Cold War Bias in Colombia?

Carlos Castano is not a name that comes up much in the debate over whether to escalate U.S. drug-war aid to Colombia. But policy-makers and politicians alike in America should be mindful of the alliances that he and other rightist paramilitaries there have made with Colombia’s drug syndicates, including the ones that are now ascendant after the mid-1990s decapitation of the once-powerful Cali cartel.

Instead, people from the Clinton administration’s drug czar to its opponents in Congress have focused only on the role played by Colombia’s leftist guerrillas, such as those in the FARC, in the drug trade. This bias takes on added importance — when you consider the effects it has on U.S. policy to aid the Colombian government in fighting insurgent leftist rebels.

America’s drug czar, Gen. Barry McCaffrey, wants to double current U.S. military aid to provide $600 million to help Colombia defense forces fight off the powerful leftist “narco-guerillas,” while Rep. Benjamin Gilman (R-NY) has recently succeeded in pushing the administration to arm Colombia with “Blackhawk” helicopter gunships to help in the fight. That begs the question: When looking at Colombia, do American politicians see only red?

A litany of drug involvement

Castano is not only the top commander of Colombia’s rightist paramilitary groups, he is also “a major cocaine trafficker,” according to the Drug Enforcement Administration. Castano has given many interviews to journalists from a ranch compound in rural, northwestern Colombia that has been attacked by the country’s leftist guerrillas. Yet Colombian military commanders say they cannot find him. One reason may be that the Colombian military has long collaborated with the country’s rightist paramilitaries against the leftist guerrillas.

The military goes on ignoring Castano even though DEA’s then-chief of operations, Donnie Marshall, now the agency’s acting administrator, said in 1997 that Castano is “closely linked” to “the Henao Montoya organization,” which he told Congress is “the most powerful of the various independent trafficking groups” to emerge since the demise of the Cali cartel.

In fact, alliances between rightist paramilitaries and drug cartels are an old story in Colombia. Unlike its leftist guerrillas who have always been outlawed, rightist paramilitaries operated legally there until 1989. But that year, Colombia’s civilian government backed by its Supreme Court outlawed them because their movement had been taken over by Pablo Escobar, the late drug lord of the once-feared Medellin cartel.

What happened back in the late 1980s is that the paramilitaries became an armed wing of the Medellin-based drug lords who had declared war on the Colombian state. They were fighting over whether Colombia should extradite people like Escobar to the United States to stand trial there on drug trafficking charges. “The Extraditables,” as they called themselves in unsigned communiqués, terrorized Colombia through attacks like the 1989 bombing of Avianca flight HK-1803, which killed 111 passengers.

Colombian civilian investigators later linked the perpetrators of the attack to a group of paramilitaries based at Puerto Boyaca on the Magdelana river. They revealed that Escobar commanded the perpetrators of many paramilitary attacks including the Avianca bombing; he financed Israeli, British and other mercenaries who taught them techniques including altitude-sensitive detonation. Yair Klein, a reserve Israeli Army lieutenant colonel, and three more reserve Israeli military officers were indicted last year in absentia in Bogota for their alleged involvement in terrorist crimes.

Giving the paramilitaries a free ride

There is no doubt that Colombia’s leftist guerrillas, too, are deeply involved in the drug trade. Following U.S.-backed reduction efforts that have reduced coca production elsewhere in the Andes, Colombian peasants protected by leftist guerrillas today grow coca over areas comprising at least one-third of the country’s terrain. They now produce the raw coca leaf used to make about half of the world’s cocaine. But the guerrillas still earn just as much money, maybe more, through kidnappings and other forms of extortion against wealthier Colombians.

It is the rightist paramilitaries that are linked to the highest levels of the drug trade. In 1995, the Colombian judicial police reported that paramilitaries working clandestinely with local Army commanders were protecting peasants growing poppy plants to make heroin in the Magdalena valley. The paramilitaries control many if not most processing laboratories throughout the country. Moreover, U.S. Naval intelligence, DEA and CIA observers all report that among Colombia’s irregular armed groups only the paramilitaries dominate the storage and internal transport of heroin as well as cocaine.

After Colombia outlawed its paramilitaries in 1989, the Colombian military went on secretly collaborating with them for political reasons at the same time that the paramilitaries went on secretly collaborating with the country’s drug cartels to profit. The judicial police report accused Major Jorge Alberto Lazaro, a former local Army commander who graduated from the U.S. School of the Americas in 1981, of collaborating with illegal rightist paramilitaries financed by the suspected paramilitary leader and drug trafficker, Victor Carranza, who was later incarcerated and still awaits trial on charges of murder as well as commanding illegal.

The rightist paramilitaries have links to high drug trade levels paramilitary groups.

Other paramilitary leaders and military officers have been linked to even higher levels of the drug trade. The former Army commander in Cali, Gen. Hernando Camilo Zuniga, resigned as the military’s chief ¿of staff in 1996 after U.S. officials accused him of having protected the Cali cartel. Henry Loaiza, known to his confederates as “The Scorpion,” was the cartel’s underboss in charge of security. Loaiza was linked to many paramilitary massacres including the notorious Trujillo ones involving chainsaws near Cali, according to a government-sanctioned truth report. Loaiza was one of seven top cartel leaders apprehended by 1996 by Colombian forces backed jointly by the DEA and the CIA.

A boost to bloodletting

American officials like McCaffrey and Gilman have come to mimic Colombian military officers who have long exaggerated the importance of the country’s leftist guerrillas to the drug trade while ignoring the action of the rightist paramilitaries. Their misleading claims only lead the United States into another counterinsurgency quagmire. Colombia is already the fourth-largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid in the world after Israel, Egypt and Jordan. The U.S. military and intelligence presence in Colombia is larger now than it was in El Salvador a decade ago, making it the largest U.S.-backed counterinsurgency effort since Vietnam.

