We fought a half-war. Now we have achieved a half-peace

The main drawback is that Milosevic, the malign survivor of the mayhem, remains entire in Belgrade
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The Independent Culture
EUROPEAN LEADERS have one reason to be profoundly grateful to Slobodan Milosevic. By announcing that he accepts the terms of a peace deal on the first day of the Cologne summit, he provided a distraction at an event that would otherwise have been remembered as marking a nadir of the EU's standing.

The euro's rouble-like slide against the dollar not only reflects the under-performance of the main economies inside the single-currency zone; it is also a fitting symbol of institutional Europe's tendency to talk a good currency/ a good war/ good reforms/ good co-operation while proving unable to persuade the markets that the euro is sound, or to prevent a barbarous conflict - let alone the smaller tasks of reforming its finances and preventing one of its members from exporting contaminated food.

Yet it is fitting that the end to Kosovo's nightmare should be heralded at a EU summit. It reminds us that this was a European problem, albeit one that Europe proved unable to resolve. One of the most depressing spectacles of the last 10 weeks has been that of European leaders, so solid in their support for military action before the going got tough, so adept later at ruling themselves out of ground troops and criticising Nato for its choice of targets. When it comes to abrogating responsibility for what happens on its own doorstep, Europe is the unrivalled world leader.

European forces combined with American air support could have liberated Kosovo. But there was never any chance that they would do so. While the villages burned and the refugees were herded across borders like cattle, the EU was busy, according to its chirpy pre-summit press release, "ensuring that the Western European Union is ready to join the European Union's second pillar by the end of 2000".

Post-Maastricht Europe prefers to spend its time institution-building rather than really defending anything. God knows, we need the long- promised new defence capability. We can only wish Mr Blair luck in forging ahead with the structures to provide EU operations using Nato assets. But, more than that, we need a common will to accept a duty of care for fellow Europeans and the strength to uphold the basic values of civilisation on our continent. Without that, we have nothing.

The future of Kosovo looks brighter than it did before Milosevic accepted the deal. But we do not yet know whether it will achieve the minimum objective of Nato's campaign - to make the province a safe enough place for the Albanian population to return, confident that their future will not resemble the repression of the past. We must welcome the fact that Nato and Russia are using the same language. But do they mean the same thing? Tony Blair was emphatic yesterday that an outcome that results in partition is not acceptable. But it remains unclear how Russia interprets her role in the protection force. Until last week, Russian diplomats were talking of "sectorisation", on the lines of post-war Germany. That flies in the face of Nato's insistence on a unified command structure. Until they know exactly where the Russians will be, with what responsibilities and answerable to whom, few Albanians are going to venture back.

Neither have we heard what plans there are for the non-military Serb minority in Kosovo. It is impossible after what has happened that they should live side by side with the Albanians. "Ethnic cleansing" begets "ethnic cleansing". Does President Milosevic accept that the majority of them will move in to Serbia proper? Or does he see in them a bargaining chip with which to enforce de facto territorial separation along ethnic lines within Kosovo? That would be practically indistinguishable from partitioning, and sow the seeds of future discord.

The main drawback of the peace deal is that Slobodan Milosevic, the malign survivor of the mayhem he launched on the Balkans, remains entire in Belgrade. The comparison with Hitler was never an accurate parallel. Milosevic is a territorial expansionist, but he lacks Hitler's insatiable desire to conquer - in the words of one of Brecht's satirical war songs - "first Poland, then France, then Russia, then the bottom of the ocean and only after that the moon".

No; unlike Adolf, Slobodan knows when to retreat in order to protect his own power. He has achieved one major aim - keeping Kosovo within the Yugoslav Federation. Had Nato fought a ground war the outcome might have been different, but there was no appetite in Washington for the risk of full engagement. Nor had Western policy-makers really come to terms with the idea of an independent Kosovo. The distrust of small nations remains, and with it exaggerated faith in the ability of federations to hold together what belongs apart.

The West will have to undertake a massive reconstruction programme to make good the war damage if Serbia and Kosovo are not to descend deeper into misery. Having impoverished his people, turned the economy into a war machine and sought to destroy the Kosovan independence movement by brittle means, Milosevic gets to stay in charge and his enemies pay to rebuild his country. Not a bad result as far as he's concerned.

And what of us? Neither America nor Europe has very much to be proud of in all this. We fought half a war. It would not be surprising if we were rewarded with half a peace.

Nato bombed its way to a deal, but at some cost to its own probity and reputation, and with the worrying by-product of worsening relations with the vast and sensitive power of China. I support the aims of the bombardment and accept that bombing is the best way to degrade an enemy's capability in advance of a ground war. But directing force against Serbia solely from the air rather than being prepared to fight for Kosovo on the ground was a major weakness. We cannot simply affect a Nelsonian blind eye and trust that the random destruction and civilian casualties caused by dropping bombs from 15,000ft do not matter. They do. The lesson of Kosovo is surely that the less ready the West is to deploy ground forces to secure its objectives in a conflict, the more suffering is caused to the innocent on the way to peace.

It is eight years since the fighting broke out in Croatia - eight years in which innumerable lives have been lost and ruined in the former Yugoslavia. Back then, Jacques Poos, president of the European Commission, announced that "the hour of Europe has come". The atrocities of Vukovar, Srebrenica and Racak have come and gone; the hour has still not yet arrived. Now we have the chance to build a secure future for a region whose needs have too long been ignored by the safe and prosperous corners of Europe, with disastrous results. It would be good to think we have learnt enough from the failures of this decade to be better Europeans in the next. Better late than never.