The American Legion Magazine
July 2007
Alan W. Dowd 

Before the Kosovo war, Lt. General Michael Short traveled to Belgrade to underscore how serious Washington was about protecting the predominantly Albanian enclave of southern Serbia. Short’s words were prophetic: “Nothing here will ever be the same, if we do this.”[1] 

But after years of empty threats, Serbia’s Slobodan Milosevic thought Washington was bluffing. He was wrong.  

What followed was a 78-day bombardment of Serbia, the establishment of a NATO protectorate on Serbian soil and the collapse of Milosevic’s regime. Today, the European Union and Washington are ready to grant Kosovo “supervised independence.” 

Some see this as a cause for hope, others as a cause for alarm. Indeed, Kosovo is like a Rorschach inkblot. Perspective is everything. 

Consider the presence of Islamic terrorists in the region, often cited as reason to oppose Kosovo’s independence. David Hicks, an Australian al-Qaeda caught in Afghanistan, once fought alongside the notorious Kosovo Liberation Army. Serbian police have raided terrorist camps near Kosovo.  

Yet this is a Balkan-wide, indeed worldwide, problem. And Kosovo’s government is working with Belgrade to overcome it. In April, at Serbia’s request, Kosovo issued arrest warrants and set up checkpoints to apprehend suspected terrorists.[2] 

NATO has seized terrorist bases in nearby Bosnia. Terror cells have been uncovered in Britain, Germany, Canada and the U.S. Recall the plot by ethnic Albanians and American citizens to attack Ft. Dix—or 9/11.

The independence plan will enhance the West’s ability to smother terrorist activity in Kosovo:

-Kosovo will have an EU administrator, with the power to overrule Kosovo’s government; 2,000 EU police and judicial experts; observers from the OSCE; and 16,500 NATO peacekeepers. The EU has invested the equivalent of almost $3 billion in Kosovo. The U.S. is investing $430 million this year and next. This dense thatch of organizations and aid will protect Kosovo’s minorities, promote the rule of law and check the sort of irredentism and terrorism that tore Yugoslavia apart.

-The plan ensures recognition of the Serbian Orthodox Church and “extensive municipal autonomy” for Kosovo’s 100,000 Serbs.

-Further underscoring the West’s evenhandedness, NATO redeployed troops inside Kosovo to ensure that Serbs were protected during elections in January. Washington has lifted its ban on foreign aid to Serbia. NATO has invited Serbia to join the Partnership for Peace, a proving ground for NATO aspirants. And Serbia is a candidate for EU membership.

Finally, most experts conclude that Kosovo’s reintegration into Serbia is impossible. There are many reasons, not the least of which is what transpired during Milosevic’s reign, which saw him repeal Kosovo’s autonomy, brutalize Kosovo’s Albanians, and foment a decade of wars that claimed some 200,000 of his countrymen. 

An estimated 10,000 Kosovars were killed, and 800,000 forcibly displaced, during Milosevic’s final flurry of war crimes. But don’t take my word for it.  

War-crimes courts set up by Serbia conclude that Milosevic tried to conceal his atrocities by transporting hundreds of corpses out of Kosovo and reburying them further north.[3]  Serbian authorities have unearthed mass graves in central Serbia, and are handing down guilty verdicts for Milosevic’s massacres. Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, a proud Serbian nationalist, concedes that Milosevic was guilty of war crimes. “I am,” he contritely declared in 2000, “taking responsibility for what happened on my part for what Milosevic had done,” adding that Milosevic was “among those responsible” for crimes against humanity.[4] 

In a world as messy as ours, Washington seldom has the luxury of choosing the best option. The challenge is to choose the least bad option. Supervised independence for Kosovo is just that.

[1] Quoted in Halberstam, War in a Time of Peace.

[2] See Nicholas Wood, “Serbs raid radical Islamist camp,” International herald Tribune, April 4, 2007.

[3] Susan Stojanovic, “Details of Kosovo war crimes emerge,” AP, March 22, 2007.

[4] Joyce Naegele, “Yugoslavia: Kostunica accepts guilt,” Radio Free Europe, October 2000.