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Kosovo: Appeasement Revisited?

JERUSALEM: Nagging tensions along the Yugoslav-Albanian border have dramatically focused attention on the dangers of a major international conflagration arising from the continuing crisis in Kosovo. They also prove once more - if added proof is needed - the short-sightedness and woeful inadequacy of today’s international system in its ability to contain conflicts and intervene in a timely fashion. In the kind of ethnic conflicts stirred by the disintegration of communism, the world seems to prefer to react after the blood has begun to flow. In Kosovo, such passivity means that preventive diplomacy is failing once again.

The reason for this is, in a way, simple: world leaders and statesmen react only to acute crises and have terrible difficulty in mobilizing their own attention - and in trying to galvanize popular support in their own countries - when a crisis is "only" dormant and not yet violent. This is the pattern of all the post-1991 crisis in the former Yugoslavia. Had there been an immediate threat of intervention after the Serbian shelling of Dubrovnik or the siege of Vukovar, then the later massacres and ethnic cleansings, the shameful siege of Sarajevo, the brutalities in Mostar and the mass murders in Srebrenica could have been avoided.

Yet the lesson of those failures has not been learned. The Dayton Accords that delivered today’s uneasy "peace" to Bosnia Hercegovina became a possibility - and an imperative for President Clinton -- only when his own prestige, and the role of the United States itself in world politics, appeared to be in jeopardy.