Washington Post
Prolonging YU's agony

Saturday, July 8, 2000

Normally, when a country changes its constitution to allow the direct election of the parliament and president, it's considered a step toward democracy. Slobodan Milosevic's Yugoslavia, however, is anything but a normal country. The step by the Yugoslav federal parliament, which Mr. Milosevic controls, will have the effect of making him eligible for reelection this year in a vote that he clearly intends to manipulate in his favor. It will likewise all but eliminate the influence in parliament of the republic of Montenegro, which now has some guaranteed seats in the upper chamber; direct election will wipe those out, since the republic's population is small.

Mr. Milosevic thus engineers his own perpetuation in power while stepping up his campaign of provocation against Montenegro's independence-minded leaders. Neither objective is consistent with the declared goals of U.S. policy toward the region, which are to get rid of Mr. Milosevic while protecting Montenegro from a pro-Milosevic coup or military attack spearheaded by the Yugoslav army forces still stationed in the republic. Toward the latter goal, the United States and its NATO allies have pursued a strategy similar to the "strategic ambiguity" the United States employs toward China with regard to Taiwan. The West has offered Montenegro just enough support to give Mr. Milosevic pause about invading the republic, but has refrained from offering a blanket security guarantee that might embolden Montenegro to separate so definitively from Belgrade as to provoke a war.

There has been no war so far, and Montenegro responded to Mr. Milosevic's constitutional slap with restraint, calling for a peaceful resolution of its differences with Serbia. Nevertheless, Mr. Milosevic's latest tactical moves illustrate that there is a lot he can do to coerce Montenegro short of an outright invasion; Mr. Milosevic may hope to maneuver the Montenegrins into taking precipitous action themselves, so that his own culpability in a war would be obscured, and Western intervention perhaps forestalled. Mr. Milosevic's actions show how much single-minded effort he continues to devote to his own political survival, while the United States and its allies, both in Serbia and in the governments of Europe, struggle to react. Strategic ambiguity has its uses, but a policy of temporizing may eventually fall short.

Original article