Memo to NATO: a Balkan winter is around the corner

May 16, 1999|By George F. Will

WASHINGTON -- In this equal-opportunity war, both sides have achieved their objectives. And even bystanders, such as Russia, China, various U.S. corporations, Alaskan reindeer ranchers and others are benefiting.

Slobodan Milosevic has irrevocably altered Kosovo's ethnic balance. Hillary Rodham Clinton greeted 453 ethnically cleansed Kosovars at Fort Dix in New Jersey. It will be a long trek home.

NATO also has achieved its sovereign objective of largely avoiding NATO casualties. Of course, the three returned prisoners of war perhaps should count as casualties, considering they have been awarded Purple Hearts.

Back home in Capac, Mich., one of these soldiers was given a parade -- he rode in a 1957 Chevy convertible; a parachutist dressed as Uncle Sam landed at the high school -- complete with a flyover by three F-16s. 'Twas a famous victory. Parades do follow victories, don't they?

Only a wet blanket at such moveable feasts would wonder aloud about what the capture of these three soldiers tells us about the Army's basic military craftsmanship, such as patrolling.

NATO intelligence asserts that because of NATO's around-the-clock bombing, Serbian forces are sleepless in Kosovo, and depressed. These reports are, presumably, more reliable than NATO's maps of Belgrade.

NATO says things are going swimmingly. "We are nibbling away . . . day by day at some of his military capabilities," says NATO's senior military officer, Gen. Klaus Naumann of Germany. "Why should we change?"

Maybe this, from the Washington Post, suggests why: "In an apparent sign of Belgrade's confidence, a Yugoslav ship, the Boca Star, has been spotted at the Montenegrin port of Bar loading military equipment for export to Libya, intelligence reports showed." And while NATO aircraft hunt fuel depots and chase fuel trucks, intelligence reports show that "large quantities" of fuel are flowing into the country on the Danube River and by highway from Montenegro, Croatia and Romania.

War's casualties

Paul Watson of the Los Angeles Times reports from Yugoslavia on some of NATO's nibbling. Bomblets from cluster bombs had been aimed in the middle of the night at military forces supposedly deployed in a park and playground in the village of Staro Gracko:

"At least three of the unexploded bomblets lay in the playground, where three empty bunkers suggested soldiers may have been based. But there were no signs of damage to any military vehicles Tuesday morning.

"Instead, 4-year-old Dragan Dimic was dead, along with the boy's neighbors, Boskco Jankovic, 60, and his wife, Jevrosima, 59. Their bodies lay smeared with dried blood where they fell at the edge of their small front patio. . . . [Milan Seslija's] 70-year old father, Okica, was fighting for his life in a hospital, with severe burns and shrapnel wounds. He fell into a blazing pile of hay when one of the cluster bomblets exploded outside the house." NATO will fight only an air war and cannot fight it as antiseptically as it thought. Thus NATO, while still talking tough to Milosevic (Secretary of Defense William Cohen: "A partial pullout would mean a total victory for him"), is tiptoeing toward subcontracting this war to the United Nations, even though two of the Security Council's five members, each with a veto, are essentially on Milosevic's side. Russia wishes NATO no good, and China, which clearly regards the United States as an enemy, and has Tibet and Taiwan on its mind, rejects, root and branch, the theory that the "international community" has any business interfering with anything Serbia does in its province of Kosovo.

Ethnically cleansed

More than five weeks of spring remain, but it is not too soon to worry about the Balkan winter, which even the NATO architects of this war probably can see coming. These architects have an amazing versatility of belief, but surely they cannot believe that most of the victims of ethnic cleansing will be anywhere but in tents in Macedonia and Albania when the first snow flies. If the victims are not there, where will they be -- in the rubble of the hundreds of sacked villages of Kosovo?

Misery has a multiplier effect: Concentrations of refugees weakened in body and spirit, and treated with increasing callousness by the resentful countries saddled with them, are ripe for epidemics. Moving to meet this and related crises, Congress is cobbling together an emergency spending bill that, as this column is being written, legislators have larded with a $1 billion loan guarantee program for corporate welfare clients, $400 million for farmers, $3 million for Alaska reindeer ranchers, and so on, and on.

War is hell, but not for everyone.

George F. Will is a syndicated columnist.

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