Now What Do We Do?

David Tucker

May 1, 1999

The Balkans apparently are a strange place, a breeding ground of paradox. An example: we have destroyed Kosovo in order to save it. Now that we have, what comes next? As talk of some sort of negotiated solution continues in Belgrade and in NATO capitals, it would be good to start thinking about this question.

Unfortunately, what comes next may be as ugly as what we have just seen. The war to save Kosovo appears to have destroyed any Kosovar political alternative to the so-called Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA). In a war, the people with the guns usually come out on top. This is especially likely to happen when the strongest military power in the world, NATO, is in effect acting as your air force. Supported by NATO’s military might, and contributions from the Albanian diaspora in Europe, the KLA is preparing to rule the new Kosovo and will probably end up doing so. The problem here is that the KLA is not democratic, reportedly engages in drug trafficking and wants a greater Albania.

Building a greater Albania threatens to create more ethnic conflict in the Balkans. A Greater Albania would take a chunk of Macedonia (whose population is at least 25% ethnic Albanian). This of course would not please the rest of the Macedonians. Neither would it please Greece (which also has an ethnic Albanian population near its border with Macedonia), Bulgaria or whatever is left of Serbia, all of which have claims on or interests in Macedonia. These ill-feelings toward a greater Albania are intensified by the religious differences between the Muslim Albanians and the Orthodox Macedonians, Serbs, Greeks and Bulgarians. Our current policy, therefore, appears to be increasing the chances that ethnic conflict will spread in the Balkans. This is exactly the opposite of what it should do, particularly because it involves a NATO ally, Greece.

What can we do about this?

We can try the usual remedies in a situation like this. First, we should insist, as we did in the Kosovo agreement that Serbia refused to sign, thus starting the war, that the KLA hand in its guns as a precondition for any aid to Kosovo or for stationing any NATO troops there to reassure any Kosovars who return. Kosovo will need a lot of economic help and the Kosovars may need protection, too, so we should have some leverage over the KLA.

Previous efforts like this at disarmament have not succeeded, however, and probably will not here. The KLA will turn in its worst weapons, hiding the best so they can use them when the need arises, and will find ample opportunity to buy new ones. Besides, the KLA may prefer its weapons to our aid and protection, especially if the weapons help build Greater Albania.

We should insist on fair elections. If the KLA is truly popular, however, as it may be for standing up to the Serbs, we will not be able to keep it from political power. And if it is not truly popular, we may not be able to prevent it from stealing an election. It will not need a lot of weapons to intimidate voters and there will probably be no other organization in a new Kosovo able to compete with the KLA in legitimate or illegitimate political activity.

We might also try some of the usual tougher tactics. We should try to infiltrate the KLA to find out what it is doing and to prepare to disrupt its activities if that becomes necessary. We should also try working with non-KLA Kosovar leaders and in the refugee camps to encourage an alternative to the KLA.

The tougher tactics are unlikely to work for several reasons. Infiltrating an organization like the KLA is always difficult. Even if we succeed and disrupt some of its activities, the KLA will likely come out on top because the non-KLA Kosovar leadership has been discredited by the war with Serbia. They are sitting in cafes in Macedonia or Albania while the KLA at least tries to resist the Serbs. In such unfavorable circumstances, building an alternative to the KLA will be no more effective than the effort to build an opposition to Saddam Hussein.

So, what can we do to prevent efforts to establish a Greater Albania, which will increase ethnic conflict in the Balkans? It may well be the major purpose of the troops (4000 or more of them Americans) that go into Kosovo will not be to protect the Kosovars but to keep down the KLA and Greater Albania.

But if we do not want the troops there indefinitely, we should consider another possibility. After the break up of Yugoslavia, the barrier to a Greater Albania was a functioning Serbia. It controlled its province of Kosovo, fought the KLA and supported Macedonia. The best barrier to a Greater Albania is still a functioning Serbia. Therefore, after having destroyed Kosovo to save it, we should consider saving Serbia to prevent a Greater Albania. Saving Serbia would be a reversal of our current policy. But remember, the Balkans is a breeding ground of paradox.

David Tucker is an adjunct fellow at the Ashbrook Center for Public Affairs at Ashland University and an Associate Professor at the United States Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California.