Nations, like people, fall into bad habits inadvertently. The United States, for the time being the world's only superpower, is developing a very bad habit – a dependency on high-tech warfare that shows signs of becoming an addiction.
Here is a recipe for perpetuating, not resolving, conflict: First, divide the world's leaders and nations into Good Guys and Bad Guys, respectable regimes and "rogue states." Then give the Bad Guys a peace plan and an ultimatum: "Do what we say or else!" If they don't follow our orders, lob high-tech bombs and missiles at them. And if that doesn't work, condemn their people to backwardness and slow death by cutting them out of the world economy.
If it weren't the United States (by definition, a Good Guy) making threats of mass destruction, one might call these the tactics of techno-terror. The latest example of the genre is the threat to bomb and starve Yugoslavia's Serbs and their leader, Slobodan Milosevic, into ubmission. Either accept our ‘peace plan,' President Clinton threatens, or face the consequences. We have a virtual monopoly of the world's most sophisticated weapons, and we control access to its richest markets. Take a good look at Iraq. Are you willing to pay that price to keep control of Kosovo?
Iraq was the test case; yet it reveals a dilemma. The tactics of techno- terror work only when the regime or nation targeted is "reasonable" enough to yield to them. When people's basic needs are at stake, however, they often refuse to yield even when faced with a very high and persistent level of violence. On the contrary, threatening them with destruction only confirms their belief that values more precious than individual survival are at stake: their historic identity as a people or nation, their freedom of action in their own land, and (perhaps most important) their self-respect.
This is precisely what General Pavkovic, commander of the Yugoslav Third Army, meant when he said, "We are getting ready to defend our country, and we cannot choose the attacker, nor can we decide whether to defend the country or not depending on how strong our opponent is (Washington Post,
3/20/99)." Saddam Hussein might well repeat the same words in response to the American air attacks that have now become a daily occurrence in his country – part of the continuous war produced by our last, fruitless attempt to terrorize a regional Bad Guy into submission.
The question unanswered in the case of Iraq, and not even asked in the case of Kosovo, is this: How far are America and NATO willing to go to compel compliance with their wishes? The logic of techno-terror is ultimately genocidal, since each stubborn refusal to act "reasonably," in the dominant power's eyes, justifies a new escalation of violence….but each escalation generates new fears of extinction and dependency that, in turn, incite further resistance. Iraq, where 46,000 children per month, according to a UN study, are dying as a result of U.S.-imposed economic sanctions – Iraq, which may have lost as many as one million people since the start of the Gulf War – is still unwilling to surrender.
Will Milosevic and the Serbs prove more "reasonable" than the Iraqis?
That depends, among other things, on what the real intentions of the United States and its NATO allies are. Many analyst s agree that Saddam could have been negotiated out of Kuwait at virtually no cost to the Kuwaitis or Saudis. But since the U.S. was determined to eliminate Iraq as a major player in the Persian Gulf and to rid the region of the one leader who would not take American orders, George Bush got the Gulf War he wanted. If the real aim of U.S. policy is to eliminate Yugoslavia and Milosevic as major players in the Balkans, Bill Clinton will get the war he wants as well.
The struggle in Kosovo is even more complex than the Iraqi-Kuwaiti conflict, since it pits secessionists against unionists within a state recognized as sovereign by international law. To put the issue in familiar historical terms, the Albanian majority of the province want to win their independence as George Washington and the American colonists did, while the Serbian majority of the nation want to preserve their union as Abraham Lincoln and the northern majority did. Neither party has right and justice exclusively on its side.
Of course, this is not a reason to reverse the current Good Guy/Bad Guy polarity; it is a reason to abandon polarities altogether in favor of genuine conflict resolution. Against the argument for national unity one can contend quite reasonably that where ethnic an d religious differences are as sharp as they are in Kosovo, secessionism should trump unionism.
But will the U.S. agree to let that happen in Kurdistan? In Khalistan?
In Sri Lanka, or, for that matter, in the Serb region of Bosnia? Clearly not. The Serbs have every reason to suspect that pro-secessionism is a sentiment that the West favors only when its effect is to dismember nations they consider threats to its global hegemony.
"But aren't Melisovic and the Serbs genuine Bad Guys? Haven't they bombarded and burned villages, driven Albanians from their homes and executed villagers?" The answer is twofold. Yes, they have almost certainly committed atrocities. In Kosovo, they are the techno-terrorists – the well-armed minority attempting to impose their will on a majority. Does this make them the Bad Guys? Well…the U.S. government never asks what regular military forces representing a national majority are expected to do when attacked on territory generally recognized as theirs by guerrilla forces representing a regional majority? Our own history suggests that they do what Generals Grant, Sherman and their colleagues did during the American Civil War: suppress rebellion by all means necessary.
