Enforcing Agreements: When Does the Bombing Stop?
The ground war now being off the table, the next issue is when and how the bombing will end. Russia has made it clear that it regards the cessation of bombing as the precondition to all other things. In fact, the Russians will not regard the agreement that was worked out between Viktor Chernomyrdin and Strobe Talbott, and was delivered today to Belgrade, as finalized until the bombing stops. Italy and Germany are tending toward the Russian position, of wanting a bombing halt as quickly as possible. Britain and the United States dont want a halt in the bombing until a robust, enforceable agreement is in place. We are now arguing over how the war will end and not whether the war will end.
But that brings us down to core issues. The United States and Britain know that once the bombing is halted, it will not be resumed unless there is an extraordinary turn of events. At best, the U.S. could lob off a few cruise missiles unilaterally a move that would have little military or political effect but there is little chance of rebuilding the kind of consensus in NATO that would allow the resumption of full scale bombing. The end of the bombing, in many ways, represents the end of pressure on Milosevic. Thus, the dilemma facing the NATO in general is how to craft an agreement that can be implemented when all military options are off the table. That is extremely difficult to achieve.
The composition of the occupying, peace keeping force has been the focus of the discussions. However, given the fact that it will not be a NATO force under NATO command, but a UN force under UN command, reliance on that force to enforce the agreements is pointless. The force will not launch ground attacks against Serbian forces if it detects violations of the agreement. However the force is armed, it is a UN force. It will serve as an observer and not as an enforcer.
Here is the essential problem. Anything agreed to will take weeks or even months to put into place. The withdrawal of Serbian forces, the return of Albanian refugees, the deployment of peacekeepers, these all will take time. The agreement will be the starting point for a process of implementation. Many things can go wrong with that process, from the failure of Serbia to withdraw all agreed on forces to blocks placed on Albanians returning, to squabbles among the peacekeepers about roles and missions. Indeed, it will be in Belgrades interest to create blocks to implementation. If our premise is correct, and bombing cannot be resumed once it is halted, then the ability of NATO to compel compliance with any agreement is severely limited.
On the other hand, implementing the agreement while the bombing is going on is impossible. Serbian troops cannot be expected to withdraw when movement down a road could bring an air attack. Refugees cannot return to a war zone.
Peacekeepers cannot deploy either. The bombing must be halted before the implementation takes place. However, once the bombing is halted, Milosevics motivation for implementing an agreement is greatly reduced. So, if the bombing has to stop before the implementation of the agreement, how can NATO guarantee the agreements implementation?
Part of the problem rests with NATOs poorly conceived strategy, so poorly constructed that the relationship between the war and a concluding peace poses serious problems. Part of it has to do with the fact that NATO has not defeated Milosevic and therefore cannot fully compel his compliance even with a bombing campaign. Without it, Milosevic has a great deal of freedom to maneuver. Because of this, the U.S. and UK continue to hope to deal the Serbs a devastating blow from the air, in order to frame the peace agreement within the parameters of compulsion rather than cooperation. But time is running out for that blow to be struck, and Italy and Germany have no stomach for it. Nor are we sure what such a blow would look like.
Therefore, if there is any hope to this agreement holding, it will depend on the peacekeepers showing unique assertiveness. That in turn will depend on the willingness of the Russians to not only assert themselves, but also to assert themselves on behalf of this agreement. Everything is boiling down to the willingness of the Russians to enforce whatever agreement is reached. That in turn depends on two things. First, there is the issue of what would motivate the Russians to be the enforcers. Being treated as the equal of the United States and receiving substantial infusions of Western cash will be critical. Second, the ability of Yeltsin to keep the forces of pan-Slavism under control in Moscow is critical. Zhirinovskys strange behavior during the impeachment vote should give NATO hope that Yeltsin is stronger in Moscow than they feared. Nevertheless, we are back at the core issue: what will Russia do and what will it cost the West to get them to do it?
There is a clear winner emerging in this war, and thats Russia. Everything depends on Russias willingness to bail NATO out, both in brokering the deal and then in enforcing it. We do not believe that NATO should expect too much from Moscow on this score and what it gets will cost a great deal. Forget about further expansions of NATO into the former Soviet Union. Forget about massive reforms before IMF funds are transferred. Forget about other military adventures without Moscow signing off on it. Or forget about Russian cooperation.
In the end, the greatest price NATO will have paid in this war is the resurrection of Russia as a decisive force in European affairs. That was a high price indeed.