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A review of NATO's war over Kosovo, Part II
The absurdity of the principle of retrospective justification is, surely, recognized at some level. Accordingly, many attempts to justify the NATO bombing take a different tack. One typical version is that Serbia assaulted Kosovo to squash a separatist Albanian guerrilla movement, but killed 10,000 civilians and drove 700,000 people into refuge in Macedonia and Albania. NATO attacked Serbia from the air in the name of protecting the Albanians from ethnic cleansing [but] killed hundreds of Serb civilians and provoked an exodus of tens of thousands from cities into the countryside. Assuming that order of events, a rationale for the bombing can be constructed. But uncontroversially, the actual order is the opposite.
The device is common in the media, and scholarship often adopts a similar stance. In a widely-praised book on the war, historian David Fromkin asserts without argument that the U.S. and its allies acted out of altruism and moral fervor alone, forging a new kind of approach to the use of power in world politics as they reacted to the deportation of more than a million Kosovars from their homeland by bombing so as to save them from horrors of suffering, or from death. He is referring to those expelled as the anticipated consequence of the bombing campaign. Opening her legal defense of the war, Law Professor Ruth Wedgwood assumes without argument that the objective of the NATO bombing was to stem Belgrades expulsion of ethnic Albanians from Kosovo namely, the expulsion precipitated by the bombing, and an objective unknown to the military commander and forcefully denied by him. International affairs and security specialist Alan Kuperman writes that in East Timor and Kosovo, the threat of economic sanctions or bombing has provoked a tragic backlash, and Western intervention arrived too late to prevent the widespread atrocities. In Kosovo the bombing did not arrive too late to prevent the widespread atrocities, but preceded them, and as anticipated, incited them. In East Timor, no Western action provoked a tragic backlash. The use of force was not proposed, and even the threat of sanctions was delayed until after the consummation of the atrocities. The intervention was by a UN peacekeeping force that entered the Portuguese-administered territory, under UN jurisdiction in principle, after the Western powers finally withdrew their direct support for the Indonesian invasion and its massive atrocities, and its army quickly left.
Such revision of the factual record has been standard procedure throughout. In a typical earlier version, New York Times foreign policy specialist Thomas Friedman wrote at the wars end that, once the refugee evictions began, ignoring Kosovo would be wrong...and therefore using a huge air war for a limited objective was the only thing that made sense. The refugee evictions to which he refers followed the huge air war, as anticipated. Again, the familiar inversion, which is understandable: without it, defense of state violence becomes difficult indeed.
One commonly voiced retrospective justification is that the resort to force made it possible for Kosovar Albanians to return to their homes; a significant achievement, if we overlook the fact that almost all were driven from their homes in reaction to the bombing. By this reasoning, a preferable alternativegrotesque, but less so than the policy pursuedwould have been to wait to see whether the Serbs would carry out the alleged threat, and if they did, to bomb the FRY to ensure the return of the Kosovars, who would have suffered far less harm than they did when expelled under NATOs bombs.
An interesting variant appears in Cambridge University Law Professor Marc Wellers introduction to the volume of documents on Kosovo that he edited. He recognizes that the NATO bombing, which he strongly supported, is in clear violation of international law, and might be justified only on the basis of an alleged right of humanitarian intervention. That justification in turn rests on the assumption that the FRY refusal to accept a very detailed settlement of the Kosovo issue [the Rambouillet ultimatum] would constitute a circumstance triggering an overwhelming humanitarian emergency. But events on the ground relieved NATO of having to answer this point, he writes: namely, the commencement of a massive and pre-planned campaign of forced deportation of what at one stage seemed to be almost the entire ethnic Albanian population of Kosovo just before the bombing campaign commenced.
There are two problems. First, the documentary record, including the volume he edited, provides no evidence for his crucial factual claim, and indeed refutes it (given the absence of evidence despite extensive efforts to unearth it). Second, even if it had been discovered later that the expulsion had commenced before the bombing, that could hardly justify the resort to force, by simple logic. Furthermore, as just discussed, even if the commencement of the expulsion had been known before the bombing (though mysteriously missing from the documentary record), it would have been far preferable to allow the expulsion to proceed, and then to initiate the bombing to ensure the return of those expelled: grotesque, but far less so than what was undertaken. But in the light of the evidence available, all of this is academic, merely an indication of the desperation of the efforts to justify the war.
Were less grotesque options available in March 1999? The burden of proof, of course, is on those who advocate state violence; it is a heavy burden, which there has been no serious attempt to meet. But let us put that aside, and look into the range of options available.
