The Breakfast Table

Escalation Without Conviction

Dear Mary,

I followed the Albright-Ivanov meeting with interest. It appears that little was achieved–the talks were “frank” and “differences were narrowed” but no specifics as yet. U.S. officials, according to Reuters, acknowledge that Moscow is a key to finding a way to stop the fighting in Kosovo. We also know that this is the first Russian-American meeting at foreign-minister level since the bombing started. On the face of it, that is a puzzling conjunction of facts. While I understand and entirely share America’s frustration with Russia’s reluctance to turn on Milosevic, it was surely a mistake to let the differences that have just been narrowed get so wide to begin with. Russia’s “warnings” over the weekend probably didn’t mean much–it cannot be in Russia’s interests to oppose itself to NATO right now, except rhetorically–but a country that is politically unstable and full of nuclear weapons deserves to be closer to the center of the allies’ strategic calculations than it appears to have been. Assuming, that is, that there have been some strategic calculations.

Plainly, Russia could be the broker for the kind of outcome we discussed yesterday–namely one that leaves Milosevic with something (the less, the better, obviously) rather than nothing, in the interests of stopping the bombing quickly and getting the peacekeepers in. I can’t judge whether America and the allies would accept this or not, but they don’t appear to be actively seeking it. Tonight we have the announcement that another 300 planes will be sent to the area, bringing the force up to more than 1,100 aircraft. But it’s still escalation without conviction–witness the assurances that every effort will be made to avoid civilian casualties. This is not a war against the Serbian people, we are told, although it appears to be our aim to destroy the Serbian economy and infrastructure.

What do you make of what your friend said about the Albanian incursion? I can imagine that Milosevic respects borders when it suits him and not otherwise (just as he was for self-determination for the Serbs in Bosnia and against it for the Kosovars). Might it not serve Milosevic’s interests to broaden the war? What would we do then? Albright said that the West would view such an incursion very seriously. Perhaps we would send another 300 planes.