The indictment of Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic by the U.N. War Crimes Tribunal provides welcome news for the millions of surviving victims of his aggression. It constitutes a major step toward justice for the principal architect of genocide in Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo. It will also promote stability in the Balkans by increasing Milosevic's international isolation, while decreasing his ability to maneuver.
The tribunal could and should have indicted Milosevic five years ago. Throughout this period, the Clinton administration has never called publicly for an indictment or stated publicly that, in its judgment, Milosevic is a war criminal. The tribunal is therefore to be commended for taking this action even in the absence of U.S. leadership.
Judging by its response to the indictment, the administration seems prepared to continue efforts to obtain a compromise Kosovo settlement with Milosevic. Contrary to reports that The Hague tribunal's move will complicate diplomatic efforts, the administration is moving blithely ahead as though the indictment had never happened.
The administration should immediately abandon its current, ill-conceived diplomatic strategy. As the tribunal has recognized with the legal force of an indictment, in the past three months Milosevic has orchestrated the murder of thousands of Kosovar Albanian civilians, the forcible seizure and possible murder of more than 100,000 others, and the expulsion of more than a million more.
It would therefore be incomprehensible for the administration to offer Serbia a deal that contains terms that are equal or more favorable to Milosevic than the terms he rejected at Rambouillet immediately before the massive attacks. Yet this is precisely what appears to be happening. Even to sit down and negotiate terms with an indicted war criminal would be a blow to American moral leadership, a travesty of justice and a slap in the face of the tribunal. It would also let other potential indictees know that, rhetoric aside, the United States will not let war crimes get in the way of an eventual deal. More immediately, it would strengthen Milosevic politically, thereby working directly at cross purposes with the war crimes indictment and stated U.S. policy objectives.
Instead, the United States must immediately close all diplomatic channels to Milosevic and insist that Russia and other Serbian allies cease all contact with him -- unless such activity is connected to his arrest. Dispatching a proxy to Serbia may avoid the unpleasant image of a top U.S. envoy engaged in meaningful dialogue with the butcher of Belgrade, but morally, it is no different from direct talks.
In any case the United States should have nothing to say to Milosevic. The administration has stated that it is willing to have further contacts "if they are necessary to achieve our objectives." Such contacts are not necessary. NATO's original objectives were for all Serbian forces to withdraw from Kosovo and for all Kosovar Albanians refugees to return to their homes and be able to govern themselves under the protection of a robust NATO force. These should be non-negotiable and should therefore be delivered to Milosevic as demands: He can accept them willingly, or NATO will achieve them through force. No special envoys, negotiations or meetings are needed.
The indictment also necessitates an escalation of our goals: Milosevic must be removed from power. The administration cannot reasonably expect the Kosovar Albanian deportees to return to Kosovo with an indicted war criminal -- and the very man who attempted to destroy them and their society -- as the guarantor of their security. It must also understand that dealing with Milosevic and leaving him in power would condemn Serbia to a hopeless, undemocratic future under the leadership of an isolated despot trapped withing its borders.
Finally, the United States must lead its NATO allies in bringing Milosevic to justice. Democratization and the defeat of Serbian nationalism in Bosnia have not been possible in part because leading war criminals have remained at large. This mistake must not be repeated in Serbia. The United States and its allies must arrest Milosevic and transfer him to The Hague for trial.
For eight years, Milosevic has carried out genocidal policies that have made him an international pariah. At long last, the U.N. War Crimes Tribunal has given legal weight to this reprobation. Rather than negotiating with Milosevic, the United States should reinforce the principles of justice embodied in the new indictment by purging Serbia of the source of its ruination.
The writer, former Senate majority leader, was the Republican candidate for president in 1996.