Back in 1994, when U.S. drug war aid to Colombia was just beginning to escalate, Amnesty International accused U.S. officials of turning a blind eye toward counterinsurgency efforts that also involved human-rights abuses. McCaffrey was then the chief of the U.S. Southern Command based in Panama. In response, he ordered an internal audit that found that 12 of 13 Colombian military units cited by Amnesty International as abusers had previously received either U.S. training or arms. But McCaffrey only buried the audit (Full disclosure: I later obtained the audit and broke the story in coordination with Amnesty International). Meanwhile, in public, McCaffrey began saying that, because of the guerrillas’ increased involvement in the drug trade, counterinsurgency and counterdrug measures had become “two sides of the same coin.”

U.S. military presence in Colombia is the largest since Vietnam

Colombia’s complex situation may look plain to McCaffrey, a soldier who has been fighting Marxist guerrillas since Vietnam. But the view held by the administration and its chief drug-war critic only reflects a Cold War bias that is wrong. Increasing military aid to Colombia will not curb the drug flow, although it will boost Colombia’s bloodletting.

Frank Smyth, a freelance journalist who has also served as an investigative consultant for Human Rights Watch as well as Amnesty International, is a contributor to Crimes of War: What the Public Should Know, edited by Roy Gutman and David Rieff. His website is He is a regular commentator for

Did Kosovo Beget East Timor?

Never have so many different forces been deployed in the same place. Hungarian soldiers guard “Film City,” the former movie studio that is now a hilltop command post for NATO-led international forces in Kosovo’s capital of Pristina. French soldiers and Italian police guard the bridge that divides Serbian from Albanian communities in Mitrovic near Serbia. Russian troops man a checkpoint in the West just a few miles from where Albanian civilians demonstrate against them. British soldiers guard a road in the South not far from where Serbian civilians demonstrate against them. Polish forces in armored vehicles patrol the hills near Macedonia. Meanwhile, the United Nations is assembling a police force with men and women from countries including Ghana, Jordan, Portugal and Sweden.

Although Kosovo remains part of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, the Western-led international community has governed it since June. The society’s links to Belgrade have been broken, and the province has just begun to develop its own institutions; yet its future is still in doubt. Though Albanian Kosovars widely yearn for independence, the province is likely to remain an international protectorate for at least one decade. International forces already have been in nearby Bosnia for five years, and its ethnic tensions are still burning.

Every matter in Kosovo — from who should be allowed to broadcast over local radio stations to breaking up fistfights over fender-benders — is now handled by either international officials or troops. NATO, Russia, and the United Nations have jointly assumed the responsibility for nation building. They face the formidable task of forging a multi-ethnic society in the wake of mass ethnic violence. So far they have enjoyed only marginal success. That, however, has not stopped the United Nations and a new multilateral force under Australian command from assuming the same responsibilities in East Timor amidst another tense climate.

Changing the tenor of the debate

The international community’s mandate in both places is to forcibly uphold human rights. The new role is consistent with other recent trends around the world, including the establishment of ad hoc U.N. tribunals for the Balkans and Rwanda and the national prosecutions of suspected perpetrators of crimes against humanity in Chile and Hungary. The common denominator in all these events is the premise that the time-honored tradition of national sovereignty is now secondary to the universal value of human rights. This is nothing less than a seismic shift in the international order.

The invention challenges, too, the basic premises of American realists who have dominated the landscape of U.S. international relations since the 1970s, most notably Henry Kissinger (Then Secretary of State Kissinger accompanied President Gerald Ford in December 1975 to meet then Indonesian President Suharto in Jakarta one day before Indonesia invaded East Timor). Realists long have argued that moralism is overly ambitious, whether driven by anti-communism or human rights.

The Clinton administration’s actions over Kosovo are as radical to the foreign-policy establishment today as Kissinger’s were to it in his time. “Focusing the vast strength of American foreign policy on a tiny former Ottoman possession of no strategic importance or economic value, with which the United States had no ties of history, geography or sentiments, is something that not even the most powerful and visionary of her predecessors — not Thomas Jefferson or John Quincy Adams, not Charles Evans Hughes or Dean Acheson — could ever have imagined, let alone achieved,” writes Johns Hopkins professor Michael Mandelbaum in the current Foreign Affairs. “But as American bombs fell on Yugoslavia, [Secretary of State] Madeleine Albright had done both.”

Neither Albright nor President Clinton have yet to articulate real guidelines or limits for international human-rights enforcement. A vacuum has been created in that absence. Last week U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan stepped into the gap.

“To avoid repeating [more] tragedies in the next century, I believe it is essential that the international community reach consensus — not only on the principle that massive and systematic violations of human rights must be checked, wherever they take place, but also on ways of deciding what action is necessary, and when, and by whom,” Annan wrote in The Economist. “A new, broader definition of national interest is needed in the new century, which would induce states to find greater unity in the pursuits of common goals and values.”

At the same time, a new kind of moralism is on the rise. Though many observers like journalist Allan Nairn predicted Indonesian military and paramilitary forces would launch attacks against East Timorese residents as they finally voted their desire for independence from Indonesia in an Aug. 30 U.N. referendum, few foresaw that the intensity of attacks would provoke the international community to launch another Western-led multilateral intervention to stop them.

Though the U.N. force for East Timor will be led by Australian troops, they will be supported by military and police forces from nations including the United Kingdom, Portugal, New Zealand, the United States, Thailand and China. Still, the troubled territory’s future remains in doubt. The United Nations will govern East Timor in cooperation with Indonesia, even though no Western nation but Australia has ever recognized Indonesia’s annexation of East Timor.

UN Forces working with Indonesian police

Universal values — to be credible– must be applied consistently. One tenet held dear by most realists is that one can negotiate with even the worst thugs, as long as they are not mere freelancers but in fact heads of states. Richard Holbrooke negotiated the end of the Bosnia war with Slobodan Milosevic upon this premise, although the latter’s subsequent indictment by an ad hoc U.N. tribunal is consistent with a moralist approach.

