So Milosevic Leaves Serbia -- and Goes Where?

By Misha Glenny
June 23, 2000

LONDON -- It may seem far-fetched that the United States and some of its allies have put out feelers to Slobodan Milosevic offering a so-called exit strategy -- a deal whereby the Yugoslav president would be excused an appearance at the international war crimes tribunal in The Hague in exchange for his getting out of the Balkans. A fanciful notion, indeed! Yet in the past three months, I have discussed this issue with senior diplomats from the NATO countries involved. Despite the furious denials from Washington and elsewhere this week, this is a serious policy. Or rather, this is what masquerades as a serious policy.

In reality, it is a sign of desperation. It reflects the deep concern in Europe and America that NATO's Balkans policy has been drifting badly in recent months. It also reflects a growing feeling that isolating Mr. Milosevic, which was an appropriate moral response during the Kosovo war, has closed any political options. The West has zero leverage on Mr. Milosevic at a time when security in the Balkans is again deteriorating.

Law and order is fragile in Kosovo as an increasingly directionless United Nations administration stumbles toward local elections in the fall.

Montenegro, Serbia's tiny sister republic and friend of the West, hovers between bankruptcy and civil war.

Above all, the Balkan peninsula is now a hub for a vast criminal fraternity that traffics drugs, women, cigarettes and refugees into Western Europe. Mr. Milosevic's murderous kleptocracy is the epicenter of this emerging dystopia, but it is by no means the only player. Kosovo, Albania, Montenegro, Macedonia and Bosnia are linked by a vast, illegal economy that thrives on the region's staggering unemployment.

Getting rid of Mr. Milosevic would unquestionably make life much easier for diplomats, not to mention those unfortunate enough to live in the Balkans during these years of conflict and uncertainty. But the latest "exit strategy" has several flaws.

First, there is no guarantee, still less any reason, why Mr. Milosevic should play ball. Few countries would be willing to offer him sanctuary. The Russians have indicated he would not be welcome. The Chinese, who, like the Russians, prop him up financially, want him exactly where he is, as a little stick with which to poke the Americans from time to time.

Moreover, the Serbian opposition is hopelessly divided and cannot be counted on to offer any serious challenge. As long as Mr. Milosevic can maintain his mafia-elite lifestyle, whether through sanctions-busting or pillage, he can sit tight in Belgrade, sipping his whiskey and puffing on his Dutch cigars, occasionally stirring the miasma in Kosovo, Bosnia and Montenegro. Why should he exchange this mastery for an uncertain future in a faraway country?

The exit strategy has another problem as well: the war crimes tribunal itself, which has no intention of cooperating.

On Wednesday, the chief prosecutor for the tribunal spelled it out: "There will not be stability in the Balkans if Milosevic is not brought to justice in The Hague," the prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte, said at a news conference during a visit to Kosovo. "I don't think that the man most responsible for what happened here in Kosovo should have preference."

The exit strategy is not going to work. But it has served an important function by highlighting the absence of any coherent American or European policy in the Balkans. So what is to be done? The solution is expensive and difficult, but fortunately for the United States, it is primarily Europe's responsibility.

In Kosovo, the United Nations should concentrate on creating a local civil service, comprising Albanians in the Albanian areas and Serbs in the Serb areas. These officials should be properly paid and trained to ensure that they are loyal to the goals of the United Nations and not to the local mafias. If the power of the latter remains unchecked, the strategy of holding elections this fall will prove futile.

President Milo Djukanovic's regime in Montenegro should be bolstered with serious money. If not, support for the West's most important ally in federal Yugoslavia will slip, threatening either war or the reassertion of Mr. Milosevic's control in the republic.

And the European Union must demonstrate a greater commitment to the integration of countries like Croatia, Romania and Bulgaria. When officials from these countries inquire when they may be admitted to the union, they receive only evasive answers. They are worried that the eastward expansion of the union is slowing down, leading ordinary people to become disaffected with the West.

Mr. Milosevic's source of power will dry up when Serbia's neighbors start making some visible economic progress. Beyond the strategy of supporting this, there are only two other options: Either you do a deal with Mr. Milosevic (a risky business), or you mount a covert operation, and, as we know, the C.I.A. no longer does that sort of thing.

Misha Glenny is the author of The Balkans: Nationalism, War and the Great Powers, 1804-1999

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