Again, this is not to justify Serb brutality, simply to illustrate that in
focusing on unionist atrocities, the American government and media implicitly take the secessionist side. But if this is the case – if the "autonomy" proposed for Kosovo at Rambouillet is a fig leaf for independence – Milosevic cannot be faulted for refusing to sign the Rambouillet agreement.
The initial, quite reasonable suggestion that an autonomous Kosovo might satisfy the basic needs of both parties has foundered over differences as to the meaning of autonomy. Most Albanian Kosovars, the leaders of the Kosovo Liberation Army in particular, see it as a long step on the road to independent statehood.
For the same reason, most Serbs think that the degree of self-rule granted by the Rambouillet plan is excessive, humiliating to the Yugoslav nation, and guaranteed to strengthen the secessionist movement.
Could these differences and others be dealt with by a genuine conflict resolution process? I firmly believe so. But, in general, agreements that resolve conflicts are not forced on alleged Bad Guys by alleged Good Guys threatening to destroy their countries. What happened at Rambouillet was not conflict resolution; it was a power play thinly disguised as a peace process. The dialogue went something like this:
SERBS: What you call "autonomy" for Kosovo will lead directly to a KLA takeover. That's what happened when we withdrew part of our forces last year.
MEDIATORS: But we will prevent this from happening by insisting that the
KLA disarm.
KLA: No, we won't disarm, since that would leave us defenseless against the Yugoslav army. What would our autonomy be worth then?
MEDIATORS: Very well, a NATO army stationed in Kosovo will police the agreement and guarantee your autonomy. And, in any case, we can't threaten to bomb the Serbs unless you sign!
Lured by this combination of carrot and stick, the Kosovar holdouts duly
sign. Milosevic, who sees only the stick, doesn't. His refusal to accept
the stationing of NATO forces on Yugoslav territory (i.e., in Kosovo) is said to establish his bad faith and his primary respon
sibility for sabotaging the "peace process." But this version of history is transparently one-sided. To begin with, the presence of foreign troops on one's soil is an insult few nations would voluntarily accept – especially a nation that (unlike many of its neighbors) suffered enormous casualties in World War II to keep a foreign army from occupying its territory.
Equally important, if the NATO force is large and strong enough to suppress t he KLA and obstruct a Yugoslav advance into Kosovo, it will be an army of occupation, not a peacekeeping force. And if it is not strong enough to perform either function, what will its role be, other to call in air strikes against the Serbs?
Above all, why should the Serbs, declared enemies of mankind by the West ever since the beginning of the Bosnian war, trust these same Westerners to police an autonomy agreement?
From a conflict resolution perspective, the first thing wrong with the Rambouillet process was that the mediation was done by a partisan body – the United States and NATO – over the objections of Yugoslavia's traditional ally, Russia. In cases of severe violent conflict, the mediating group must be non- partisan if it is to be effective.
George Mitchell's role in the Northern Ireland peace process is a model that should have been followed at Rambouillet. Obviously, it was not.
The second mistake, closely related to the first, was the mediators' failure to assist the parties to analyze the deep sources of their conflict and the full range of options for resolving it. Instead, they attempted to impose a system of extreme decentralization that the
Yugoslavs could not possibly accept, unless KLA disarmament were absolutely guaranteed. Even then, it would be hard to swallow. But the KLA is no more likely than NATO to disarm, and the proposed "policing" process, as already noted, is in the hands of partisan forces.
The third mistake, in some ways the most serious, has been to t ear the Kosovo dispute out of context and to seek ad hoc, provincial solutions to problems that can be solved only on a systemic and regional basis. What about Montenegro? Vojvodena? Macedonia? The dream of a Greater Albania?
What sort of regional political and economic systems would the Balkan
peoples create if they had the opportunity to decide such matters for themselves? What is called for is a series of regional conflict resolution workshops facilitated by impartial third parties, not self-interested Great Powers, leading to a Balkan peace conference in which the Serbs would play an honorable role rather than being treated like vanquished pariahs.
Yugoslavia was created after World War I as an answer to the endemic conflicts, fueled by ethnic rivalries and poverty, that had helped plunge Europe into war. In their zeal to manage the region for their own purposes, however, the Western powers are in the process of re-Balkanizing the Balkans. It is the "Great Game" all over again – a game of imperial divide-and-conquer that has led to little but misery and disaster around the globe. The notion that only America and NATO can organize the Balkans and "civilize" their peoples is the acme of arrogance. I fear that, before long, it will lead us into a war that may make the U.S.-Iraqi conflict look like small change. There is still time for conflict resolution, but with techno-terrorism in the ascendant, time is fast running out.
Editors'note: Richard E. Rubenstein is professor of conflict resolution and public affairs at George Mason University.

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