So, What Do We Do Now?

So, What Do We Do Now?

E-mail debates of newsworthy topics.
April 27 1999 11:00 PM

So, What Do We Do Now?


Click here for Slate's complete Kosovo coverage.


Dear Eliot,

Thank you for your spirited response to my second letter. As to the question of ground operations, which occupies a large part of it, the articles by Andy Bacevich and Bob Killebrew you recommend are very interesting. It is striking, though, that they advocate quite different ways of going about things, which indicates less than unanimity among experts concerning both the problem and the solution.

Bacevich wants to come down from Hungary and to make Serbia itself the object of attack. Killebrew wants to come up from Albania and Macedonia and to concentrate on Kosovo. It would be useful to know which course of action you favor and why. Bacevich does not deal with the question of Hungarian reluctance to offer itself as a base of operations, an understandable reluctance given that a third of a million Hungarians are effectively held hostage in Vojvodina; and Killebrew does not confront the refusal of Macedonia and Greece to offer themselves in that role. On the latter point, you rather high-handedly pronounce that "allies like Macedonia exist to be coerced," but you do not offer a view on how to overcome the rather more serious problems of furious Russian opposition and the German government's firm resistance (based on a concern for its own survival) to the use of ground troops. Do they also exist to be coerced? If not, how do you propose to overcome their opposition?

Again, I note that while you dismiss the prospect of Serb civilian resistance with derision (they "will cling to us for dear life"), Bacevich takes the possibility of "an ugly and protracted 'people's war' " seriously.


All in all, then, having read you and the two authorities you recommend on the subject of ground troops, I remain confused rather than convinced. If the experts are in such disagreement and (as we agree) the political leadership is so weak, it doesn't seem to me that we are in good shape to commence a ground war any time soon.

As well, all the talk of the use of "overwhelming power," several weeks of "seek and destroy" missions, the "clearing" of villages and house-to-house fighting--to take place, let us not forget, in a Kosovo that is only slightly larger than Connecticut--cannot but raise further doubts. What was it Tacitus said about making a wilderness and calling it peace?

Your remarks about NATO intrigue me. I thought that I was the skeptic on this topic! Isn't this "the alliance that won the Cold War"? Isn't it the "most successful alliance in history"? Isn't it the great white (literally) hope of civilization in the new century? Yes, it is true that those who knew it well were aware that it was "a gaseous, unwieldy debating society," but they were few. For everyone else it was a "pillar." Indeed, isn't it intended to be America's main instrument for the creation of your "new international order"? And if it had no mystique and was universally scorned, why are we now so concerned to preserve its "credibility"?

On realism and sovereignty you present a false choice when you ask, "Do you really think that states respect sovereignty because it is a principle, or because they fear the consequences if they do not?" The answer is that, in general, they respect the principle precisely because they fear the long-term consequences of its being jettisoned. Of course, in a "realist" world order of sovereign states they violate the principle when the risks are low or the stakes very high. But my point was rather different: Isn't it odd to kick off your "new international order" by violating a country's sovereignty? Is this to be a normal and consistent mode of behavior in the new order, or is it to apply selectively and only to weak and isolated states? If the former, it will indeed be something new (and it will quickly lead to really major wars when you violate the sovereignty of serious countries); but if the latter, it will, surely, just be business as usual.

Finally, let me respond to your question as to what I propose should be done. I am in favor of a negotiated settlement in which Russia is asked to play a major role, for the reasons set out by Jack Matlock and Anatol Lieven in recent New York Times editorials (April 20 and April 26, respectively). I believe that a partition of Kosovo will be necessary, as after what has happened Albanians and Serbs will not be capable of living together any time soon. Serbia will get a northern segment which contains their so-called sacred sites (as well, unfortunately, as most of the poor province's economic wealth). The part of Kosovo occupied by Albanians will be protected by an international force, including Russians. In order to make it habitable again and to encourage its people to return, it will be given very generous economic aid (which would still probably cost less than the military operations you advocate). The Serbian portion of Kosovo, and Serbia itself, will get no aid whatsoever while Milosevic or any other ultra-nationalist remains in power. If and when Serbia installs a government that is prepared to live peacefully with its neighbors, the situation will be reviewed.

Not perfect, but the best I can think of, given where we are.

Owen Harries

Eliot A Cohen is a professor of strategic studies at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies. Owen Harries is the editor of the National Interest. To read the essay by Owen Harries that kicked off this debate, click here.