Vol 0, No 38
14 June 1999
B A L K A N   E N C O U N T E R:
NATO's Next War
Dr Sam Vaknin
The real, protracted war is about to begin: NATO and the international peacekeeping force against an unholy - and, until recently, improbable - alliance. Milosevic (or post-Milosevic Serbia) and the KLA against the occupying forces. It is going to be ferocious. It is going to be bloody. And it is going to be a Somali nightmare.
Why should the KLA and Serbia collaborate against NATO (I use NATO here as shorthand for "The International Peacekeeping Force - KFOR")?
Serbia, because it wants to regain its lost sovereignty over at least the northern part of Kosovo. Because it virulently hates, wholeheartedly detests, voluptuously despises NATO, the "Nazi aggressor" of yestermonth. Serbia has no natural allies left, not even Russia which prostituted its geopolitical favours for substantial IMF funding. Its only remaining natural ally is the KLA.
The KLA stands to lose everything as a result of the latest bout of peacemaking. It is supposed to be "decommissioned" - IRA-style, disarmed ("demilitarized" in the diplomatic argot) and effectively disbanded. The KLA's political clout rested on its ever-growing arsenal and body of volunteers. Yet volunteers have a strange habit of going back whence they came once a conflict is over. And the weapons are to be surrendered. Devoid of these two pillars of political might - KLA political leader Hashim Thaci may find himself unemployed, a former self-declared Prime Minister of a shadow government in Albanian exile. Rugova has the coffers, filled to the brim with tens of millions of US dollars and German marks raised from the Albanian diaspora world-wide. Money talks, KLA walks.
Having tasted power, having met Albright on a regular basis, having conversed with Tony Blair and Robertson and even Clinton via expensive high tech gadgets - Thaci is not likely to compromise on a second rate appointment in a Rugova-led administration.
And the bad news is that he doesn't have to. Bolstered by a short-sighted and panicky NATO, the KLA post-bellum is not what it used to be ante-bellum. It is well equipped. It is well-financed. Its ranks have swelled. It has been transformed from an agglomeration of desperadoes to a military guerrilla force to be reckoned with. Even the Serbs found that out at a dear price.
With the Serb pullout from Kosovo, Serbia is no longer the KLA'a enemy of choice. The KLA has seen the enemy, and it is NATO. The pro-Rugova demonstrations in the camps (despite Rugova's Quisling show with Milosevic and his refusal to explain his motives and to adopt a stern position against the Serbs) sounded loud and clear. Thaci picked up the signal.
No Kosovar autonomy can do without Serbia. Kosovo is connected to Serbia by way of infrastructure. All its trade is with Yugoslavia. It is absolutely dependent on Serbia for its energy needs. Rugova knows this. Thaci knows this. And Milosevic knows this. Only NATO pretends that Kosova can survive as an independent, economically-viable entity. It cannot. It is a part of Serbia, and it will continue to be so. Rugova and Thaci will be positioning themselves accordingly and will seek the favours of the only regional force that really matters: Serbia. Rumour has it that discussions have already commenced in Prague between low-level Yugoslav officials and representatives of both Rugova and Thaci.
In conducting these discussions, Milosevic's aim is two-fold. Divide et impera - he intends to do his best to inflame the nascent internecine civil war about to erupt in Kosovo. By offering goodies to both camps, Serbia pits them against one another. By being inconsistent and unpredictable (remember Serbia's refugees policy?), the Serbs enhance a Kosovar personality disorder. Dazed by the arbitrariness and capriciousness of a vicious neighbour, the Kosovars will lash at each other in an effort to offload their frustration and aggression.
Lucky Serbia. Its infrastructure all but eradicated, it will enjoy the best and latest replacements courtesy a multitude of international financial institutions and NGOs. Materially revamped, nationally revived, militarily vindicated, an invigorated power that withstood the mightiest alliance in history, Serbia is in an excellent position to emerge as an important, nay, indispensable regional player. It can have its choice.
In Rugova it will find a genteel, compliant, respectable and submissive partner. In Thaci, a fellow bully. Serbia can conduct business with both.
As it tramples over internal dissent, suppresses Montenegro and tightens its grip on its minorities, Serbia will strive to split Kosovo. It will be content with the mineral-rich, historic North. Thaci will be content with any kind of foothold, a stepping stone on the way to a Greater Albania. There are grounds for doing business, and business will be done, indeed.
Poor Kosova. Lucky Serbia. With such opponents, one need not have friends. And, in the background, NATO stumbles on into its worst nightmare, into an apocalyptic tapestry of exploding mines, KLA sniper fire and mortar attacks, Serb revanchism, material devastation, mass starvation and geopolitical destabilisation. It is this war - gradual, nerve-racking, protracted, expensive, replete with body bags and horror scenes - that will do NATO in.
It is the end of NATO, only it does not know it. It has contracted the humanitarian cancer, and its days are numbered.
Milosevic is smiling. He has won the war. Completely. And the world has yet to learn it.
It is ever so easy and rational to disregard the above scenario. It is abrupt, illogical, paradoxical. The Serbs and Milosevic are surely the KLA's worst enemies. No peace - even one mediated by a confluence of interests - can blossom among the ruins of coexistence and shredded trust. A KLA supported by the Serbs against NATO is as outlandish as an Iraq supported by the USA against Israel.
But the Balkans are a region characterised by fluid alliances and structures. Rebecca West, in her masterpiece, Black Lamb and Grey Falcon tells of an alliance no less unholy and no more improbable than a KLA-Milosevic one (pages 840-1 in the 1994 Penguin edition):
"It happened that the Slavs who had become Janizaries, especially the Bosnian Serbs, who had been taken from their Christian mothers and trained to forswear Christ and live in the obedience and enforcement of the oppressive yet sluttish Ottoman law, had learned their lesson too well. When the Turks themselves became alarmed by the working of that law and attempted to reform it, the Janizaries rose against the reformation. But because they remembered they were Slavs in spite of all the efforts that had been made to force them to forget it, they felt that in resisting the Turks, even in defence of Turkish law, they were resisting those who had imposed that Turkish law on them in place of their Christian system. So when the rebellious Janizaries defeated the loyal Army of the Sultan in the fourth battle of Kosovo in 1831, and left countless Turkish dead on the field, they held that they had avenged the shame laid on the Christian Slavs in the first battle of Kosovo, although they themselves were Moslems. But their Christian fellow-Slavs gave them no support, for they regarded them simply as co-religionists of the Turkish oppressors and therefore as enemies. So the revolt of the Janizaries failed; and to add the last touch of confusion, they were finally defeated by a Turkish marshal who was neither Turk nor Moslem-born Slav, but a renegade Roman Catholic from Dalmatia. Here was illustrated what is often obscured by historians, that a people can be compelled by misfortune into an existence so confused that it is not life but sheer nonsense, the malignant nonsense of cancerous growth."
This is reminiscent of the Gorani Moslems in 1999 Kosovo who collaborated with the Serbs against their co-religionists, the Albanians. They persecuted the Albanian population - looted, burned houses and worse - more tenaciously and more ferociously than any Serb.
In hindsight, Milosevic would have done well to co-opt the KLA. By pitting it against Rugova and provoking Rugova's camp against a strengthened KLA - Milosevic could have incited a full-fledged civil war among the Albanians. The West would have then begged him to intervene in his by now traditional role of peacemaker.
But history took a different turn. The returning Albanians will not forgive or forget. Retaliation has many faces, some less bloodied than others. But retaliation will come. And while Milosevic may have won this battle - he may, indeed, have lost the war. Only history will tell.
Dr Sam Vaknin, 14 June 1999
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