Almon Leroy Way, Jr.
M. MONTENEGRO--THE NEXT OCCASION FOR U.S. INTERVENTION?
Montenegro could very well be the next occasion for U.S. and NATO military intervention into the Balkan mess. The developing situation within Montenegro and between Montenegro and Serbia indicate that there is a very high probability that the U.S.A. and NATO will intervene militarily into the situation, probably sooner, rather than later.
Montenegro, an Adriatic country with a population of approximately 640,000 (as compared with Serbia's population of 10,000,000) and a territorial area about the size of Connecticut, is, by far, the smaller of the two member-republics in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Montenegro was one of the six member-republics of the former Federal Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia. Following the collapse of the Federal Socialist Republic in 1992, Montenegro and Serbia, on April 17 of that year, proclaimed a new federal entity, calling it the "Federal Republic of Yugoslavia."
Within Montenegro, proclamation of the new federation with Serbia was--and still is--a highly controversial decision. Supported at the time by the Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS), Montenegro's largest political party and currently its ruling party (ruling in coalition with other parties), the decision to federate was adamantly opposed by the Liberal* Alliance of Montenegro, the country's third largest party and its largest opposition party. The Liberal Alliance boycotted the 1992 plebiscite, or referendum--the direct popular vote which approved the federation, but was held under conditions approximating those of all-out civil war.
In Montenegro today, its federation with Serbia, facing growing criticism and popular discontent, is being seriously reconsidered by Montenegro's political leadership. Milo Djukanovic, top leader of the Democratic Party of Socialists and President of the Republic of Montenegro, has done an about face on the matter of support for a tightly-knit Yugoslav federation--a federal union tying Montenegro closely to Serbia--and is now leading a movement to substantially loosen the bonds between the two member-republics of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Currently, Djukanovic seeks to loosen the bonds to the point of obtaining virtual sovereignty and independence for Montenegro.
As the smaller and weaker partner in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Montenegro has not fared well. About a month and a half after proclamation of the FRY, the United Nations imposed economic sanctions on Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro), seeking to induce Milosevic to terminate his military aggression in Bosnia. The U.N. sanctions brought severe economic hardship to the people of Montenegro, resulting in increased public unrest within the country. This was the beginning of the end of the rather short and troubled honeymoon between Montenegro and Serbia.
The government of the Republic of Serbia completely dominates the reconstituted Yugoslav federal government. Serbia has used its position of dominance in the FRY to advance its own interests, at the expense of those of Montenegro. Serbia has used its position of advantage to incorporate the will of Miloseviv into Yugoslav federal law and public policy, easily overriding Montenegro's objections.
The Montenegrin government has demanded a greater degree of democratization in the Yugoslav political system. The Montenegrins have also called for economic reforms to liberalize the Yugoslav economy, i.e., to transform it into a free market economy. However, the politically dominant Serbians have declined to give serious consideration to the Montenegrin proposals for political and economic reform. The Serbians, in most cases, have simply ignored the Montenegrin proposals and, in other cases, have subjected them to derision.
Increasingly, the Montenegrins have come to see the policies pursued by Milosevic as unwise, inflexible, and placing an intolerable burden on Montenegro, pulling it down with Serbia into a quagmire of continuous and costly warfare, successive military defeats, widespread economic destitution, and isolation from as well as alienation of the constitutional democratic states of Western Europe and North America.
Although the Constitution of the Republic of Montenegro proclaims the sovereignty of Montenegro and guarantees the republic the right to independent representation in all international organizations, including the United Nations, these constitutional provisions consistently have been disregarded by the Serbian government and by the Serbian- dominated Yugoslav federal government.
Since 1997, the government of Montenegro has opposed Serbia's--and the FRY's--policy of political oppression and military aggression within Yugoslavia and of confrontation with the Western powers. The Montenegrin government has endeavored, without success, to obtain repudiation or substantial alteration of this policy. Montenegro has opposed, in particular, Milosevic's political oppression and military aggression in Kosovo.
Blaming Milosevic and the Serbian government for Yugoslavia's international isolation and for the U.N.-imposed economic sanctions, Montenegro is becoming increasingly pro-Western in its orientation. Seeking to adopt and pursue its own foreign policy and disavow Belgrade's policy of military confrontation with Western powers, Montenegro has taken steps to strengthen its ties with the West. Behaving as if it were already a fully sovereign state, Montenegro is seeking membership in NATO and the European Union and is otherwise acting independently of and at odds with the foreign policy of the Yugoslav federal government.
As these developments have been occurring, tensions between Montenegro and Serbia have been rising. The two member-republics of the Yugoslav federation are on a coalition course.
