NATO Faces Tough Choices in Kosovo

  • Share
  • Read Later
Reinforcements won't solve NATO's problem in the northern Kosovo city of Mitrovica, because that problem is political rather than logistical. France announced Thursday that it would provide an additional 700 troops following an appeal by NATO commanders for a further 2,000 men to deal with the upsurge of violence in the divided city, while the U.S. was reportedly considering increasing its troop presence. But, says TIME Belgrade reporter Dejan Anastasijevic, "the problem isn't a shortage of troops; it's about the mission of those troops — NATO is at a crossroads where it's forced to take a policy on the future of Kosovo, and to answer the question of whether it's prepared to put its own men at risk in confrontations with armed militants in both the Serb and Albanian communities."

U.S. officials have blamed Serbia's President Slobodan Milosevic for the upsurge in violence around the town, but while Belgrade has certainly armed and organized the remaining Serbs in northern Kosovo, the recent outbreak of violence began with a rocket attack on a bus carrying Serb civilians that most observers saw as a continuation of efforts by elements of the supposedly disbanded Kosovo Liberation Army to drive out the territory's remaining Serbs. "Laying all the blame on Milosevic is too easy," says Anastasijevic. "He's certainly involved in arming and organizing the Serbs, but saying Milosevic is the source of the problem may be a way of diverting attention from NATO's own failure to ensure security in the province because it's avoided confrontation." Providing security for all of Kosovo's communities to live side by side would require an evenhanded get-tough policy that would substantially raise the risk to the peacekeeping troops (and therefore to the politicians who have deployed them). Failing that, NATO's only other options are to step aside and allow armed Albanian nationalists to drive out the remaining Serbs — an exercise that would involve considerable bloodshed, given Belgrade's assistance to the northern Kosovo Serbs — or else to accept as permanent the politically unpalatable partition currently on view on Mitrovica. "It's time for NATO to decide what it wants," says Anastasijevic. "Unless it changes its policy, the outcome will be the division of Kosovo."