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This Is the Right Time to Wrap Up the War



May 19, 1999

LONDON- The only good thing about this war with Yugoslavia is that no Nato soldier has been killed in combat. This makes the compromise now necessary to quickly end this counterproductive enterprise much more easy to realize.

Thucydides listed three causes of war--interest, fear and honour. They still hold in the twentieth century. Honour was central to Britain's single minded determination to win World War 1. Once blood had been shed it would have been considered a betrayal not to revenge those who had already died for the cause. Likewise, it is why the American people rallied behind Roosevelt once their honour had been insulted in Pearl Harbour.

Fortunately for Nato this time round there is no honour at stake, yet. Passions are not aroused. There is only blood on the floor on one side of the room. Public opinion is not intensely engaged. Indeed, if anything western opinion is gradually withdrawing its initial support. It has seen one bad bombing error after another taking scores of innocent lives each time. Moreover, there is a growing awareness that Nato has made the refugee crisis much worse than it might otherwise have been and, added to that, the war has taken a serious toll on relations with China and Russia. Right now it is the Yugoslavians who are most motivated to defend their honour.

"No one starts a war" wrote Clausewitz, "or rather no one in his senses ought to do so, without first being clear what he intends to achieve by that war and how he intends to conduct it." By this measure Nato has already miserably failed. Moreover, as the doyen of war historians, Michael Howard, has put it, "the history of warfare should have taught political leaders one painful lesson: victories on the battlefield, however overwhelming, do not necessarily lead to a lasting peace, as the aftermath of the Gulf War has made very clear. Even Napoleon's spectacular victories produced political settlements that were no more than truces."

At least Napoleon's individual battles were decisive. But since then the occasions of a single decisive battle have been rare indeed. It is not just a question of vanquishing an army but the need to crush the will of the people. In the First World War this was not done despite the immense quantities of blood spilt in grinding trench warfare, and Hitler was easily able to rouse the German people, who felt they had been mistreated by the victorious allies, for a second effort. The Second World War was only decisive because the vanquished were able to accept the verdict of battle. Part of it certainly was the degree of punishment inflicted on Germany ande Japan but the other part was the work of statesmen and diplomats. The allies went out of their way to make these countries partners, both economic and political, in operating the new international order. And they found and trusted new leaders who both commanded the support of their own people and who were prepared to cooperate with their conquerors.

Are Nato leaders aware how far is the distance they will have to travel if they want to finish the journey they have embarked upon? Those who thought a week's bombing would do the trick were profoundly ignorant of history's lessons. It should be obvious by now--although it was from the beginning--that Yugoslavia will fight every inch of the way to preserve its hold over at least northern Kosovo, the heartland of the ancient Serb churches.

The question Nato has to confront is this: is it prepared to spend vast sums in both blood and treasure bringing Yugoslavia to its knees and then spending equally vast sums on re-building what it has destroyed, and then more?

Nato has to be clear about this latter point in particular before it procedes to wreck the country.

Nato should come to its senses before it spills the blood of its servicemen and new thinking becomes much more difficult. It should announce it is prepared to consider the partition of Kosovo. To make it palatable to the Yugoslavians they should be told the West no longer has any objection to them incorporating the Serbian parts of Bosnia into one unified country. To make it appealing to the Kosovars they should be told they can join up their part with Albania in a unified country. To pull the sting of the Albanians who live in Macedonia they should be told the West will pay for them to relocate to the new country if they wish to. (Most won't as they have a satisfactory economic and political status in relatively liberal minded Macedonia.)

All the Balkan states, new and old, should then be put on the fast track towards associate membership of the European Union. If the war stops the West can spend on that what is being compelled to budget for war.

Few wars any longer are decided on the battlefield. They are decided at the peace table. Even military victories do not determine the outcome of wars. They merely provide political opportunities for victors. Thus, the smartest thing to do in a situation like this is to take those political opportunities before real blood is spilt. In fact, if the West does not aim for a solution that takes into account the honour of the people it wishes to defeat it is unlikely--even if there were a land invasion and total military victory--to decide anything for very long. Nato leaders could save themselves and everyone else a lot of unnecessary pain and suffering if they could see that now.



Copyright © 1999 By JONATHAN POWER


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