The indictment of President Slobodan Milosevic by the International War Crimes Tribunal in the Hague was variously interpreted Friday in the European press. The hawkish papers of Fleet Street raised loud hurrahs, while some of the more dovish ones on the continent were gloomy about its effects on the Kosovo war. There was also widespread suspicion that NATO’s war leaders had more to do with the timing of Chief Prosecutor Louise Arbour’s announcement than she, insisting on the independence of her U.N. role, cared to admit. There was general unanimity, however, that her decision made a peace settlement much more difficult to achieve and increased the prospect of NATO ground troops being eventually deployed in Kosovo against Serb resistance.
In London, the Times and the Daily Telegraph, both conservative papers, were delighted. The Telegraph said the indictment would put muscle into the United States because “though Bill Clinton might be happy to compromise with a fugitive from justice, the American people could not stomach such a peace with dishonour.” The Times said the West “has to thank the brave Canadian judge” for ending any chance that NATO would grant Milosevic immunity from arrest and prosecution–one of his principal peace conditions. Such immunity would not only be “morally repellent,” it was “now illegal,” it said.
The liberal Independent of London was no less pleased, saying Milosevic should have been indicted long ago. Its main front-page headline said the indictment has split the allies, but this was effectively contradicted in an article by its political editor, Donald Macintyre, claiming that the European allies were holding much closer to the U.S. and British positions than was generally imagined and that German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder’s much-reported statement that a ground invasion was “unthinkable” had actually meant only that German troops would not participate. Clearly relying on British government sources, Macintyre wrote that even the Italians don’t rule out entering Kosovo in “non-permissive” circumstances, but instead he described it as “hypothetical” (though in an interview Thursday with the Italian magazine Panorama, Foreign Minister Lamberto Dini warned that Italy would “dissociate itself” from an invasion).
The liberal Guardian of London, while leading with the headline “War crimes move dims peace hope,” pronounced the indictment “overwhelmingly positive” and said it augured well “not just for the resolution of this war, but for the world of the twenty-first century.” Its international commentator, Martin Woollacott, wrote that the indictment, combined with the commitment of more ground troops, a hardening of NATO’s peace terms, and the intensification of the air campaign, represents “a new strategy.” It marks a moment when “NATO ceases to be ready to deal with Milosevic and declares itself ready, instead, to deal with Serbia.” Woollacott noted that Arbour’s words in the Hague, while underscoring the independence of the tribunal, “suggested quite directly that the timing of the indictment had been affected by the disclosure of intelligence by certain countries. The control by the United States and Britain of intercepts and other secret information has always meant that the war crimes card could be played at a moment they deemed would best serve their interests.”
In Paris, Le Monde, welcoming the indictment as an important new step “in the fight against impunity and barbarism,” said Arbour had acted with full independence and freedom, but this view was questioned south of the Alps. In Corriere della Sera of Milan, the 90-year-old columnist Indro Montanelli, one of Italy’s most influential journalists, said he hoped it wasn’t so, for this would mean that the tribunal had deliberately timed the indictment to sabotage peace negotiations. While British papers were expressing the hope that it would lead to the overthrow of Milosevic by the Serbs, Montanelli predicted the opposite. So did Libération of Paris, which said in an editorial that President Jacques Chirac’s call Thursday for an internal coup against Milosevic was most unlikely to come about. Le Figaro also said that to think the Serbs would now desert their leader showed “a deep misunderstanding of the psychology of a people which considers itself persecuted and besieged.” Writing from Belgrade for La Repubblica of Rome, Bernardo Valli reported that despite Milosevic’s unpopularity and lack of charisma, he now appears to have the country behind him.