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NATO Game-Plan: Destabilize Yugoslavia
by George Szamuely (9-27-2000)

[Emperor's Clothes]

It is entirely appropriate that US policymakers, their British parrots, and assorted NATO toadies are already debating the future course of Yugoslavia. Having first denounced last Sunday’s elections as totally meaningless since they would inevitably be "stolen" by President Slobodan Milosevic, they then turned around and decided, before any results had been announced, that Vojislav Kostunica had won outright on the first ballot. So much then for Milosevic’s chicanery. NATO’s high-fives at the election results are reminiscent of the inane rejoicing that followed the end of the Kosovo bombing last year. It had taken 11 weeks to defeat a tiny power like Yugoslavia. And even then NATO had to make important concessions.

Yet the Brits and the Americans celebrated, as if it were VE-Day all over again. The election results show a far from convincing win in the first round of voting for Kostunica, as well as a victory for the Government coalition in the Yugoslav parliament. NATO claims vindication. But if it has indeed "won"—and this is by no means clear—then it is only after a massive and unprecedented effort at intimidation. The Serbs were first bribed to vote the "right" way—thus the proverbial "carrot". And if that failed to do the trick, there was the threat of military action—the "stick".

It is hard to take any elections seriously under such circumstances. How can you cast a vote for the candidate of your choice if there is a chance of cruise missiles blowing up your home if you vote the "wrong" way? The best NATO can boast is that it avoided total humiliation. Incidentally, it is meaningless to talk of NATO any longer—today it is nothing more than an echo chamber for yapping Pentagon and State Department officials, and their fierce little pups in London. Here is the glorious record of NATO heroism: $75 million from Washington to bankroll the Yugoslav opposition. Millions more to aid municipalities deemed not under Milosevic’s control. Millions to line Montenegrin President Milo Djuakonovic’s pockets. US and EU promises to lift sanctions if Milosevic is voted out. Then there are the threats: Any result other than a defeat for Milosevic will be considered by Washington to be the product of fraud. The US reserves the right to intervene to prevent such a calamity.

Today, the United States is demanding that Milosevic steps down, even though the Yugoslav Federal Electoral Commission is saying that Kostunica did not receive 50 percent of the vote. The US Government is accepting without question the claims of the Democratic Opposition that Kostunica won 55 percent to Milosevic’s 35 percent. Yet these figures are not based on any vote count, but on the reports of opposition poll watchers—hardly a disinterested bunch of observers. There were no American observers at the polls. The Russians were there. They claim they witnessed no election irregularities. Clearly, the orders emanating from Washington, and relayed through Budapest, is that the "opposition" take to the streets and demand Milosevic’s resignation. Such protests could well elicit a violent response. This, in turn, could be seized on by the United States as a threat to the region, justifying military intervention. Alternatively, the "opposition" may be encouraged to boycott a run-off and establish a Government in exile—perhaps in Podgorica. Such a Government would enjoy diplomatic recognition and would in due course, act as a NATO stooge urging an invasion of Yugoslavia to remove the "illegitimate" Government in Belgrade.

In the meantime, military threats are increasing. "We...need to make sure that Milosevic understands there is very substantial capacity in the region"—thus British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook Britain has 15 warships in the Mediterranean near Yugoslavia operating in two training groups. They are manned by 5,000 sailors, Royal Marines and aircrew. They include the aircraft carrier Invincible, which carries Harrier jump-jet fighters, the destroyer HMS Liverpool, helicopter assault ship HMS Ocean, the amphibious assault ship HMS Fearless and 10 more ships including minesweepers, a tanker, a store ship and Northumberland, a type-23 frigate. US and Croat forces are holding joint naval exercises 150 miles northwest of Montenegro. They include a simulated Marine landing on an island in the Adriatic Sea. On September 28, Romania and Bulgaria are planning a joint exercise at the Romanian Danube port of Turnu Magurele. The plan includes the construction of a pontoon bridge across the Danube and the evacuation of the local population.

On Monday, the US House of Representatives passed a bill authorizing $500 million in financial aid for opposition groups in Yugoslavia. $500 million is a huge amount of money in a country as small, impoverished and as burdened by economic sanctions as Yugoslavia. Funds of this magnitude cannot but corrupt the most virtuous of nations. Remember, this is a Republican-controlled House of Representatives, which normally protests foreign aid, debt relief, and handouts in general.

It is not hard to imagine what the future holds in store for Yugoslavia. Suppose the United States gets what it wants. Slobodan Milosevic steps aside and Kostunica takes over. There is a peaceful transition, and both the United States and the European Union lift sanctions as promised. In no time at all, the United States will demand the surrender of Milosevic to The Hague. Indeed, it will be an election issue, with George W. Bush baiting the Clinton Administration for being insufficiently zealous in its pursuit of Milosevic. Kostunica will probably refuse these demands. Soon the media will fall into lockstep parroting the line that as long as Milosevic is residing in Belgrade, he is the one who is really running the show. Every day journalists will be informing us that Kostunica is nothing more than Milosevic’s puppet. Congress will then vote to cut off all further funds to Yugoslavia. The EU will follow suit. At that point, US-financed demonstrations will take place in Belgrade and other major cities. The protesters will demand that Milosevic be handed over to the Tribunal. If the US gets lucky, there will be some violence. At that point, Washington will summon Kostunica and tell him that he is jeopardizing Balkan stability. If he wants to stay in power, he will have to play ball with the United States. Milosevic must be handed over. The Rambouillet Accords will be put back on the table, along with Appendix B and the referendum on Kosovo independence. And while we are at it, Vojvodina will have to be offered a "special" status.

One thing is for sure, the United States will not simply permit Yugoslavia to walk away and happily enjoy the prestige that comes from having defied the world’s greatest powers for over 10 years. Yugoslavia will be made to pay.

[Emperor's Clothes]