Just as consistent would be the indictment of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein for crimes against humanity including acts of genocide upon evidence already gathered by U.S. forces after Desert Storm. Other Western practices are also inconsistent with the new trend. The United States continues to provide arms and training to Turkey, and it is escalating the same to Colombia even though they, too, have each undeniably committed crimes against humanity. Meanwhile, China participates with multinational forces in East Timor 50 years after it unilaterally seized Tibet.

The approaching century will no doubt be marked by more economic integration. Will it also be marked by effective international efforts to defend universal values? The effort remains crippled by inconsistency. Moreover, by now everyone knowing that the original estimates of what it might take to achieve even reasonable goals were grossly understated. Though they led the first charge, neither Clinton nor Albright has risen to the task of leading the trend that is developing its own dynamic. Without backing from the United States, Annan is likely to fail, as well.

In the United States there are advantages to having any watershed issue break before an election year. Although most of the presidential candidates have yet to take a stance on it, the notion of neo-moralism and whether or how America should try to lead it hangs before each of the candidates like a curve ball nearing the strike zone. Of course, the entire field lacks depth on foreign matters, which may explain why nearly everyone but Pat Buchanan is still hesitant to answer the question. But they cannot afford to ignore it forever, even if Clinton et al go on taking the pitch.

Frank Smyth, a freelance journalist who has also served as an investigative consultant for Human Rights Watch as well as Amnesty International, is a contributor to Crimes of War: What the Public Should Know, edited by Roy Gutman and David Rieff.

Growing Pains in the Horn of Africa?

Many developing nations have borders that were first established by colonial powers. But few embrace their colonial heritage as closely as does Eritrea, a tiny nation of 3.6 million people that amicably seceded from larger Ethiopia in 1993. Though Eritrea and Ethiopia each have suffered tens of thousands of casualties in the past six months of sustained fighting over their common border on the African Horn, both countries unequivocally have agreed since Eritrea’s independence that its previous colonial borders denote the modern Eritrean state.

Yet the warring nations have produced different Italian maps from different colonial eras that contradict each other about their shared, 620-mile-long borderline. The Italian-Ethiopian Treaty of 1902 was among the first to establish a demarcation between Eritrea and Ethiopia, but its text was vague and the delineation of the border was never completed. Its final delineation was never completed even after Eritrea became an independent nation.

Having waged the world’s bloodiest war so far this year, the two states and their respective leaders now face the same fork in the road. Either they will sign a peace agreement that finally allows international arbitration to study colonial-era treaties and maps to determine the borderline, or they will squander far more of their precious people and treasure.

The beginnings of war

Blood was first drawn in an area known as Badame on May 6, 1998, after provincial Ethiopian militia ordered an Eritrean army unit to disarm and it refused to do so. The militia killed three Eritrean soldiers and four officers nearly a year after Ethiopia’s province of Tigray had begun expelling Eritrean peasants from Badame, even though Eritrea claimed most of Badame, too.mEither they sign a peace agreement or squander more of their people and treasures.

Eritrea responded by seizing all of Badame, along with four other areas along the border by May 12. Trench-warfare battles and bombing raids began last June. Sustained war broke out this February. Eritrea lost Badame after three weeks. Hours after it fell, Eritrea announced it would accept an Organization of African Unity (OAU) peace plan that it previously had rejected and that Ethiopia previously had accepted.

Today, Eritrea accepts a modified OAU plan; Ethiopia has asked for clarification on many points and has not yet accepted it. Eritrea and Ethiopia have sent delegations to Algiers to forge an agreement. Former National Security Adviser Anthony Lake, now a special White House envoy, has flown between capitals to bring the warring parties to the table and keep them there. Many African leaders, including Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi, back the peace talks.

One sticking point in negotiations now is whether Ethiopia will agree to compensate Eritrean expatriates whose property it confiscated after forcibly displacing 50,000 Eritrean nationals from Ethiopia last year. Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki, at the National Press Club in Washington on Aug. 16, said that while Eritrea will continue to raise the issue of compensation for deported property holders when and if peace is achieved, the issue is “not a precondition” for peace.

Meanwhile, Ethiopian diplomats say this Eritrean demand is what prevents Ethiopia from accepting the modified OAU peace plan.

From allies to enemies

Badame translates as “empty” or “nothing,” and it has no real strategic or economic value. But the Horn war is about more than nothing, as one objective of each nation is to show the other that it will not be pushed around and that it is willing to pay the highest price to defend national sovereignty. Their mutual logic already has made the Horn war the largest conventional conflict in sub-Saharan Africa’s history. Before the leader of either nation can end it, he must first convince his people that their respective loses were worth it and that they have achieved some kind of victory. Even though Eritrea has lost ground in the fighting, this is already a fait accompli for Isaias, as the Horn war has only united Eritrea’s population.

But presenting the Horn war as a victory may be harder for Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. Unlike Isaias, Meles is an unpopular leader. To Meles’ left are militant Tigrinyans from the Ethiopian province of Tigray who claim that Tigray includes Badame. To his right are ethnic Amharas and Oromos who remain largely excluded from power even though they comprise roughly 25{2ef06ca992448c50a258763a7da34b197719f7cbe0b72ffbdc84f980e5f312af} and 40{2ef06ca992448c50a258763a7da34b197719f7cbe0b72ffbdc84f980e5f312af} of Ethiopians.

One irony of the Horn war is that it broke out over Badame, in the same region where Isaias and Meles years ago learned to work together. While Isaias’ guerrilla movement, the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front, had fought the previous, U.S.-backed regime led by Emperor Haile Selassie, Meles’ guerrilla movement, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, emerged to eventually ally itself with Eritrean guerrillas after the establishment in 1977 of a Soviet-backed regime. The two independent Marxist guerrilla movements jointly deposed the communist dictatorship in 1991.

