The proper response to the Kosovo peace accord agreed to last week by NATO and Yugoslavia is caution. Caution because agreement is easy, and implementation is not; the lesson of Bosnia is that making an enduring peace is a long and tedious process. Caution because Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic is a shrewd gambler who will extract every possible advantage out of a deal; he has shown an unnerving ability to stay one step ahead of his interlocutors. And caution because the forces that inflamed the Balkans may flare yet again.
But there are also reasons to celebrate, and not only because a ground war — a potentially brutal slog through hostile terrain — has been averted. In the plainest terms, the West won. The deal that Yugoslavia agreed to is almost identical to that proposed at Rambouillet earlier this year. The Serb forces will withdraw from the region, an international peacekeeping force will be introduced, the more than 1 million Kosovars who have been driven from their homes will be allowed to return and the province will be given substantial autonomy from the central government in Belgrade.
NATO acquitted itself well during the conflict. It stood together through an 11-week bombing campaign and, despite several tragedies involving civilians, its unity was never threatened. Despite steady criticism, its strategy was vindicated: An air war forced the Serbs to the negotiating table. And, remarkably, the West did not lose a single soldier’s life to fighting (although several were killed in accidents away from the battlefields).
In addition, bringing Russia into the final negotiations was a shrewd move. That assuaged Russian pride and gives Moscow an interest in seeing that the accord reached will be enforced. Both may prove to be critical when dealing with Russia in the future.
Finally, the West can say that it defended a critical moral interest. It refused to acquiesce to ethnic cleansing and wholesale violations of human rights. It asserted the primacy of basic human rights — and lives — over the fiction of state sovereignty. This generation of leaders can say that they did not turn away from evil, but confronted it. We are all a little better for that.
Realistically, however, caution deserves pride of place over congratulations. Many questions remain, not the least of which concerns the Serbs’ willingness to pull out all 40,000 of their troops from the province. Belgrade has 11 days to complete the process and it will be closely scrutinized. NATO has developed a timetable and picked the roads that the departing forces will take. Only after the process was under way did NATO halt the airstrikes. This painstaking process of verification is justified: Yugoslavia has already attempted to twist the terms of the agreement. Only after nearly another week of negotiations did the Yugoslav military accept the deal that politicians had reached the previous weekend.
The United Nations Security Council has approved the agreement. China, which blasted the bombing and the attack on its embassy in Belgrade, abstained from voting. Of course, after demanding an end to the fighting, Beijing could hardly object to international policing of the peace.
The biggest question is whether the Kosovars driven into exile will return. Driving the Serb forces from the area is only part of the problem. Their homes have been destroyed, the property looted and the crops burned. Kosovo is a disaster area; in addition to the destruction, Serb forces have reportedly mined the area. The world must be prepared to help support the Kosovars and prepare them for what will be a long winter.
The fate of the Kosovo Liberation Army hangs uneasily over the province. The withdrawal of the Serb military will leave large swathes of territory in the hands of the group, which is pledged to fight for independence for the province. They will be supported by many once-moderate Kosovars who were radicalized by the war. Last week’s peace agreement calls for “demilitarization” of the KLA, but the precise meaning of the word is unclear.
There is also uncertainty about the fate of Mr. Milosevic. He is an indicted war criminal, but he is still president of Yugoslavia. Domestic unrest my grow in the wake of the peace deal as Serbs ask why they have endured the hardships of the last few months. European leaders have made it clear that they are willing to help Kosovo rebuild, but they will extend no aid to Yugoslavia as long as Mr. Milosevic is in power. It is probably too much to hope for his removal from office, but a little optimism can be excused — at least for now.
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