Monday, August 19, 2002

While quite a few articles and commentators have gone to no small lengths to point out that the United States isn't doing a bang-up job of rebuilding Afghanistan, one of the guest editorials in today's Globe and Mail brings up the aftermath of an oft-forgotten conflict nowadays: the war in Yugoslavia.

According to this article, the situation isn't pretty:

Washington and its allies have not completely turned their backs on the Balkans, but it is fair to say they have lost a great deal of their zeal for rebuilding.

In 1999, just after NATO forces moved into Kosovo, $1.5-billion (U.S.) was pledged for reconstruction. In 2001, that figure fell to $593-million. Considering that a great deal of this aid goes to maintaining the mission's personnel, it is an open question of how much is actually trickling down to the people of Kosovo.

Half of the province's population lives in poverty. Fear still reigns: Serbs cannot even go to church without the protection of NATO troops. The province was worse off under Belgrade's rule, but that is hardly a ringing endorsement for the effectiveness of nation-building in Kosovo.

The situation in Yugoslavia proper is perhaps even more dire. After the handover of Mr. Milosevic to the United Nations war-crimes tribunal in The Hague, Washington and its allies pledged $1.28-billion to help the country's war-ravaged economy. While this aid was certainly welcome, Yugoslavia lost $29.4-billion in output because of the NATO bombing. Rebuilding has been slow as the country struggles with inflation and debt repayments.

A personal example: My grandmother lives two blocks away from the Chinese embassy in Belgrade. The windows of her apartment were shattered when NATO bombs accidently hit the embassy. She spent two weeks in a bomb shelter but did not move back in until well after the Kosovo campaign because her apartment was in a part of Belgrade that could be accessed only by bridge, and the bridges had all been knocked down. Since that time, she has complained of breathing problems. No one -- not NATO, the new Yugoslav government or any aid organization -- offered to pay for the repairs to her home. My family was able to help; many Yugoslavs are not so fortunate.
Of course, nobody but the most ardent partisan would blame Bush for this, and I don't plan to do so. It illustrates an important point, though: any process of rebuilding in the middle east is going to require time, money, personnel and perhaps some sacrifice on the part of Americans. The rewards of doing so are great, but the dangers of doing so badly are even greater. Whether invasion of Iraq is in the cards or not, the new doctrine of "regime change" may remain, and as long as it does then it's important to remember that real change is the product of a lot of hard and (often) thankless work- not a quick, flashy bombing campaign. The difficult job will be after the invasion, not during it.

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