This past week, while our government continued to bomb Iraq for not allowing U.S. spies into Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath Party headquarters, another war grabbed the headlines: Kosovo. The tale of Kosovo begins with a modern-day crisis within NATO.

Back in 1989, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, things were looking bad for NATO. With the “red menace” gone and European nations talking about economic unity, the U.S. was on the verge of losing all its influence in Europe. Particularly hard to lose was the U.S.’s long-standing military occupation of Europe via the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Geeks at the State Department and the Pentagon worked late into the night looking for reasons to keep NATO alive. Finally, they were rescued by chance and circumstance.

Along came the war in Bosnia. This conflict–a region wide land-grab fought by two virulently nationalist governments in Serbia and Croatia to parcel up the province of Bosnia-Herzegovina (after uprooting and exterminating its Muslim and multi-racial populations), was what rescued NATO from near extinction. Not that NATO did anything important in Bosnia; in fact, NATO troops from various countries have been implicated in aiding both sides of the conflict to displace and imprison refugees. Evidence exists that some NATO commanders turned a blind eye to mass executions of civilians carried out practically under their noses. And in spite of the on-again off-again threat of NATO bombing runs, it was only after Bosnia had been completely carved in two that the opposing sides finally come to the bargaining table to sign a treaty.

But long before the treaty, the nightmare scenario was that the Bosnian conflict would spread to Kosovo and its predominantly ethnic-Albanian/Muslim religious population, then from there to Macedonia, and on to Greece and Turkey, who exist side-by-side in a hostile and uneasy peace. Although it was back in 1989 that Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic declared Kosovo part of the Serbian homeland and revoked its autonomy, it’s only in the past year or so that he has sent Serbian war veterans off to occupy Kosovo. It’s also worth remembering that Serbia has been at war all during Milosevic’s rule–nearly a decade now. Many of the young men and teenage boys who joined the Serbian forces in Bosnia have come of age during wartime; they literally don’t know how to do anything but fight. And it’s an open question whether Milosevic’s repressive government–one that’s closed down independent newspapers and radio stations, brutally suppressed opposition political parties, and banned all forms of protest–would survive during peacetime. While Milosevic and his ilk retain power, the region will remain at war.

The guys at the U.S. State Department and the Pentagon all know this, and so do the folks at the U.N. and the other NATO member nations. The problem is that they’re not at all bothered by having him around. He serves a twisted purpose in the eyes of U.S. foreign policy makers, for one thing. Some people at the State Department would argue that getting rid of Milosevic’s government would mean allowing someone else–an unknown group–to come to power. At least Milosevic is familiar and predictable: he just kills Muslims and Catholics, who don’t have a very high value in Washington, D.C. anyway (or on Wall Street, either–the stock market doesn’t dip when mass graves are found in Kosovo).

The usual excuse given by our well-trained media pundits–that Russia supports Milosevic and we can’t offend them–is too stupid to warrant a reply. The U.S. government goes out of its way to offend Russia, from trying to amend the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (much to the dismay of both Yevgeny Primakov and the Russian Parliament), to attempting to construct new U.S. military bases in Kazakstan, a former Soviet Republic (gotta protect those Caspian Sea oil reserves!). No, that’s not the reason why the U.S. and, by association, NATO haven’t worked hard to at least contain Milosevic.

It’s because as long as there’s a war somewhere in Europe, there’s a reason for European nations to keep NATO alive. As long as NATO survives, European member nations will need to buy military hardware, a major export commodity for the U.S.

And if we need one more reason to believe this, let’s look at the pathetic excuse for a peace proposal now on the table in Geneva. The U.S., through NATO, wants to turn back the clock and return Kosovo to what it was before Serbia revoked Kosovo’s status as an autonomous province of a greater Yugoslavia. The only problem is that Yugoslavia exists in textbooks only; no province in the region thinks of itself as part of Yugoslavia anymore. And with 30,000 Serbian troops marauding in Kosovo and a new guerilla army rapidly arming itself to the teeth (the Kosovo Liberation Army), we have the makings for a long and bloody Bosnian-style war all over again. The best that NATO has done so far is to threaten to bomb some of Milosevic’s less important military installations if he doesn’t sit down at the bargaining table. Some incentive.

And so the fighting continues. Tragically, the folks who lose the most from all this posturing are the civilians in Kosovo; some 300,000 people were displaced during the fighting last year and a larger number will be massacred, die from starvation, or driven from their homes while these fruitless talks continue. Meanwhile, NATO is basking in the spotlight and pretending to broker a peace treaty on this, its 50th anniversary.