A better way in Kosovo?

by Steve Sailer
National Post
3/25/2000

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Exactly one year ago, NATO attacked Yugoslavia. It's worth recalling President Bill Clinton's explanation of Why We Fought: "[T]he principle we and our allies have been fighting for in the Balkans is the principle of multiethnic, tolerant, inclusive democracy."

Well ... happy anniversary, Kosovo!

Our adventure in "humanitarian warfare" proved a fiasco, as anyone with a firmer grasp of history than Mr. Clinton could have predicted. (He justified our attack by claiming that the Second World War had started in the Balkans. I seem to recall, though, that it began when Germany invaded Poland. It was in the press at the time.) The last 700 years in Kosovo consist of cycles of ethnic oppression, with the Serbs enjoying the whip hand in some eras, the Albanians in others.

Ascendant in the '80s, the Albanians began to cleanse Kosovo of its Serbian minority. The New York Times reported in 1987, "Ethnic Albanians in the [Kosovo] government have manipulated public funds and regulations to take over land belonging to Serbs ... Wells have been poisoned ... crops burned. Slavic boys have been knifed, and some young ethnic Albanians have been told by their elders to rape Serbian girls."

What did Serb voters want? Revenge! Politician-on-the-make Slobodan Milosevic cemented his popularity with the Serbian electorate by reinstating Serb domination of Kosovo.

The subsequent Kosovo Albanian resistance was initially nonviolent, due to a lack of guns. Then, reports The Economist, in 1997 the neighbouring "Albanian state fell apart in the wake of a financial scandal.

"The Albanian army dissolved, the police ran away, and their armouries were thrown open. The Kosovars in Germany and elsewhere raised money to begin buying guns for the guerrillas of the fledgling Kosovo Liberation Army, the KLA." Over the next two years, about 2,000 people died in the rebellion. By comparison, about 37,000 died during Turkey's successful crushing of Kurdish independence.

Then, last year, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright convened the Rambouillet conference to demand that Milosevic allow NATO's armies to invade not only Kosovo, but Serbia itself. Obviously, no national leader could acquiesce. Milosevic refused to sign; NATO initiated war.

NATO's aggression backfired as Milosevic responded by expelling roughly a million Albanians. Alarmed at the prospect of a million Albanian refugees wandering around Western Europe, plying their traditional trades of pimping, dealing drugs, and fencing stolen cars, the NATO countries worked themselves into a frenzy of moralistic outrage. Western elites demonized Milosevic as the Headline: "The Face of Evil" "The Face of Evil" (according to Newsweek) and declared his ethnic cleansing the worst crime against humanity since the Holocaust. NATO proceeded to bomb Serbia back to the industrial Stone Age.

Eventually, Milosevic gave in and withdrew his forces from Kosovo. A glorious victory for the forces of multiculturalism over ethnic hatred? Proof that with enough virtue, will power and cluster bombs, we can affirmatively answer the famous question posed by Rodney KingRodney King, "Can't we all just get along?" Not exactly. Our Albanian pals in the KLA promptly began ethnically cleansing Serb civilians from Kosovo. While they were at it, they also sent most of Kosovo's Gypsies fleeing .

The KLA, in turn, is now frustrated by NATO's insistence that Kosovo remain part of Milosevic's Yugoslavia. Having shattered the time-honoured principle of the sanctity of internationally recognized borders, President Clinton is struggling to reclose the Pandora's Box of ethnic nationalism he opened. There is nothing uniquely evil about the Balkans. In this world, there are several thousand ethnic groups with their own nationalist/separatist movements. Most such movements do not represent a majority of their peoples, being comprised of a few underemployed intellectuals hoping someday to become the rulers of a newly independent Lower Slobbovia.

But the ethnic troublemakers know that if they can provoke the government into repressing their entire group, they might convert their kinsmen to separatism (under their leadership, of course). Today, these separatists dream that if they can incite enough atrocities against their people to draw CNN's attention, NATO might just bomb their government for them.

