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News Releases on Europe

October 31, 2000

October 31, 2000 | News Releases on Europe

Milosevic's Fall: A Good Ending to a Bad Strategy, Analyst Says

WASHINGTON, Oct. 31, 2000-Slobodan Milosevic's recent fall appears, at first glance, to vindicate the policies pursued by the United States and its allies toward Yugoslavia. But, in reality, some aspects of U.S. policy only made it more difficult for Milosevic's opponents to bring him down, a new Heritage Foundation paper says.

Consider the effect of the Dayton Accords, negotiated in 1995 by then-Assistant Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke, notes Kim R. Holmes, a Heritage vice president and director of the think tank's Davis Institute for International Studies. Had sanctions on Yugoslavia not been lifted then, disillusionment with Milosevic might have peaked earlier. Rather than prevent the spread of war in the Balkans, Holmes argues, the agreement gave Milosevic the chance to prepare for a showdown over Kosovo.

What about NATO's bombing campaign? True, the destruction it caused exacerbated Serbia's economic problems and reinforced feelings of helplessness inside Serbia, Holmes says. "But it also created a nationalist backlash that Milosevic exploited to hang on to power," he adds. "And it deepened the alienation of the Serbian opposition from the West-not only depriving them of outside support, but creating a deep-seated mistrust that will make it difficult to solve problems in Kosovo now that Vojislav Kostunica is in power."

U.S. policymakers can draw several important lessons from their experience in the Balkans, Holmes says. Among them:

  • Sanctions can work-when they are applied by a broader coalition. One of the keys to the success of the containment policy against Milosevic was the fact that the sanctions were applied universally. All European countries, including the Russians, joined in most of the sanctions. Since the United Nations backed them, so did most of the rest of the world.

  • Threaten force only when prepared to follow through. Albright showed "exceedingly bad judgment" in threatening Milosevic without sufficient preparation, Holmes says. When Milosevic called her bluff, the United States was ill-prepared to handle the military and humanitarian crisis he unleashed on Kosovo.

  • Commit U.S. ground forces only as a last resort, and then only with a clear military mission and exit strategy. U.S. forces are now caught in an ethnic dispute between an emerging democratic Serbia and a non-democratic Albanian majority. Sustained pressure on Milosevic and less bluffing on the part of U.S. negotiators might have prevented the crisis that eventually only force could resolve.

  • Make greater efforts to build democratic opposition movements in civil conflicts. This would give U.S. policymakers options other than direct intervention. The United States has decades of experience working with democratic politicians in unstable regions of the world, even when it necessitates dealing with imperfect leaders such as Haiti's Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

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