Essays on American politics and foreign policy

By Donald E. Nuechterlein

Donald Nuechterlein is a political scientist and writer who resides near Charlottesville, Virginia. He is the author of numerous books on American politics and foreign policy, including

  • Defiant Superpower: The New American Hegemony, 2005
  • America Recommitted: A Superpower Assesses its Role in a Turbulent World, 2000
  • A Cold War Odyssey, 1997


Donald Nuechterlein



After the euphoria wore off in Washington following the change of leadership in Yugoslavia, policy makers are faced with three vexing problems for the future:

* Will Slobodan Milosevic, an indicted war criminal, continue to be a political factor?

* How will the legal status of Kosovo, still part of Yugoslavia, be resolved?

* What can Washington do about strong anti-Americanism sentiment in Serbia?

Yugoslavia's new president, Vojislav Kostunica, said before taking office that Milosevic would not be turned over to the international war crimes tribunal in the Hague, but might instead be tried in a Yugoslav court. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright disagrees: she wants him out of the country and tried by an international court.

Milosevic says he plans to stay involved in Serb and Yugoslav politics after taking a period of time for "rest." He and his wife control two of Serbia's largest political parties, one of them the former Communist Party, now called "socialist." President Clinton says Milosevic should have no political role in a democratic Yugoslavia, but President Kostunica has made no comment.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov reportedly brokered a deal between Milosevic and Kostunica that permitted the former strongman to remain in Yugoslavia instead of being granted asylum in a third country. Does this deal also extend to letting Milosevic continue as leader of a political party?

On Kosovo, what will NATO and the United Nations do about clarifying the legal status of of this region, NATO-occupied territory, now that now that economic sanctions on Belgrade are being lifted? Kosovo Albanians, comprising ninety percent of the population, want independence. Kostunica, however, has no intention of relinquishing part of his country.

Following NATO's 78-day bombing of Serbia last year, a cease-fire agreement reached between Milosevic and the United Nations called for the withdrawal of all Yugoslav forces. But it stipulated that Kosovo remained part of Serbia. Ethnic Albanians refuse to accept this. Although their fighters turned over their arms to NATO peace-enforcers, they made clear they intend to pursue complete separation from Serbia and will fight to achieve it.

Now that Milosevic has been ousted in Belgrade, Kosovar Albanians will find it difficult to persuade NATO and the U.N. that they have a right to self-determination. If their fighters who hid many weapons, attempt to seize control over Kosovo by force, a new war may result.

The possibility of renewed fighting, this time between NATO forces and Kosovar separatists, means that NATO and the U.N. urgently need to reaffirm Yugoslavia's sovereignty over Kosovo and negotiate a deal with Kostunica to give it a large degree of autonomy.

Many in Congress think the NATO allies should now take over peace-enforcing responsibilities Kosovo, thereby releasing U.S. troops for deployment elsewhere. There will be new requirements for American peace enforcers in South America (Colombia) and perhaps the Near East (Jerusalem).

In sum, many thoughtful Americans simply don't think Kosovo is a vital national interest of the United States, even though it certainly is for our European allies.

A third dilemma, how to deal with widespread anti-Americanism in Yugoslavia, is potentially the most difficult issue for U.S. policy makers. Our bombing of Yugoslavia last year, particularly the destruction of public utilities and bridges around Belgrade, is blamed on the United States whose airmen flew nearly eighty percent of the missions.

As a result of the 1999 bombing, commerce on the Danube River at Yugoslavia has been closed for eighteen months. Serbia's economic infrastructure is in shambles and the country is bankrupt. Today Serbs think that because they ousted Milosevic, the U.S. and the E.U. should start a large economic aid program to rebuild their country, a new Marshall Plan.

But when it becomes clear to them that only modest aid will be forthcoming from the E.U. and even less from the United States, anti-American sentiment will grow.

The larger question for the new U.S. president taking office in January is whether this is the right time for the United States to disengage militarily from Kosovo while continuing to provide logistic and intelligence support to the other NATO members with troops there: Germany, Britain, France, the Netherlands, and Italy.

Negotiations with Kostunica's government will eventually be held to grant Kosovo a large degree of self-rule without giving it independence. Washington should let the European countries take the lead in this effort, as Yugoslavia is a problem area that vitally affects their security. And accepting a lower profile may in time also defuse the antipathy that many Serbs have for America.

The NATO allies have reason to be pleased that their patience in enforcing economic and political sanctions against Milosevic's regime finally paid off in his ouster from power. Without this pressure, it is doubtful that Serb opposition groups would have been emboldened to go massively into the streets of Belgrade and accomplish what their counterparts in Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary did a decade ago: end a half century of communism.

This is another victory for democracy in Europe.

File last modified on Tuesday, 17-AUG-2004 09:30 PM EST

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