On August 6, 1999, the Montenegrin government presented to the Yugoslav federal authorities proposals for far-reaching political and constitutional change. The proposals call for a radical redesign of the troubled relationship existing between Montenegro and Serbia in the Yugoslav federation. Under the redesigned relationship, the name "Yugoslavia" would be eliminated and a "Commonwealth of Serbia and Montenegro" would be created to replace the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. The bicameral federal parliament of the FRY would be abolished and supplanted by a unicameral legislature in which Montenegro and Serbia would be represented equally, rather than on the basis of population. Not only would the two member-states of the "Commonwealth" have equal voting power in the Commonwealth legislature and therefore an equal voice--and absolute veto power--regarding Commonwealth decisions on public policy and its implemention, but each member-state would (1) establish and maintain its own separate currency, (2) adopt and pursue its own independent foreign policy, and (3) organize and maintain its own military forces. In short, the concept and system of federation, or federalism--endeavoring to maintain a stable constitutional division and balance of power between a strong "federal" (central) government and the governments of autonomous or semiautonomous constituent regional or local units--would be abandoned and succeeded by a relationship between Montenegro and Serbia based on the principle of confederation, "confederation" defined as a loose union or association of fully or virtually sovereign states.
Montenegro's submission of the foregoing proposals was tantamount to a declaration of independence. The call for the new Commonwealth of States of Serbia and Montenegro was essentially a face-saving formula for Serbia to agree to the peaceful dissolution of the FRY.
In submitting the proposals, the Montenegrins demanded of Serbia and the Yugoslav federal authorities a positive and timely response, asserting that, in the absence of such a response, the Montenegrin government would take unilateral action and hold a plebiscite in Montenegro to decide the question of the country's independence. While Serbia and the FRY were given six weeks to respond, they ignored the proposals and the deadline. On April 17, the six-weeks period expired, and, by December 20, the Montenegrin government was making plans to hold the independence referendum within five months.
If the Montenegrin proposals are accepted as the legal basis of a new relationship between Montenegro and Serbia, Milosevic's position as President of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia will be eliminated, along with the FRY itself. And Milosevic is constitutionally ineligible for election to another term as President of Serbia, unless the independent Serbian state resulting from dissolution of the FRY is legally determined to be a new and different state, not a continuation of the political entity currently designated as the "Republic of Serbia," a member-state of the Yugoslav federation. Hence, the Montenegrin government's demands for far-reaching political and constitutional change seriously endanger Milosevic's ability to continue exercising political power, even in the projected final remnant of the former Yugoslavia--in the landlocked rump-state of Serbia. Since Milosevic is by no means inclined to peacefully relinquish what he is determined to hold on to, he is very likely to order a military crackdown on Montenegro and thereby start another Balkan war.
Aside from the direct threat that the Montenegrin proposals pose to Milosevic's grasp on political power, he may have good reason to welcome the opportunity to start another war. By launching a Yugoslav/Serbian military invasion of Montenegro and/or instigating a Yugoslav/Serbian-supported armed rebellion within the country, Milosevic may be able to diffuse the current political crisis in Serbia, diverting the attention of the Serbian people away from the disastrous consequences of his failed policy in Kosovo. Weakened politically by the Serbian public's reaction to his defeat in the Kosovo-Yugoslav War and to the suffering which that war inflicted on the Serbian people, Milosevic is being pressured by opposition political parties and the Serbian Orthodox Church to resign from the Yugoslav Presidency and leave the arena of active politics. Army reserve troops have been staging strikes since the end of the Kosovo-Yugoslav War, protesting delayed payments for their service in that war. Milosevic is confronted with his most serious political crisis since the 1996 mass demonstrations, which came very close to forcing him to step down from the Presidency and relinquish political power. A military conflict with the Montenegrin government and its supporters would enable Milosevic to (1) proclaim a state of emergency and exercise emergency powers, (2) muzzle the independent sectors of Serbia's mass communications media, (3) imprison or exile the leaders of and spokesmen for Serbia's opposition parties, and (4) order Army reservists into active military service, where their political activities would be severely curbed. The foregoing measures, in combination, would have the effect of quashing the internal challenge to his rule.
If Milosevic uses the Yugoslav Federal Army to extinguish Montenegro's threat to his political power, the Serbian dictator will have a decided advantage over the Montenegrin government. The Yugoslav Second Army, with an estimated strength of 20,000 troops, is stationed at bases located within the borders of Montenegro. If Milosevic orders military action against the Montenegrin government in an attempt to preserve the existing relationship between Montenegro and Serbia, he can rely upon the Second Army to obey his orders with speed and dispatch, since all units of the Yugoslav Federal Army, including the Second Army, have been purged of all but the most loyal cadres.
