A stunning victory

The United Nations has learned some valuable lessons from a decade of dealing with Slobodan Milosevic.


Ian Williams
June 10, 1999 4:50PM (UTC)

In its happier moments, the United Nations Security Council prides itself on "consensus," and on the face of it the resolution that ended, or at least suspended, this particular Balkans war qualified. The new Kosovo peace plan passed with 14 votes for and one abstention. All was not sweetness and light, however, as one would expect from a conflict that has left a million homeless and thousands dead.

While President Slobodan Milosevic was declaring victory back home on Belgrade television, the Yugoslav representative to the United Nations, Vladislac Jovanovic, told delegates that this was one of the darkest pages in the history of the Security Council, which would lead to the dismemberment of a sovereign European state.

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Unresolved still is the question of the terms of Russian involvement. The Russian newspaper Pravda reports that 2,200 Russian paratroopers will not arrive for another month, by which time the NATO forces will be settled in. Some of the Russians are beginning to wonder whether they are not just there to put truth in the rumor that this is an international force, since they will clearly not be able to fulfill the original plan of creating a Serbian enclave within Kosovo. Indeed there are even suggestions in Russia that they should be posted to a sector outside of Kosovo altogether.

While the military side is sorted out, many are less than sanguine about the prospects of the United Nations running what is in effect a whole country, building up the administration from scratch. Luckily, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan is among the skeptics. One major problem is a financial one. Washington's continual refusal to pay its U.N. dues arrears means that the organization has little or no financial or human resources for such a major operation.

The plans envisage the United Nations farming out much of the work to other agencies and departments. For example the European Union would look after reconstruction, the Organization for the Security of Europe would arrange elections, the United Nations'[ own peacekeeping department would provide international police and the U.N. Commissioner for Refugees would work with non-government organizations to resettle the Kosovars. All of this will have to start at a much more rapid pace than the United Nations' typical lethargic, bureaucratic crawl, in order to fill the administrative vacuum likely to be found on the ground.

In fact the eight pages of Resolution 1244 are remarkably clear. It is going to be one of the memorable ones -- like the mother of all resolutions, No. 687, which ended the Gulf War. That one also led to a decade of sanctions, an intermittent, low-intensity air war and high-intensity diplomacy. This time, the United Nations seems to have learned some valuable lessons from a decade of dealing with Milosevic. This resolution allows the troops carte blanche to enforce the peace plan, eliminating the need to play "mother may I" in front of the Security Council for future authorizations of force.

Some who have been here before remain skeptical. Bosnia's ambassador to the United Nations, Muhamed Sacirbey, commented ruefully to Salon News, "We had some good resolutions too -- but it all comes down to the implementation. The Western powers seem to have learned their lessons from Bosnia. Ironically, they were the ones who had a lack of will to implement before, but that seems to have changed."

In fact, the resolve of the Western alliance seems to be the best guarantee that the resolution will indeed be enforced. If everything goes according to plan, there will be nothing but a few token Serbian personnel in the province 11 days from now. Quite simply, barring a major miracle, Serbia will never control Kosovo again.

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As is their wont, the Chinese abstained when the resolution came up for a final vote. Even though the 14 other members voted for it, several days of huffing and puffing on Beijing's part had produced a very small victory. The West threw China a bone in the wording of the resolution's preamble, reaffirming the U.N. Charter and the role of the Security Council. But the Council majority thwarted Chinese attempts to delete paragraphs about the Hague Tribunal, to put a time limit on the operation or to remove references to Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter -- the one that authorizes the use of force.

The night before the vote, Chinese Ambassador Shen Guofang had, with a straight face, declared his country to be the "best defender of the U.N. Charter." Guofang was simply reminding reporters of China's inalienable right to veto any resolution that in any way mentions, evokes, invokes or is mildly reminiscent of Taiwan or Tibet. In recent years, China has vetoed peacekeeping forces in Haiti and Macedonia, and is currently threatening to block the admittance of the tiny Pacific Island republic of Nauru to the United Nations. In each case, despite the wide geographical sweep, China's beef was the same -- the countries concerned had recognized Taiwan as a sovereign country.

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Western diplomats report that in the private sessions, the Chinese belied their public bellicosity and were politely accommodating -- "once they'd found that Kosovo wasn't spelled with a T," quipped one U.N. observer, referring to Taiwan and Tibet.

The Russians supported the resolution -- especially the parts about neutralizing the Kosovo Liberation Army -- but Ambassador Sergei Lavrov could not resist adding that he "sternly condemned the NATO aggression" against the Serbs.

But for all the Russian and Chinese hand-wringing, they gave their tacit endorsement to a plan many Serbs and Albanians privately predict will result in an independent Kosovo.

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Ian Williams

Ian Williams' book "Rum: A Social and Sociable History of the Real Spirit of 1776" is due in late August 2005 from Nation Books. His last book was "Deserter: Bush's War on Military Families, Veterans and His Own Past."

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