Canada and the Kosovo Crisis: A "Golden Moment" in Canadian Foreign Policy?

By Manulak, Michael W. | International Journal, Spring 2009 | Go to article overview

Canada and the Kosovo Crisis: A "Golden Moment" in Canadian Foreign Policy?


Manulak, Michael W., International Journal


Assessments of Canada's involvement in the Kosovo War of 1998-99 have generally depicted Canada's role in the crisis within the period's broader discourse of diplomatic and military decline. Much of the Canadian academic and media opinion at the time depicted the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade under Lloyd Axworthy as overmatched players in the major leagues of crisis diplomacy, as historian Michael Bliss epitomizes: "Instead, as junior partners, we simply went along. Our politicians were, publicly, ventriloquists' dummies, and from the public record, it's not at all clear that Canada exercised anything like real independence."1 However, this article will demonstrate that Canada did not simply offer troops in a fainthearted or half-hearted gesture to NATO, but effectively employed its resources to play an important part in the diplomacy that led to United Nations security council resolution 1244, in the maintenance of allied unity, and in operation Allied Force. Using public source documents and extensive interviews, it will concentrate on the intensification of diplomatic attention to the Kosovo issue, Ottawa's decision to intervene, the conduct of the campaign, consideration of the "ground option," and the diplomatic process that brought the crisis to a resolution.

THE CRISIS UNFOLDS

"No one should dare to beat you," exclaimed Slobodan Milosevic, chairman of the central committee of the Serbian League of Communists, to a crowd of Kosovar Serbs in April 1987. His rhetoric, inspired by perceived injustices inflicted by the Albanian majority, injected a potent drug into the veins of the Serbian public, contributing to a decade of ethnic violence in Yugoslavia. In March 1989, Milosevic coerced the Kosovo assembly into amending its constitution, repealing the political, educational, and linguistic autonomy of the Kosovar Albanians, who represented about 90 percent of the province's population. Although Kosovo was not a "republic" within the Yugoslav Federation, the south Serbian province had been granted considerable autonomy under Marshall Tito's regime. After years of passive resistance and opposition to violence, many Albanians began to favour violent responses, such as those employed by the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA). Through 1997 and 1998 the KLA conducted periodic campaigns against Yugoslav targets in Kosovo. The Yugoslav forces, ill -trained for counterinsurgency operations and shocked by the audacity of the KLA, often retaliated disproportionately, targeting Albanian civilians. In February 1998, Serbian police and the Yugoslavian army commenced a high-level campaign to eliminate elements of the KLA. Despite occasional international attention, Milosevic was able to sideline any sustained interest in Kosovo by insisting that its fate was an internal matter.

Canada had a strong historic commitment to European security and was extremely active through the 19905 in the former Yugoslavia. Canadians were lead participants in the United Nations protection force, committing 1300 troops to the dangerous and frustrating mission to freeze Balkan violence in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia. Despite this contribution, Canada was excluded from the "contact group," composed of Britain, France, Germany, Russia, and the United States, which coordinated the approach to Bosnian conflict management.2 After the conflict was resolved, Canada committed I200 troops in 1996 as part ofthe NATO-led stabilization force in BosniaHerzegovina. The mission's emphasis on peacebuilding fit within Axworthy's human security agenda, which sought to develop a less statecentric and more "person-centred" approach to the conduct of foreign relations. To this end, Axworthy also negotiated the Ottawa treaty to ban antipersonnel landmines in 1997 and took a lead role in advancing the Rome statute of 1998, which formed the International Criminal Court.3

Canada was among the first countries to engage Milosevic on the issue of human rights in Kosovo. …

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