July 13, 2000

Playing the Montenegro Card

It looks like NATO will soon be renewing its war against Serbia. Montenegro will provide the justification. NATO is playing the same game in Montenegro that it played in Kosovo. For at least two years now, the United States – and to a lesser extent the European Union – has been urging Montenegro’s President Milo Djukanovic to secede from Yugoslavia. Money has poured in, along with promises of speedy integration into the institutions of the West. Montenegro got the D-Mark as its currency, while the Italians promised to look the other way at the smuggling that was going on. Djukanovic, essentially a Balkan thug, has enjoyed an adulatory press full of guff about his being "reform-minded," "pro-democracy," "Western-oriented." The idea is to provoke Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic into doing something rash, thereby providing NATO with a pretext for intervening. In Kosovo, the KLA had been urged by the United States to perpetrate terrorist acts in the hope of provoking Serb reprisals, which could then be used as justification for a Western "humanitarian intervention."

However, the Montenegro ploy will be difficult to pull off. In the first place, Montenegrins are not Albanians. It is very dubious that there is any such thing as a Montenegrin national identity. Up until quite recently, Montenegrins – unlike, say, Albanians or Croats – regarded themselves as Serbs. Moreover, as the recent municipal elections demonstrated, a substantial portion of the population wants to maintain its connection with Serbia. This poses a dilemma for Djukanovic and the Clinton Administration. A referendum on independence might go against Djukanovic. This would be extremely embarrassing for NATO. And even if a majority voted to secede, it is unlikely that it would be a decisive one. To go ahead and seek independence on such a basis would almost certainly lead to civil war in Montenegro. To intervene in such a war in the name of humanitarianism may be hard to pull off. The United States would certainly do it. So would our favorite yapping poodle, Great Britain. But no other European power would join in. In such circumstances, the United States has decided that Djukanovic’s best option for the moment is to sit tight, and to try to emerge as Yugoslavia’s only alternative to Milosevic. Instead of secession, Djukanovic should start thinking about being leader of Yugoslavia as a whole. The Clinton Administration has become exasperated with the antics of its favored Serb alternatives – Zoran Djindjic and Vuk Draskovic. The American disdain for Balkan politicians in general and the Yugoslav opposition in particular was beautifully captured in a recent AP story: "Albright unleashed the attack on Milosevic at a conference in Berlin during which she and German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer received Serbia’s Democratic Party leader Zoran Djindjic and representatives of the country’s Balkans neighbors." Like emperors they "receive" beseeching supplicants and grant royal favors according to whim.

The wily Milosevic, realizing what NATO was up to, decided to call our bluff. He downgraded the status of Montenegro within the federation. Last week, Yugoslavia’s federal parliament amended the country’s constitution so as to create a directly elected President as well as a directly elected parliamentary upper chamber. Djukanovic was beside himself with rage. He immediately announced that Montenegro would boycott the upcoming federal and presidential elections. But this was hardly chilling news. Even before the Constitutional changes, he had indicated that he would not take part in the elections. This was a course being urged on him by the US Government. It is customary US practice that whenever our candidate seems to be heading for defeat, Washington orders him to pull out and claim "fraud." In any case, it does not matter whether Djukanovic boycotts the election or not, the vote will still take place and Milosevic’s supporters in Montenegro will be elected to the federal parliament. Djukanovic is obviously distressed. He has now taken to urging NATO military intervention on his behalf. Or as a UPI story helpfully puts it, "The case of Montenegro clearly poses a dilemma for the West. While Djukanovic is no angel…he is also the closest thing to a Western democratic leader in the Balkans….If the West were to turn its back on Mr. Djukanovic now, it may seriously damage its credibility in the region." "The international community will react in time and will not wait for war to break out before it reacts," he said the other day. His call is being echoed by NATO’s slimiest toady, Czech President Vaclav Havel. He demands that NATO stage a show of force to intimidate Milosevic. "Apart from political options, there are alternatives, which consist of a demonstration of force," Havel declared recently, "The international community looked on events (in former Yugoslavia) with surprise and abhorrence and reacted too late. It should not be repeated a fifth time." Havel’s obnoxiousness is hard to equal. He not only supported the bombing of a fellow-Slavic country, a country, moreover, that had historically had enjoyed good relations with the former Czechoslovakia. He also shows his disdain for the views of his countrymen, who were overwhelmingly opposed to NATO’s campaign.

