There are more Kosovos in this new world order

July 19, 1999|By Richard Reeves

NEW YORK -- We have seen the future and it fights -- for attention!

That future is now being previewed in three places that on a map seem very far apart. But, in fact, the same thing is going on now in Kosovo, Kashmir and Taiwan. In each case, some form of wannabe country is or has been struggling to get the world's attention by war or threat of war.

The tactics that have or will draw the United States into local affairs in Europe, South Asia and the Far East are all part of the dangerous nationalism surging everywhere at the end of the 20th century. That nationalism will be World War III or, at least, hot flashes.

I am repeating myself here (and so are current affairs) by saying the great problem of the world right now is that there are 200 countries and 3,000 nations on our little planet.

The Kosovars, the Kashmiris and the Taiwanese see themselves increasingly as separate nations living inside oppressive lines drawn by foreigners, usually white foreigners in colonial offices and war rooms in London, Paris and Washington.

Those three happen to be the hot spots at the moment in this new cold war. Last time it was, or next will be, separatist Christian Serbs or East Timorese, Kurds, Palestinians, Bosnian Muslims, Basques, Eritreans, Tutsis or Hutus.

This time the Kosovars, Kasmiris and Taiwanese figured out or stumbled on ways to get attention. The Kosovo Liberation Army, formerly classified as a drug-running terrorist organization by the U.S. government, started killing Serbian policemen last year, calculating that the Serbs would retaliate on a scale that would draw in the Americans and maybe some Europeans. The joke when they began was that the United States would become the KLA's air force.

And that is what happened. Kosovo is a protectorate now and has realistic hopes of becoming a country in the foreseeable future.

Kashmir has been in legal limbo for more than 50 years, divided between India and Pakistan by a "line of control."

In 1948, the United Nations managed to get a cease-fire in the first Kashmir war and brokered an agreement for a plebiscite in which Kashmiris could choose whether their land would be part of Pakistan or of India.

Pakistan would have won that vote, because most Kashmiris are Muslims and both fear and despise Hindu India. But the militarily dominant power, India, refused to hold any vote -- and there was not much Pakistan could do but cry unfairness to the world. With no pictures of old women refugees in wheelbarrows, the world looked away.

For 50 years, Pakistan tried to draw in the United States and China or anyone else in the world -- and it finally accomplished that by developing nuclear weapons last year and then sending or backing troops who crossed the line of control.

Without "the bomb" in prospect, Pakistan and India -- which has one, too -- could fight forever in the Himalayas and outsiders would not care. But for the moment, Kashmir is on the world's agenda. ("World" here is a euphemism for developed countries or the United States alone.)

It may be too late, though, because generational change in Kashmir has led to demands for independence rather than union with Pakistan.

Then Taiwan got back on the world agenda this past week by backing off its "one China" stand. There are generational aspects to that move, too. Taiwan -- then the island of Formosa -- broke away from mainland Chinese rule in 1950 when the communists of Mao Tse-tung won the civil war with the American-backed nationalists of Chiang Kai-shek. Chiang and his troops fled to Formosa and created the Republic of China.

But Mao and Chiang agreed there was one China, which included Taiwan. Their disagreement was over who ruled that China. Younger Taiwanese, many of whom have never seen mainland China, are inclined to think they have and deserve their own country, the one they built into a prosperous democracy.

The world would prefer to look the other way on that one, too. But with just a few well-chosen words -- "state-to-state . . . nation-to-nation relations" -- Taiwan's first native-born president, Lee Teng-hui, has made the world pay attention once more.

That's the name of the new world game. Attention must be paid. The great satellite spotlights of media and American superpower move on and around, lighting up Kosovo for a few months, or Kashmir for weeks, or Taiwan for . . . who knows? It may not be orderly, but that is the new world order.

Richard Reeves is a syndicated columnist.

Pub Date: 7/19/99

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