The fortunes of war

A Milosevic deal would undermine the law

Tuesday June 20, 2000

The fortune tellers who have proliferated in recent years in Serbia agree with a suspicious unanimity that the stars will continue to smile on Slobodan Milosevic. Polls suggest that the many Serbians who read newspaper clairvoyants believe he will remain in power until at least 2010. Half of them, according to one recent survey, answered Yes to the question: "Do you believe that all members of Nato will soon be punished by natural catastrophes and epidemics?" But the Serbian leader may have a clearer grasp of reality. That is why some Nato governments, according to a report in the New York Times, have been exploring the question of what we should do if he suddenly showed himself ready to step down if his safety and assets were guaranteed.

In the interest of bringing about a change for the better in Serbia, should we acquiesce or even collude in some arrangement under which he and his family found refuge in, say, Russia? The dilemma of how to dig out dictators has become more difficult since the establishment of international war crimes tribunals and the detention of Pinochet. Certainly there is an unavoidable conflict between the idea of negotiating an end to authoritarian rule, which inevitably involves some immunity for members of the outgoing regime, and ending what Kofi Annan has called the "culture of impunity." In some countries and in some circumstances the need for a bargain will rightly prevail but not, surely, in the case of Milosevic, who has been formally charged with war crimes. That would be to humiliate the tribunal in The Hague, to cast down the precedents it is setting and to look the other way as governments ignored their new duties under international law. It would also encourage Serbs- who need above all to honestly examine their responsibility for the terrible events of the last 10 years - to carry on dwelling in that fantastical twilight in which, as shown by the popularity of the soothsayers, too many of them remain.

Original article