One of the many hard lessons the Clinton administration has learned in Kosovo is that not all Balkan conflicts are comparable. Nor can they be solved in the same way.
That was the impression left by U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott in December during a Salomon Center speech called "Self-Determination, Sovereignty, and Hard Choices." Talbott argued that the aim of the administration's Balkan policy is to "apply the concept of self-determination in a way that is conducive to integration rather than disintegration, in a way that will leave lasting peace rather than recurring war." Only by encouraging the Balkan states to adopt the ideals of Western Europe - which include open borders, legally protected minorities, and cooperative agreements - can the United States help foster a kind of self-determination that at the same time makes the world a safer place. "In short," he said, "we will simultaneously be advancing our values and defending our interests." That, he concluded, "is what American foreign policy is all about."
After a rocky start, Talbott argued, Bosnia-Herzegovina appears to be heading in the right direction. The nation now has its own flag and currency, and the peace seems to be holding.
Kosovo is another matter altogether, he said. A decade of Serbian oppression and a year of mass killings have committed a growing group of ethnic Albanians to achieving total independence from Serbia, not just the autonomy the region enjoyed previously. Should Serbia be allowed to divide on ethnic lines? "Both as a principle and as a precedent that would be very dangerous," Talbott said, adding that the issue will remain unresolved as long as an indicted war criminal - Slobodan Milosevic - remains in power. "We cannot concede the principle of ethnic partition of Kosovo," he argued. "We just have to hang in there."