Isaias and Meles addressed each other as “comrade” until hostilities began in the Horn war in May 1998. Before full-scale conflict broke out this February, American and Rwandan diplomats together tried to convince both men that their respective interests should compel them to peacefully resolve their border dispute. American officials told Eritrean officials that only Meles was likely to keep Ethiopia from fragmenting along ethnic lines.

Besides backing anti-Ethiopian factions in Somalia, Eritrea has been reaching out to Ethiopia’s long-disenfranchised Oromos. Though Isaias denies it, Eritrean loyalists say Eritrea has been backing Ethiopia’s Oromo Liberation Front against Meles’ government. The Oromo rebels recently have made gains in the south and east of the country. But although they are Ethiopia’s largest single ethnic group, the Oromos never have governed Ethiopia, and few non-Eritrean observers expect the Oromo Liberation Front to ever take power.

The objective of each nation is to show the other it will not be pushed around.

War over nothing?

Instead, Ethiopia’s Amharas are better poised to gain power if and when Meles’ grip slips. Today, most Amharas clearly resent Meles and his ethnic minority dictatorship, though many are nonetheless united with him against Eritrea in the Horn war. During it, Amhara opposition groups have grown more active. The high number of Amharas and Oromos in the Horn war will only make it harder for Meles’ government not to share real power with both ethnic groups.

While Meles’ government always has agreed that Eritrea’s borders are the same as those of its former colony, other Ethiopians resent Meles’ decision in 1993 to allow Eritrea to secede from Ethiopia. Many Amharas especially seem to resent even more the decision to allow Eritrea to secede with two Red Sea ports, leaving Ethiopia a landlocked nation.

Despite the Horn war’s already staggering carnage, some observers say it is less of a tragedy than it looks, as the border fight is merely part of the growing pains of newly emerging states. If that is the case, then the war over nothing may resolve little or nothing at all.

Frank Smyth, a freelance journalist who has also served as an investigative consultant for Human Rights Watch as well as Amnesty International, is a contributor to Crimes of War: What the Public Should Know, edited by Roy Gutman and David Rieff.

Most Wanted

The less-than-modest American diplomat who brokered the 1995 Dayton accords to end the war in Bosnia, Richard Holbrooke, did more than anyone else to persuade the Clinton administration that Yugoslavia’s president, Slobodan Milosevic, could be trusted. Holbrooke did so even though Milosevic had risen to power upon a nationalist agenda that led Yugoslavia’s Serbian forces to start no less than three wars of ethnic aggression. He did so even though the Dayton accords’ provisions for the repatriation of displaced ethnic minorities were not accompanied by any enforcement teeth. And he did so even though the accords allowed indicted war criminals to remain free and left intact Milosevic’s forces in Yugoslavia, along with those of their ethnic Serbian allies in neighboring Bosnia.

But now Milosevic has begun (and lost) his fourth ethnic conflict in this decade, a civil war over Yugoslavia’s southern province of Kosovo. He and his ethnic allies have flouted their promises to allow non-Serbs displaced from previous, international wars to return to their homelands in either Repuplika Srpska, the Serbian entity of the nation of Bosnia, or Yugoslavia. And he along with other leaders like the noted paramilitary commander, Zeljko Raznjatovic or “Arkan,” stand indicted by a U.N. court for their alleged crimes against humanity.

Finally, Clinton administration officials have come to see Milosevic differently.

NATO’s choice

“There is more resolution within the government on carrying this [trial] through to its completion than before,” says one senior State Department official. “The answer is yes, we want to see him tried,” he adds. “But the question is how?”

President Clinton himself has ruled out any military efforts to try and apprehend Milosevic in Yugoslavia, although he is withholding all U.S. aid for its reconstruction as long as the Serbian nationalists remain in power. Clinton administration officials along with human-rights advocates hope that the Yugoslavian opposition will act soon to not only depose Milosevic but also to turn him over to the ad hoc U.N.-established International Criminal Tribunal at the Hague, where since May he has been wanted for trial. “My hope is that [Yugoslav] people will eventually realize that he is a liability,” says Nina Bang-Jensen of the Washington, D.C.-based Coalition for International Justice.

How will Clinton handle Milosevic?

The anti-Milosevic movement, however, already is divided over whether to hand Milosevic over to The Hague to stand trial. Some opposition leaders including Zoran Djindjic, the former mayor of Belgrade, have said they would do so; one of his rivals for control of the movement, Vuk Draskovic, who served in Milosevic’s government throughout most of the Kosovo war, said this week that he would not. Meanwhile, other opposition leaders have said they would only try him at home. Many Serbs oppose Milosevic not because of his attempts to “cleanse” ethnic Albanians from Kosovo but only because he failed in the end to expand greater Serbia, according to one international official who does not expect opposition forces, even if they take power, to give Milosevic up for trial.

What would NATO do then? “The United States will have to make a choice,” the State Department official says, pointing out that a new Yugoslavian government might still protect Milosevic or otherwise allow him to avoid prosecution by letting him flee to a country such as Belarus, Cyprus or Iraq.

“What sort of deals are NATO governments willing to make to get Milosevic out of power?” the official asks.
Human-rights advocates ask the same thing. “Any sort of deal that would shield him from prosecution would be a disappointment,” Gay Gardner of Amnesty International says.

A movement toward international justice

Milosevic is not only the first acting head of state to be indicted by an international tribunal since World War II; he is the first to be charged with committing abuses within his own nation’s borders. Milosevic faces three counts of crimes against humanity and one count of violating the laws or customs of war over his forces’ actions in Yugoslavia’s Kosovo. The U.N. Security Council established the ad-hoc tribunal for the Balkans upon the premise that crimes against humanity are universal offenses that transcend national boundaries.

