Lessons of Kosovo

The following editorial appeared recently in The Washington Post.

It's been 14 years since the United States, defying Russian obstruction in the U.N. Security Council, launched an air campaign to stop a tyrant's bloody aggression in his own country. With U.S. support, the rebels of Kosovo, then a province of Serbia, were able to repel the army of Slobodan Milosevic and take control of the province. Critics warned at the time that U.S. intervention would sow chaos or empower radicals. Instead it paved the way for the democratization of Serbia, independence for a democratic Kosovo and, at last, the beginning of a reconciliation.

Hashim Thaci, onetime leader of the Kosovo Liberation Army and now the country's prime minister, was in Washington last week to talk about an accord he reached with Serbian Prime Minister Ivica Dacic to normalize the two countries' relations. The agreement is remarkable in both personal and political terms: Mr. Thaci was once a sworn enemy of Mr. Dacic, a close aide of Mr. Milosevic, and Serbia's government has never acknowledged Kosovo's independence. The agreement nevertheless calls for Serbia to accept the Kosovo government's authority over all of its territory in exchange for extensive autonomy for areas where ethnic Serbs form a majority.

The incipient settlement is an example of how Western intervention can stop a bloody and seemingly intractable ethnic war - but also of how much effort is required. Since the fighting ended in 1999, NATO has kept a peacekeeping force in Kosovo, including U.S. troops; 760 American personnel are still there. The deal was brokered through the tireless diplomacy of European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.

The Obama administration would do well to take a lesson from this history. Limited U.S. military interventions, accompanied by a sustained follow-up and vigorous diplomacy, can save lives and stabilize troubled regions - even when Russia and the U.N. Security Council don't approve.

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