Le Monde diplomatique
LESSONS OF WAR
Another way for Kosovo?
On the night of 24-25 March 1999 Nato unleashed an air attack on
Yugoslavia that lasted for 78 days. How should the operation be viewed
one year on? The suffering of the Kosovar Albanians has ended and the
refugees have returned to their homes - more often than not destroyed
- but Kosovo's Serbs and Gypsies have in turn been forced to leave.
Mitrovica, the last great multiethnic city, is the scene of fearsome
clashes. And Slobodan Milosevic is still in power in Belgrade. Such a
failure means the real nature of this war needs to be examined. The
"genocide" of the Kosovar Albanians had to be stopped. But was it not
a question of the United States using Nato to imposing its grip on the
Balkans? Which would explain why the allies stubbornly refused any
by NOAM CHOMSKY *
Kosovo was an extremely ugly place last year. About 2000 people were
killed according to Nato, mostly Albanians, in the course of a bitter
struggle that began in February with Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA)
actions that the United States denounced as "terrorism" and a brutal
Serb response. By summer the KLA had taken over about 40% of the
province, eliciting a vicious reaction by Serb security forces and
paramilitaries, targeting the civilian population. According to
Albanian Kosovar legal adviser Marc Weller, "within a few days [after
the withdrawal of the monitors on 20 March 1999] the number of
displaced had again risen to over 200,000," figures that conform
roughly to US intelligence reports (1).
Suppose the monitors had not been withdrawn in preparation for the
bombing and diplomatic efforts had been pursued. Were such options
feasible? Would they have led to an even worse outcome, or perhaps a
better one? Since Nato refused to entertain this possibility, we
cannot know. But we can at least consider the known facts, and ask
what they suggest.
Could the Kosovo Verification Mission (KVM) monitors of the
Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) have been
left in place, preferably strengthened? That seems possible,
particularly in the light of the immediate condemnation of the
withdrawal by the Serb National Assembly. No argument has been
advanced to suggest that the reported increase in atrocities after
their withdrawal would have taken place even had they remained, let
alone the vast escalation that was the predicted consequence of the
bombing signalled by the withdrawal. Nato also made little effort to
pursue other peaceful means; even an oil embargo, the core of any
serious sanctions regime, was not considered until after the bombing.
The most important question, however, has to do with the diplomatic
options. Two proposals were on the table on the eve of the bombing.
One was the Rambouillet accord, presented to Serbia as an ultimatum.
The second was Serbia's position, formulated in its 15 March 1999
"Revised Draft Agreement" and the Serb National Assembly Resolution of
23 March 1999 (2). A serious concern for protecting Kosovars might
well have brought into consideration other options as well, including,
perhaps, something like the 1992-93 proposal of the Serbian president
of Yugoslavia, Dobrica Cosic, that Kosovo be partitioned, separating
itself from Serbia apart from "a number of Serbian enclaves" (3). At
the time the proposal was rejected by Ibrahim Rugova's Republic of
Kosovo, which had declared independence and set up a parallel
government; but it might have served as a basis for negotiation in the
different circumstances of early 1999. Let us, however, keep to the
two official positions of late March: the Rambouillet ultimatum and
the Serb Resolution.
Kept from the public eye
It is important and revealing that, with marginal exceptions, the
essential contents of both positions were kept from the public eye,
apart from dissident media that reach few people.
The Serb National Assembly Resolution, though reported at once on the
wire services, has remained a virtual secret. There has been little
indication even of its existence, let alone its contents. The
Resolution condemned the withdrawal of the OSCE monitors and called on
the United Nations and OSCE to facilitate a diplomatic settlement
through negotations "toward the reaching of a political agreement on a
wide-ranging autonomy for [Kosovo], with the securing of a full
equality of all citizens and ethnic communities and with respect for
the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Republic of Serbia
and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia [FRY]." It raised the
possibility of an "international presence" of a "size and character"
to be determined to carry out the "political accord on the self-rule
agreed and accepted by the representatives of all national communities
living in [Kosovo]." FRY agreement "to discuss the scope and character
of international presence in [Kosovo] to implement the agreement to be
accepted in Rambouillet" had been formally conveyed to the negotiators
on 23 February, and announced by the FRY at a press conference the
same day (4). Whether these proposals had any substance we cannot
know, since they were never considered, and remain unknown.
