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NATO didn't solve the problem

Who won the war? That's a question that is bound to become a political football in the months ahead. Perhaps the better question is, has NATO solved the Yugoslavian problem? Framed that way, the answer must be a resounding "no," and that answer may continue to haunt the free world for years to come.

NATO's relentless air campaign did succeed in forcing Slobodan Milosevic to capitulate to most of its demands. A multi-national peacekeeping force will be on hand to enforce the deal. But Milosevic, who has added the title of "indicted war criminal" to his resume, remains. So, too, one presumes, does his fierce hatred for ethnic Albanians -- a hatred he exploited to gain the presidency.Milosevic is a cancer, and NATO's prolonged bombing has succeeded only in putting a bandage over the cancer. That is small comfort for the returning Kosovar Albanians, whose homes now are destroyed and who have ample reason to continue fearing Serbian troops and their leader. It is also little comfort for ethnic Serbs, who have reason to live in fear of retaliation from Albanians.

The peacekeeping force is supposed to protect people from all that of course, but for how long and at what cost? President Clinton originally promised U.S. troops would be in Bosnia only one year. That mission has turned into an indefinite one, and this one appears to be equally as prolonged, and more dangerous.

Beyond this, Clinton's claim to total victory falls well short in three other areas. Most important among these is the fact that NATO has backed off its demand that the Kosovo province be allowed a referendum on its own political future. To pretend that the province can continue to operate as a political subdivision of Milosevic's regime is absurd. To Milosevic, this concession -- no longer having to worry about Kosovar independence -- must make the entire bombing campaign worth the agony.

Secondly, the agreement restricts the peacekeeping force to Kosovo. The Rambouillet plan gave the force unrestricted access to all of Yugoslavia. Whatever the reason for this capitulation, this much is clear -- international troops will not be able to arrest Milosevic and bring him to trial at The Hague. As long as he stays at home, he is safe from prosecution.

Thirdly, the agreement puts the United Nations in charge of the peacekeepers, and it gives Russia responsibility over a section of Serbian interests. Albanian Kosovars have reason to mistrust Russian soldiers, and this undoubtedly will lead to further complications.

Finally, look at the overall picture. The bombing campaign allowed Milosevic to solidify his power base and to inflict serious damage to the people of Kosovo. He killed many and routed hundreds of thousands from their homes, then destroyed their possessions.

NATO won very little. As long as Milosevic remains, the problem remains -- and it looks to be around for a long time.