Tuesday, 1 June 1999


New Times, June 1999

Paul Anderson assesses Nato's war over Kosovo and looks at the options for what happens next

The war over Kosovo has not turned out as Nato's political leaders expected or wanted. Their assumption was that Slobodan Milosevic's assault on the ethnic Albanian population of Kosovo could be stopped quickly with air strikes and air strikes alone. So far – nine weeks into the air strikes as we went to press – there has been no sign that he has any intention of backing down.

Milosevic was given a look at Nato's hand when, at the same time as announcing the bombing raids, Tony Blair and Bill Clinton made it clear that deployment of ground troops was not planned as part of the Nato intervention.

The Serbian dictator then upped the stakes. Instead of pulling back his forces from Kosovo, as Nato demanded, he unleashed a ferocious pogrom against the ethnic Albanian population of the province – a pogrom that appears to have been eagerly executed and widely supported by ordinary Serbs. Within a week of the air strikes starting, more than half the 1.9 million Kosovo Albanians had been forced from their homes.

Nato responded to this brutal campaign of ethnic cleansing by increasing the scope of its aerial bombardment. But in doing so it started to kill civilians, including Kosovo Albanians, in significant numbers. Pictures from Serbian television showing casualties and bomb damage were beamed around the world. What little there was of a democratic opposition in Serbia rallied to Milosevic's side.

Now, after two months, a substantial part of Serbia's military capacity and much of its communications and industrial infrastructure have been 'degraded', as the Nato jargon has it. Yet Milosevic has not yielded. There are currently 1.6 million Kosovo Albanians in exile or 'displaced'. Thousands have been massacred. Milosevic's support at home – insofar as it is possible to measure it – has apparently remained solid. Ethnic cleansing has continued unabated in Kosovo. The number of refugees has risen inexorably. Ethnic tensions in the main countries the refugees have fled to, particularly Macedonia and Greece, are at crisis point.

Russia, which was from the start opposed to the Nato action, is now so antipathetic that serious commentators are talking about the danger of a new cold war. China, after the bombing of its embassy in Belgrade, is more strongly set against the Nato intervention than ever.

All in all, it is an extraordinary mess. It is tempting to respond simply by saying that Nato should not have acted as it has done – that the intervention should have been organised by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe rather than Nato, that more time should have been given to diplomatic efforts, that Nato should have planned from the beginning to deploy ground troops in some role or other.

The trouble with such arguments, however, is that they are wholly counterfactual. They might be useful as contributions to general debates about the sort of security structures that should exist in Europe, about the purposes of foreign policy and about the legitimacy and efficacy of military force. But they are not much use in helping to determine what should happen next over Kosovo. Like it or not, what has been done has been done.

So what should happen next? For Nato, there are three options.

The first is to continue the 'air strikes alone' strategy in the hope that it will eventually have the effect of forcing Milosevic to stop the military assault on Kosovo, let the refugees return and allow a Nato-led peace-keeping force into Kosovo. The second is to stop the air strikes and reopen negotiations with Milosevic, with a key role for the Russians. The third is to escalate the use of military force.

Each has implications. Sticking to 'air strikes alone' – until now the position of the US government and most of its west European allies, though support for it is much more fragile than hitherto – has two advantages for western politicians. It does not appear to be a capitulation to Milosevic, and it does not involve major western casualties.

The problem, of course, is that it has not worked so far, and it is questionable whether it will ever work except at an unacceptable cost in Serbian civilian lives, economic devastation and environmental damage. As the strategy is currently conceived, no ground deployments will take place until after Milosevic sues for peace – which he does not appear likely to do, not least because an admission of defeat would be the end of him politically.

Stopping the air strikes and reopening negotiations before Milosevic is defeated would certainly mean fewer dead and maimed Serbian civilians. And it would have the advantage for western politicians of repairing diplomatic relations with the Russians and Chinese, as well as placating domestic anti-war opinion and providing a way out of a quagmire.

But it would also amount to conceding victory to Milosevic, who would not only survive in power but, at least in the first instance, would be left in control of a depopulated Kosovo.

On previous form, it is extremely unlikely that he would subsequently make meaningful concessions from this position of strength. In particular, it is likely that he would try to block introduction of the substantial and effective peace-keeping force that is essential if the refugees are to be persuaded to return. He might change his mind in certain circumstances, for example if there were a deal on the table favourable to Serbia on partitioning Kosovo. At present, such a partition is unacceptable to the west because it would reward Milosevic for his aggression, but it might suddenly become an option if the Americans get cold feet.

The third option, escalating the use of military force, could take two forms: a Nato ground invasion or concerted support for the Kosovo Liberation Army. Although Nato ruled out a ground invasion at the start of the campaign and again early last month – when Clinton effectively over-ruled Blair's case for keeping open the option – the signs are that it is again being seriously considered.

The argument for a ground invasion is simple: if successful – and few doubt that, in military terms, it would be a success – it would force Serbia out of Kosovo and allow the institution of a protectorate. It would also be a decisive defeat for Milosevic that he would be unlikely to survive.

