March 11, 1999
MEMORANDUM TO: OPINION LEADERS
FROM: GARY SCHMITT
on Kosovo: Dead Wrong
On February 22, 1999, Henry Kissinger published a column in the Washington Post that argued against deployment of U.S. troops to Kosovo. In the article, Kissinger asserts that America has no important strategic interest at stake; that the Balkan peoples are incapable of political moderation and, hence, self-rule; and that Kosovo's status as a part of a sovereign state precludes military intervention.
Kissingers piece has provided intellectual cover to a significant number of conservatives opposed to sending troops to Kosovo. In some respects, their opposition should come as no surprise. The Clinton Administration has failed to explain adequately what the U.S. interests are in intervening in the Balkans or shown that it is serious about what needs to be done to protect those very interests. Yet there is a danger here that the pleasant sensation conservatives get from opposing whatever President Clinton proposes will, in turn, nourish a growing taste for reducing America's leadership role around the world that is both strategically and politically destructive.
But what about Kissinger's arguments against involvement? Are the Balkans as irredeemably incapable of "Western concepts of toleration" as he states? The record shows that he is wrong in Kosovo as well as elsewhere in the region.
Slobodan Milosevic used the issue of control over Kosovo's 90 percent ethnic Albanian majority as a plank in the platform that brought him to power ten years ago. Milosevic subsequently deprived the province of the autonomy that it had enjoyed since 1974. The Kosovars responded with restraint. When Albanians were banned from teaching at the University of Pristina or when they were driven from all public-sector jobs, they peacefully established their own institutions -- for learning, medical care, publishing, and collecting taxes.
Their leader at the time was Ibrahim Rugova, who holds a doctorate in literature from the Sorbonne and who has looked to Ghandi and Martin Luther King, Jr. as guiding examples for reversing Serb oppression.
But Albanian restraint
has not been met with corresponding restraint on the part of Belgrade.
Serb violations of the Kosovar Albanians basic legal and human rights
has only increased, culminating in the murderous campaign of the past
year. In light of this record, it is no surprise that Albanian support
for the Kosovo Liberation Army has grown. But what support that exists
today for the KLA among the population is clearly and immediately the
consequence of Milosevics brutal rule and the absence of any alternative
means to protect their families and homes, and not the product (as Kissinger
implies) of some age-old conflict.
The Kosovars' own restraint in the face of Serb repression as well as other current and ongoing efforts of elected governments in Montenegro and Macedonia show that the claim that people in the region are unsuited by culture and temperament to democracy is wrong. There is a reasonable chance that political compromise, toleration, and respect for minority rights can take root in southern Europe just as they were able to in northern Europe. But the prospects for democratic governance are immeasurably diminished by the continued rule of the man who is the single greatest threat to moderate politics in the region, Slobodan Milosevic.
The United States' strategic objective in southern Europe should be to equal its accomplishment of the 20th century: ending the great power competition that plagued northern Europe for the past six hundred years. In southern Europe, success means preventing ethnic rivalries from enmeshing other European and Eurasian powers as it did in World War I and can still do. In achieving this, Americas great interest is to protect the peace that we and our allies in two hot wars and one cold one have fought for in the north. This task requires a cooling of the region's ethnic tensions that it has been Milosevic's consistent policy to fan into hatred and bloodshed. Thus, the U.S. has a very substantial interest in preventing Milosevic from brutalizing Kosovo, an act that will be followed by aggression against the non-Serb population of Montenegro, thus consolidating his position as the most powerful enemy of democracy on the European continent.
Finally, Kissinger's point -- one often repeated in Congress -- that Kosovo's status as a Serbian province nullifies the just use of force is a legalistic excuse for inaction. Indeed, it is hard to understand how a man born in a suburb of Nuremberg, where captured Nazi bosses were tried for crimes against humanity, could argue that sovereignty is an acceptable reason for not militarily intervening to prevent the Serbs from committing new atrocities.
If these dubious arguments win over Republicans today, they are likely to erode further the party's support for using the world's most powerful military for anything save an invasion of the American mainland. By allowing the current administration's foreign policy objectives to serve as the guide to what they don't want, Republicans will allow Bill Clinton to wrench the GOP away from the success of its previous half century: the principled and effective advocacy of an active foreign policy that protected the U.S. and its allies as it promoted democracy around the world.
Before becoming president,
Ronald Reagan fought Henry Kissingers cramped vision of American
power in the world and his depreciation of the role of principle in American
foreign policy. Conservatives ought not let Kissinger define the limits
of American leadership now.