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There IS an Alternative to Bombing



March 31, 1999

LONDON- It took too many years of bombing before America discovered its limitations in Vietnam. In Britain, people still today argue over the mass bombing that brought on the firestorm that destroyed the magnificent German city of Dresden. Did it break the will of the people or unite them in loathing--as it seems to be doing now in Belgrade--for the perpetuators.

There are at least four ways of looking at Yugoslavia, and each gives its own pointers to policy. The first is that of the periscope. We should have seen what was coming and acted--invaded/bombed or whatever--earlier. It would have avoided Bosnia and certainly Kosovo. Perhaps there is some truth to this. But I prefer to remember the few voices who argued, long before local war-making span out of control, that UN peacekeepers could have been on the ground cooling and separating things off before tempers and the sour spirit of revenge gained their force. This is what happened in Cyprus and, three decades on, the divided communities live in peace side by side, albeit with a manned UN line down the middle, the first attempt at post-war European ethnic cleansing stymied before too many people were killed.

The second way is the hands off: We should have let the local quarrel on the periphery of civilized Europe, that by no stretch of the imagination can be seen as part of NATO's mandate, burn itself out. We do this all the time--in Afghanistan, Cambodia, Rwanda, the Congo, Angola, Somalia, Chechnya, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and so on. We mediate around the edges, send in a flutter of human rights observers, even on occasion, for brief spells until the bullets start to fly too close, UN troops. Usually these conflicts do run themselves into the ground in time. The lesson of civil wars is that peace in the long run is best served if there is a clear cut victor. Peacekeeping, as in Angola, merely stalemates a war for a while. Even, as in Cyprus, when it manages to separate the protagonists, and produce years of peace, it doesn't seem able to settle the matter. Northern Ireland is the same. If it wasn't that European Union membership--and lots of higher education--isn't gradually making nonsense of frontiers, at least among those who think, the Good Friday peace settlement of last year would have long gone the way of all previous accords.

The third way, the worst possible of all worlds, is to go in with an aerial sledgehammer, when one's patience with watching years of continuous atrocities on the television, finally snaps.

After a week of this it is very clear that on its own this policy cannot work. Yugoslavia's fissured political landscape has never been so unified. Only an invasion that actually quells the local army and grabs the levers of power and ordains by fiat a new beginning will change the picture. And even that can be a slow, tortuous process, as the British used to warn--but now have taken to forgetting--was what they had learnt the hard way in Northern Ireland

The fourth way is the Chile model: we idly sit by and watch General Austustino Pinochet torture and slaughter those who oppose him and then, when his guard is down, we catch up with him later. This is justice by hindsight, you might say. Why didn't we go into Chile, the supposed bastion of long-lived democracy in South America? Embarrassed cough. The U.S. helped precipitate Pinochet's takeover. Nevermind, the march of western civilization means, belatedly, we have re-written our laws to catch up with him. Torture, permissible then, is now outlawed by international treaty. Present and future torturers can no longer come to London to take tea with Mrs Margaret Thatcher, shop in New York's Bloomingdales, bank in Geneva or seek medical treatment in Paris. The wonderful thing, after the British Law Lords' judgment, is that the Pinochet model can now be concertinad. We don't have to wait three decades for a mandate. We can send the long arm of the law to seek out the state torturers now; the immunity of the wicked sovereign no longer exists.

What is more, in the Balkans we have the special mandate of the UN War Crimes Tribunal. Yet although NATO peacekeeping troops in Bosnia have picked up a small number of alleged war criminals they have steered purposefully clear of the Bosnian massacre-masterminds Radovan Karadzic and General Mladic, even though arrest warrants have been issued for them. As for Croatia's Franco Tudjman and Slobodan Milosevic, the two originators of the pogroms, the Tribunal has seemed reticent to publically name them as being wanted for trial.

This is what is needed, not bombing. Indict Milosevic. If there is enough evidence to bomb him, there's certainly enough evidence to arraign him. Surely he could be snatched. Between them the western powers have a great deal of experience in this.

Of course, Yugoslav opinion would rally round in the short run. But quickly, I suspect, as in Chile with Pinochet, once it sees the emperor has no clothes, opinion would gravitate to more moderate leaders. From everything we know Milosevic is a man apart. No other person on the scene is so rich in political guile, so astute in his moves, so fully in command of the rich vocabulary of the nationalistic nether world. Out of the way, the tools of peace would become useable. But left to sit on his throne, bombed from the sky, his people at his feet, he becomes more invincible by the day.


Copyright © 1999 By JONATHAN POWER


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