Wednesday, March 31, 1999

NATO ground forces
may be needed

Bullet The issue: The air attacks in Kosovo have not deterred the Yugoslavs from attacking ethnic Albanians.
Bullet Our view: NATO may have to introduce ground forces to stop the Yugoslavs.

AS the dimensions of Slobodan Milosevic's ethnic cleansing of the ethnic Albanians in Kosovo become appallingly clear, the suspicion is growing that NATO may have to introduce ground forces to stop the slaughter.

Although U.S. and NATO officials vehemently deny a causal relationship, the launching of air attacks last week seems to have been used by Milosevic as a pretext for greatly expanding Serbian assaults on the Kosovar Albanians. They have killed hundreds if not thousands of civilians and driven many more from their homes. The refugees have attempted to escape into neighboring Albania, Montenegro and Macedonia, creating perhaps the worst humanitarian crisis in Europe since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

President Clinton vowed that allied troops would not be sent into Kosovo except as peacekeepers to enforce a previously accepted agreement. Washington and other NATO capitals seem to have expected that Milosevic would quickly submit when the air attacks began and accept the accord he had rejected at Rambouillet. Instead he has shrewdly exploited the attacks to appeal to Serbian nationalism and strengthen his own popularity.

This seems to be yet another case in which the effectiveness of air power has been exaggerated. Whatever the validity of the claims of damage to Yugoslav air defenses, the bombing has not noticeably slowed Milosevic's offensive in Kosovo.

If anything is to be salvaged, ground forces may be needed. Accepting that reality would be an embarrassment for Clinton -- if it is possible to embarrass him -- but the alternative may be a defeat that would be disastrous for NATO as well as the Kosovar Albanians.

Some experts believe 150,000 combat troops would be needed to stop the Yugoslav forces. The bulk of them would have to be Americans, they contend, because no other NATO country has the troops and the logistical ability to get them to Kosovo quickly.

However, even if a decision to deploy ground forces was made, it's possible that Milosevic could complete the routing of the ethnic Albanians before the NATO forces could arrive.

Moreover, the American public has not been prepared to accept such an operation and Clinton would have a herculean task persuading the nation of its necessity.

Perhaps conditions will improve, although it seems improbable. At this point the NATO strategy of threatening Milosevic with air attacks in order to force him to accept the Rambouillet agreement looks like a monumental blunder with dreadful consequences.


Auto insurance

Bullet The issue: The Legislature has approved bills providing amnesty for uninsured drivers.
Bullet Our view: To make it easier for drivers to avoid obtaining insurance is irresponsible.

IN trying to show compassion for people with financial problems, the Legislature is undermining the compulsory auto insurance law. The House passed a bill providing amnesty for uninsured drivers until the end of the year, on condition that the drivers obtain insurance before the amnesty period expires. The Senate went farther, extending the amnesty until June 2000. The bill also would abolish automatic suspension of driver's licenses for those convicted of driving without insurance.

All this without any requirement that the subject show proof of financial hardship -- which might make sense, especially in view of the weak economy.

As they stand, the bills are an invitation to abuse the system. The only way to determine whether the drivers complied with the requirement to obtain insurance would be for the police to stop them again.

There are thousands of motorists driving without insurance, which means for most that they cannot be held accountable if they are involved in accidents. For the Legislature to make it easier for people to drive without insurance is irresponsible.


Baseball in Cuba

Bullet The issue: Whether the embargo against Cuba should continue
Bullet Our view: The game could lead to an end to the embargo and improved relations with the United States.

THE exhibition baseball game played in Havana between the Baltimore Orioles and a Cuban all-star team could have the same significance as the ping-pong games played in Beijing back in the 1970s. "Ping-pong diplomacy" led to the transfer of U.S. diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to Beijing in 1979.

The issue now is the thawing of relations with Cuba under Fidel Castro. The baseball game may be a first step in that process.

There was a time when major league teams visited Cuba regularly, but that period ended shortly after Castro's overthrow of the Batista regime. The last previous game, on March 21, 1959, featured the Los Angeles Dodgers and Cincinnati Reds.

As a Soviet satellite, Cuba was once a real threat to American security, exemplified in the 1962 missile crisis. But with the collapse of Soviet communism Cuba has become an impotent anachronism, a threat to no one but its own oppressed people. The end of Soviet aid left the Cuban economy in desperate shape, prompting Castro to seek Western investments.

Lifting of the U.S. embargo against Cuba -- in exchange for introduction of democratic rights -- is no longer inconceivable. The ball game in Havana should lead to other steps toward normalization.

Published by Liberty Newspapers Limited Partnership

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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