In 1999, Get Tough With Milosevic

Bob Dole was Senate majority leader and 1996 Republican presidential nominee

In a region beset by violent conflict, a dictator with blood-stained hands has been on a bully’s binge. Hoping that the two “I’s,” Iraq and impeachment, have America bogged down, Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic has been busy shutting down the fledgling free press in Serbia, purging his Cabinet and replacing it with vehement ultranationalists and blatantly violating his agreement with U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke to halt the fighting in Kosovo.

The Holbrooke-Milosevic deal was supposed to stop war from breaking out in Kosovo at least until after winter. But the continued presence of 20,000 Serb police--whose violent methods have been felt not only by the Albanian insurgency known as the KLA but also by civilians--is fueling a rapidly spreading war.

While an all-out humanitarian catastrophe has been avoided, news reports indicate that 175,000 Albanians still cannot return to their bombed and burned-out villages. By day, Serb police units reinforce under the noses of international monitors. By night, they conduct murderous operations while U.S. monitors are confined to their quarters.

What has been the U.S. response to the Serb actions? The U.S. official in charge of the Kosovo monitoring mission has blamed both sides. Yes, KLA insurgents have attacked and killed some Serb policemen, actions we cannot condone. By being “imperial,” however, the United States is ignoring the root causes of the conflict and favoring the side with the most guns, the Milosevic regime. This “impartiality” contradicts the recent and long-overdue public acknowledgment by senior State Department officials that Milosevic is the problem in Yugoslavia--a statement that must be backed up by a consistent policy.


Such a policy must recognize that the majority Albanian population in Kosovo has suffered under martial law and an apartheid-like system since 1989. Year after year, human rights abuses against Albanians have been documented by the State Department.

Thousands of Serb police continue to be the main tool that Milosevic uses to deprive the Kosovo Albanians of their fundamental rights. This pervasive police presence was only marginally reduced by the Holbrooke deal.

Halting the fighting in Kosovo is a first step, not a final objective. An agreement must address the legitimate demands of Kosovo’s 2 million Albanians for self-rule, which can be achieved without independence. Albanian leaders have indicated that they will forgo their immediate pursuit of independence if Kosovo is accorded equal status with Serbia and the other Yugoslav republic, Montenegro.

Any agreement that does not provide for equal status and self-rule on all governmental levels, not just the municipal, will only increase support for the KLA and the use of force to change the status quo. Kosovo’s parliament, suspended by Milosevic, must become a fully empowered and democratic law-abiding body. The media in Kosovo, both Albanian and Serb, must be freed from Belgrade’s intervention and oppression or democracy will not grow.

A just peace can be achieved if the United States is willing to pressure the Milosevic regime by isolating Serbia economically, by actively supporting the growth of democracy in Montenegro, by opposing the normalization of relations until Serbia democratizes and by standing ready to use force if Milosevic violates any agreement.

Despite other preoccupations, the United States can draft a policy that seeks a democratic and stable outcome in Kosovo and Serbia as a whole. Our NATO allies may balk about American dominance, but they will allow us to lead in Kosovo. And Russia, besieged by its own economic crisis, is not in a position to actively meddle in the Balkans.

Nevertheless, Milosevic is counting on the United States being unable to juggle more than one foreign policy crisis at a time. He is counting on a U.S. approach that is inconsistent and unengaged at the highest levels.

One New Year’s resolution America should make is to solve the decade-long problem of Milosevic. Serbia is the last dictatorship in Europe. If we get tough with Milosevic, Serbia could be Europe’s newest democracy by the year 2000.