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Problems with Current U.S. Policy.

Key Problems

* The Bush administration has not taken an active role to help contain the dangerous escalation of violence in Macedonia.

* The Bush administration has not yet clearly articulated its overall Balkan policy, especially with regard to the presence of U.S. troops in Bosnia and Kosovo.

* U.S. verbal support for Macedonia has not been manifested in emergency material or financial support.

Escalating tensions in the Balkans have come at an inopportune time for the new U.S. administration, which has barely had time to review its Balkan policy. During the 2000 presidential campaign, Bush ill-advisedly suggested that the U.S. might consider withdrawing troops from the Balkans, thus giving the impression to the rival ethnic groups that the U.S. would be taking a back seat in Balkan affairs.

Relegating responsibility for Balkan affairs primarily to Western European governments was the prevailing Balkan policy under the senior President Bush and during President Clinton's first term. It would be a mistake for the present Bush administration to return to such a disengaged policy. The European Union has not yet created its rapid reaction force, nor has it established criteria for when such a force should be used.

The outbreak of fighting in Macedonia represents a major threat both to European stability and to the interests of the NATO alliance. It could spark regional warfare and, should KFOR troops become involved, could lead to wider international conflict. The U.S. State Department has dutifully expressed its concern over the situation, while the U.S. ambassador to Macedonia has openly declared Washington's support for the Macedonian government. Higher officials in the Bush administration have also echoed these sentiments. Nevertheless, Secretary of State Colin Powell has not yet visited the region and seems to be relegating primary responsibilities to the Europeans and to NATO's commander, George Robertson of Britain.

The UN Security Council passed Resolution 1354 in March 2001, expressing unanimous support for Macedonia's democratically elected, multiethnic coalition government. The present government came to power in 1998 and consists of two primary coalition partners: the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization-Party for Democratic Unity of Macedonia (VMRO-DPMNE) and the Democratic Party of Albanians. Macedonian voters had ousted the previous government, which had similarly consisted of a coalition of an ethnic Macedonian and an ethnic Albanian party.

The present coalition government has moved slowly to address concerns of Macedonia's Albanian community. One of its accomplishments has been the forging of a compromise agreement to open an Albanian-language university in Tetovo. This agreement to establish the South East European University was reached in April 2000, alleviating a major source of resentment among Macedonia's ethnic Albanian population, which has been denied access to an Albanian-language university--a situation that sparked violent demonstrations since 1994 in Tetovo. The new government, however, has not made progress on other Albanian demands, such as changes in the constitutional status of the Albanians and the official recognition of Albanian as a second language in Macedonia.

The Bush administration has also been slow in reacting to the other potential flashpoints in the Balkans, such as the rise in tensions within Kosovo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Montenegro. Furthermore, Bush and Congress may be jeopardizing newly established U.S. relations with Yugoslav President Kostunica over the issue of Belgrade's compliance with the demands of the UN's International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague.

Congress threatened to cut off aid to Yugoslavia, should the Belgrade government not hand over Milosevic and other indicted war criminals to the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague. Such an ultimatum is counterproductive; the Kostunica government needs much more time to establish its complete control in Serbia and to dismantle the Milosevic political machine, which had controlled the country so completely for over 13 years. Rather than conditioning good relations on Yugoslavia's addressing the past wrongdoings of its indicted war criminals, Washington needs to give priority attention to the current crises.

Instead of helping to stabilize the Balkans, the U.S. and NATO have heightened tensions by forming a quasi-alliance with the Yugoslav army in the buffer zone around Kosovo. Such a move reflects poorly on KFOR's ability to maintain peace and stability in and around Kosovo. By inviting back to Kosovo's borders the very troops Kosovar Albanians mistrust the most, NATO and KFOR risk further alienating and radicalizing Kosovo's ethnic Albanian population. Such militarization has also created the potential for heightened clashes between Yugoslav troops and Albanian paramilitary groups eager to operate in southern Serbia and northern Macedonia.

In addition to establishing links with the Yugoslav army through the peacekeeping forces based in Kosovo, the U.S. has a history of indirect military links with both the ethnic Albanian guerrillas in Kosovo and the Macedonian army, both of which have received training through U.S.-sponsored private military contractors.

The failure of the U.S. policy in the Balkans is manifest in Macedonia. Although voicing strong support for the democratically elected government in Skopje (capital of Macedonia), neither the U.S. nor other leading members of the international community have provided the type of economic support that Macedonia's government now urgently needs. Macedonia has taken commendable steps to maintain stability and tolerance among its diverse ethnic groups. Over the past few years, however, the economic situation in Macedonia has continued to deteriorate and the U.S. has done little to provide much-needed aid to alleviate the crisis.

Robert D. Greenberg <> is a professor in the Department of Slavic Language at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is currently a Fulbright scholar in Macedonia.
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Author:Greenberg, Robert D.
Publication:Foreign Policy in Focus
Date:Apr 22, 2001
Previous Article:New Balkan Policy Needed.
Next Article:Toward a New Foreign Policy.

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