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From the Eastern Daily Press, Saturday, June 5, 1999

[Colin Chinery looks back on the Last Seven Days]

Nato drawn into ethnic complexity

Unless President Milosevic is engaged in a ruse, or Prime Minister Blair is driven to claim the Serbian leader's scalp - neither possibility can be discounted - there is a good chance that a deal is being struck that will end the war in Kosovo.

Has air power disproved almost every expert military opinion and delivered on its own account, the means of victory? Or have there been other and yet more obscure reasons for the Serbian climb-down?

That the 72-day bombing blitz is drawing to a close and an appalling land war avoided are causes enough for rejoicing. Mr Blair, ever ardent for troop engagement, leads the push for continued bombing, and it is hard not to conclude that in addition to Nato's objectives, he has a personal agenda to pursue.

But to talk of victory is to submit to mythology. Nato went to war to save the Kosovan Albanians from ethnic cleansing. It failed completely when Milosevic's forces bullied 850,000 over its borders and murdered untold others. Substitute Plan B was to get the refugees back to their homeland. But it is unclear whether the average Kosovan will want to go back, if for no other reason than that his land has been all but razed to the ground.

The cost of putting all this right is stupendous, quite aside from the price of maintaining a peace-keeping operation, estimated at £700 million a year. Then there is the question of those refugees - and the numbers may be considerable - who prefer to stay in their newly adopted lands.

The war itself is costing £41 million a day. Most of this has been borne by the Americans, but Britain's share is large and growing.

Three weeks ago, Mr Blair said his Government would prosecute the war for as long as it took and with infinite funding. The British, citizens of a country apparently so strapped that it cannot fill its potholes, pay its hospital doctor properly or provide cancer care up to European and US standards, may wonder at the Government's sense of priorities.

Having blundered headstrong into a Balkan conflict in defiance of UN procedures, Nato's constitution, to say nothing of national interest, Britain is now stuck there for the foreseeable and, on suspects, hazardous future.

The military, economic and political cost will be high and indefinite. Not only has Britain and Nato - its whole nature inexorable changed - been drawn into the ethnic complexities of the Balkans - with Greece and Turkey in the wings - but Russia has been humiliated. The bear will forget neither the occasion nor its lessons.

From high on their white charger Mr Blair and Mr Cook see matters very differently. The foreign Secretary has said that Nato's intervention in the internal affairs of a sovereign nation must now be generally acceptable and indeed desirable.

Quite aside from its breathless arrogance, it is improbable that many sovereign nations will re-arrange their traditional perception in deference to the dictates of this New World Order.

And through all the cant of Wilsonian high-mindedness, it has always been the case that neither Mr Blair nor Mr Clinton has any intention of fighting an "ethical" war against a nation or regime with a nuclear capability

The Serbs only defence was low cloud cover. Transgressors less accommodating will be re-assured that in this matter if in few others, "ethical" warfare will always be discriminating.

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