Europe's Prime Ministers should step down for Kosovo

 April 4 & 6 1999

As we are getting into the 3rd week of the NATO air strikes on Kosovo and the accelerated ethnic cleansing and genocide by the Milosevic regime, it becomes increasingly clear that the NATO political leaders have made a serious error of judgment. When the horrors of Auschwitz came into the open in 1945, a shocked world proclaimed that this was never to happen again: And now in 1999, babies are being born and dying immediately in the refugee camping grounds along the Macedonian and Albanian borders, and we find that it is happening again. Our political body is failing utterly. 

Three months

In this situation it is less fitting for a European to speak about the American President, but it is fitting to ask our European leaders and their administrations to step down, and to ask our Parliaments to make sure that they do. Yes, Mr Schröder, Mr Lipponen, Mr Jospin, Mr Blair, Mr Kok and Mr Aznar and their colleagues should go. 

As the military tells us that it takes three months to build up a proper force, the decision to do so should have been taken around January 1 1999. At that time the American President was involved with the Senate hearings on the Monica Lewinsky affair, and we may presume that American leadership on Kosovo was lacking. But this does not mean that European leaders are excused. On the contrary, we should expect them to fill the gap. 

Incompetent or cynical and cruel

Our political leaders have shown themselves either incompetent or cynical and cruel in dealing with the Kosovo situation. It is hard to believe that the European leaders were ignorant of Milosevic's likely reponse. With the Bosnian example, with the knowledge of the political meaning of Kosovo for the Milosevic regime, and with the knowlegde of the Russian connection, our European leaders also must have known of the consequences of the air strikes. If they didn't know or closed their eyes, then they have been incompetent. If they did know the hard facts for what they are, then they must have been calculating that the use of ground forces would be impopular with the European population in the first weeks, and they must have taken the position that as the ethnic cleansing would accelerate, then popular opinion might change, and, then and only then, they would need to consider the deployment of ground forces. All this means that our leaders have chickened out of their responsibility to take an early stand and to explain the European people what the situation was and what action it required. It also means that they have sold out on the lives of the Kosovars, and the lives of European soldiers that now may enter the field in a worse position. 

It will be proper that, as the European leaders step down, our Parliaments indeed verify the situation of incomptence or cruel cynicism. There will be ample documents and witnesses in the policy making process to allow Parliaments to determine how the decisions were actually taken. People will be shocked to hear about what went on, but, our leaders already have shown themselves to be what they are, and we will be much better off when we can determine where things went wrong. 

One European Union

For Europe, the Kosovo crisis can best be seen in the light of the likelihood that both Kosovo and Serbia will at one time be members of the European Union. Indeed, those peoples who are now fighting, and the NATO forces that are now bombing, will at one time belong to a single commonwealth. Kosovars and Serbs are fellow Europeans, and, crooks and villains excepted, they can be good Europeans. When asking our leaders to step down, and asking our Parliaments to investigate what went wrong, we can expect that this will benefit the process of reconciliation and convergence.  

Though not intended for this, the stepping down of the European leaders will also be a signal to Russia that Europe is taking its responsibility seriously. One can only expect that this signal will be greatly welcomed, and that it will ease tensions here too. 


The final element in this analysis is that, of course, the Milosevic regime has to go too.  

Mr. Milosevic is a former communist who turned to nationalism and religion in order to remain in power when the communist regimes in the world started falling down. He and his regime are responsible for hideous crimes in Kroatia, Bosnia, and now in Kosovo. President Yeltsin and his prime minister and former KGB chief Primakov will understand the psychology and political meaning of this, and will understand that such a scenario will eventually not be successful - not even for Russia itself (!). This is also an analysis that has to be clarified to the Serbian population, and it would be advisable that the Russians take part in this explanation. The memoirs of Milovan Djilas, a former comrade and later victim of Tito, will now do great service to his former Yugoslavian people. It is urgent that our planes drop books and information leaflets and connection cables for the internet rather than bombs. 

A co-operative future

Europe should go far in securing the support of the Russians. Even without the Kosovo crisis Europe and Russia should already be working hard together to solve the problems of unemployment and poverty. Indeed, the European Union has a shared responsibility for the political instability in Russia and Eastern Europe, since after the fall of the Berlin Wall the main policy has been to hide in a Fortress Europe and to protect the own employment and living standard, rather than to open markets and to create new employment and rising living standards for all across all borders. 

Rather than NATO, one would hope that a wider international force would police the area. But obviously, Europe cannot rely on either Russia or America to make sure that the Milosevic regime goes. Allied forces will have to target their attack to precisely that goal, even if this means a heavy build up of troops to secure the less relevant areas. (*) Of course, such decisions will have to be taken by our new leaders, and we can only hope that these will be wiser and more truthful and courageous.  

Trying times call for better servants. 

Thomas Cool 
Member Sociaal Liberaal Forum 
Scheveningen, Holland

(*) Note April 19 1999: It does not help to demonise people, of course. One has to balance the benefits and costs. The position of Saddam Hussein is a similar case. As the dissertation of Peter van Bergeijk argues, boycots or sanctions seldom help, and hit on the people instead of the regime. People who struggle for survival don't have the time and energy for opposition. Thus, the line about the heavy build up of forces does not directly mean an all-out attack on Belgrade or a rekindling of mountain wars against partisans, as currently suggested in the media. It means that a heavy build up of forces around the Yugoslavian borders may be required to restore the current credibility gap. Go to the suggestion of a settlement.