‘Survivor’ in Macedonia?
the scenario: 3,500 participants from 12 countries are given 30
days to collect 3,000 weapons from a remote corner of the Balkans.
No, it’s not the story-line for a new reality-based television program.
It is "Operation Essential Harvest," NATO’s weirdest mission
this: Essential Harvest is said to be a follow-up to a peace deal
negotiated between the Macedonian government and ethnic Albanians
in Macedonia. The only problem is that the group which has been
doing the shooting, the ethnic Albanian National Liberation Army,
didn’t bother to show up to the negotiations. They were represented
by? NATO itself, apparently without a hint of irony.
Macedonian side, which agreed to the long list of Albanian demands
without much fuss, warned that the agreement wouldn’t even be presented
to parliament for approval until Albanian violence halted. And it
hasn’t. The Albanians have warned, at the same time, that they would
not hand in weapons until the Macedonian government begins implementing
the agreement. Round and round we go.
appears that the highly politicized atmosphere in which the "agreement
"was forced the document was prepared elsewhere by French and
American diplomats and presented to the Macedonian government as
a fait accompli likewise forced a Western political decision to
"do something" to support the "agreement." If
NATO really hoped to see the insurgents disarm in any kind of substantive
manner, the Alliance at the very least intervened much to soon.
for the weapons themselves, though Macedonian officials estimate
the ethnic Albanian insurgents have something on the order of 80,000
weapons, the Albanians claim to have only 2,000. NATO figures the
truth to be somewhere in-between, but has announced that it will
only seek to collect 3,000 weapons. Even if the Macedonian government
has grossly inflated the numbers, which considering the strength
of rebel offensives in western Macedonia is not likely the case,
NATO’s determined low-balling of the mission goals only serves to
bolster Macedonian government arguments that the Alliance favors
the Albanian insurgents.
Essential Harvesters are themselves hamstrung by elaborate guidelines
set by the political leadership. They will have no peacekeeping
role and a very restricted ability to engage any challenge. They
are not permitted to seek out weapons, as the collection is to be
entirely voluntary. The rebels bring in what they wish, and NATO
packs it into trucks for shipment to Greece. If the post-Kosovo
weapons collection is any indication, the majority of the 3,000
Albanian weapons will be of World War II vintage. Sufficient evidence
of this is the ease with which the KLA trans-shipped supposedly
turned-in weapons to the fighters in Macedonia. With the porous
borders and Albanian control of Kosovo-Macedonia supply lines, even
the weapons turned in can be replaced in short order.
citizens who foot the bill for NATO’s Balkan adventures were promised
that this time would be different 30 days and 3,500 troops,
period this mission began to creep practically before it
started. Britain, which heads up the operation, announced last week
that if would need to double its level of troop participation
the European allies were apparently reluctant to put their troops
where their mouths were. So much for the vaunted "Euro Army."
Then Germany, which has set aside 500 troops and 55 million dollars
for the mission, hinted soon after approval that the mission may
well go over the promised 30 days. German Chancellor Gerhard Shroeder
said that Germany must be prepared for the operation taking longer
than promised. Like Kosovo and Bosnia before it.
his credit, President Bush appears to have appreciated the inadvisability
of this mission from the start: thus far the United States has only
pledged technical and intelligence support, though U.S. troops have
been in Macedonia for nearly a decade and could conceivably be brought
in. The president is to be commended.
strangest mission will likely have one of two outcomes, neither
of which should reassure those wary of the Cold War alliance’s expanding
role in the post Cold War world. If the 3,000 or 4,000 troops in
Operation Essential Harvest actually mean to do any harvesting,
and attempt to actively divest the armed Albanian insurgents of
their means to grab Macedonian land, there will likely be bloodshed
on NATO’s side avoidance of which has been the Alliance’s primary
concern. NATO’s fresh young peacekeepers will face a battle-hardened
and well-armed force with no single chain of command and nothing
to lose. A force which has gained all it demanded through the use
of arms is highly unlikely to relinquish those arms.
on the other hand and this appears most likely the entire exercise
is for show, when the CNN cameras go home and the fighting begins
again in earnest, taxpayers in NATO member countries should begin
to ask themselves exactly why they are being forced to pay for this
kind of theatre-posing-as-policy.
the real danger to the participants in Operation Essential Harvest
the murder of a British soldier this week should remind us
all of this and the very questionable benefits of even a
"success," "Operation Survivor" may indeed be
a more appropriate name for the mission. And that’s a shame.
has served as an elections and human rights monitor in the Balkans
for the British Helsinki Human Rights Group, though the views here
are his own. He writes from Northern Virginia.