by Janusz Bugajski
The time has come for the international community to prepare for its next deployment to the Balkan region ý in the Republic of Montenegro. With a showdown between Belgrade and Podgorica fast approaching, NATO faces one of three choices: a `pre-conflict' preventive deployment, an `in-conflict' ground force intervention, or a `post-conflict' peace-keeping force.
NATO will obviously be drawn into a new war in the Balkans whatever the assertions and evasions of its leaders. It would therefore clearly be preferable for the `Montenegro-Force' (M-For) to become the first military intervention against Milosevic that will actually prevent bloodshed rather than one that has to again exhume the mass graves of unarmed civilians.
The Yugo-Serb parliament has recently passed a series of constitutional amendments that will enable Tsar Milosevic to remain in office for another eight years, while sharply reducing Montenegro's position within the collapsed federation. The federal upper house has replaced the bi-republican balance with a proportional system in which Serbs will outnumber Montenegrins by a factor of ten to one. Unless it pursues its independence, Montenegro will thereby become a simple province of Serbia.
In response to the Serbian assault, the Montenegrin parliament rejected the alterations to the federal constitution and in effect declared all federal bodies to be illegal and illegitimate. In reality, just as Milosevic self-destroyed Tito's Yugoslavia, Belgrade has again destroyed the `constitutional order' and detonated the remnants of the artificial Yugoslav federation.
Evidently feeling invincible because of the pathetic nature of the Serbian opposition, Milosevic appears determined to provoke a crisis with Montenegro. Like an addicted gambler he has again raised the stakes, evidently banking that the Djukanovic government will issue statements of condemnation but not take any major political initiative. He has also concluded that international diplomats will successfully convince Podgorica not to take any `provocative actions' against him. In other words, Europe and America are once again blackmailed by Belgrade through the threat of violence and bloodshed.
In the light of Belgrade's political offensive, any planned federal elections will be a pure farce. Having moved nearer independence than at any time since Serbia annexed the country at the close of World War I, there is simply no going back for Podgorica. Montenegro cannot participate in any federal election farce and thereby give a seal of approval to its own subordination and legitimize Milosevic's `constitutional coup d'etat.'
Western pressures to cajole Montenegro to participate in the federal farce will be counter-productive, since this will simply strengthen Europe's number one war criminal. Similarly with Kosova: surely no one in their right mind in Western capitals will expect a single Albanian to register and cast their ballots for a dead Yugoslavia.
Indeed, pushing for any form of Montenegrin cooperation with Belgrade is the height of hypocrisy. While all Western leaders are shunning any contact with Milosevic and his gang, why should President Djukanovic's government be forced to dirty its hands and break international sanctions against a family of war criminals. Instead of blocking Montenegro's aspirations for statehood and normality, Milosevic's constitutional coup must evoke one response from the West ý a clear statement that not only is the federal government illegitimate and its leaders war criminals, but that the Yugoslav federation itself no longer exists as an international subject. In actuality, such a move would signal the de facto acceptance of Montenegro's independence even if de jure recognition must wait until Podgorica finally declares its statehood in the wake of a national referendum. We may be faced with the paradoxical situation where the West recognizes Montenegro's statehood before Montenegro itself does ý another unique precedent in diplomatic history will then be set.
The costs and benefits of an M-FOR operation must be openly debated, and above all Podgorica must issue an invitation to NATO promptly to dispatch a preventive deployment force to the territory. As compared to the UNPREDEP mission in Macedonia, `pre-conflict' or `war-prevention' M-FOR would need to be larger, better armed, and under exclusive NATO command. Its objective would be to act as a deterrent against Serb aggression, to give political and military support to a sovereign government, and to help protect an aspiring democracy.
With NATO troops on the ground, the likelihood of a Yugoslav army attack will notably subside, particularly if Belgrade receives a clear signal that Serbia will again be pounded by missiles and its military anywhere in the country will be targeted if there is any resistance to an M-FOR deployment.
Unlike Bosnia-Herzegovina or Kosova, Podgorica must also give NATO a clearer `exit strategy' ý something that most US congressmen and Pentagon planners would dearly welcome as a signal of responsibility. This would enormously raise Montenegro's prestige in America. Montenegro would then be the first Balkan country that has both invited NATO in and then invited NATO out when it felt confident enough that it could assure its own security. Given this objective, the M-FOR mandate must also be directed toward arming and training a competent and capable Montenegrin military force.
In addition to a military component, what else can be done to shore up Montenegro's stability and resilience? Podgorica has received significant financial assistance in the past year, but some critics rightly argue that in many cases this will not be helpful in the long term. The people of Montenegro will require direct investment to spur business and employment, not soft credits that foster dependence and stifle local initiative. International acceptance of Montenegro's trajectory toward independence can thereby also spur business opportunities and help consolidate popular support for independence and international integration.
With Milosevic clearly planning to overthrow the Djukanovic government, probably in the midst of the American presidential election campaign, neither Podgorica nor Washington can afford to be complacent and to wait for the next move by an indicted war criminal. History has shown that the only way to deal with Milosevic is to confront him directly with unbending determination and overwhelming power.
This article appeared in Nacional (Zagreb), 21 July 2000