Christopher A. Roach
America's hasty recognition of an independent Kosovo has upset powerful interests, most notably Russia. Serbia, though far from Moscow, has long been Russia's "Israel": an embattled sister nation on the frontier of the Islamic world.
The Iraq war eclipsed Kosovo in the public's consciousness. The United States fought a 78-day air war over Serbia in 1999 and maintains 7,000 troops today as part of a U.N. occupation force. Though American casualties have been mercifully low, the rationale for the campaign has proven even less durable over time than the alleged weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Specifically, claims of Serbian genocide in Kosovo have been proven false, and Kosovo's declaration of independence directly violates the peace agreement that ended hostilities.
The Kosovo war began unusually. The United Nations did not authorize American intervention in support of the Kosovo Liberation Army, a group that until 1998 the United States considered a terrorist organization. Yet the Kosovo Liberation Army's public-relations campaign proved decisive. For months, CNN displayed heart-breaking pictures of Albanian refugees. Rumors abounded of "genocide" and "mass graves." Shamed by its cautious response to earlier events in the former Yugoslavia, the West would "get it right" this time. After failing to secure U.N. support, President Bill Clinton went shopping for diplomatic cover and found it among America's NATO allies.
As in Iraq, faulty intelligence played a key role, complete with satellite photos of "mass graves." When the war ended, the FBI went home empty-handed after an extensive search for evidence of genocide. In fact, the death toll from NATO bombings -- estimated at more than 6,000 -- exceeded 2,108 confirmed killed in the fighting, a total that includes Serbian combatants. This was a far cry from the 100,000 dead Albanians Clinton warned of in the run-up to war.
NATO and the Kosovo Liberation Army ended the war against Serbia through a negotiated peace. The parties agreed to U.N. Security Council Resolution 1244, which mandated that the remains of the Yugoslavian nation -- by then reduced to Serbia and Montenegro -- be preserved intact.
Though the genocide did not exist, and the Kosovo Liberation Army leadership has since flouted its treaty obligations, American leaders are applauding. After embracing the broader principles of democracy and self-determination that led to the Kosovo war, how could the U.S. now condemn the Kosovar declaration of independence?
No one believes that the Kosovar Albanians will act as tolerant stewards of a multicultural society. Since 1999, Kosovar extremists have destroyed Christian churches and monasteries and expelled thousands of Serbs in a campaign that one NATO commander described as "ethnic cleansing."
History has not been kind to the Serbs. After World War II, the communist regime murdered Serbians en masse who fought against the Nazi invaders. In the 1990s, though all sides committed atrocities in the Balkans, Americans and Europeans singled out the Bosnian Serbs for condemnation. The hypocrisy reached its peak in 1995 when the West remained silent as well-armed Croatian forces expelled 200,000 Serbs from Bosnia's Krajina region. Today in Kosovo, the holy land of the Serbs, the West has explicitly approved the nationalist aims of the Albanians by recognizing an independent Kosovo.
This is a bigger issue than Serbia. Once again, the United States has needlessly provoked Russia. In recent years, we've meddled in its Ukrainian neighbor's elections and pushed NATO'S boundaries farther eastward. In 1999, a weak Russia could do little to support its Serbian ally. But today Vladimir Putin's Russia is strong, and its patience with the West has worn thin.
We may soon find that we have insulted Russia one time too many.