Third time wrong

Those who think NATO's military intervention in Macedonia will bring peace and democracy should think again.

David Chandler

Topics Politics

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The headline of a leader article in the UK Guardian on 23 August 2001 – ‘Third time right’ (1) – highlighted some of the lazy thinking behind the Western powers’ military adventure in Macedonia.

The assumption seems to be that the first and second times – that is, NATO interventions in Bosnia and Kosovo – failed because the intervention was too little, too late. As Wesley Clark, NATO commander during the Kosovo war, commented on Macedonia: ‘If NATO is serious about making democracy work…then Western forces need to enter as soon as possible, engage as broadly as possible, and stay as long as necessary.’ (2)

But those who consider the military intervention in Macedonia to be ‘preventive peacekeeping’ – designed to ensure peace and democracy – are unlikely to see their aims achieved.

The recent history of Western involvement in the Balkans shows that external meddling by the UN, NATO, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and the European Union is effective in dismantling existing political compromises in the region – but not so good at replacing them with new stable settlements. By recognising the claims of separatist republics and groupings, Western governments undermined governments in the former Yugoslavia, increased insecurities, inflamed conflict, and heightened ethnic divisions.

International ‘mediation’ in Macedonia is likely to repeat this process. It is difficult to see how peace and democracy can be assisted by the public humiliation of the elected government in an already fragile state. For Western policymakers, it seems that ‘making democracy work’ means riding roughshod over the concerns of elected representatives and treating Balkan governments and armed rebel groups on the same level.

The sovereignty of the Macedonian government was effectively ended when the USA and the EU imposed an arms embargo. This restricted military supplies from the Ukraine, thereby preventing Macedonia’s independent capacity to limit the rebel advances that were supported by the flow of arms and fighters from NATO-policed Kosovo.

Under threats of military and economic blackmail, the Macedonian government was pressured into signing the 13 August ‘Framework Agreement’, effectively allowing US State Department advisers to rewrite the constitution (3). The only authentic version of the agreement is the one written in English – although the US government is bankrolling a media advertising campaign to sell the agreement in Albanian and Macedonian.

It all seems so easy – drawing up Balkan settlements in Washington or London, and then getting the leaders of economically dependent Balkan states, desperate to join the queue for EU membership, to sign up. The fact that until a few months ago Macedonia had a stable government with substantial representation for ethnic-Albanian parties and a commitment to preserving social stability seems a distant memory.

Western governments have the luxury of power and influence, and can deal with any force in the Balkans, whether government or gunmen. And they have the added advantage of unaccountability – they don’t have to live with the consequences of encouraging separatist claims.

The Western approach of writing an ‘agreement’ and then imposing it on local elites without any free negotiation between the parties – as at Dayton in 1995 and at Rambouillet in 1999 – is a recipe for failure. The only legitimacy these agreements have comes from the Western powers’ will to impose them, rather than from any genuine support from the parties on the ground. Artificially imposed settlements may be trumpeted in Western capitals as a success for ethical policymaking, but they don’t resolve issues on the ground.

As demonstrated by the experience of Western protectorates in Bosnia and Kosovo, artificial settlements that lack popular legitimacy inevitably depend on external forces for their survival. The ‘30-day mission’ in Macedonia will be extended, just as previous Balkan missions have been extended. And NATO’s Wesley Clark is wrong to think that this kind of intervention will ‘make democracy work’ – in Bosnia and Kosovo, international protectorate powers have been continually extended rather than rolled back.

The timing of NATO’s latest intervention in the Balkans may be different third time around – but the policy being pursued is the same. No matter how often it is tried, Western attempts to dictate Balkan arrangements, by undermining locally accountable settlements and elected governments, can only lead to less peace and less democracy.

David Chandler is senior lecturer in international relations at the Centre for the Study of Democracy, University of Westminster. He is the author of:

  • Constructing Global Civil Society: Morality and Power in International Relations (Palgrave Macmillan, 2004)
    Buy this book from Amazon (UK) or Amazon (USA)

  • From Kosovo to Kabul: Human Rights and International Intervention (Pluto Press, 2002)
    Buy this book from Amazon (UK) or Amazon (USA)

  • Bosnia: Faking Democracy After Dayton (Pluto Press, 2000)
    Buy this book from Amazon (UK) or Amazon (USA)
  • And he is the editor of:

    • Protecting the Bosnian Peace: Lessons from a Decade of Nation Building (Routledge, 2004)
      Buy this book from Amazon (UK) or Amazon (USA)

  • Rethinking Human Rights: Critical Approaches to International Politics (Palgrave Macmillan, 2002)
    Buy this book from Amazon (UK) or Amazon (USA)
  • Read on:

    War and peace in Macedonia, by Josie Appleton

    Macedonia: oh no, not NATO, by Josie Appleton

    Kosovo elections: who’s failing the test of democracy?, by David Chandler

    (1) Third time right, Guardian, 23 August 2001

    (2) Nato must go in hard, Guardian, 21 August 2001

    (3) See the text of the Framework Agreement on the President of the Republic of Macedonia website

    To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

    Topics Politics


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