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Mediterranean Quarterly 11.1 (2000) 49-54

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A Balkan Balance Sheet

David Binder

In 1995, at the insistence of President Bill Clinton, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization displaced the United Nations as the supreme international arbiter and protagonist in the ruin of Yugoslavia. There, ethnic cleansings, the crime of choice of the 1990s, had already swept millions of Croats, Serbs, and Muslims out of their homes.

Now, two wars later, the United States is participating in the international equivalent of annual charity drives: a "donors conference" for Kosovo recovery, held in Brussels on 28 July 1999, where the Clinton administration committed $500 million of the total $2 billion in pledges, and a Balkans Stability Pact summit in Sarajevo on 30 July featuring the president. In the words of Clinton's national security adviser, Samuel Berger, the latter meeting was to promote "democracy, prosperity and security across the region," 1 with the Europeans footing most of the costs.

Since 1995, American-led NATO forces have partially fostered and literally watched over, with manned and unmanned reconnaissance craft, three ethnic cleansings:

1. the swift expulsion by Croatia in August 1995 of some 200,000 Serbs from their homes and fields in the region called the Krajina (American officers and aircraft aided Croatian forces in this effort);

2. the expulsion from late March to June 1999 of some 850,000 Albanians from Kosovo, almost all after NATO bombing of Serbia began (the State Department itself acknowledged in May that in late March [End Page 49] 1999 Serbian forces dramatically increased actions against Kosovo Albanians--in contrast to vehement protestations by Clinton and his aides that massive ethnic cleansing commenced before the bombing); and

3. the flight since the withdrawal of Serbian forces in June of some 172,000--mainly Serbs but also Gypsies and ethnic Turks--from Kosovo, leaving a scant and scared 25,000 of their kin still there.

Planning for the NATO operations started in summer 1998, according to General Wesley Clark, the effort's supreme commander, with the refining of aerial target lists continuing through the autumn and winter and well into the bombing campaign itself, which started on 24 March 1999. (General Clark and his air operations chief, Air Force Lieutenant General Michael Short, had the opportunity to eyeball some potential targets on the ground in and around Belgrade when they visited there for a brief encounter on 20 October 1998 with President Slobodan Milo sevic for the sole purpose of threatening him. Seven days earlier, Clark had received authority to deploy four hundred NATO aircraft.)

The military planning was conducted under the leadership of the Americans, but along the way there was considerable input, political and military, from other alliance members, eliminating this or that target or pushing it far down the priority list for "humanitarian" or other reasons. Thus, one target high on the list but never struck was the monument to the Serbian warriors defeated in 1389 by the Turks at Gazimestan on the Field of Blackbirds, near Pristina.

By February, the alliance members had agreed to the essential strategy--bombing but no ground attack--and to the rationale that NATO needed to do something significant in order to survive and continue to be funded. Otherwise, to borrow from Luigi Pirandello, it would become the military version of Six Characters in Search of an Author.

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright appears to have played a key role in persuading President Clinton to approve air raids. She was quoted as saying to a few sycophants at the end of the failed Rambouillet talks that she and the others had "deliberately set the bar too high for the Serbs" (in the form of an ultimatum that all of Serbia would be occupied by NATO) [End Page 50] because "they need a few bombs." 2 Beyond agreeing to the air strikes, at high altitude so as to avoid allied casualties--with 80 percent performed by the Americans--the other common denominator agreed to was to avoid deploying ground forces.

Although little has been revealed about the deliberate selection of civilian targets in Serbia, including...


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