Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Unanimous For Now

NATO member states remain unanimous about the bombing campaign against Yugoslavia. But the difficult decisions are yet to be made.
By Ian Williams

Serbia's sacked Deputy Prime Minister Vuk Draskovic was right when he told interviewers that Serbian attempts to split NATO had failed.

Indeed, his realism cost him his job. However, while all NATO leaders are agreed that something had to be done about Kosovo, undercurrents of dissent remain about what precisely that should be.

Perhaps the real danger is that having achieved unanimity on bombing--in the absence of agreement on ground troops, or even on the methods and legality of the oil embargo--the alliance will rely exclusively on air power.

While Moscow and Belgrade invoke international law and the UN against NATO, Draskovic was correct to point out Serbia's isolation in the international community. Kofi Annan's "peace offer" to Belgrade was not that dissimilar to NATO's own demands.

In these circumstances, Annan's potential contribution is that he provides an alternative to NATO for Belgrade to climb down to. At present, the only realistic diplomatic option open to Milosevic is a surrender conditioned by some small print.

NATO is not concerned which banner its troops march under when they enter Kosovo, nor does the alliance mind if some Ukrainians and Russians come in as well. It is, nevertheless, unlikely that the UN will have any military role--although, as in Bosnia, it could be brought in for an auxiliary civilian policing role.

The US-preferred draft of the original NATO summit communique would have made only a passing mention to the UN, in deference to the strong feeling in the US security establishment that the alliance is not beholden to the world organisation.

The Europeans united to insist successfully on a much more substantial reference that recognised "the primary responsibility of the UN Security Council for the maintenance of international peace and security."

It went on to "look forward to developing further contact and exchanges of information with the UN, in the context of co-operation in conflict prevention, crisis management, crisis response operations, including peacekeeping, and humanitarian assistance."

While NATO has maintained remarkable unanimity that the bombing has to continue until Belgrade made substantial concessions, there is still an even more remarkable degree of aversion to what every military expert considers essential and inevitable--at the very least contingency planning for ground forces.

In the light of the special relationships between both the UK and US and also Tony Blair and Bill Clinton, it seems likely that the British hawks--far and away the most aggressive in the alliance--have their sympathisers in the White House.

Certainly Democratic Senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut, who co-sponsored Republican Senator John McCain's resolution calling for ground troops, has never been known to do anything that would embarrass the president.

For all the usual reasons, Clinton and his vice president, Al Gore, are still downplaying any suggestion of a land war. Yet with slim hopes for any other way out, they are aware that the pressure of events is leading precisely in that direction.

At present, it seems that they are content letting Congress and the British make the running so that the White House can later change tack, while retaining later deniability in the event of anything going wrong, such as US casualties.

While Madeleine Albright has consistently been a hawk eager to support deployment of ground troops, within the administration she does not currently have much sway. It is perhaps significant that Assistant Secretary of State Strobe Talbot went to Moscow to discuss possible peace initiatives, and not the Russian-speaking Albright.

Indicative of attempts to keep options open, the word "genocide" has been used much less in Washington than in London. Indeed, the Americans have privately complained to Annan about his use of the term. It seems, therefore, that someone, somewhere in Washington, still anticipates that business may have to be done with Slobodan Milosevic. Already, State Department spokesman James Rubin has said that a pause in the bombing--advocated by Russia in recent days--might come if Milosevic agrees to meet alliance demands in Kosovo.

Some of the Republicans, fired up by equal measures of militaristic patriotism and a burning desire to score points against Clinton, have doubled the $6 billion the administration has sought for emergency military appropriations. This enables them to get the higher military budget that they had originally wanted and, since the money comes from the Social Security Fund surplus, there is the added bonus of derailing the president's plans for reforming Social Security.

Some Republicans are genuinely horrified by what Milosevic is doing to the Kosovo Albanians, while others want unity in the face of the real enemy--Bill Clinton. Hence resolutions calling for the withdrawal of all ground forces until Congressional approval has been voted, and the tied House of Representatives vote on the bombing.

These are, however, unlikely to be successful, whatever hopes Belgrade may pin on them. Ultimately, the British media onslaught and European pressure are likely to avert the more egregious efforts to negotiate a second peace agreement along the lines of the Dayton accord for Bosnia that rewards Milosevic for ethnic cleansing.

Having worked so hard to get all the NATO allies on board by consensus, the present course of action is effectively locked in. But there are many hard choices ahead for an administration that is traditionally averse to them.

Ian Williams, UN correspondent for The Nation and author of "The UN for Beginners", was for many years US editor of the IWPR magazine, WarReport.