WASHINGTON AND GARMISCH-PARTENKIRCHEN, GERMANY — The Balkan endgame draws near. And it should. After a disastrous decade, much of the Yugoslavia of Versailles and Josip Broz Tito is a charred ruin. Only Slovenia escaped the military destruction and/or economic trauma of warfare, genocide, refugees, and occupation. Croatia suffered grievously from war damage and the psyche of nationalism from which the country is only now emerging. Macedonia, spared armed conflict, has nevertheless been forced to grapple with an immense flood of refugees in 1999, and the discomfiting status as a NATO dependency.
It isn't over. Kosovo's nonstate status, occupied but not governed, separated but not sovereign, cannot continue. Kosovar Albanians cannot live within a state led from Belgrade. Full stop. Multiethnicity has been killed, literally and figuratively.
Independence for Kosovo is now essential, even if it is not optimal. No other outcome will "work," although the notion of anything "working" overstates the potential for self-governance. Kosovo will not be ruled the way we'd like, and Pristina-directed policies will not be those we want. Still, an endless occupation qua protectorate offers nothing but cost and danger.
More important is the future of Serbia and its rump Yugoslavia. In Serbia, there are no credible signs a democratic transition, precipitated by opposition electoral success la Croatia, can be anticipated. Despite large protest rallies, Serbia possesses no united mass support for ousting the ruling clique. In fact, Milosevic consistently comes first in public opinion polls, and opposition politicians are widely perceived as corrupt, incompetent, or national traitors. Though two-thirds of the public apparently would vote for one of the opposition parties, many of these people still view Milosevic as a hero protecting the victimized nation against foreign threats.
There is no Croatian-model transition in Serbia's future. Indeed, evidence mounts that Serbia is more likely to undergo violent turmoil than peaceful transformation. The circle of violence and vendetta is accelerating in Serbia. The "war at the top" in Belgrade literally is a struggle for survival among a small clique of war criminals and profiteers. They'd evidently murder their most loyal allies to remain in power, keep stolen riches, and stay out of The Hague.
Later this year, renewed conflict leading to warfare is at least possible, if not probable, in Montenegro, Kosovo, and in Serbia itself. Serb preparations for violent intervention against Montenegro's President Milo Djukanovic are clear and present. The buildup of paramilitary forces alongside the Yugoslav Second Army inside Montenegro is evident - the former being a force loyal to Milosevic and more reliable for a violent showdown with Montenegro's special police forces.
Kosovo is far from quiet. Serbs claim their troops will be back when the UN mandate expires in the summer, and continue to try to partition the region, slicing off the valuable Kosovska Mitrovica area; at the same time, Albanians seek the annexation of Southwest Serbia. Both sides seek to provoke and escalate. It will be a hot summer.
Within Serbia itself, the opposition has launched fresh campaigns and has already assembled one massive protest rally in Belgrade last month. Milosevic has countered with a campaign to eliminate independent media, regroup military forces, and call up reservists. He and the socialist/nationalist coalition seem to be preparing for local and federal elections and for military action in southwestern Serbia or Montenegro. Social protests, provocations, and armed conflicts within Serbia and rump Yugoslavia are a good bet.
NATO and the US will be unable to stand aside. After dropping bombs and deploying tens of thousands of alliance troops to occupy and pacify Bosnia-Hercegovina and Kosovo, staying out of Montenegro will be impossible. But we'd be foolish to expect Serbia's internal conflicts to remain internal. Refugee floods and, perhaps, civil war would affect and spill into surrounding countries.
Before this scenario begins, let's recognize that Balkan stability and Yugoslavia's existence are in direct contradiction. Containment, neglect, or wishful thinking are not viable solutions.
The dismemberment of Milosevic's rump Yugoslavia is an eventuality on which we can depend. Timing is uncertain, but it won't be long. Three more viable states - independent Montenegro and Kosovo, plus a democratized Serbia - may be the most stable outcome.
The democratization of Serbia isn't assured, won't be quiet, and might be one of the most costly transitions of the post-communist era.
Still, NATO and Washington had best come to grips with an uncomfortable truth - the path to long-term peace and prosperity in a troubled region such as the Balkans may lie directly through a period of intense instability.
Attempting to produce stability when conditions for long-term security are absent is a guarantee of failure. In Southeastern Europe, the "cause" of instability isn't just Milosevic, but what the Serbian dictator represents.
To end Balkan instability requires far more than bombing from 15,000 feet and peace-enforcement. It may, ultimately, require military force to ensure the dismemberment of Yugoslav remnants. To turn our backs on that likelihood would be historically blind and politically naive. We ought not repeat those kind of Balkan mistakes yet again.
*Janusz Bugajski is director of East European programs at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Daniel N. Nelson is professor at the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies. Views expressed here are the authors' and do not represent their institutions.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society