In the Diplomatic Hot Seat

Richard Holbrooke's expertise is Asia. But his long diplomatic experience led President Clinton to name him his first ambassador to Germany. Mr. Holbrooke next headed European affairs in the State Department - facing thorny issues like NATO expansion, Albania, Cyprus, Turkey, Ireland, and the crisis in Central Europe. Following are excerpts from a Monitor interview.

If you were secretary of state what would you want Americans to know about world affairs?

The overriding issue is simple: The idea that the end of the cold war meant we could ignore the world was palpably wrong. Our economy is for the first time in its history truly global, so our interests are more global than ever. They are no longer simply defined by a photograph of Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin as they were for a half century. That's over. It is a more complicated world now.

In Europe, three pillars need support: We need to enlarge NATO as a way of solidifying America's role. We need to engage with the Russians to bring them into that security architecture. We need to make [the Balkans negotiated peace settlement in] Dayton work. If Dayton doesn't work, NATO enlargement doesn't matter.

The Balkans have been a tragedy in the 1990s. When should Western forces have intervened?

The moment came early, during the Serb offensive against Croatia. When Serb forces began shelling the historic port of Dubrovnik in the fall of 1991 - a town symbolizing a crossroads of civilization and of Europe - that was a clear moment to act. Not acting sent its own message.

NATO also stayed out of Bosnia. Military intelligence on Bosnia said the use of force would lead to a "quagmire." Yet the Serbs caved after a week of bombing in 1995. In the meantime, 300,000 died.

At practically every key decision point on Bosnia, military intelligence reports are cited, and they have great impact. US intelligence was deeply affected by the British who reported that Serb forces were either invincible or deserving of our sympathy. Serbs were compared, wrongly, to the partisans of World War II who bogged down Nazi divisions. This was a profound intelligence error.

In Munich in 1995, Secretary Perry and General Shalikashvili told Croat defense chief Susak if they attacked in [Serb-occupied] Krajina, they would get their backsides handed to them. Soon after ... Croat forces did attack. They wiped out the Serbs in a week.... Again and again, wrong assessments lay behind the tragedy in Bosnia.

The Pentagon seemed to take control of US Bosnia policy. Wasn't that the State Department's job?

The Pentagon was way beyond the appropriate level of involvement for the military. But it has been ever thus. When Clinton was elected he brought in a young and inexperienced team. The first thing they run into is the old guard - led by the most influential person in all the administration, the Joint Chiefs of Staff [chairman], Colin Powell. Colin is today a legend. But at the time, 1993, he was more than a legend. He was an ... overwhelming force.

Ethnic cleansing has moved from Bosnia to Kosovo, where Serb President Slobodan Milosevic is starting a new campaign. Critics say as US envoy you are too easy on Milosevic.

Milosevic is famously both the arsonist and the fireman. He makes a crisis and then negotiates with you over it. He did that before Dayton in Bosnia. He did it after Dayton. He's doing it now on Kosovo. But we aren't giving anything away. We can reimpose sanctions any time.

Has ethnic Albanian leader Ibrahim Rugova lost so much power in Kosovo that you don't solve anything by dealing with him now? Are insurgents winning the day?

Our goal is to prevent that from happening. It is not clear how much power Rugova has lost. The KLA [Kosovo Liberation Army], while espousing violent means, also professes to support him. This is an IRA parallel. Only history will tell whether Rugova is a Michael Collins who in 1921 was assassinated by his own people....The issue is to strengthen Rugova's hand by showing active international support.

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