That is not the message Mr. Clinton wants to send to every cafe conspirator in the world. Thus, his seemingly hallucinatory demand that after all the bombing and shooting, Kosovo must remain part of Serbian-dominated Yugoslavia, with Albanians and Serbs living peacefully intermingled.

Mr. Clinton and his comrade, Tony Blair, blundered in the Balkans because they didn't understand that the sanctity of national borders contributes to international peace in the same way that a settled distribution of property rights contributes to domestic peace. The secret to the success of the "Anglosphere's" experiment in self-government since, say, the Magna Carta has been the assurance that property rights, especially in land, will be respected and enforced by the state. If you can't be sure that your land title is secured and respected by the state, then for your own protection you need to cast your lot with your armed extended family. And since a racial group, like the Serbs or the Albanians, is nothing more than an extremely extended family, insecurity of property is an open invitation to ethnic strife.

It's no surprise Clinton and Blair didn't grasp the importance of settled borders -- both for real estate and for nations -- because they've never had to worry about them in Britain or America. Much of what we know about Shakespeare's life comes from the English equivalent of the county registrar of deeds office. His real estate dealings are on file because there has been no major interruption in the security of property in Britain. So when the Peruvian economist Hernando DeSoto visited North America, the leading economists wanted to talk about the money supply, currency devaluations and fiscal deficits; but he kept raising something they had never considered: how do you set up and run a registrar of deeds office?

Even when Cromwell conquered England, he mostly avoided stealing English property. InsOliver Cromwell by Samuel Cooper,DrumlanrigCastle, Dumfries-shiretead, he rewarded his followers by giving them property stolen from the Irish. Canadian and American democracy was built on the abundance of secure real estate available to white settlers. (Of course, that land didn't originally belong to whites, and much of the land in the American South wasn't worked by them, but Indians and Africans were marginal enough for whites to treat them as the English treated the Irish. Britain, Canada, and the U.S. deal still with problems arising from violating the property rights of the Irish, Indians, and Africans.)

If domestic property rights are not secure, bad things follow. People arm themselves and band together with their extended families/clans/ethnic groups/races for self-defence. They shoot first and ask questions later.

Basically, the same things happen when national property rights are not secure. If you are the dictator of a small country, what lessons do you draw from watching NATO pound the hell out of Yugoslavia? The joys of multiculturalism are probably not the first that come to mind. More likely, your thoughts follow the same trajectory as those of a drug dealer when he realizes that the law does not protect his stock in trade. You must arm yourself heavily enough to deter NATO. Missiles, nukes, chemicals, and germs readily suggest themselves.

And what about that separatist group that wants to split your country in two? Do you let them go as the Czech Republic let Slovakia go a few years ago, when the Gulf War had seemingly ended the era of international aggression so that nations could be as small as they liked without risking conquest? Hell no. National security will require every draftee and tax dollar you can drag in at gunpoint.

After the glorious events of 1991 in Kuwait and Moscow, the world appeared to be entering a pax Americana even more promising than the pax Britannica that helped make the 19th century such an age of human betterment. A world dominated by a single superpower with no territorial ambitions and committed to protecting lawful property. Yet now, less than a decade after the liberation of Kuwait, the West has grown so arrogant that we've squandered away the sanctity of national borders, the most valuable lesson learned from centuries of war.

Still, should the world sit idly by while civil wars cause humanitarian nightmares within sovereign states? Not necessarily. There are certain countries so dysfunctional that they cry out for internationally supervised revision. Yugoslavia might have been one, and Sudan is one. What can the West do? The answer, shockingly enough, is to sponsor ethnic cleansing.

In certain regions, ethnic strife is so endemic that the last resort of wise statesmen must be some form of partition followed by population transfers. The Treaty of Lausanne in 1923 ended hundreds of years of war between Turkey and Greece by uprooting Greeks from Turkey and Turks from Greece. Similarly, the fractious island of Cyprus has been at peace for quarter of a century due to its division into Turkish and Greek zones.

Even the Bosnians have stopped killing each other now that Serbs, Croats, and Muslims each have their own sectors. While heterogeneous Northern Ireland is notorious for sectarian strife, the exit of Protestants has left the Republic free of troubles.

