Thursday, May 11, 2000Kosovo wake-up call
SOME 5,900 U.S. troops are serving as part of the international peacekeeping force in Kosovo. For an apparently growing number of members of Congress, that is 5,900 too many. In a bipartisan challenge to the administration's Balkans policy, the Senate Appropriations Committee has voted 23 to 3 to stop funding the U.S. presence in Kosovo on July 1 of next year unless there is express congressional authorization to stay longer. The measure also calls on the president to plan for shifting the on-the-ground peacekeeping job to European forces, and would withhold 25 percent of current funding for the U.S. troops until the president certifies that allies are substantially meeting their commitments for reconstruction and humanitarian aid.
Some Republicans backed this amendment because they never supported "the Clinton-Gore war." Some Democrats, such as cosponsor Sen. Robert Byrd, think Congress must assert its constitutional prerogatives over this seemingly open-ended use of American troops abroad. And some members of both parties, most prominently Sen. John Warner, the amendment's other cosponsor, are simply frustrated by what they see as Europe's refusal to shoulder its fair share of the burden.
European support for civil administration and police forces has been slow in materializing. More generally, the international community's effort in Kosovo is drifting; ethnic Albanian militants and Serbs directed by Belgrade have engaged repeatedly in violence against civilians. Organized crime is rampant.
But the Senate measure is the wrong answer to these legitimate concerns. By establishing a de facto deadline for a U.S. pullout, it would actually discourage U.S. allies--who are, after all, providing the lion's share of the ground forces already--from seeing the job through as Sen. Warner and others wish. It tells the enemies of a democratic, multiethnic state in Kosovo--Serb and Albanian--that they can wait out the Americans.
he fundamental source of drift in Kosovo is the allies' failure to face the tough choices about the province's ultimate political status. This issue is linked to the continuation in power of Slobodan Milosevic, because the viability of Kosovo cannot be ensured as long as he stays. Mr. Milosevic remains a constant threat to complicate NATO's mission by lashing out anew, perhaps in the rebellious Yugoslav republic of Montenegro. If the Senate vote has value, it is as a wake-up call to the Clinton administration--as a reminder that the expulsion of Mr. Milosevic's troops from Kosovo, though an impressive achievement, was only half the battle.