22 May 2006

Montenegro Independent

Voters in Montenegro this weekend supported independence from Serbia by more than the 55% majority required to approve the decision. Former Yugoslavian Republicans Macadeonia, Slovenia, Croatia, and Bosnia & Herzogovina had already left.

Despite the division of Yugoslavia into its six constituent Republicans, the Balkans remain truth to their name and are still in the process of balkanizing. Bosnia is a country in name only, almost completely divided between a Serb Republic in the North, and a Muslim-Croat Federation in the South. Serbia lacks control of Kosovo in its South, which has a large population of ethnic Albania Muslims, and is under U.N. supervision patroled by troops from the United States and elsewhere.

The Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes was formed in 1918 from the wreckage of World War I's dismantling of the Astro-Hungarian Empire, and renamed Yugoslavia in 1929, but the regime associated with that Kingdom was dismantled and replaced with a new constitution after World War II. This most recent incarnation of Yugoslavia was created in 1946, under Soviet influence, and by 1991 the breakup was in place. Bosnia, Croatia, Macedonia and Slovenia left at that time, while in 1992, Serbia and Montengro proclaimed a new Federal Republican of Yugoslavia with just the two of them.

International recognition of Macadenia's independenc was held up until 1994, in the face of Greek concerns about a new nation on its border with the same name as one of its provinces. Macedonia has also faced an influx of refugees from Kosovo during the 1999 air war between U.S. led forces and Yugoslavia (then only Serbia and Montenegro), but the vast majority have now returned to Kosovo, and a 2001 insurgency of ethnic Albanians was quelled with a political deal in 2002 that expanded their rights.

The war in Bosnia between the Serbians on one hand, and the Croats and Muslims on the other, raged from 1991-1995, when the Dayton Accords essentially ratified the boundaries on the ground which left previously ethnically integrated Bosnia segregated by the "ethnic cleansing" of the Bosnia forces during the war, incidents that have lead to ongoing war crimes trials in Europe. The Serbian forces at their peak held 70% of the country, but were forced back to about 25% of the country by the time that dayton Accords were reached in 1995. There is a nominal central government, but with a three person collective Presidency, but without the 7,000 member European Union peacekeeping force that presides there, it would cease to exist. The Croat-Muslim Federation itself has ten cantons with considerable autonomy.

Montenegro's late departure, 15 years later, does not end Serbia's struggles. Montenegro, which was an independent nations from 1839 (when it left the Ottoman Empire) until the 1918 Kingdom was formed, is a tiny mountainous country. It has 485,000 eligible voters, and a total population of around 600,000. For it, independence means departing theinternational reputation of its much larger neighbor tainted by war crimes, Serbia has about 10.2 million people exclusive of Montenegro, and a much more nimble bureacracy since it is so much smaller, allowing for the easier integration of this new coastal nation into the international community and world commerce.

Serbia itself is the other unresolved territorial dispute left from the breakup of Yugoslavia, in addition to that in Bosnia. About four million of the ten million people of Serbia live in autonomous provinces. The two million people of Vojvodina, in the North, have little incentive to leave, as it is, like Serbias ordinary provinces, predominantly ethnic Serbian. But, the two million people of Kosovo, in the South are a different story. This mostly ethnic Albania Muslim territory had its autonomy revoked by the central government in 1989. The province proclaimed its independence in 1990, before Yugoslavia split. For a while, this was carried out peacefully as Kosovars operated a parallel government and tried simply to ignore the ruling Serbian regime. But, by 1997 a Kosovar insurgency developed and Serbian military forces attempted to put it down. In the wake of another impending Bosnia War type scenario, NATO intervened as President Clinton led an air war from March to June 1999 that sent Kosovar refugees to neighboring countries and resulting in Serbia loosing de facto control of the territory as a peacekeeping force, initially of about 50,000 troops, and now a third of that, took control and remains there. A mechanism is in place for Kosovo, like Macadeonia did last weekend, to attain independence in due course, with a referrendum on Kosovo's final status (likely an overwhelming vote for independence) to be held as soon as this year.

The war in Kosovo was also important in many ways for military policy in the U.S. The delay in deploying Apache helicopters to the conflict was a serious black eye for that weapon system, rightly or wrongly, and focused attention already pointed there by the first Gulf War, to deficiencies in U.S. logistics. The war cemented U.S. policy of beginning conflicts with massive air bombardments before moving in ground troops. The war showed that stealth fighers were not absolutely invulnerable, one was shot down by Serbian forces, and tests U.S. military rescue efforts when a downed pilot was brought home. It also showed that air power was not alone enough, as Serbian forces didn't give in until a ground force loomed.

The peacekeeping forces in Bosnia and Kosovo also provided the groundwork for U.S. counterinsurgency actions in Iraq. They provided testing grounds for the armored humvee, highlighted the limitations of the Abrams Tank in that capacity, and led to increased discussion of the relatively standoffish approach of U.S. troops in the role who patroled in a mode obsessed with force protection and retreated to relatively plush forward operating bases, while other countries interacted more with local populations.

1 comment:

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

More coverage here. It states a Montenegro population of 650,000, notes the very high voter turnout in the election, and gives Serbia a population of 7.5 million, a number that appears to exclude both Montenegro and Kosovo.