Much of this policy is worked out not by the likes of the hideous harridan of Foggy Bottom or the self-important windbags at the Qui d’Orsay. Policy towards the Balkans is developed by the so-called "non-governmental organizations" – the NGOs. In this bizarre American empire we inhabit, US-funded agencies like the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia are described as "independent" courts of law. And NGOs that are financed by the governments that have a direct interest in the outcome of various conflicts that they purport to study and policy recommendations on are invariably described in the media as "independent." Case in point: the International Crisis Group, financed in large part by George Soros. So "independent" is it that on its board sit Louise Arbour, former chief prosecutor at the ICTY, as well as former NATO Supreme Commander Wesley Clark, demented leader of last year’s bombing mission. Chairman of the ICG Board is former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaar, the man who forced NATO’s demands down Serbian throats to end the bombing last year. There is a cozy relationship between the NATO governments and the NGOs. The NGOs supposedly provide disinterested analysis and profess exclusively humanitarian concerns. The Governments listen to the NGOs and dutifully follow their recommendations. The only problem is that it is the Governments that underwrite the operations of the NGOs

The International Crisis Group describes itself as "a private, multinational organization committed to strengthening the capacity of the international community to anticipate, understand and act to prevent and contain conflict." Then we learn that the Group "works closely with governments and the press to highlight key issues identified in the field and to generate support for its policy prescriptions." Among the governments that fund the ICG are those of Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Ireland, Japan, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, the Republic of China (Taiwan), Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States. Private sector donors, we learn, include the US Institute of Peace. Now when did the US Institute of Peace get to be in the "private sector"? The Institute gets its money from the US Government. Among the Foundations listed as contributors is the National Endowment for Democracy – yet another agency funded by the US Government. Talk about triple-dipping.

It turns out that the description "anticipate, understand and act to prevent and contain conflict" means not the prevention, but the exacerbation of conflict. In a recent article in the Washington Post, Anna Husarska, described as a "senior political analyst at the International Crisis Group," proclaimed proudly: "Montenegro’s collaboration with the international community goes very far indeed." Why, only the other day, Djukanovic entertained Carla del Ponte, the ICTY’s chief prosecutor, in Montenegro. Del Ponte "came to Yugoslav soil to hear that a Yugoslav republic is ready to collaborate with the Hague Tribunal, a collaboration that may at some point mean having to allow the snatching of Milosevic." The "snatching of Milosevic"! Here is this "senior political analyst" cheerfully talking about flagrant violations of international law, the commission of terrorist or warlike acts. But Husarska was not done yet. She expressed outrage that, unlike Wesley Clark, who "frequently expressed his concern for stability in Montenegro," the new NATO supreme commander General Joseph Ralston "has been silent on this subject – almost as if Montenegro has fallen off the maps at the Pentagon." The notion of "mad bomber" Clark worrying about "stability" boggles the mind. But it gives one an idea of what the ICG means by "conflict prevention."

Text-only printable version of this article

George Szamuely was born in Budapest, Hungary, educated in England, and has worked as an editorial writer for The Times (London), The Spectator (London), and the Times Literary Supplement (London). In America, he has been equally busy: as an associate at the Manhattan Institute, editor at Freedom House, film critic for Insight, research consultant at the Hudson Institute, and as a weekly columnist for the New York Press. Szamuely has contributed to innumerable publications including Commentary, American Spectator, National Review, the Wall Street Journal, National Interest, American Scholar, Orbis, Daily Telegraph, the Times of London, the Sunday Telegraph, and The New Criterion. His exclusive column for Antiwar.com appears every Wednesday.

Go to George Szamuely's latest column from the New York Press.

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According to a recent Group study, Djukanovic is "the most significant remaining voice of internal opposition to Milosevic. Milosevic wants the Djukanovic government out, and has the military resources to overthrow it. The best hope for stopping him from doing so lies in stepping up international economic and political support and…providing a credible commitment to intervene military in the event that the republic’s security is jeopardized." Note that the Group could not care less what the American people might think about getting involved in war on behalf of Milo Djukanovic. But among the policy elites that the Group tries to address public opinion is the least of their concerns. Last March, the Group urged NATO to make "a stronger direct commitment to Montenegro’s security, backing that commitment with a formal authorization to NATO to commence military planning and appropriate movement of forces. Unless an effective deterrent strategy is rapidly developed and applied, the international community will again cede the initiative to Milosevic, and could yet again in the Balkans find itself reacting, after the event, to killing and destruction that could have been prevented." "Deterrent strategy" is a wonderfully elastic notion. There does not have to be a military threat demanding a response. Any aggressive action is justified as essential for warding off the "threat." Milosevic "only understands the language of force," as the tired cliché has it. And "deterrence" is always a success, calling for ever larger doses of the same. If there was no war, then it must have been on account of the deterrence. Even if there is war, it will have been Milosevic’s fault anyway.

According to yet another ICG report: "Montenegro should be given further substantial balance of payments and general budgetary support, and funding for major infrastructure projects satisfying World Bank criteria. If the necessary support cannot or will not be provided by international financial institutions like the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development or European Investment Bank, on the ground of Montenegro’s non-sovereignty or the indebtedness of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, then it should be provided bilaterally." One has to wonder about this extraordinary commitment to a tiny state of 600,000 people. It only makes sense if the West intends to use Montenegro as the springboard for further military action in the Balkans. We are being prepared for a new war. Just like in the war for Kosovo, George Soros’s International Crisis Group is leading the way.

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