International Papers

The Wimps Are Winning

Italy’s advocacy of a three-day bombing pause in the Kosovo conflict was getting much attention in Europe Friday. Germany’s Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and El País of Madrid both led with it, Die Welt reported progress in negotiations about it, and in London the Daily Telegraph said on its front page that NATO leaders were “seriously considering” it. The idea, proposed by Italian Prime Minister Massimo D’Alema, is that the bombing should stop as soon as a U.N. Security Council resolution on a Kosovo settlement is drafted (rather than approved) so as to avoid a Chinese veto. The airstrikes would stop before President Slobodan Milosevic withdrew any of his 40,000 troops from Kosovo–perhaps even before he formally agreed to do so.

It seemed like a good day for the wimps, but other European papers–including the Independent of London and El Mundo of Madrid–highlighted NATO divisions over the Italian plan. The Independent said the United States and Britain will “oppose fiercely” any plan for a pause in the air war. The British press also reported tension between NATO’s closest buddies, President Clinton and British Prime Minister Tony Blair. The Guardian led its front page with the headline “Clinton clash with Blair.” This was based on some U.S. press reports that the president told Blair in an “unusually difficult” telephone conversation Tuesday that he must “get control” of people spreading the impression that the two of them are not getting on. There have been a number of articles in British newspapers this week about supposed differences between them, especially over the issue of ground troops.

The other most popular Kosovo angle in Europe Friday was the first large-scale desertions by Serb troops. This received front-page treatment in Le Monde of Paris, but the Times of London tempered the excitement with a big headline saying that the Serb army in Kosovo is “as strong as ever.” Quoting British defense ministry sources, the Times said that despite reports of up to 1,000 Serb soldiers deserting, “the size of the military presence in Kosovo remains at about 40,000, the same as when the air campaign began.” It saw this as a blow for those within NATO who hope that the fight will have gone out of the Serb army by autumn.

There was, however, a rare suggestion by an independent British commentator that the air war might actually be working. Preparing to eat humble pie, military historian John Keegan, writing in the Daily Telegraph, of which he is defense editor, said the desertions and reports of anti-war protests in Serb provincial towns are “the first indication that the Serbian President’s hold over his people may be loosening.” He said the “strategic community” on both sides of the Atlantic may have been wrong in relying on historical precedent to pooh-pooh the idea of victory by air power alone. They may also have underrated the new technology because “no self-standing air campaign has ever before been mounted with precision weapons.” Keegan said Milosevic’s main mistake may have been to send barely trained teen-age conscripts to Kosovo, since their morale is especially vulnerable. “Yet those who direct the war, if it comes right, will still not have a proper reason to congratulate themselves,” he wrote. “If it is emerging that this is a war of morale–that of the conscripts’ willingness to bear fear versus the NATO public’s patience with apparent lack of results–President Clinton and the Prime Minister should now accept that they have paid insufficient attention to supporting the morale of their own electorates and have been insufficiently calculating in attacking that of their enemy.”

For the Italian press Friday, Kosovo developments paled in significance beside a feared revival of home-grown terrorism. All the main Italian papers led on the murder of Professor Massimo D’Antona, a consultant to Italy’s labor minister, who was shot outside his home in Rome Thursday by two young men in jeans and denim jackets. A document purporting to come from the Red Brigades, a guerrilla group thought to have been eliminated, later claimed responsibility for the killing. All the Italian papers gloomily recalled the Red Brigades’ bomb outrages and assassinations of earlier years, but La Stampa of Turin said in a front-page comment that there is an important difference now. Italy has a new ruling class and a new president, “the country has leadership,” it said.

In an interview Thursday with Yediot Aharanot, Israel’s new prime minister, Labor Party leader Ehud Barak, thanked Tony Blair for showing him the way to his election victory. “Blair got the [British] Labor leadership when that party was in a similar situation to the [Israeli] Labor Party,” Barak said. “He told me that the accepted premise in the party was that they must lose elections. They lost for 16 years and got used to it. Blair insisted on finding out why they really lost, and in this way arrived at a victorious campaign.”