Review: The aftermath of the conflict in Kosovo poses a major challenge to the United States as the world’s preeminent power. Leading NATO into the first war of its fifty-year existence, America sought to carve out a new role both for the alliance and for itself in establishing a new and more moral world order. Yet like the other crises of the 1990s — in Iraq, Bosnia, Somalia, Haiti, and Rwanda — this war has revealed the limits of America’s power to shape the world and, especially, its power to impose its values on others. When NATO’s eleven-week air campaign was suspended, the conflict moved into a new and dangerous phase, for these issues persist in a fast-moving context of war and peace. In Kosovo Crossing, bestselling author David Fromkin, whose works on global history and American foreign policy have won wide acclaim, turns his attention to the sobering implications of the clash between American ideals and Balkan realities. His incisive analysis reveals the uses and the limits of military power in the world today and the new paths that American leaders must explore to advance American values. To a great extent, he argues, both sides in this Balkan conflict have been dealing with the aftermath of the First World War: Yugoslavia was carved out of the remains of the Habsburg and Ottoman Empires (with no resolution of the ethnic strife among its peoples); and America in the 1990s has adopted as its unofficial creed the ideals of Woodrow Wilson, who preached a new world order based on humanitarian principles. Fromkin traces the impact of this history on current decision making in Belgrade and Washington, and points us toward a new understanding of where we go from here. Kosovo Crossing eloquently describes the role the Balkan war has played in the larger drama of American power abroad and the effect its emerging outcome will have on our future. In the tradition of A Peace to End All Peace, Fromkin’s magisterial history of the making of the Middle East, this book offers the necessary perspective to understand the political and military quandaries facing the United States on the threshold of a new century.
David Fromkin’s instant analysis arrived in bookshelves less than two months after the completion of NATO’s 11-week air campaign against the Serbian government led by Slobodan Milosevic. As such, it deals much more with the historical factors that led to Operation Allied Forces than with the military action itself. In addition to providing a very broad overview to about three millennia of Balkan history, Fromkin tracks the growth of the United States as a world power in the 20th century and its mixed record of interventionism, then shows how those two tracks collided in the aftermath of the First World War, and again shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union and its satellite regimes in the late 1980s. “The positions taken by President Clinton in the 1990s,” Fromkin argues, “are those staked out for the United States by President Wilson eighty years ago.” He goes on to assert that those positions, which require the United States to support Eastern European “self-determination” in principle but oppose actual nationalist movements that it fears would undermine the region’s political stability, have not–and likely never will–succeed in the long run. “Serbia’s apparent surrender in June 1999 was a triumph for the United States. But it was the easy part,” Fromkin concludes. But ending the war is not the same thing as bringing about peace. “It may be a long time, if ever, before we are justified in breaking open the champagne.” –Ron Hogan
From Publishers Weekly
An expansion of a March Wall Street Journal op-ed piece, this effort suffers from the speed with which it was crashed into print (see Hot Deals, Apr. 19). Fromkin, chairman of Boston University’s international relations department and author, most recently, of The Way of the World, ultimately, if timidly, defends NATO’s bombing war against Yugoslavia. After rapid recaps of American military intervention abroad since WWI and of Balkan history, Fromkin finally addresses the current Kosovo conflict. While he concedes there was no direct vital U.S. interest at stake in Kosovo, he argues that “there was a good case to be made that the risks [of intervention] were worth running.” That case involves hearkening back to Wilson’s 14 Points, which, Fromkin observes, affirmed two contradictory principles: the right of nations to self-determination, and the inviolability of national borders. The Kosovars wanted to determine their own fate, but their insistence on independence violated the sanctity of Yugoslavia’s borders. Fromkin sees Clinton and NATO policy (trying to reverse Serbia’s ethnic cleansing while stopping short of supporting independence for Kosovo) as a good faith effort to negotiate the tension inherent in Wilson’s principles. Warily, he endorses an expanded role for the United States as global supercop, “trustee and guardian” of Kosovo for years to come, even while he warns against overextension of resources. As a brief outline of the thinking that drew NATO and the U.S. into Kosovo, Fromkin’s primer is instructive. As a piece of thinking about the limits of intervention and the perilsAor promiseAof a foreign policy rooted in Wilsonian idealism, it leaves much to be desired. Maps not seen by PW. Agent, Suzanne Gluck; author tour. (Aug.)
It is to be noted that this book dates from 1999, just after the ‘liberation’ of Kosovo, before its independence.
As I have been living and working in Kosovo in the aftermath of all this I was in a way ‘in the middle of all this’. Consequently to read this book again was really interesting for me, as many things were familiar, but this book provided me with a lot of background information and background understanding.