Perhaps even more striking is that the Rambouillet ultimatum, though
universally described as the peace proposal, was also kept from the
public, particularly the provisions that were apparently introduced in
the final moments of the Paris peace talks in March after Serbia had
expressed agreement with the main political proposals, and that
virtually guaranteed rejection. Of particular importance are the terms
of the implementation Appendices that accorded to Nato the right of
"free and unrestricted passage and unimpeded access throughout the FRY
including associated airspace and territorial waters", without limits
or obligations or concern for the laws of the country or the
jurisdiction of its authorities, who are, however, required to follow
Nato orders "on a priority basis and with all appropriate means"
The Annex was kept from journalists covering the Rambouillet and Paris
talks, says Robert Fisk: "The Serbs say they denounced it at their
last Paris press conference - an ill-attended gathering at the
Yugoslav Embassy at 11pm on 18 March". Serb dissidents who took part
in the negotiations allege that they were given these conditions on
the last day of the Paris talks and that the Russians did not know
about them. These provisions were not made available to the British
House of Commons until 1 April, the first day of the Parliamentary
recess, a week after the bombing started (5).
In the negotiations that began after the bombing, Nato abandoned these
demands entirely, along with others to which Serbia had been opposed,
and there is no mention of them in the final peace agreement.
Reasonably, Fisk asks: "What was the real purpose of Nato's last
minute demand? Was it a Trojan horse? To save the peace? Or to
sabotage it?" Whatever the answer, if the Nato negotiators had been
concerned with the fate of the Kosovar Albanians, they would have
sought to determine whether diplomacy could succeed if Nato's most
provocative, and evidently irrelevant, demands had been withdrawn; the
monitoring enhanced, not terminated; and significant sanctions
Take it or leave it
When such questions have been raised, leaders of the US and British
negotiating teams have claimed that they were willing to drop the
exorbitant demands that they later withdrew, but that the Serbs
refused. The claim is hardly credible. There would have been every
reason for them to have made such facts public at once. It is
interesting that they are not called to account for this startling
Prominent advocates of the bombing have made similar claims. An
important example is the commentary on Rambouillet by Marc Weller (6).
Weller ridicules the "extravagant claims" about the implementation
Appendices, which he claims were "published along with the agreement,"
meaning the Draft Agreement dated 23 February. Where they were
published he does not say, nor does he explain why reporters covering
the Rambouillet and Paris talks were unaware of them. As was, it
appears, the British parliament. The "famous Appendix B," he states,
established "the standard terms of a status of forces agreement for
KFOR [the planned Nato occupying forces]". He does not explain why the
demand was dropped by Nato after the bombing began, and is evidently
not required by the forces that entered Kosovo under Nato command in
June, which are far larger than what was contemplated at Rambouillet
and therefore should be even more dependent on the status of forces'
agreement. Also unexplained is the 15 March FRY response to the 23
February Draft Agreement.
This response goes through the Draft Agreement in close detail,
section by section, proposing extensive changes and deletions
throughout, but includes no mention at all of the appendices - the
implementation agreements which, as Weller points out, were by far the
most important part and were the subject of the Paris negotiations
then underway. One can only view his account with some scepticism,
even apart from his casual attitude toward crucial fact, already
noted, and his clear commitments. For the moment, these important
matters remain buried in obscurity.
