Comment: Next Comes The Arrest

The indictment of Milosevic will only bring a solution to the crisis if Western leaders find the will to follow it through. That means troops in Serbia.

Comment: Next Comes The Arrest

The indictment of Milosevic will only bring a solution to the crisis if Western leaders find the will to follow it through. That means troops in Serbia.

Thursday, 10 November, 2005

By indicting Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and four of his inner circle, the Hague Tribunal has raised the stakes in the eight-year-old Balkan conflict, but not necessarily brought it closer to a just and durable solution.


That depends on the will of Western leaders to take the necessary political risks to give this indictment teeth.


Milosevic is not going to hand himself over for trial and Serbs are not going to rise up against their leader simply because an indictment has been issued. Rather, with nothing to lose, Milosevic is likely to escalate his latest war in any way he can, confident that he will be supported by a population for whom the indictment is but the latest example of a world-wide, anti-Serb conspiracy.


Former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic was indicted in 1995 yet blithely continued to run his para-state, which he had cast in his own image, for the better part of the next two years.


And even today, despite a second indictment against him and the presence of more than 30,000 NATO-led troops in Bosnia for the past three-and-a-half years, he remains at liberty.


An indictment only becomes meaningful when it is accompanied by a serious threat of arrest. In Karadzic's case, this finally materialised in July 1997 when British troops within the NATO-led Stabilisation Force moved, for the first time, to snatch key individuals indicted by the Hague Tribunal.


This single operation broke the cycle of impunity that had hitherto characterised the Yugoslavian wars and marginalised Karadzic, who, though still at large, has had to hide ever since.


If Milosevic's indictment is to be meaningful, it must be backed by a concerted effort to bring him to justice. Unfortunately, this may prove more than most leaders of the Western alliance are prepared to stomach, since it entails more political risks than does showering Serbia with missiles from more than 15,000 feet in the air.


Indeed, given the track record of their dealings with Milosevic--whom the U.S. State Department first named publicly as a war criminal in December 1992--most, probably even now, would prefer a negotiated settlement and will no doubt attempt to wriggle out of the implications of the indictment.


Nevertheless, the terms of the debate over NATO's current bombing campaign against Yugoslavia have already been transformed by the five indictments. Under statutes of the Hague Tribunal--a UN body created by Security Council resolution--UN member states are obliged to bring to account all indictees.


As a result, success or failure will no longer be measured in terms of creating the conditions in which refugees can return to their homes, but by whether the Serbian leadership is put on trial.


In these circumstances, a strategy based exclusively on the use of air power is bound to fail. Attempting to bring Milosevic and his inner circle to justice not only entails deployment of ground troops in Kosovo, but requires a full-scale invasion of Serbia.


Moreover, given the UN basis of the Hague Tribunal's authority, the legal grounds on which such an invasion could be mounted are far stronger than those justifying NATO's current air campaign.


Ironically, it would almost certainly work out easier militarily to invade all of Serbia rather than Kosovo alone. This is because the most difficult and best defended entry routes into Serbia are across the Macedonian and Albanian borders with Kosovo.


A full-scale assault on Serbia could be launched across easy terrain through Hungary, which is a NATO member state, or even some of Serbia's other neighbours. This strategy would inevitably involve casualties on both sides but, if successful, would result in Milosevic's ouster and leave Serbia in a position akin to that of Germany in 1945.


Despite the risks, however, it could both enable Kosovo's Albanians to return to their homes and, if Serbia and its leaders are treated in the same fashion as were Germany and its Nazi leaders, begin a process that restores stability throughout the Balkans.


Since coming to absolute power in 1987, Milosevic has destroyed a once proud country. As Serbia fought and lost successive wars in Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia, watching each in succession drop off from the Yugoslav federation, Serbian society became progressively more diseased.


More than seven years of economic sanctions, over a decade of media distortion and successive purges have all taken their toll. The cream of Serbian society has largely emigrated and most of those who remain have lost touch with reality.


The only way to offer Serbia and ordinary Serbs a future is to exorcise the cancer in their society via a comprehensive campaign similar to the de-Nazification that took place in Germany after the war.


The trials of Milosevic and his inner circle are by far the best way to begin the fundamental restructuring, of both Serbia and the rest of the Balkans, necessary to return stability to the region. The trials would serve a double purpose, both offering redress to the victims and individualising guilt, thus protecting Serbs from the crimes committed in their name.


The risks of launching a full-scale invasion are enormous. But anything less simply will not lead to a long-term and durable solution. Pulling it off will take politicians of incredible vision and courage. So far they have been conspicuous by their absence.


Christopher Bennett, an IWPR senior editor, is author of Yugoslavia's Bloody Collapse (New York University Press) and former director of the International Crisis Group in the Balkans.


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