The notion that national sovereignty is not inviolate in such cases, although relatively novel, seems to be gaining pace. After Rwanda’s 1994 genocide, the U.N. Security Council expanded the ad-hoc tribunal for the Balkans to also establish an ad-hoc tribunal for Rwanda. Spain, too, recently has been arguing to the United Kingdom that crimes against humanity are universal, as it demands from Great Britain the extradition of the former head of yet a third state, the retired Chilean General Augusto Pinochet, who Spain alleges is responsible for crimes against humanity in Chile.

“Justice is an essential ingredient of any long-term peace process and stability,” Gardner maintains.

An international pariah

But whether justice will come to the perpetrators of war crimes throughout the Balkans remains in doubt. Out of 70 individuals who have so far been indicted by the ad-hoc U.N. tribunal at The Hague, 36 including Milosevic and “Arkan” remain at large.

While the Bosnian or Muslim-dominated entity within the nation of Bosnia has cooperated in apprehending and extraditing its suspects, the nation of Croatia only began turning over suspects after coming under intense international pressure including the withholding of IMF and World Bank loans. Meanwhile, Serbian authorities in both Republika Serpska and Yugoslavia have yet to turn over any suspects (although a mob in Republika Serpska did spontaneously turn over one). Croatia continues to protect one suspect, while Republika Serpska continues to harbor 25 indictees and Yugoslavia shelters 10.

Western governments, too, have been reluctant to apprehend war-crimes suspects, human-rights groups charge. British, French, and American troops assigned to the Western “stabilization” or peacekeeping force in Bosnia, which followed the Dayton accords, have apprehended only seven of 26 suspects believed to be living within their respective areas of responsibility. The most notorious figure among them is the Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic who is still believed to be residing in the French military zone within Republika Srpska.

The failure to apprehend suspects indicted over previous wars in the Balkans does not bode well for the prospects of apprehending Milosevic. Nonetheless, human-rights groups see his indictment as a big step forward. “The man is a prisoner in his own country,” says Holly Burkhalter, the former Human Rights Watch advocate who now represents Physicians for Human Rights. Milosevic can no longer safely travel outside Yugoslavia except to the few nations that would be willing to protect him, and Switzerland has frozen his bank accounts.

Many veteran Balkans observers say momentum is building toward more forceful action against other suspects as well. Human-rights advocates and State Department officials alike say that Karadzic, in particular, could still be captured by Western troops within the Serbian entity of Bosnia. “He’s changing bedrooms every night. He’s got armed security guards,” says the senior official. “You can’t really mount a military operation to apprehend Milosevic. But with Karadzic it is much more feasible.”

Still the issue of how to make Milosevic stand trial remains unresolved. He is the suspect most observers blame for fueling the Balkans’ decade-long cycle of ethnic violence, and now at least he no longer enjoys either the legitimacy or the immunity that he was once extended through the international community’s endorsement of the Dayton accords.

“He’s a pariah,” Burkhalter says. Yet he remains at large.

Frank Smyth, a freelance journalist who has also served as an investigative consultant for Human Rights Watch as well as Amnesty International, is a contributor to Crimes of War: What the Public Should Know, edited by Roy Gutman and David Rieff.


Baghdad waited only three days last week before rejecting a British/Dutch proposal to finally lift economic sanctions against Iraq in exchange for new inspections into its ability to produce weapons of mass destruction. Thus the impasse between Iraq and other nations goes on. Few observers doubt that the regime led by Saddam Hussein has continued to try and produce chemical, nuclear and biological weapons, as U.N. inspectors, before Saddam expelled them, caught his regime doing time and again. Few doubt, either, that without comprehensive inspections to control his efforts they will eventually succeed.

Without inspections, the only levers to try and contain Iraq are economic sanctions and air strikes. Thus far, neither has proved to be an effective tool to curb Saddam’s development of weapons of mass destruction. Yet the United States and its sole military ally in the campaign against Iraq, the United Kingdom, go on paying a high international political price for using both.

Saddam, for one, is confident that they will eventually grow tired and give up. “[T]he longer the arm stretches, the weaker it becomes,” he said this month in a speech to Iraqi military commanders. “We are close to the day when the enemy itself will declare that it has no other choice but to leave.”

Four days before Saddam’s speech in Baghdad, Assistant Secretary of State Martin Indyk said the opposite in Washington. “[A]s long as he is around, we will contain Saddam,” he told the House International Relations Committee.

But what no Clinton administration official can explain is how anyone plans to effectively control Saddam without inspections. The Clinton administration has made the removal of Saddam from power an explicit aim of the United States. Congress is in agreement, and has allocated at least $97 million for the Iraqi opposition. This plan in its present form, however, has little chance of success.
Will the allies give up on Hussein?

No trust

That is because the group within the Iraqi opposition that represents the most Iraqis and that has long posed the greatest threat to Saddam’s regime is now alienated from the United States.

Since 1968, Iraq’s ruling Ba’ath party regime, like previous Iraqi regimes including the monarchy, has been dominated by Sunni Arabs like Saddam, even though they comprise a minority of only about 17{2ef06ca992448c50a258763a7da34b197719f7cbe0b72ffbdc84f980e5f312af} of Iraq’s population. Meanwhile, Sunni Kurds, who comprise perhaps 20{2ef06ca992448c50a258763a7da34b197719f7cbe0b72ffbdc84f980e5f312af} of Iraqis, and Shi’a Arabs, who comprise at least 60{2ef06ca992448c50a258763a7da34b197719f7cbe0b72ffbdc84f980e5f312af} of Iraqis, have each long been excluded from power.

Indyk told Congress that the administration seeks “to change the regime in Iraq” to one that “can represent fairly the concerns of all of Iraq’s communities.” The dilemma no policy-maker will address, however, is how any representative government could continue excluding Iraq’s Shi’a majority from power — yet that seems to be what the United States is aiming to do.

