continuing weakening of his military power."

Pub Date: 5/07/99

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