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04 June 1999

Kosovo: the price of Blair's victory

by Mick Hume, LM editor

NATO's war against Yugoslavia looks like ending in predictable fashion: as a victory for Tony Blair, and a disaster for just about everybody else.

For NATO's leaders, it has been a war won on the cheap. They have run an unheroic remote-control air campaign against the isolated and crippled Yugoslav state, involving no ground forces and not one NATO casualty. Many others, however, have paid a heavy price for NATO's adventure.

The ethnic Albanian and Serb populations of Kosovo have been plunged into a humanitarian disaster. The rest of Serbia has been bombed to rubble and ruin. The entire Balkan region has been economically devastated. And the reverberations of the war have been felt across Europe and around the world. India's air strikes in Kashmir are one example of what can follow, once the West has set a pattern of gunboat diplomacy in international politics.

Those who think that 'it's all right now' are advised not to hold their breath. Things are likely to descend further into chaos. At best, Kosovo is set to become a protectorate of the United Nations Security Council, run by the diktat of appointed officials - a status which, as the example of Bosnia shows, holds out little hope of democracy for its people.

None of this, however, needs overly concern Bill Clinton or Tony Blair, for whom the war has largely served its purpose. As LM argued, Blair launched Britain's war effort as a crusade that had little to do with Kosovo. It was more about giving his government an air of authority and sense of mission as a force for Good against Evil, and establishing a moral consensus within Britain. With those political goals having been achieved as far as possible, Blair and Co need not worry too much about practicalities on the ground.

The Kosovo crisis has been played out as a piece of grisly political theatre, directed from Washington and Whitehall, in which the local players served as little more than puppets. Milosevic - described by the US administration only a few months ago as 'a man we can do business with' - has been set up as a Hitler-style pantomime villain. And the suffering Kosovo Albanians have been used as a stage army to justify whatever NATO does.

Look at how the official status of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) has changed to suit NATO's purposes. A year ago the Americans branded the KLA as terrorists. A few weeks ago, the KLA was turned into an unofficial member of the NATO alliance. Now NATO is telling its KLA 'allies' to disarm and disappear again.

The outcome of all this looks like (in the short term at least) a good result for Clinton, and a real triumph for Blair, the crusader King of Kosovo. In truth, this was always a war that Blair could not lose. Safe in his missile silo on the moral high-ground, facing absolutely no opposition at home, he has remained the self-righteous Mr Clean of NATO's increasingly dirty war. The only criticism he now faces is from the half-satisfied laptop bombardiers of the liberal press, whose demands for a truly 'noble' ground war in recent weeks have come close to sounding like Dulce Et Decorum Est Pro Kosova Mori.

Even as the Serbs accepted NATO's terms, the bombs continued to fall. After all, as Clinton pointed out, you can't trust Milosevic to keep his promises. Not like Western politicians.

For more on Kosovo, see the special LM Online documentary

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