Mapping the Road to a Kosovo Settlement

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The Kosovo campaign has always been about negotiating with missiles rather than fighting to the finish. NATO isn't trying to capture Kosovo from the Serbs in battle -- that would demand a massive commitment of ground troops, risking high casualties and potentially forcing Russia to intervene. Instead, the alliance's bombs are intended to persuade President Milosevic to end his persecution of the Kosovar Albanians and accept NATO's terms for settling the Kosovo dispute.

So far, it's been a tough sell. Three weeks of bombing have not convinced Milosevic that he has more to lose by toughing out NATO's air campaign than by accepting its terms. And with the Western alliance coming under increasing pressure to find a political solution, NATO is refining its negotiating terms.

Wars inevitably end at the negotiating table, but what transpires there generally reflects the balance of force between the combatants. That which is not wrested from an adversary on the battlefield generally can't be coaxed out over a shiny table, and the amount that NATO or Milosevic concedes will be determined by which side has more stomach to continue the fight. In the absence of a decisive military outcome, compromises are inevitable. The only stable deal is one that each side can sell to its supporters as a victory.

Offers and Counteroffers

The bombings became inevitable when Milosevic refused to accept the Rambouillet Agreement's provision for NATO peacekeeping troops in Kosovo. Although the alliance remains committed to the Rambouillet principles, the agreement itself, as Madeleine Albright put it, "has been overtaken by events." Neither the Serbs nor the Kosovar Albanians are now likely to accept an autonomous Kosovo within Serbia under the protection of NATO peacekeepers.

Milosevic's initial "peace offer" came in the form of a "unilateral cease-fire" in Kosovo. On April 6 Belgrade announced a six-day halt in military and police action in Kosovo "against the terrorist organization" (the Kosovo Liberation Army). Milosevic claimed to be ready to work with moderate ethnic Albanian leader Ibrahim Rugova -- once NATO's preferred negotiating partner -- toward a settlement allowing for the return of refugees with the assistance of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees and the Red Cross. A temporary self-government agreement for each of Kosovo's communities would form the basis for a long-term settlement creating "a broad autonomy of Kosovo... within Serbia and Yugoslavia."

NATO dismissed the Serb offer as a nonstarter and kept on bombing. But the alliance also reiterated its own terms for a settlement:
An end to the Serb offensive in Kosovo
A withdrawal of Serb military, paramilitary and police units from the region
The safe return of the refugees
The presence of an international protection force to guarantee their security
Autonomy for Kosovo within Serbia, along the lines envisaged at Rambouillet

But even NATO's rejection of the Serb offer contained a concession -- the idea that the army protecting returning refugees would be an "international" rather than a NATO force. This allowed for Russian involvement, and opened up the issue of the composition of the Kosovo peacekeeping force -- which was not on the table at Rambouillet -- for negotiation.

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