August 15, 2001
There are essentially two types of peace agreements: those that ratify a peace that is in place for whatever reason (conquest, surrender, war-weariness) and those that seek to push forward a "process" that has not yet brought anything resembling an actual peace. One may hope that the Macedonian peace accord signed Monday is in the former category, but it is more likely that it is in the latter, which means it is more likely to be an illusion and another opportunity for NATO to assert power than a genuine step toward peace.
It can be appropriate and helpful for an outside entity to get involved in facilitating an agreement that is a done deal or even close to completion. Sometimes a neutral party can help to build bridges, tie up details, provide a forum in which trust can be built when the parties involved in hostilities are actually ready to cease hostilities. When the parties engaged in hostilities are not really ready to stop engaging in violence and recriminations the Israeli-Palestinian situation comes to mind a forced agreement imposed by outside parties is not only something of a fantasy, it is likely to damage the prospects for a genuine settlement.
In the case of the Macedonian agreement, the groups of guerrillas generally called "ethnic Albanian rebels" in the media have been the primary irritants, having begun insurgency operations in February. The only way a peace agreement would have a chance of permanence would be for those rebel groups to be a signatory, or at least to have agreed informally to abide by the agreement.
Naturally, the rebels are not a party to the agreement. Instead, some ethnic Albanian political groups with tenuous connections to the rebels groups that have generally not been involved in armed struggle in the first place signed on.
Although at least one rebel leader said Tuesday that the rebels would respect the cease-fire and there were news reports that the rebels would disarm, most Macedonian newspapers ranged from guarded to skeptical to cynical in their assessments. The gaps between apparently promising to disarm and actually disarming can be quite large; just today the Irish Republican Army rejected another proposal, part of a years-long process, to disarm as the British would like them to disarm. Like most people I want to hope for the best, but I would be astounded if even a formal agreement to disarm went forward without caches of weapons stored in various woods and mountains.
Actually, the ethnic Albanian rebels are not the only relevant parties that haven't completely bought into the wonderful NATO-crafted peace "settlement." The government restricted media access to the signing ceremony at the Skopje residence of Macedonian president Boris Trajkovski, fearing most Macedonians would be angered by what most view as compromises to appease the rebels.
The US-NATO fallacy driving this manic push for some piece of paper for somebody to sign, Ted Carpenter of the Cato Institute believes, is that what the ethnic Albanian rebels want is a better deal from the Macedonian state. Carpenter notes that at least half the rebels are not from Macedonia at all, but from Kosovo. And what most of the rebel leaders say they want is not recognition of Albanian as a second official language, but a Greater Albania.
That means their real desire is the utter and complete destruction of the Macedonian state, not a few crumbs from the state's table in response to bullying from NATO officials who want to feel important and effectual. But the NATO and American diplomats seem to view the conflicts in the Balkans as akin to political contests among various ethnic groups in large American cities.
So they act as a Tammany Hall boss might, thinking they are buying off groups by offering jobs, patronage, respect and a place at the table to a few designated leaders.
There's a certain almost charming naiveté in some of the statements from the diplomats who assembled to supervise the signing and who were quoted without apparent irony by the newshounds on hand.
"Clearly, there has to be a sustainable cease-fire," Lord Robertson fantasized, "and clear indications from the insurgents that they mean business in terms of disarming completely and handing over their weapons and ammunition to the NATO troops when they come."
What planet does this guy inhabit? Does Lord Haw Haw think they would calmly hand their weapons over even if they had been at the table? Has he ever talked to anybody with even the slightest involvement in the Northern Ireland conflict?
Even more amusing was James Pardew of the United States, who said, "This is the day when we can begin an end to this conflict and take all the political issues off the table. After this day, there should be no reason for fighting."
No comment can do justice to the vapidity of that statement.
The most plausible explanation I have seen for the determination of NATO and US diplomats to get involved in an almost surely untenable situation in Macedonia comes from Gary Dempsey of Cato, who served as an election observer in Bosnia and has spent considerable time in the region. He thinks the reason is to try to prevent the previous intervention in Kosovo from blowing up in NATO's face.
The Albanian rebels in Macedonia, especially since many of them are from Kosovo, have the capacity to do a good deal of mischief in Kosovo. Insofar as they do, it just might become too apparent even for NATO and the international press to ignore that the mission in Kosovo has not only been a failure but a destabilizing factor. So to maintain the pretense that the Kosovo occupation is something other than a farce NATO is willing to get even more deeply involved in a highly volatile situation in Macedonia.
It probably won't work as a means of staving off disaster in Kosovo, though it might divert attention from Kosovo for a while.
The almost surprising aspect of all this is the extent to which the Bush administration has endorsed and reinforced the mistakes made by the Clinton administration. This is not only strategically, but politically, shortsighted.
Back when he was campaigning against Al Gore, Bush seemed to be saying that he had reservations about open-ended "peacekeeping" engagements and would tell NATO that handling brushfires in Europe was almost solely a European responsibility. "I hope they [the Europeans] put the troops on the ground so that we can withdraw our troops and focus our military on fighting and winning war," he said during one of his debates with Gore last October.
Once in office, however, he has told us, as has Colin Powell, that NATO and the U.S. went into the Balkans together and they will get out together. That means the US is in it as long as the Europeans are, and there is no realistic prospect of turning the conflict over to the Europeans to handle, if they can.
This is in some ways baffling. When it becomes obvious that the Balkans resemble quicksand and that moving forward is not likely to get us to the other side, Bush will get the blame for the ill-fated open-ended commitment. No amount of whining that he inherited a bad situation from the Clinton administration however true it might be will protect the Bushies from the peoples' anger.
So a strictly political calculation even absent a sense of history that might have informed Americans that making peace in the Balkans has never been easy and wasn't made easier by the long suppression of ethnic conflict by Tito would have dictated a certain amount of disengagement and distancing by the Bushies. But apparently the maintenance of the empire is considered more important even than protecting the administration's political hide.
Whether the decision to get involved and stay involved in the Balkans turns out to be as large a world-historical miscalculation as the Japanese decision to bomb Pearl Harbor or Hitler's decision to invade Russia, it is a decision American taxpayers and soldiers will be paying for for decades.
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