Times of India
Saturday 5 June 1999

Law the Loser

Although the peace agreement worked out between the US, Russia and the EU and imposed on Yugoslavia contains many elements that are distasteful to Belgrade, it is international law that has undoubtedly emerged as the biggest loser. For 72 days, NATO warplanes and missiles relentlessly bombarded a small nation of 11 million, killing more than 1,500 civilians, wounding several thousands more and destroying close to 100 billion dollars worth of property. Consequent to the bombing and to the unpardonable actions of Serb troops, more than 800,000 Kosovar Albanians fled their homes and took refuge in neighbouring countries.

With so much destruction and displacement having taken place as a result of NATO's armed aggression, the international community is entitled to ask why the agreement which was finally reached on Thursday could not have been hammered out much earlier. Though NATO leaders argue that the fault lies entirely with Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic, the fact of the matter is that NATO's intransigence was equally if not more to blame. From the time of the Rambouillet `accords', the US had been insisting on two key conditions: the imposition of NATO political and military control over the Yugoslav province of Kosovo, and the right of the Kosovar Albanian population to secede after a transition period of three years. For Belgrade, these conditions were impossible to fulfil and it was only when the US was persuaded by its Russian and European interlocutors to drop these two demands that a peace agreement became possible.

Under the terms of the Ahtisaari-Chernomyrdin plan, Yugoslav forces are to leave Kosovo in a phased manner. As soon as the pull-out begins, NATO's bombing campaign must be halted. Next, peacekeeping troops mandated by the UN Security Council will enter Kosovo to enable the ethnic Albanian refugees to return to their homes. Though the precise composition and command structure of the force is to be the subject of further negotiations between Yugoslavia and the UN, Belgrade has agreed to allow NATO troops an ``essential'' role. The territorial integrity of Yugoslavia has also been affirmed, unlike Rambouillet, although how effectively Belgrade will be able to exercise its sovereignty over Kosovo with NATO troops in the province remains to be seen. The Kosovo Liberation Army has said it will abide by the latest peace agreement -- which calls for its disarmament -- but there is no reason to assume its drive for independence is to be abandoned.

The Serbs of Kosovo will not trust any NATO peacekeepers and their exodus from the beleaguered region cannot entirely be ruled out. If the peace agreement is to have a fair chance of working, it is essential that the UN Security Council draft a resolution that is balanced and impartial and not riven by the political objectives of the US and its allies. Russia, whose role so far has been questionable to say the least, must not let Washington completely trample over all principles of international law. The International Court of Justice did not grant Yugoslavia's plea for a halt to the bombing on a technicality but it did hint that the military alliance's use of force was illegal. If the US is able to get away with such blatant misuse of military power, no nation or region can regard itself as safe.

Operation Allied Force may have pacified Kosovo for NATO but the rest of the world is now wondering who will pacify NATO.