'We Have To Win This'

In 1968 Joschka Fischer was a student radical. He got his start in the left-wing, pro-environment Green Party. Today Fischer is Germany's foreign minister--in a coalition with the center-left Social Democrats--and a passionate hawk on Kosovo. Excerpts from an exclusive interview at NATO headquarters in Brussels last week:

WEYMOUTH: How do you think the war is going?
FISCHER: I think NATO is doing a good job. [Milosevic is waging] an ethnic war against the Kosovar people--a criminal war. It was a real shock for the public and the decision makers that Milosevic was ready to act like Stalin and Hitler--to fight a war against the existence of a whole people.

What's at stake?
It's not a question of ethics, it's not a question of morals, it is not an issue of human rights--it's a question of what [kind of] Europe we will have in the 21st century. It's a direct attack against the security of Europe.

How is NATO holding together?
We all have our political pressures. I am a member of the Green Party and am sitting here giving an interview in NATO headquarters. I never dreamed about that. But [we cannot] accept Milosevic's policies and bow our knees in front of this ethnic cleansing. I became a student radical, a real leftist--I never was a pacifist because I was fighting [a] revolution. I was against Vietnam because I always thought Vietnam was a colonial war. But my generation [asked] our parents, "Why could [the Holocaust] happen in Germany--and why didn't you resist?" This is the question we have to ask ourselves now.

You see a direct parallel to the Nazi era?
I see a parallel to that primitive fascism. Obviously, the '30s are back, and we cannot accept that.

You met with Milosevic a few weeks ago.
I told [him] that we had experience with this extreme form of German nationalism, of "Greater Germany," and it ended in a complete disaster in 1945. I told him, you will lose your idea of a "Greater Serbia" in a sea of blood and sorrow.

How did Milosevic respond?
There was no answer. For him, the evil empire is the United States. Milosevic knows very well what he's doing. He's completely cynical. He's playing--he likes to play cards. But people are at stake, not money. What we under- estimated was his readiness to [go to] a full-scale ethnic war. Now the Western democracies realize that we have to fight and win this war.

Milosevic is convinced that NATO and the United States are afraid of sending in ground troops.
Democracies always need time to react, because we must convince our people. A majority must be prepared to fight and know what we are fighting for. I [warned] Milosevic that he will start a war with the United States... I told him Germany did it twice in this century, and our experience was terrible. But I couldn't convince him. He told me this would be worse than Vietnam, and I told him this is not Vietnam and you are not Ho Chi Minh.

Aren't some people in your party unhappy with your position on Kosovo?
Obviously! There are many pacifists who cannot accept it, but, on the other hand, my generation was brought up with two experiences. The first is "Never Again War." And the second is "Never Again Auschwitz." It means standing up against genocide. It's a contradiction, but we have to live with it. If we accept Milosevic as a winner, it would be the end of the Europe I believe in.

What is your assessment of Secretary of State Albright, who's been criticized for wanting to go to war without adequate preparations?
I think that Madeleine Albright is doing a very difficult but good job. All of us underestimated the readiness of Milosevic to go to a full-scale ethnic war. All of us.

Is there an exit strategy from this conflict?
Yes: stop the ethnic war. Put an international ground force into Kosovo. Accept the rules of peace and democracy.