Despite official efforts to prevent public awareness of what was
happening, the documents were available to any news media that chose
to pursue the matter. In the US the extreme (and plainly irrelevant)
demand for virtual Nato occupation of the FRY received its first
mention at a Nato briefing of 26 April, when a question was raised
about it but was quickly dismissed and not pursued. The facts were
reported as soon as the demands had been formally withdrawn and had
become irrelevant to democratic choice. Immediately after the
announcement of the peace accords of 3 June the press quoted the
crucial passages of the "take it or leave it" Rambouillet ultimatum,
noting that they required that "a purely Nato force was to be given
full permission to go anywhere it wanted in Yugoslavia, immune from
any legal process," and that "Nato-led troops would have had virtually
free access across Yugoslavia, not just Kosovo" (7).
Through the 78 days of bombing negotiations continued, each side
making compromises - described in the US as Serb deceit, or
capitulation under the bombs. The peace agreement of 3 June was a
compromise between the two positions on the table in late March. Nato
abandoned its most extreme demands, including those that had
apparently undermined the negotiations at the last minute and the
wording that had been interpreted as calling for a referendum on
independence. Serbia agreed to an "international security presence
with substantial Nato participation" - the sole mention of Nato in the
peace agreement or Security Council Resolution 1244 affirming it.
Scaps of paper
Nato had no intention of living up to the scraps of paper it had
signed, and moved at once to violate them, implementing a military
occupation of Kosovo under Nato command. When Serbia and Russia
insisted on the terms of the formal agreements, they were castigated
for their deceit, and bombing was renewed to bring them to heel. On 7
June Nato planes again bombed the oil refineries in Novi Sad and
Pancevo, both centres of opposition to Milosevic. The Pancevo refinery
burst into flames, releasing a huge cloud of toxic fumes, shown in a
photo accompanying a New York Times story of 14 July that discussed
the severe economic and health effects. The bombing itself was not
reported, though it was covered by wire services (8).
It has been argued that Milosevic would have tried to evade the terms
of an agreement, had one been reached in March. The record strongly
supports that conclusion, just as it supports the same conclusion
about Nato - not only in this case, incidentally; forceful dismantling
of formal agreements is the norm on the part of the great powers (9).
As now belatedly recognised, the record also suggests that "it might
have been possible [in March] to initiate a genuine set of
negotiations - not the disastrous American diktat presented to
Milosevic at the Rambouillet conference - and to insert a large
contingent of outside monitors capable of protecting Albanian and Serb
civilians alike" (10).
At least this much seems clear. Nato chose to reject diplomatic
options that were not exhausted and to launch a military campaign that
had terrible consequences for Kosovar Albanians, as anticipated.
* Professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). This text
was taken from his "after word" to the forthcoming French translation
of his book The New Military Humanism: Lessons of Kosovo (Common
Courage press, Monroe Maine, and Pluto Press, London, both in 1999).
(1) Marc Weller, "The Rambouillet Conference," International Affairs,
London, April 1999. See note 8.
(2) On the first text, see Marc Weller (ed), International Documents &
Analysis, vol. 1, The Crisis in Kosovo 1989-1999, Cambridge University
Press, 1999, from p. 480. On the second, New Military Humanism.
(3) Miranda Vickers, Between Serb and Albanian: A History of Kosovo,
(4) See New Military Humanism for details; International Documents,
470; Mark Littman, Kosovo: Law and Diplomacy, Centre for Policy
Studies, London, November 1999.
(5) Robert Fisk, The Independent, London, 26 November 1999; Littman,
(6) Marc Weller, International Documents, p. 411. As noted, the
commentaries are barely-concealed advocacy of the bombings.
(7) Steven Erlanger, New York Times, 5 June 1999; Blaine Harden,
ibid., oblique reference; Guy Dinmore, Financial Times, London, 6 June
1999. See New Military Humanism for further details.
(8) Wire services, 7 and 8 June 1999; Chris Hedges, New York Times, 14
See also Los Angeles Times, 6 July 1999.
(9) On the recent US record, see New Military Humanism and sources
(10) Editorial, Boston Globe, 9 December 1999.
Original text in English
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