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NATO should let Russia control a piece of Kosovo

WASHINGTON -- I have never been accused of being a comm-symp or a Russophile, but anyone who cares about the success of American foreign policy must believe that the gratuitous humiliation of Russia is simply stupid. Publicly carving Kosovo into five zones -- American, French, British, German and Italian -- leaving nothing to Russia, qualifies as gratuitous humiliation.

It is pointless. This administration, in order not to offend Russia, has for years refused to build a defense to protect American citizens from attack by nuclear missiles -- an issue of supreme importance for the United States. Yet that same administration is willing to humiliate Russia by denying it control of an inch of Kosovo, a place of zero strategic significance to the United States.Why? Because the administration is afraid that any Russian strip under Russian command will become a protectorate for Serbs, leading to a de facto partition of Kosovo.

True enough. But is that outcome so unthinkable that we are willing to sacrifice our already tenuous relations with Russia over it? Indeed, why is that outcome bad at all?

Partition has brought stability and relative peace to places like Cyprus and Bosnia. Sure, Bill Clinton waxes lyrical about the joys of multi-ethnic America and how the Balkans ought to emulate our example. But this is pious naivete. It took us, oh, 350 years -- a good hundred of it after our civil war -- to achieve the kind of mutual recognition and equal treatment of groups that prevail in America today.

Kosovo's civil war ended last week -- if it ended at all. We expect people who have just experienced massacre and expulsion and who are, as we speak, discovering mass graves to start living together in peace?

If a Russian sector is permitted, things will take their natural course: the Serb refugees now streaming out of their homes in Kosovo will have a place to go to. And the ethnic Albanians in the rest of Kosovo will be left to build and rule their land without needing an endless NATO occupation to ensure that they do not do unto their minority Serbs what the Serbs did unto them.

It will be said that we are caving in to the Russians. Caving? The Russians are prostrate. They couldn't protect the Serbs, they couldn't stop the war until we were ready, they couldn't prevent the NATO occupation. A consolation prize of a small strip near Serbia would help assuage the virulent Russian anti-Americanism occasioned by the war -- and cost us very little.

The Russian complaint is not illegitimate. We rightly forced NATO expansion on them (we did, after all, win the Cold War) -- but with the firm assurance that we were doing nothing more than expanding a purely defensive alliance. The Kosovo war and NATO's 50th anniversary Washington Summit Communique changed that. It demonstrated that the current Western leadership sees NATO as a missionary force with external ambitions extending into neighboring sovereign states.

That, and not sympathy for the devil, is what so disconcerted Russia -- the combination of NATO expansion and the NATO role change. In that climate, to compound rising Russian anti-Americanism by denying them a sliver of Kosovo is simple folly.

Let the Russians have a sector. It would be costless, indeed useful. It would reassure them. It would allow for a Serb enclave. And most important, it would ease the way for a final Kosovo settlement, the only possible settlement that gives us an exit strategy: independence for Kosovo.

NATO says its objective is to retain Kosovo as part of Yugoslavia. This is crazy. Kosovo is 90-plus percent Albanian. It now has a cocky and growing guerrilla army fanning out daily into every region and committed to fighting for independence. Is NATO, the acting authority in Kosovo, going to conduct a counterinsurgency campaign to deny independence when the KLA decides to press its case with arms?

The case for independence is not just practical but principled. If the overwhelming Albanian majority wants self-determination, democratic principles -- wasn't that what we were told we were fighting for? -- we should allow them to have what they want.

But they don't have to have every inch. There is nothing sacred about the geographic boundaries of Kosovo. The best solution is partition. A small Russian sector under independent command will allow that to happen without any troublesome declarations. The Serbs will congregate in that sector; the rest of Kosovo can claim independence; perhaps the Russian strip will eventually be absorbed into Serbia itself.

It is a solution that offers stability and a measure of equity. It gives a bone to the Russians and a clear principled exit for NATO. Or shall we spend the next 50 years in Kosovo teaching Serbs and Albanians to treat each other like Jeffersonians?

Washington Post Writers Group