Bayan Jabr, a representative of the Supreme Assembly of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, told Reuters last week in Beirut that the West wants to use Shi’as only as “decorations” in the anti-Saddam coalition. Another Supreme Assembly representative, Hamid Al-Bayati, was noticeably absent from eight Iraqi opposition group representatives who traveled to Washington last month to meet officials including Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. The falling out between the United States and the Supreme Assembly comes less than one year after Supreme Assembly representatives made their first trip to Washington to meet with mid-level American officials. Now they clearly distrust each other.

The Shi’a question

How to deal with Iraq’s Shi’a majority is a key question that has so far been surprisingly absent from the Iraq policy debate. The fact is that most Iraqis are Shi’a Arabs, and the men who claim to represent them now seem to loathe Saddam only little more than they do the United States. Of course the fear is mutual, as the Supreme Assembly is a coalition of Shi’a clerics based in Tehran who have long been ambiguous about their intentions for Iraq.

The Clinton administration is already presuming the worst, as its liaison with the Iraqi opposition, Frank Ricciardone, seems to have reached out to every other Iraqi group but the Supreme Assembly. The problem is that most of these groups long have been based in exile in London or elsewhere in the West, and only a few of them have ever mounted any military activities back in Iraq. The Supreme Assembly has within it Islamic Action, the Awakening and other groups that have long waged armed struggle against Saddam’s regime.

Back in 1991, two days after the end of fighting in the Gulf War and the same day that George Bush urged Iraqis to overthrow Saddam, Shi’a clerics throughout southern Iraq declared an intifada, sparking a month-long insurrection that eventually spread as well to the Kurdish-populated areas of Northern Iraq. But the Bush administration merely watched by satellites as Saddam’s forces decimated the insurgents everywhere with tanks, multiple-rocket-launchers and helicopter gunships.

Tens of thousands of Iraqis died fighting the regime, while thousands more perished far more painfully later in Saddam’s jails. Since the intifada, Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq have been too plagued by infighting to effectively challenge Saddam’s regime, while small groups in southern Iraq have enjoyed more success. In December 1996, the Awakening attacked Saddam’s eldest son, Uday, crippling him. In November 1998, unknown assailants made an unsuccessful attempt against Izat Ibrahim, who has long been vice president of the Revolutionary Council and Saddam’s second-in-command.

Iraqi Shi’as have good reason to loathe Saddam’s regime, as he has repeatedly squandered Shi’a men in battle. Saddam’s officer corps, like the ranks of his various elite troops, are dominated by Sunni Arabs who share a stake in maintaining the ethnic hegemony of his regime, while the vast majority of Iraq’s rank-and-file soldiers have long been Shi’as. They suffered Iraq’s highest casualties in both the Iran-Iraq War and the Gulf War.

“Why do we kill? Why did we go to war with Iran?” one Shi’a soldier being held as a POW in Zakho by Kurdish rebels said on camera at the peak of the 1991 intifada, before he led fellow prisoners along with their Kurdish captors to chant, “Down with Saddam!”

Many Iraqi Shi’as are loyal instead to Iraq’s Shi’a clerics. While many revered clerics are already in exile in Tehran, others have struggled on in Southern Iraq. In February, unidentified assailants killed the Grand Ayatollah, Mohammed Sadiq Al-Sadr, along with his two sons in a drive-by shooting, 100 miles south of Baghdad. He was the third Shi’a cleric over the past year to be so murdered. Shi’as spontaneously poured out into the streets protesting Saddam in not only Baghdad, but also in Beirut and in Tehran, where the Iranian hardliner, the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, blamed Saddam for Al-Sadr’s slaying, saying “the strangulation of Shi’a Muslims in that country has reached a climax.”

What about self-determination?

For the United States, the argument against backing groups like the Supreme Assembly is that they are likely to become fundamentalist allies of Iran if they come to power. But if the United States goes on excluding Iraq’s Shia majority from its plans for a post-Saddam Iraq, then that Iraq will certainly be anti-Western, and maybe fundamentalist as well, when and if they do govern the Tigris-Euphrates valley.

The final irony of the administration’s Iraq policy is that it is now unabashedly inconsistent with the administration’s moralist campaign in Yugoslavia, as it fails to apply its newly embraced principle of self-determination, not to mention democracy, to Iraq. Meanwhile, as Saddam says, our stretched arm only tires.

Frank Smyth covered the post-Gulf War Kurdish uprising in northern Iraq for The Economist, the Village Voice and CBS News before being captured by Iraqi Army Special Forces. His Voice story, “Tragedy in Iraq,” was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.

The Genocide Doctrine

President Clinton was morally disgraced at home only to become a moral crusader abroad four months after being impeached. His newly discovered moralism, however, began to emerge two months after the Drudge Report broke the Lewinsky liaison.

Who expected such a turnaround from Bill Clinton? Even more surprising, who thought that it would be rooted in steps taken by Ronald Reagan and George Bush? Did anybody think that such a domestic-oriented president would usher in the most ambitious U.S. foreign-policy doctrine since Harry Truman? What was predictable, however, was that any Clinton doctrine would be as morally ambiguous as its author.

The ensuing tension of the Lewinsky crisis did not stop Clinton from making an unprecedented trip to Africa. In March 1998 in Kigali, Clinton became America’s first leader to apologize to foreigners, in this case Rwandans. In doing so, he was admonishing his own administration’s failure back in 1994 to call Rwanda’s then-ongoing ethnic slaughter of up to 1 million people –or well over half Rwanda’s minority Tutsis– genocide.

Last week President Clinton finally expressed his contrition about Rwanda at home. In a May 13 speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, he said about the situation in Kosovo: “I think the only thing we have seen that really rivals that, rooted in ethnic or religious destruction, in this decade is what happened in Rwanda. And I regret very much that the world community was not organized and able to act quickly there as well.”

Saying I’m Sorry

The United States has been legally obligated to stop crimes of genocide since President Ronald Reagan’s last year in office. Though few people have ever heard of it and there is no enforcement mechanism, the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide obligates all its signatories to “undertake [measures] to prevent and to punish” genocide whenever it occurs. The United States ratified it in 1988.

