TCS Daily

Understanding the Iraq-Yugoslavia Analogy

By Austin Bay - January 25, 2007 12:00 AM

After 16 years of war and peacekeeping, the Great Yugoslav War of Devolution has entered a new, promising phase.

But don't call it finished, and don't call it peace -- at least not quite yet.

A substantial slice of Serbia's electorate remains angry and unpacified. In last Sunday's Serbian election, the "ultra-nationalist" Serbian Radical Party (SRP) took the largest number of party-line votes. The SRP opposes the creation of an independent Kosovo and lays claim to parts of Bosnia and Croatia. Though disdaining former Serb dictator Slobodan Milosevic (who died while being tried for genocide), the SRP has no intention of compromising over Kosovo. Nor have SRP voters forgiven Western Europe and the United States for the 1999 "NATO war" on Serbia, a war fought without U.N. authorization.

Yet Western European diplomats are delighted with the election results. The SRP did not get enough votes to form a government. Initial results indicate a patchwork collection of "pro-European" democratic parties took over 60 percent of the vote. Political and economic aid from the European Union should cobble together a coalition "reform government" that may control a two-thirds majority Serbia's parliament.

That doesn't immediately translate into a peaceful resolution of what to do about Kosovo (the "final status" decision in diplo-speak), but it does bode well for continuing the slow integration of Yugoslavia's leftovers into the European Union. Given time, European diplomats are betting that the Balkan integration project will slowly decompress the historical, ethnic and religious antagonisms that afflict the region.

The Balkans in 2007 are different, and far better off, than the Balkans in 1999. Macedonia and Albania have stabilized (and remember, Macedonia was fighting a civil war in 2001). Croatia has made economic and political progress. However, a small EU-led peacekeeping contingent remains in Bosnia, with good reason. Bosnia's "split state," with Bosnian Muslims and Croats balancing Bosnian Serbs, just manages to creak along.

NATO troops also remain in Kosovo, some 16,500 as of Jan. 1. That is a long-term occupation.

Over the last eight years, the United Nations and European Union have played a careful diplomatic game regarding Kosovo's final status. The Serbs, however, aren't stupid and can read the diplomatic body language. That wiggling semaphore suggests the European Union will recommend Kosovar independence -- though likely an independence with limitations. What that might look like in political and organizational terms remains intentionally vague. There is also talk of "autonomy" within a "democratic Serbia," though Albanian Kosovars (who now control Kosovo) reject this option. Still, a democratic Serbia does exist, and Serbia just conducted a clean, honest election.

Last year, the European Union and United Nations said a decision on Kosovo would take place shortly after the Serbian elections. Now, the United States says all parties should take "more time." Certainly, Serbia's reform parties have earned the opportunity to form a government and establish its bona fides without the disruption of a U.N. decision.

"More time" also gives European politicians time to coax Russia.

The Russians have objected to Kosovar independence from Serbia, and Russia wields a U.N. Security Council veto, which could block a pro-independence U.N. policy. Kosovo's government has approached Moscow on its own, trying to assure the Kremlin that Kosovar independence won't set a precedent for other independence and separatist movements in Europe. That's a tough sell, but Moscow might agree in return for future political considerations. What might those include? Concessions regarding the status of ethnic Russians in Ukraine and Transdniestr are possibilities.

Advocates of partition in Iraq should approach "the Yugoslav analogy" with extreme caution. Syria, Iran and Turkey thoroughly oppose an independent Kurdistan, carved from Iraq. Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Kuwait oppose an independent Shia Arab state in southern Iraq. Both do provide rough analogs to Serbian and Russian opposition to Kosovar independence. However, the Middle East's dysfunctional neighborhood lacks a European Union -- a stable, supra-national "reuniter" that rewards peace and democracy with economic and political benefits. The missing "Middle Eastern EU" is a major difference.



Nothing like Iraq
The real parallel is between Serbia and Israel. And between Kosovo and Palestine.

Serbia has her Russian patron, as Israel has her American patron. The Kosovars and Palestinians must be denied their independence at all costs. The survival of Serbia/Israel is at stake.

Re deploy
In Serbia, we are protecting Muslims of all brands from genocide. In Iraq we are trying to do the same. The enemy in Iraq just happens to be other Muslims.
I am not a huge Clinton fan, but in Bosnia he restricted most of our military activity to an air campaign until the Serbs were pacified, then he bought in ground troops. No casualties, no real opposition from home. Air power is a blunt instrument compared to ground troops even with our new technologies so collateral damage among civillians had to be high. No US casualties = no outcry.
In some ways the Clinton doctrine in Bosnia was better. He said that our troop involvement would be for no more than a year and we still have troops there in support roles. He did move out the larger contingent after 4 years. Again no outcry from the press or the home front.
The ironic part of the Bosnia equation was that while we were protecting Muslims from genocide, we were attacked by Muslim extremists. There was worldwide support from many Muslims for us being attacked. I have come to the conclusion that the majority of Muslims will always hate us and blame us for their problems.

Take a look at this 2005 map of ethnic distribution in Kosovo:

And this 2006 map for Bosnia:

Now, compare the Bosnian demographics above with this 1991 map of Bosnia (note that the color scheme for this one is different: Serbs-red, Croats-blue, Bosniaks-green):

I can't find a "before" map for Kosovo but the evidence is pretty clear: The wars have displaced ethnic populations into big areas that are ethnically distinct. In other words, "ethnic cleansing" succeeded. NATO intervention may have reduced the bloodshed but peace was restored only after forced migration was largely complete.

This is no doubt repellent to most Americans--it is to me. It is, however, instructive for Iraq. US intervention may or may not be able to curb the violence for a while and may or may not preserve a single Iraqi state. But when peace finally comes, the demographic map of Iraq is likely to have a lot in common with the maps of Bosnia and Kosovo. Any policy that hopes that forced migration can be avoided has a real tough row to hoe.

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