Milosevic's past behavior is a very reliable predictor of his future behavior, as regards his use of the Federal Army against break-away regions of Yugoslavia. In the case of the four wars he started by taking military action against regions seeking substantial autonomy or complete independence--first, the war against Slovenia; next, the war against Croatia; then, the war against Bosnia; and, finally, the war against Kosovo--Milosevic did not hesitate to employ the Federal Army to further the particular interests of Serbia, rather than the general interests of the Yugoslav federation. If Milosevic decides on military action against the Montenegrin government, once again he will have no qualms about using the Federal Army to advance the special interests of Serbia, to the detriment of another member-state or region of the Yugoslav federation.
If Milosevic makes a determined effort to instigate a civil war within Montenegro, it is conceivable that he will succeed in the effort. Montenegro's population contains an important (though declining) minority loyal to Milosevic and the FRY and opposed to Djukanovic's moves toward Montenegrin independence. This minority, with Belgrade's encouragement and the Federal Army's assistance, can be expected to resort to armed rebellion in an attempt to overthrow Djukanovic, extinguish the Montenegrin independence movement, and oppress the majority of Montenegro's population. If Milosevic exploits this political tenderbox inside Montenegro and manages to ignite a civil war within the country, he can use the ensuing violence and disorder to justify massive Yugoslav and Serbian military intervention into Montenegro, to justify deployment to Montenegro of additional Federal Army units as well the Special Police and the deadly paramilitary militia forces.
Keenly aware of the great danger represented by the 20,000 Yugoslav federal troops inside Montenegro's borders and by Milosevic's capacity and willingness to instigate a bloody civil war within those borders and use that conflict as justification for a more massive Yugoslav/Serbian military intervention into Montenegro, Djukanovic has sought to counter the danger by building up a police force of 15,000 heavily armed men.
The Montenegrin government, in spite of the threats emanating from Belgrade, has continued to take steps toward Montenegro's independence. In early November, 1999, the German mark was officially designated an alternative Montenegrin currency--an alternative to the devalued Yugoslav dinar. Montenegrin officials, in justifying this action, stated that the currency measure was necessary to prevent Montenegro's economy from being seriously damaged by the impending hyperinflation in Serbia.
Subsequently, the Montenegrin government assumed authority and responsibility for guarding and controlling Montenegro's borders--a function previously performed by the Yugoslav federal government.
On November 24, in still another unilateral move in the direction of independence, the Montenegrin government issued an official statement declaring the airports located in or near the city of Podgorica (Montenegro's capital) and the town of Tivat (in southern Montenegro) were the property of the Republic of Montenegro and that the Montenegrin government had the legal right to assume control over and responsibility for operation and management of the airports. JAT, the Yugoslav airline based in Belgrade, took exception to the declaration, insisting on maintenance of the status quo at the Podgorica airport--JAT control of the civilian sector of the airport and Federal Army control of the military sector. Federal officials in Belgrade also objected to the declaration, contending that, since the FRY holds legal title to the airport, the Republic of Montenegro has no right to assume control.
This dispute regarding the matter of airport ownership and control led to what has been, thus far, the most serious confrontation between the Yugoslav Second Army and the Montenegrin police force. The confrontation occurred over control of Montenegro's main airport, the Golubovci airport in Podgorica.
On December 8, the Second Army, on Milosevic's orders, took action to stimy a maneuver on the part of the Montenegrin government to obtain control of the Golubovci airport--the attempt of the Montenegrin police and Montenegrin airlines officials to occupy a hanger on the military part of the airport. The Army moved heavy trucks onto the main runway at Golubovci, blocking the runway and taking up positions in confrontation with the Montenegrin police. Following this move, Yugoslav federal air-traffic authorities closed the airport, cancelling all civilian flights to and from it.
The Montenegrin government protested federal military interference with operation of the Golubovci airport, labelling the Army's December 8 action an unlawful seizure of the airport and asserting that the Republic of Montenegro had every right to control and operate the airport. Disputing this contention, Momir Bulatovic, Yugoslav Federal Premier, Milosevic loyalist and Djukanovic's former chief rival in Montenegro politics, blamed the Montenegrin police for the face-off with the Second Army, claiming that the Army acted when the police used force in an illegal attempt to take over the airport. General Spasoje Smiljanic, head of the Yugoslav airforce, stated that the military sector of the Golubovci airport was the property of the Federal Ministry of Defense and would be defended by the Yugoslav Army.
Reacting to the incident, Lord Robertson, British nobleman and NATO Secretary-General, publicly warned Milosevic against starting another Balkan war. U.S. General Wesley Clark, head of the U.S. European Command and NATO's Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, publicly warned Milosevic not to "interfere in Montenegrin processes." Both Lord Robertson and General Clark stated that NATO and its member-states were watching very closely and with great concern the brewing crisis in Montenegro."
