Letters: Voices of Serbia

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The Independent Culture
Sir: The First World War, the war no great power wanted, stood as the classic negation of diplomatic foresight and strategic thought: no clear goal, no calculation of the sacrifices the goal was worth; no "exit strategy"; no fall-back lesser-goal option should the "fog of war" lead to reverses and cost-escalation.

Now the century ends with another negation of the most fundamental tenets of diplomacy and strategy. Another war that could and should have been averted. There were innumerable compromise permutations acceptable to the majority of Serbs as well as the majority of Kosovars, offered by conflict specialists intimately familiar with Kosovo (by the Swedish Peace and conflict Centre in Lund, by this author and others). They were ignored, as Madeleine Albright, supported by President Clinton and Tony Blair, disregarded diplomatic channels in favour of take-it-or-leave-it ultimata.

Another war escalating beyond any cost-calculation warranted by its perceived or stated purpose. Weekly killings by the Kosovo Liberation Army and Serb paramilitaries had been in single or low double figures. Sparking the very scale of humanitarian catastrophe it was supposed to avert, Nato now embraced this disaster of its own making as justification for further blind escalation, still with no clear end goal.

Another propaganda war. Opponent demonisation is a dumbing down of foreign policy. In this case it appeared oblivious of the visceral Serb attachment to Kosovo, their Alamo, and oblivious of the fact that on the issue of its retention democrats and neo-fascists alike closed ranks with Milosevic.

Karl von Clausewitz, the "father" of modern strategy, feared nothing more than war's inherent escalatory logic. That is why he insisted on political control and clear strategic reason. Today, the rising clamour for land troops (in terrain ideal for protracted struggle, against a foe trained to perpetuate it) graphically illustrates the former; the latter remains wondrously absent. Clausewitz would turn in his grave.


Department of Political Science

Carleton University