Madeleine Albright's Czechoslovakia expelled millions of Sudeten Germans at the end of the Second World War, permanently ending that source of friction. Overall, we victors in the war agreed to the deportation of at least 12 million Germans from Eastern Europe. According to "A Brief History of Ethnic Cleansing" in a 1993 issue of Foreign Affairs, "About 2.1 million of these died from a combination of war, hunger, cold and disease."

The question, however, is how to conduct ethnic cleansing humanely. This is necessary for practical reasons as well as moral ones. Ethnic cleansings that leave the displaced feeling robbed and humiliated are likely to lead to future violence -- e.g., the Palestinians. If property rights have to be violated, compensation should be paid.

Consider the mechanics of one of the most successful of peace treaties, the Camp David Accords between Israel and Egypt. One stumbling block to redrawing the borders was the 7,000 Jewish settlers in the Sinai, which was to be handed over to the Egyptians. They would not live under Egyptian rule, nor would they abandon their homes. So, they were bought out. Instead of destabilizing the peace process, the settlers left quietly. The Sinai compensation was generous -- about one million of today's Canadian dollars per family of four. But the citizens of most strife-torn countries live in less expensive homes than Israelis, making compensated population transfers a cheap alternative to war.

The simplest way to prevent the 1.8 million Kosovar Albanians from being repressed by the Serbs, for instance, would be to give them independence. But the 200,000 Serbs who lived in Kosovo would have had to be taken care of so that the Albanians didn't oppress them. A big chunk of Northern Kosovo, home of most Kosovar Serbs and Serbia's sacred battlefields, could have been permanently ceded to Serbia. That might have left, say, 100,000 Serbs living in Albanian Kosovo and 100,000 Albanians living in Serbian Northern Kosovo.

These Serbs and Albanians could then have exchanged homes -- NATO chipping in $50,000 per family of four to grease the skids. Then NATO could have paid $2.5 billion to Serbia as compensation for its lost territory. A grand total of $5 billion -- a pittance set against the costs of war.

Further, NATO could have gained a huge degree of leverage in the region by making the compensation payable over a ten-year period, dependent upon good behavior. If Kosovo Albanians violate their contract by, say, trying to destabilize neighbouring Macedonia, the uprooted Albanians families get cut off. The same goes for Serbs. I have no idea if Milosevic would have accepted such a deal. But it would have been a more honourable offer than Albright's at Rambouillet. And if Milosevic had rejected it, could he have stayed in power?

These kind of cold-blooded calculations may seem unappealing to all those in the media who whipped themselves into a moralistic frenzy over the crimes of the Serbs. They may feel that Yugoslavia deserves to have its territory stripped away without compensation, and that all those vile Serbs should lose their homes. According to God's scale of justice, they may (or may not) be right. But it's unlikely that the Serbs will view it that way. And those innocent Kosovar Serbs who fled the KLA's lynch mobs are not likely to forgive and forget. People in the Balkans are used to waiting for that sweet moment when they can cry, "Vengeance is mine!"

The peoples of the Holy Land forget little too. Yet because Camp David involved compensation, no embittered Israeli lobby of former Sinai settlers strives to stir up war with Egypt so they can reclaim their homes.

Do these expellees -- in the Sinai, the Golan Heights, Kosovo -- truly deserve compensation? Was the land they occupied really theirs? Do they have a moral claim that justifies their compensation? Beats me. In fact, I don't care. All I know is "All property is theft" and "Possession is nine-tenths of the law." For almost every parcel of real estate this side of Pitcairn Island, somebody stole it from somebody at some time. But so what?

What I do know is this: whoever is squatting on a piece of land now is going to make all sorts of trouble if the international Great and Good try to give it to somebody else without paying him for it. Maybe pragmatic payoffs are less fun than moralistic crusades demanding zero tolerance for the intolerant. But far fewer human beings will die.

Steve Sailer (www.iSteve.com) is president of the Human Biodiversity Institute.

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