In response to the statements of Lord Robertson and General Clark, Premier Bulatovic issued a Yugoslav/Serbian warning to NATO. He stated that NATO would be well advised not to interfere in the dispute between Serbia and Montenegro. He went on to say that the Yugoslav Army would defend the country, that NATO's military intervention in Montenegro "would meet armed resistance of the Yugoslav Army and all citizens of Yugoslavia."
On December 10, the FRY air-traffic directorate reopened the Golubovci airport, rescinding the ban on civilian flights to and from the airport. However, Montenegro's dispute with the FRY and Serbia over ownership and control of the airport has not been resolved. Both the Yugoslav Second Army and the Montenegrin police force are still on alert. A clash and ensuing war between the Army and the police could erupt at any time.
Bulatovic, in an interview published on December 13, warned Djukanovic not to make good on his threat to hold a plebiscite on the question of Montenegrin independence. Bulatovic asserted that an independence referendum would result in the outbreak of violent conflict in Montenegro. Bulatovic's not-so-subtle message to the Montenegrin political leadership was clear: If the plebiscite on independence is conducted and the vote goes against Montenegro's remaining in the FRY, there will be another Balkan war and, as a consequence of that war and Montenegro's inevitable defeat in the war, its population will be subject to great suffering. The statement of Bulatovic was a thinly disguised threat of FRY/Serbian incitement of a civil war in Montenegro and action by the Yugoslav Federal Army--and the Special Police and the paramilitaries--to restore order and establish pro-Milosevic rule in Montenegro.
Because of a recent shift in public opinion in Montenegro, Bulatovic's warning and threat are not likely to faze Djukanovi and the Montenegrin government. NATO's victory over the FRY and Serbia in the Kosovo-Yugoslav War has broken the psychological barrier to Montenegro's pushing for complete independence. In Montenegro today, there is much greater popular support for full independence than there was a few months ago. The results of public opinion polls taken in December suggest that almost 70 percent of Montenegro's voting population support Djukanovic's moves toward dissolution of the Yugoslav federation and toward independence for Montenegro. Approximately 50 percent of those backing the drive toward independence are committed Montenegrin ethnic nationalists and the remainder are Djukanovic loyalists, who will follow his leadership in taking Montenegro out of the FRY.
However, increasing popular support within Montenegro for the independence movement is not likely to be a major consideration of Milosevic in deciding whether to lower the boom on Montenegro and start another Balkan war. Not known for allowing Yugoslavia's parts to separate peacefully, Milosevic can be counted on to resort to military force and violence to keep Montenegro in the Yugoslav federation. And the highest-level military authorities of the U.S.A and NATO are well aware of this. Like it or not, another Balkan war is coming soon, and the U.S.A. and the Western alliance, sooner or later, will be right in the middle of that war.
Anticipating the coming Montenegro-Yugoslav War and NATO's intervention into the conflict, U.S. and NATO military athorities are determined that, when these developments materialize, the U.S.A. and NATO will be better prepared than they were in the Kosovo- Yugoslav War. In the case of Kosovo, the U.S.A. and NATO, weeks after their intervention into the war, still did not have plans for conducting an on-the-ground military campaign. Unwilling to take any chances this time around, General Wesley Clark, in early October, requested his superiors in the U.S. Department of Defense to authorize him to begin drafting contingency war plans for Montenegro--plans for NATO military action in Montenegro, in the event that the country is subject to Yugoslav/Serbian military aggression and/or subversion by internal forces inspired and supported by Milosevic. U.S. Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen and General Henry Hugh Shelton, Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, approved General Clark's request, giving him the green light to start drawing up the contingency plans for war in Montenegro.
The contingency plans drafted by General Clark call for an amphibious task force, including over 2,000 U.S. marines, to attack and seize the Montenegrin seaport of Bar. The goals of this military assault on Bar would be to (1) capture or destroy the vessels of the Yugoslav Navy, especially its two diesel-powered submarines and its modicum of small ships equipped with cruise missiles, (2) obtain complete control of the seaport, and (3) use control of the port to establish a secure beachhead for NATO military operations in other parts of Montenegro, including a ground-force invasion to drive FRY/Serbian forces out of the country and allow it to be governed by its own duly constituted authorities.
General Clark's contingency plans also call for (1) a brigade of assault troops transported by helicopters to land at or near the Golubovci airport and seize control of it and (2) military jets to clear the skies of hostile aircraft and destroy any missile or artillery batteries putting up resistance to the NATO operation.