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Op-Ed New York Times: Albright on Kosovo

Op-Ed by Madeleine K. Albright New York Times, March 28, 2000

"Our Stake in Kosovo"

WASHINGTON -- A year ago this week, Slobodan Milosevic rejected an international peace plan and intensified a campaign of terror that had already killed hundreds of Kosovo Albanians and driven more than 200,000 from their homes. His new offensive, begun with peace talks still underway, ultimately caused more than one million Kosovars to seek refuge and was marked by burned villages, rapes, murders and ethnic cleansing. President Clinton and his NATO counterparts responded forcefully and, through persistence, successfully. Most of the displaced have since returned to their homes. Communities are rebuilding. Children are in school. With international help, most of Kosovo is secure and preparing for its first democratic elections ever.

Having prevailed in war, our challenge now is to secure the peace. This is proving, as expected, costly and hard. The journey from conflict to cooperation is not made overnight. Impatient, some in Congress suggest we give up, put away our wallets and call our troops home. But the costs and risks of quitting far exceed those of maintaining a stable Kosovo.

History teaches us that America cannot be secure if Europe is not secure, and events have reminded us repeatedly that Europe cannot be secure when conflict engulfs the Balkans. With Mr. Milosevic still present, the region remains a tinderbox. If we check out, wide-scale bloodshed will almost surely check back in.

Moreover, the price of perseverance is affordable and the obstacles to success can be overcome.

During the cold war, we stationed nearly 400,000 troops in Europe. Today we have roughly 100,000. Of these, about 6,000 are in Kosovo. Surely, this deployment is not disproportionate to America's stake in the region.

Further, Europe is committed to shouldering the majority of burdens in Kosovo. European Union members have contributed 64 percent of the international troops and provided hundreds of millions of dollars in humanitarian and reconstruction aid.

We are contributing fewer than 15 percent of total troops and less than 15 percent of the nonmilitary costs of helping Kosovo recover from war and build stability. There are proposals in Congress to make a 15 percent share of these costs a legal cap. But such a restriction would harm, not help, our ability to leverage contributions from Europe. It would reduce our flexibility in responding to future events.

And it would underestimate America's stake in our partnership with Europe, which extends beyond Europe itself.

After Hurricane Mitch struck in our hemisphere, more than 60 percent of the bilateral aid pledged came from Europe. And Europe assumed a 33 percent share of the cost of establishing peace in El Salvador and 34 percent in Guatemala.

Those ready to give up on Kosovo point to recent incidents of ethnic violence there.

We share these concerns, and international authorities are addressing them by beefing up resources, tightening security, and marginalizing and disarming extremists.

But the problems should not obscure overall progress. With United Nations leadership, a Joint Interim Administrative Council has been established in which Kosovo's factions can begin to share responsibility for governing their region. The ethnic Albanian militia has met its commitment to demobilize. The murder rate is now lower in Kosovo than in many American cities. In much of the region, morale is high and people are focused squarely on building a better life.

The depth of estrangement between factions in Kosovo is profound. Urgent needs for police, prosecutors and courts have not yet been met. And the risk that angry individuals will generate disturbances remains significant. But if our reaction to every setback is to pull back, a dangerous world will grow rapidly more dangerous.

We are not asking anyone in Kosovo to abandon legitimate interests. We are asking the people there to pursue their interests through cooperation with the international community and by participating in the joint governing structures being created. With time and sufficient support, the cooler heads on all sides will prevail. A sense of inter- ethnic community may or may not develop; but pragmatic coexistence is clearly possible.

The day may come when a Kosovo-scale operation can be managed without the help of the United States, but it has not come yet. If we are forced by ill-conceived legislation to depart Kosovo or to slash our commitment of resources, others will mimic our weakness, and the flames of renewed conflict will surely and quickly ignite.

The American people should be proud that we did the right thing a year ago and confident that by working with our partners to consolidate the peace, we are doing the right and smart thing now.

----- Madeleine K. Albright is secretary of state.

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