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From the Archive: A leading article on Western policy on Kosovo

15 March 1999

Rather than cry over spilt blood in the Balkans, the urgent imperative is to learn the lessons of Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo to avoid the next horrendous failure of Western policy. The Kosovo talks resume today against the grim backdrop of bombs tearing apart women and children in the tiny Serbian province which is nine-tenths ethnic Albanian. But this could have been predicted, and indeed was predicted, seven years ago.

In 1992, Lord Carrington, who preceded Lord Owen as the European Community's mediator in the disintegrating Yugoslavia, dismissed the pleas of the moderate Albanian Kosovar leader, Ibrahim Rugova.

Since then, the initiative on the Kosovar side has passed to the most extreme and least tolerant group, the Kosovo Liberation Army. The KLA seemed intransigent at Rambouillet, although soon afterwards its do-or-die leader was overthrown and his young successors appeared more willing to compromise.

It took the West three years to work out that mere threats would not work against the Serbs in Bosnia. Yet, a year ago, Tony Blair agreed in the House of Commons that "the international community has learnt the lesson of appeasement in Bosnia and that we will not stand idly by while he (Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic) ignites another ethnic war in Europe". At some point, the threats will have to end and the action begin.

But more people will be killed in Kosovo, before the situation reaches some form of resolution. Meanwhile, Nato troops may well have to be deployed to try to keep the peace on the ground and eventually Kosovo may become, in effect, an independent state.

The West has tried to avoid that outcome because it will have the effect of moving the Balkan tragedy on to the next act, entitled "Macedonia"". Kosovo's neighbouring statelet – once also part of Yugoslavia – contains a large ethnic Albanian minority and it is claimed by Greece.