NATO Rallies for Kosovo

Updated February 11, 2017 | Infoplease Staff

1999 News of the World

Years of unrest in Yugoslavia's province of Kosovo erupted into war in the spring of 1999. Formerly an autonomous province in Tito's Yugoslavia, Kosovo was stripped of self-rule in 1989 by President Slobodan Milosevic. A Serbian ultra-nationalist, Milosevic began systematically repressing Yugoslavia's non-Serbs, including the 90% of Kosovo's population that is Muslim and ethnic Albanian. As one after another of the Balkan states broke free from Yugoslavia and Serbian hegemony, the secessionist longings of Kosovo, the poorest of the Balkans, were largely discounted by the international community. In 1996 the Kosovo Liberation Army, a militant secessionist movement, began attacking Serbian authorities in Kosovo; by March 1998, the Yugoslavian army and Serbian militias had brutally clamped down on the region, massacring civilians as well as KLA guerrillas, and deporting hundreds of thousands of ethnic Albanians. After months of fruitless diplomacy by the West, NATO began Operation Allied Force on March 24, 1999, launching air strikes against Belgrade that continued for 78 consecutive days.

Weeks of daily bombings destroyed significant Serbian military targets, yet Milosevic showed no signs of relenting?in fact, he stepped up efforts to empty the province of its ethnic Albanians. Not only did it seem that NATO's actions exacerbated the violence in Kosovo, but its reluctance to send in ground troops to support the air war struck many as naive and shortsighted?while NATO fought in the air, the annihilation of Kosovars and the region was proceeding on the ground. NATO countries, however, feared that the inevitable casualties of a ground war in a remote corner of the Balkans would dampen the resolve of public opinion. Aided at the end by a strong KLA offensive and Belgrade's apprehension of a future ground war, NATO's hesitation over deploying ground troops ultimately paid off. Milosevic finally agreed to sign a UN-approved peace agreement on June 9.

Since then a five-nation peace-keeping force has occupied the territory, and a staggering 860,000 refugees have begun returning to the ruins of Kosovo. The political status of Kosovo remains uncertain, as does the status of Milosevic, who, after turning his beleaguered country into a pariah state, remains in power while an unpromising lot of fractious opposition leaders fight among themselves.

Although the initial reason for NATO's involvement in Kosovo was the prevention of a wider Balkan war, once the extent of Serbian atrocities became known, NATO's stated purpose became the prevention of a human rights calamity?making Kosovo one of the rare recent conflicts in which humanitarian concerns have superseded realpolitik.

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