It is also, however, the most difficult option for western governments to sanction. It would mean brushing aside Russian and Chinese objections and ignoring opposition among west European Nato governments. Most important, it would mean risking substantial western casualties – which is why the US has blocked it so far. How many casualties there would be is necessarily a matter of conjecture. Opponents of ground invasion say that the Yugoslav army is well dug-in, well armed and highly motivated and that an invasion would be bloody and protracted. Supporters claim the opposite. Either way, there is no doubt that a ground invasion would take time to organise. A decision to go ahead would have to be made soon to avoid the danger of a campaign being bogged down by the onset of winter. The first snows in Kosovo fall in September, and a ground invasion would take six weeks at least to prepapre.

As for supporting the KLA, the advantage for western politicians is that it would not involve the body bags coming home. The disadvantages are that backing the KLA would mean loss of face – only last year, the west was denouncing it as a terrorist organisation – and, more importantly, loss of any control over the outcome of the war. Western backing for the KLA would almost certainly mean the end of any hope (already slim) of recreating a multi-ethnic Kosovo and would further destabilise already unstable Macedonia.

At present, it is difficult to work out what the western powers will do. The final decisions will inevitably be made in Washington, for the simple reason that only the US has the hardware and service personnel to sustain a prolonged military campaign. Which way the decisions will go is impossible to tell. Clinton has been extraordinarily inconsistent during the Kosovo crisis – sometimes comparing Milosevic with Hitler, at others appearing willing to talk on Milosevic's terms – and his administration is divided.

The line from the US administration in the week before New Times press day appeared to be that combat deployment of ground troops is unthinkable, which suggests that the most likely scenario is that Clinton will try to fix a deal with Milosevic to extract the US from the mess. But the British government was reported to be urging on him the option of at least threatening a ground invasion. All that is certain is that this show is set to run and run.


New Times, June 1999

Paul Anderson talks to Pam Giddy, the new director of Charter 88

Pam Giddy is a girl who has gone back to her first love.

Nearly 10 years ago, straight out of university, she got a job with Charter 88, the constitutional reform pressure group, working as a dogsbody in its offices in Panther House near Holborn – one of the scuzziest low-rent blocks in London, notorious as a home for lost radical causes. She stuck it for four years, moving up the Charter hierarchy to run its publications and events [ch] as the organisation grew (and moved to more salubrious premises). In 1994 she split for the greener pastures of Cosmpolitan and then went to Newsnight, where she worked as a producer for four years.

Now, just 31, she is back with Charter 88 as its director, taking a big pay cut to run one of the biggest and best-organised pressure groups in Britain. 'It's really good to be here again,' she says. 'It's an exciting time.'

Charter 88 was set up in a different political era. Margaret Thatcher's Tory government was rampant, Labour appeared unelectable and constitutional reform was the last hope of a beleaguered centre-left intelligentsia. Today, Labour is in power, and much of the original Charter 88 agenda – a freedom of information act, devolution, proportional representation, Lords reform – is either on the statute book or promised.

So what's the point of Charter 88 any more? Giddy laughs. 'That's what they asked me at my interview. What I said then, and it's true, is that there's as much to do now as ever before. The point about Charter originally was that the rules of the political game needed to be changed. We now have a government now that is at least open to change. But the rules have not yet changed. New Labour's attitude to change is either begrudging or half-hearted.'

She praises the government's introduction of devolution, she is enthusiastic about the proposals of the Jenkins commission on electoral reform and she acknowledges the importance of new Labour's moves towards getting rid of hereditary peers from the House of Lords. But, she says, there is no sense of an overall settlement in the government's actions. 'It's simply not joined-up. We need to work out what sort of Britain we want. And at the moment the government is not being much help.'

She is particularly critical of Labour's decision to go for an appointed second chamber. 'A new second chamber has got to be wholly democratic -- in other words, it's got to be directly elected. It's almost as if the government is afraid of the people. I'm all in favour of the old-fashioned idea that, if people are making laws, we should be able to vote them in and vote them out. It's that simple.'

On the prospects for proportional representation for general elections, however, she is optimistic. She says that the proposals of the Jenkins commission for a mix of constituency MPs elected by the alternative vote and 'top-up' MPs elected by city or county is not perfect – but it is at least a 'clever piece of work' that could secure widespread support across the political spectrum. 'PR for local government is the key to unlocking PR for the Commons,' she says. 'There's a real mood in local government, particularly among Labour councils that have had no opposition, that PR could be a way of revitalising local democracy.'

Nevertheless, she goes on, supporters of PR need to get their act together to push their case. 'The media have not understood that PR is about a new type of politics: we saw the journalists talking about Labour "winning" the Scottish parliament elections, which is a ridiculous misunderstanding of what PR is all about.'

Giddy is scathing about the government's delay in implementing the introduction into British law of the European Convention on Human Rights. 'If too many of our laws are in contravention of the convention, let's deal with them at once,' she says. 'What's the excuse? The legislation is there to be implemented. Why not start a huge campaign of public education to make sure that people can take ownership of their rights?'

Charter 88 is in good shape. It now has 80,000 signatories. More important, there are some 6,000 to 7,000 activists out there pledged to put their efforts into democratic transformation of the British polity – and as new Labour has appeared to shy away from a radical constitutional agenda on PR and Lords reform, they have been stirring again. 'Our message is simple,' says Giddy. 'We need to put more power in more hands. We need to take power out of the hands of the executive and spread it around. Insofar as the government doesn't want to let that happen, we are the opposition. We're not going to be oppositionist, we're going to work constructively. But we've got to join it all up.'