Thursday, March 25, 1999

Yugoslavia attacks
seem unavoidable

Bullet The issue: Yugoslavia refuses to sign peace agreement with the Kosovo Albanians.
Bullet Our view: NATO attacks were necessary to prevent fighting from spreading.

PERHAPS the best that can be said of the decision to launch air strikes against the forces of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic is that there was no choice. The United States and its NATO allies had put themselves on the spot by repeatedly threatening to attack unless Milosevic accepted the terms of a deal to end the fighting in Kosovo. When the Yugoslav president continued to balk, objecting in particular to the demand to accept NATO peacekeeping forces to enforce the agreement, NATO had to make good on its threat or lose its credibility.

President Clinton's declaration that "we act to prevent a wider war" concisely expresses the chief justification for this attack. There is of course the need to attempt to save innocent lives.

However, there is no assurance that the bombing will succeed in forcing Milosevic to accept the peace agreement, any more than the bombing of Iraq has forced Saddam Hussein to readmit the U.N. weapons inspectors. To succeed, the attacks may have to be far more intensive than those against Saddam.

Even if the attacks succeed, the problems will be only beginning. The mission of the NATO peacekeepers is likely to be a prolonged one, as it has been in Bosnia. There the Croats, Muslims and Serbs seem no closer to forming a real country than they were when they accepted the Dayton accords under heavy U.S. pressure in 1995. If the peacekeepers leave, these long-time enemies would soon be at each other's throats again. The same could be true in Kosovo.

Clinton originally vowed that the American members of the NATO peacekeeping force would be in Bosnia one year. That proved to be entirely unrealistic. Now all time limits have been lifted. A peacekeeping mission in Kosovo could be equally open-ended.

The administration argues that the United States must lead this operation because it is in the national interest to preserve stability in Europe and the Kosovo fighting could, if unchecked, spread to neighboring countries. This is true. But Americans are only dimly aware of the existence of Kosovo and the issues involved in the dispute. And the situation is complex. The militants among the ethnic Albanians don't want to stop fighting either.

As former Secretary of StateHenry Kissinger observed, "We may end up bombing the Serbs to get them to agree, and then fighting the Albanians to get them to disarm."

Although the public seems to go along with the air strikes for now, opinion could change quickly if the American troops sustain casualties -- as happened in Somalia. War is rarely bloodless, even if it is called something else. This is a venture that could end badly, but the risk has to be accepted because there seems to be no way to avoid it.


Japan-North Korea

Bullet The issue: North Korean vessels draw fire from Japanese warships.
Bullet Our view: Japan might respond by withdrawing from North Korean aid program.

North Korea has managed to provoke Japan's armed forces into firing their first shots in earnest since World War II. The incident -- in which Japanese naval vessels fired warning shots at two ships that appeared to be on a spying mission for North Korea -- aggravated already strained relations between Tokyo and Pyongyang and damaged efforts to bring peace to the Korean peninsula.

The ships had refused orders to halt after entering Japanese territorial waters. They were pursued by naval ships but the chase was abandoned when the vessels left the Japanese air defense identification zone, about 400 nautical miles from the Japanese mainland.

The incident was reminiscent of North Korean attempts to land secret agents in South Korea from submarines and surface vessels. One such boat was sunk by the South Korean navy last December.

North Korea has also managed to antagonize Thailand. Six North Korean diplomats are being deported, accused of involvement in an abortive attempt to abduct a renegade North Korean diplomat and his family.

Tensions rose last August when North Korea launched a missile that soared over Japan before dropping into the Pacific. It was clear evidence that the communist state is capable of a missile attack on Japan. It also appeared to be an attempt to intimidate the Japanese.

The provocations could backfire. The Tokyo government is seeking approval for a revision of the nation's defense guidelines to permit more assistance to U.S. forces based in Japan, and the incidents could weaken the position of opponents. Tokyo could also become more receptive to the continued presence of U.S. forces in Japan. Moreover, Japanese participation in the agreement under which North Korea is to abandon its nuclear weapons program in return for aid in energy production could be jeopardized.

North Korea has long been an enigma and continues to be one under the secretive leadership of Kim Jong-il, son of the longtime dictator Kim Il-sung. But a North Korea with long-range missiles and nuclear warheads is an even greater threat to the stability of East Asia. When even pacifist Japan feels the need to start firing, the situation has become serious.

South Korean President Kim Dae-jung has tried a softer approach to North Korea than his predecessors but his overtures have had scant success to date. The latest incident can only add to the skepticism that it is possible to make peace with the North Koreans.

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Rupert E. Phillips, CEO

John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

David Shapiro, Managing Editor

Diane Yukihiro Chang, Senior Editor & Editorial Page Editor

Frank Bridgewater & Michael Rovner, Assistant Managing Editors

A.A. Smyser, Contributing Editor

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