Because of the press coverage and the policy interest both here and in Europe, a fundamental question arises over why the US--and the international community--should be concerned with Kosovo. The answer has two levels. The first is the issue of the violation of the Kosovar Albanians' human rights within their own country, although suffering and human rights violations are not unique to Kosovo. The second is the issue of Balkan stability in which the United States and Europe--including NATO--have a stated interest. The threat of spillover violence to an already unstable Albania and the precarious democracy in Macedonia (FYROM) is great. Spillover violence could have an impact on the Dayton peace process--here the United States has committed substantial resources including 6,900 troops--and potentially across the broader Balkan region, which might lead to a collapse of the former Yugoslavia and embroil Greece and Turkey.

The situation in Kosovo did not emerge this year, but dates back to the breakup of Yugoslavia. Serbian leader Slobodan MiloŠevic has more than once used the Kosovo issue to play the nationalist card in his quest to remain in control of Yugoslavia. In 1992, his treatment of the Kosovar Albanians sparked US concern, as now. The London Contact Group meeting demanded that an accommodation for Kosovo be found through peaceful means within the boundaries of Serbia. But neither the status quo nor independence are options. Belgrade must halt its oppressive operations and withdraw its heavy security presence. Both sides must halt the violence and engage in meaningful dialogue with international supervision. Refugees must be allowed to return home, and humanitarian organizations must have free access in Kosovo.

Since the start of this phase of conflict in late February 1998, the initiative has shifted from the heavy buildup of Serbian police and Yugoslav military forces and the rapid growth of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) and popular resistance, to the latest efforts by the Serbian police and military to clear lines of communications and overrun KLA strongholds. The displacement of large numbers of Kosovar Albanians and the attendant destruction of villages and houses threatens a major humanitarian crisis. In late spring, the fighting caused approximately 14,000 refugees to flee to neighboring Albania. More recently, the dramatic increase in internally displaced persons is the major concern. Some 40,000 Kosovars have moved to Montenegro, and 200,000-300,000 people have fled the recent fighting to hide in the surrounding countryside, fearful of returning to their villages. They lack adequate shelter, food, and clothing, and winter weather starts in October.

The international community via the Contact Group has been pressing for a diplomatic solution, but that is not enough. As a result, NATO has pushed ahead with planning for military options to underpin the diplomatic effort. A full range of options is being developed to bolster the neighboring countries of Albania and FYROM, from an air campaign to halt the violence and force a dialogue to (in the end) ground operations if the above fails.

The bulk of the burden for peace falls on MiloŠevic and the Belgrade government, which initiated the military buildup in Kosovo, and which holds the key to a negotiated solution. MiloŠevic must be convinced that the international community is united and serious in pressing for negotiations to give Kosovo enhanced autonomy and to avert the pending humanitarian crisis. Half-concessions by MiloŠevic in an attempt to split the international community or NATO will not work. A meaningful solution for Kosovo is one step MiloŠevic must take to achieve the longer term goals of removing the "outer wall" sanctions against the former republic of Yugoslavia and reentering the international community.

At the same time, the Kosovar Albanians, particularly the KLA, must accept the need for compromise especially in their demand for independence, which also presents a threat to Balkan stability. At present, the negotiating team is composed of shadow President Ibrahim Rugova and members of his Kosovo Democratic League. The opposition parties must unite for the negotiations because disarray plays into MiloŠevic's hands. Most importantly, the KLA must become part of the process and not reject all compromise in the belief that NATO military action will achieve their demands.

Even a negotiated solution holds risks. The Kosovar Albanians may agree to a negotiated settlement and continue to press their demands for independence. A settlement may also set off other movements for autonomy within the former republic of Yugoslavia in Montenegro, Vojvodina, and the Sandzak. And there is the danger that the Albanian minority in FYROM will seek the same deal, or better, that would destabilize that country.

Rick Batssavage spoke at an EES Noon Discussion on September 9, 1998.