International Papers

Whistling in the Dark

Italy emerged as the first NATO country to threaten the solidarity of the military alliance against Serbia when Prime Minister Massimo D’Alema called for the air attacks to stop and for a return to negotiation. “Italy Slows Down, Tension in NATO” was the main headline Friday of Turin’s La Stampa, which in a front-page editorial condemned the prime minister for backtracking so quickly. Italy’s “dignity” and its “international role” demanded “more serious behavior,” it said. “Even the most frenetic waltz turns to which, unfortunately, Italian diplomacy has accustomed our allies and our adversaries in the past usually take more than one day,” La Stampa said. “In an effort to save the unity of his coalition and to prevent a government crisis, Massimo D’Alema has split with his international allies,” La Repubblica of Rome reported from Berlin, where European leaders were gathered, saying that this created “a major incident” at the summit.

D’Alema’s claim Thursday that “the first NATO operation has induced the Serbs to suspend their military offensive against the civilian population of Kosovo” was thoroughly discredited by reports from journalists on the scene of increased Serb brutality against the Albanian Kosovars. A report from Pristina in the Daily Telegraph of London gave an account of the brutal removal from their home of Kosovo’s leading human rights lawyer Bayram Kelmendi and his son Kastriot, who was told before being taken away to kiss his children for the last time because he would never see them again. On President Slobodan Milosevic’s decision to expel Western journalists and TV crews from the region, La Repubblica noted that neither Adolf Hitler nor Saddam Hussein had done that.

As Milosevic’s resistance continued, alarm grew in the Western press over the apparent lack of clear war aims and the growing fear that NATO will not succeed in restoring peace to Yugoslavia without committing ground troops. In Canada, the Toronto Globe and Mail said in a nervous editorial Thursday that, by ruling out in advance the commitment of ground troops before a negotiated peace agreement, NATO told Milosevic that its undertaking to protect Kosovo went only so far–“not exactly the kind of message to send to an adversary as you go to war.” Milosevic, by “his bestial behavior,” had courted the disaster now befalling his country, the paper said, but it added: “The world is full of beasts. It is also full of oppressed minorities struggling to be free. Which beasts do we bomb? Which minorities do we champion? When do we charge to the rescue and when do we shrug and look away? What are the rules of the game? After yesterday, nobody knows.”

In France, Libération said in an editorial Friday that the missile attacks, far from frightening “the great ethnic purifier of the Balkans,” had made him look almost in the right. The Kosovars would not be saved, the editorial added–“Milosevic will sooner or later return to the negotiating table, but that will without doubt be only to effect the partition of Kosovo.” Le Figaro also envisaged the partition of Kosovo as the undesired outcome of the war, with Albania getting the inhospitable mountains and Serbia the fertile plain, and it blamed Europe for letting Washington call the shots by failing to take responsibility for its own security. History has shown that military campaigns are only successful if their aims are defined beforehand, Le Figaro said, comparing Bill Clinton to “a little boy who whistles in the dark to reassure himself.”

In Spain, El Mundo called for a political solution, saying that if the bombing goes on for long, the alliance will become increasingly divided. In Britain, the Daily Telegraph proposed that Kosovar independence be made “a declared goal of policy–after three years, if Mr. Milosevic complies with Rambouillet, sooner if he does not”; the Independent said that the United Nations had already agreed to the objective of the war–to protect the human rights of the Albanian Kosovars–and that NATO should not balk at the prospect of a long campaign to achieve it; and the Times urged the expedition of an International Monetary Fund loan to Russia to keep the country sweet.

Despite feelings of solidarity with Kosovo’s Muslim Albanian majority, Arab newspapers were generally gloomy and apprehensive Thursday about the NATO offensive. They feared it could fatally damage the authority of the United Nations and lead to a resumption of the Cold War, while benefiting Saddam Hussein and weakening NATO by setting Greece and Turkey against each other. In the Pan-Arab daily al-Hayat, Abdelwahhab Badrakkhan wrote that the United States, by abrogating to itself the right to decide on the use of military force, had effectively “delegitimized” the United Nations. He called for a new international agreement of the kind that replaced the League of Nations with the United Nations, for it was unacceptable that the United Nations should become “merely a building where people go to complain or engage in Byzantine debates over texts that everyone knows the big powers will be the first to treat with contempt.”

In the leading Saudi daily Asharq al-Awsat, Huda al-Husseini said the bombing reflected the Clinton administration’s growing penchant for “military solutions as a substitute for considered plans to impose peace and protect people from massacres.” The writer expressed concern over the precedent it set for NATO military intervention in the internal conflicts of any state. “If tensions between Washington and Beijing grow in the future, what is there to prevent the former raising the Tibet issue and threatening intervention there?” she wrote. “And if the aim of the intervention is to protect oppressed minorities, why, people ask, doesn’t NATO intervene in Turkey, whose human rights record vis-a-vis the Kurds is as bad as it can be?”

Selectivity in approaching issues of human rights and self-determination is a long-standing American trait, al-Husseini said, adding that “its resolve in Kosovo perhaps has more to do with upholding the credibility of NATO as its 50th anniversary approaches, and to ensure that Washington’s leadership of the alliance does not appear weak.” But, she went on, “the airstrikes could not only provoke Serbian retaliation against NATO forces in Bosnia, but trigger ethnic conflict in Macedonia, which has a large ethnic Albanian majority,” and a Balkan explosion would severely weaken NATO.

The Pan-Arab al-Quds al-Arabi said that if the Americans get bogged down in the Balkan conflict, as is likely to happen, this will benefit Iraq, the other country on the receiving end of U.S. military action. It also described the bombing as a step toward initiating a new, modified Cold War and said that Kosovo could turn into a latter-day version of Afghanistan, or even Vietnam, for the United States and its allies.

The most cheerful assessment of the situation came in the main headline Thursday of the Albanian daily eRilindja Demokratikei. “NATO Brings Peace to the Balkans,” it said.