Although it took America 40 years to agree to it, the genocide convention preceded by one year the four Geneva conventions that the international community developed in response to the many war crimes including the Holocaust of six million Jews by Germany during World War II.

In June 1998, Clinton articulated another piece of his doctrine at home. In response to a reporter’s question about Kosovo during a general press conference, he said: “I am determined to do all that I can to stop a repeat of the human carnage in Bosnia and the ethnic cleansing” that occurred there before.

On Feb. 26, this year, in a speech hosted by San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, Clinton articulated a big nugget of his doctrine: “It’s easy, for example, to say that we really have no interests in who lives in this or that valley in Bosnia, or who owns a strip of brush land in the Horn of Africa, or some piece of parched earth by the Jordan River. But the true measure of our interests lies not in how small or distant these places are, or in whether we have trouble pronouncing their names. The question we must ask is, what are the consequences to our security of letting conflicts fester and spread. We cannot, indeed, we should not, do everything or be everywhere. But where our values and our interests are at stake, and where we can make a difference, we must be prepared to do so.”

Two weeks later, Clinton took a rare step that was consistent with the same general theme. He expressed regret to Guatemalans in Guatemala City for the contribution that the CIA and other U.S. agencies had made to their military’s war crimes during and even after the Cold War.

Clinton made his third act of foreign contrition the evening he informed the nation that he was leading NATO into attacking Yugoslavia: “The world did not act early enough to stop” abuses in Bosnia back in 1995, he said, even though “[t]his was genocide in the heart of Europe.” By admonishing the world for its inaction then, Clinton was pointing his finger again at himself — and again at the United States.

The road less taken

The United States has long avoided intervention in the internal affairs of sovereign nations, especially when they involve messy secessionist issues, irrespective of any human-rights concerns. But Clinton has developed a bold new doctrine that urges intervention to stop crimes of genocide when we can or “where our values and our interests are at stake.” The doctrine has so far been accompanied by no further guidelines to assess future situations.

The Clinton doctrine builds upon previous foreign-policy measures. Besides following a course that occurred under Reagan, the Clinton doctrine follows the lead of President George Bush.

Bush took two initiatives during his last year in office that pushed the United States in its current direction. He established the precedent of U.S.-led humanitarian intervention by deploying U.S. troops in 1992 to Somalia to help feed its starving people. Later that year, he warned Yugoslavia’s Serbian leader, President Slobodan Milosevic, that the United States would bomb Yugoslavia if Milosevic went ahead with his plans then to attack Kosovo.

After Clinton assumed office in 1993, the Somalia intervention failed, and U.S. troops were withdrawn after the killings of 19 U.S. servicemen by well-armed Somali clans. Nonetheless, the bipartisan effort undertaken there marks the beginning of a rising trend. The following year the Clinton administration, after several false starts, sent U.S. troops to Haiti to force the reinstatement of its deposed, but elected president, Jean Bertrand Aristide. The Clinton administration later sent U.S. troops to Bosnia in a peacekeeping capacity along with European allies to enforce compliance of the Dayton accords.

Realists have opposed most of America’s interventions in the 1990s on the grounds that the United States has had no national interests at stake. In fact, not even the radical critic Noam Chomsky — no foreign-policy realist, he — writing in Harper’s sees a hidden economic agenda in NATO’s current intervention over Kosovo.

In search of consistency

A moralist creed, the Clinton doctrine is unprecedented in its full-body embrace of human rights. Either it marks a clear break, or it contradicts certain U.S. practices of the Cold War, while it remains in contradiction with several ongoing U.S. practices. In 1947, the Truman doctrine made the case for the United States to embark on a prolonged strategy of containment of the Soviet Union.

In Vietnam, Chile, Guatemala and elsewhere, the United States backed Cold War practices that involved serious human-rights abuses. Today, NATO and the United States now all accept the premise that national sovereignty is no protection against perpetrators of egregious human-rights crimes, though the United States still is only doing so selectively. Even as it crusades for human rights in the Balkans, the Clinton administration is continuing to provide military and intelligence assistance to countries including Turkey and Colombia, irrespective of their ongoing gross human-rights abuses in their prolonged campaigns against ethnic Kurds and Marxist guerrillas, respectively.

But who expected Bill Clinton to be consistent? And does anybody now expect him to keep his word? One danger of the Clinton doctrine is that it will discredit the notion of humanitarian intervention as well as the credibility of both NATO and the United States. Another is that it will come to place more burdens on America than Americans are prepared to take. However noble his doctrine’s objectives, Clinton still lacks the moral authority he needs to accomplish them.

Frank Smyth, a freelance journalist, is a contributor to the forthcoming book, Crimes of War: What the Public Should Know, edited by Roy Gutman and David Rieff.

Africa’s Horn War

Secessionist struggles stoke nationalist passions, but they do not necessarily correspond to ethnic groups. While ethnicity burns the fire in the Balkans, ethnic Tigrinyans lead both Ethiopia and Eritrea into battle in the war on the African Horn.

Militant Tigrinyans have long been at the forefront of each nation’s nationalist movements. They arose from two independent Marxist guerrilla groups that together deposed a Soviet-backed dictatorship back in 1991. The two groups were led by two Tigrinyan men who now lead each respective nation.

The war in the Horn like the one in the Balkans is over a border, but while Kosovo may eventually secede from Yugoslavia, Eritrea has already seceded from Ethiopia in 1993. Eritreans like to point out that their independence from Ethiopia was preceded by an overwhelming popular vote for it in a referendum among Eritreans, but no Ethiopians have ever been polled about the matter.

Many if not most Ethiopians have long resented Eritrea’s secession. Today the war between Ethiopia and Eritrea is ostensibly over several broad patches of hardscrabble land around their common 620-mile-long border.

