London Times
Only now can we see how we lost in Kosovo

Nato has never been weaker than in the year since the West's 'victory'

Michael Gove

March 14 2000


Like Margaret Thatcher, and indeed John Major, Tony Blair fought a war within months of coming to office. But whereas the Falklands Factor played a part in the 1983 election and the Gulf War helped to boost Mr Major's stature in 1992, there is, one year on, no evidence that the conflict unleashed in Kosovo will be used by Millbank to burnish the Prime Minister's stature.

That is not because of any fastidiousness on Mr Blair's part. He was happy enough to use the backdrop of the prime ministerial "bunker" during the conflict, for all the world as though he were Churchill weathering another blitz. The real reason the Government is so reluctant to be reminded of Kosovo is because, unlike the Falklands, or even the Gulf, we lost.

The scale of our defeat has really become apparent only in the past week. The world's attention has been drawn back to Kosovo by the melancholy first anniversary of the bombing campaign. In the immediate aftermath of the war, the Government was anxious to declare victory, and move on. Ticks were recorded on the Blairite pledge card for Kosovo, "Serb troops out, our troops in, the refugees back home". But the superficiality of that premature self-congratulation has now become woefully apparent. It has all the value for posterity of Mr Major's fatuous declaration at the end of the Maastricht negotiations that he had won "game, set and match". History is one referee whose judgments you cannot pre-empt.

For if one looks at the real war aims in Kosovo, just as if one considers Mr Major's genuine aspirations at Maastricht, the record is one of distress, division and defeat. Maastricht did not mark a high tide for federalism, it did not unite the Tory party and it did not signal that Europe was at last going Britain's way. In Kosovo, Britain was fighting to maintain the credibility of the Nato alliance, to uphold the principle of multi-ethnic government and to remove Slobodan Milosevic (a modern Hitler, lest we forget).

On each point we have failed. Nato has never been weaker than in the aftermath of Kosovo. The alliance's main strategic function has been the maintenance of a community of interest between Europe and America. But the Kosovo campaign has done more damage to that than it ever did to the Serb Army.

The recent dispute over security lapses in Nato, which allowed the Serbs to anticipate bombings, was played down by the Europeans only to be played up by Washington. America was, and is, livid that its ability to operate effectively was compromised by the failure of its European allies to police secure information. The problem is not an isolated "spy" in Nato headquarters but the conflicting priorities of the member nations. France, Greece and Italy all had their disagreements with a bombing strategy to which their airmen hardly contributed. Within each of those nations enjoying access to plans with which they disagreed, the potential for leakage was always there, and it is unsurprising that the Serbs were able to exploit this dissension.

America's anger at Europe's unreliability has only grown since the campaign ended. The European nations, far from learning the appropriate lesson and resolving to shoulder a bigger burden of defence expenditure within a more coherent alliance, have directed their energies towards creating a new, more exclusive, European architecture for defence. Romano Prodi has made it clear he wants to build a European army. Javier Solana's plans for a European defence and security identity combined with the French Minister Hubert Vedrine's gibes about the American "hyperpower" are clear indications that a new Iron Curtain is being constructed. Across the Atlantic.

The bitterest irony of this juvenile Gaullism is that where European forces are supposed to be acting in concert, in Kosovo itself, they are paralysed by ethnic strife. Not just between Serbs and Albanians, but between French and British. The Western effort to police Kosovo is a tragic failure on every level. In areas such as Mitrovica, a co-ordinated attempt to restrain Kosovan terrorism against remaining Serbs is hampered by division between French personnel and other "peacekeepers". While Western nations squabble, the Kosovans pursue their own criminal campaign of ethnic cleansing.

Agim Ceku of the KLA, described, apparently without irony, by Madeleine Albright as a Balkan Gerry Adams, makes his Ulster counterpart look like a Belfast Madeleine Albright. Not only have Mr Ceku's troops failed to decommission their weapons, they're letting them loose on a nightly basis. They have been used to mount a campaign of anti-Serb and anti-Gypsy intimidation that has made a mockery of any attempts to to build a multi-ethnic Kosovo.

The KLA presides over a drug-smuggling operation responsible for 40 per cent of the heroin sold in Europe and the US. And where, in this criminal paradise, is the West's police force, Kfor? In the words of the vice-president of the international narcotics enforcement association, they "may as well be on another planet when it comes to tackling these guys".

And, indeed, the West's forces might as well have been bombing Mars last year for all the difference they made to Mr Milosevic's position. The war allowed him to liquidate opposition, nurture the limitless Serb appetite for revenge and prepare for a strike against Montenegro, confident that he has bled the West dry of any appetite for further intervention. If that's defeat, he must think, then I can't wait for humiliation. And if our campaign in Kosovo was a victory, then can our next war please be a defeat?



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