Slouching toward conflict

Back in 1993, when Eritrea seceded from Ethiopia, it took with it both of Ethiopia’s Red Sea ports — Masawa and Assah. The Masawa port has long been linked by paved road with Asmara, the Eritrean capital, while the Assab port has long been linked by paved road with Addis Abeba, the Ethiopian capital. But because both ports fell clearly within the former Italian colonial boundaries of Eritrea, Ethiopia agreed to cede to Eritrea both ports along with all of Eritrea’s former colonial territory. Why? Ethiopia’s government had no choice.

Back in 1991, in their joint struggle against the Soviet-backed dictator, Mengistu Haile Mariam, the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front liberated Ethiopia’s northern province of Eritrea first. The Eritrean guerrilla leader, Isaias Afwerki, who is now president of the state of Eritrea, then provided the artillery for the Tigray People’s Liberation Front’s final assault on Addis Abeba, the Ethiopian capital. The Ethiopian Tigray guerrilla leader, Meles Zenawi, is now Ethiopia’s president. Back then he had multiple reasons for agreeing to cede all of Eritrea’s former colonial territory, which helps shape Eritrea’s modern national identity. No doubt one was that Eritrean guerrillas were stronger than his guerrillas.

Eritrean President Afwerki talks to the press

Eritrea’s secession from Ethiopia came amicably, though tension between the two nations increased over time. In what in hindsight looks like an obvious mistake on both sides, the two governments never took the time to jointly delineate their common border even though there were disputes over various pieces of territory from the start. Moreover, Ethiopia began paying a price for being a landlocked nation. Until Ethiopia began boycotting it last May, duties and fees levied on Ethiopian goods passing through Assab were generating 18{2ef06ca992448c50a258763a7da34b197719f7cbe0b72ffbdc84f980e5f312af} of Eritrea’s total revenues.

Ethiopian diplomats today categorically deny that their government has any wish to reclaim Assab. But irritation over its loss has only fueled Ethiopia’s other claims against Eritrea.

Much of the friction has centered around the disputed area of Badame, about 100 miles east of Sudan. In recent years, many former Ethiopian guerrillas have moved into the Badame region to farm small plots of land, displacing many Eritrean farmers who were already there. By August 1997, armed Ethiopian forces expelled Eritrean civilian administrators from the village of Bada. In October 1997, Ethiopia published a new official map that incorporated Bada along with most of the Badame region into Ethiopia.

One month later, trade relations between Eritrea and Ethiopia broke down. Eritrea issued its own currency, the nakfa, after having used Ethiopia’s currency, the birr, for four years. Each side had different expectations about what the new Eritrean currency would mean for their bilateral trade. While Eritrean officials wanted Ethiopia to accept the nakfa in a one-to-one exchange rate for the birr, Ethiopian officials instead demanded that Eritrea pay for all its goods in hard currency, which both sides lacked. Trucks soon were backed up at border crossings, while ships waited to unload at Assab.

Is might right?

The conflict turned bloody on May 6, 1998. After Ethiopian militia displaced yet another group of Eritrean peasants in the Badame region, a local 12-man Eritrean army unit sought out the Ethiopian militia.

Both sides say the Ethiopian militia ordered the Eritrean unit to disarm. A firefight ensued, which left seven Eritrean personnel, including four officers, dead. Within hours Eritrea mobilized thousands of troops to occupy the Badame region. Six days later, Eritrea seized four other pieces of disputed territory along the common border further east, including one around the road from Addis Abeba to Assab, its former port. Earlier this year before full-scale war broke out, Eritrea deployed sizable forces in Assab in order to deter any possible Ethiopian assault.

Elsewhere, Eritrea seized ground for tactical reasons that went well beyond disputed territories to take positions that were clearly within the borders of Ethiopia. Eritreans seemed universally confident that their experienced guerrilla fighters would be able to hold their ground.

For that reason, Eritrea’s Isaias rejected an Organization of African Unity peace plan brokered by Rwanda and the United States. The plan called for international mediation to determine the border line, and one of its conditions was that all sides must withdraw to positions held before May 6. Ethiopia accepted the OAU plan; Eritrea did not.

“Might is right,” Isaias said shortly before full-scale war broke out this year on Feb. 6. But he, like many Eritrean loyalists, appears to have miscalculated.

Although Isaias successfully led a protracted insurgent struggle to achieve Eritrea’s independence, the Horn war has been a conventional conflict involving the use of heavy firepower over open terrain. Eritrea went into the war with far less tanks and jet fighters than Ethiopia did, and with no helicopter gunships. Three weeks later, after a bloody campaign that claimed tens of thousands of lives, Ethiopia drove Eritrea out of the Badame region and Isaias, on Feb. 27, reversed his position to say he would accept the OAU plan.

One Ethiopia?

Ethiopia, however, has pressed on, although it may eventually agree to negotiate. So far Eritrea has continued to hold most of the other disputed territories. Though no reliable figures are yet available, Ethiopia appears to have suffered the heaviest casualties in recent fighting: to take Badame, it deployed waves of infantry fighters, who preceded and followed heavy air and artillery strikes against Eritreans dug into trenches. Nonetheless, Eritrea cannot afford to sustain combat as long as Ethiopia can, as Ethiopia’s population is 17 times greater, and its pre-war economy was eight times the size.

The United Nations is currently trying to mediate between the two sides. This week U.N. envoy Mohammed Sahnoun has engaged in shuttle diplomacy between Asmara and Addis Abeba to try and bring Isaias and Meles together. Eritrea now seems anxious to reach a settlement, but it remains unclear if Ethiopia will ultimately decide to expand its military objectives. Even if Meles remains reluctant to break his 1993 promise to respect Eritrean sovereignty, other Ethiopians sound like some Yugoslavians talking about Kosovo when they say that Eritrea has no right to be an independent nation.

Frank Smyth, a freelance journalist, has written about Africa in publications including The New Republic, Foreign Affairs and The New York Times.