An important question, raised by Eric Rouleau, is whether Serbian atrocities had reached such proportions as to warrant breaking off the diplomatic process to save the Kosovars from genocide. He observes that The OSCEs continuing refusal to release the report [on the observations of the KVM monitors from November until their withdrawal] can only strengthen doubts about the truth of that allegation. As noted earlier, the State Department and Tribunal indictments provide no meaningful support for the allegationnot an insignificant fact, since both sought to develop the strongest case. What about the OSCE report, released since Rouleau wrote? As noted, the report makes no serious effort to support the allegation, indeed provides little information about the crucial period. Its references in fact confirm the testimony of French KVM member Jacques Prodhomme, which Rouleau cites, that in the month leading up to the war, during which he moved freely throughout the Pec region, neither he nor his colleagues observed anything that could be described as systematic persecution, either collective or individual murders, burning of houses or deportations. The detailed reports of KVM and other observers omitted from the OSCE review undermine the allegation further, as already discussed.
The crucial allegation remains unsupported, though it is the central component of NATOs case, as even the most dedicated advocates recognize, Weller for example. Once again, it should be stressed that a heavy burden of proof lies on those who put it forth to justify the resort to violence. The discrepancy between what is required and the evidence presented is quite striking; the term contradiction would be more apt, particularly when we consider other pertinent evidence, such as the direct testimony of the military commander, General Clark.
Kosovo had been an extremely ugly place in the preceding year. About 2,000 were killed according to NATO, mostly Albanians, in the course of a bitter struggle that began in February with KLA actions that the U.S. denounced as terrorism, and a brutal Serb response. By summer the KLA had taken over about 40 percent 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 March 20], the number of displaced had again risen to over 200,000, figures that conform roughly to U.S. intelligence reports.
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 KVM monitors 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 Serbias position, formulated in its March 15 Revised Draft Agreement and the Serb National Assembly Resolution of March 23. 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. At the time, the proposal was rejected by Ibrahim Rugovas 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.
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 UN 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. 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 February 23, and announced by the FRY at a press conference the same day. 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 (Appendix B).
The Annex was kept from journalists covering the Rambouillet and Paris talks, Robert Fisk reports. The Serbs say they denounced it at their last Paris press conferencean ill-attended gathering at the Yugoslav Embassy at 11 PM 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 April 1, the first day of the Parliamentary recess, a week after the bombing started.
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 NATOs 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 NATOs most provocative, and evidently irrelevant, demands had been withdrawn; the monitoring enhanced, not terminated; and significant sanctions threatened.
When such questions have been raised, leaders of the U.S. and UK 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 performance.
Prominent advocates of the bombing have made similar claims. An important example is the commentary on Rambouillet by Marc Weller. Weller ridicules the extravagant claims about the implementation Appendices, which he claims were published along with the agreement, meaning the Draft Agreement dated February 23. Where they were published he does not say, nor does he explain why reporters covering the Rambouillet and Paris talks were unaware of them; or, 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 March 15 FRY response to the February 23 Draft Agreement. The FRY 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 appendicesthe implementation agreements, which, as Weller points out, were by far the most important part and were the subject of the Paris negotations then underway. One can only view his account with some skepticism, 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 U.S., the extreme (and plainly irrelevant) demand for virtual NATO occupation of the FRY received its first mention at a NATO briefing of April 26, 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 June 3, 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.
Through the 78 days of bombing, negotiations continued, each side making compromisesdescribed in the U.S. as Serb deceit, or capitulation under the bombs. The peace agreement of June 3 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 negotations 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. 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 June 7, NATO planes again bombed the oil refineries in Novi Sad and Pancevo, both centers 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 July 14, which discussed the severe economic and health effects. The bombing was not reported, though it was covered by wire services.
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 NATOnot only in this case, incidentally; forceful dismantling of formal agreements is the norm on the part of the great powers. As now belatedly recognized, the record also suggests that it might have been possible [in March] to initiate a genuine set of negotiationsnot the disastrous American diktat presented to Milosevic at the Rambouillet conferenceand to insert a large contingent of outside monitors capable of protecting Albanian and Serb civilians alike.
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. Other consequences are of little concern in the West, including the devastation of the civilian economy of Serbia by military operations that severely violate the laws of war. Though the matter was brought to the War Crimes Tribunal long ago, it is hard to imagine that it will be seriously addressed. For similar reasons, there is little likelihood that the Tribunal will pay attention to its 150-page Indictment Operation Storm: A Prima Facie Case, reviewing the war crimes committed by Croatian forces that drove some 200,000 Serbs from Krajina in August 1995 with crucial U.S. involvement that elicited almost total lack of interest in the U.S. press and in the U.S. Congress, New York Times Balkans correspondent David Binder observes.
The suffering of Kosovars did not end with the arrival of the NATO (KFOR) occupying army and the UN mission. Though billions of dollars were readily available for bombing, as of October the U.S. has yet to pay any of the $37.9 million assessed for the start-up costs of the United Nations civilian operation in Kosovo; as in East Timor, where the Clinton administration called for reduction of the small peacekeeping force. By November, the U.S. Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance has yet to distribute any heavy-duty kits and is only now bringing lumber for the winter shelter program in Kosovo; the UNHCR and EU humanitarian agency ECHO have also been dogged with criticism for delays and lack of foresight. The current shortfall for the UN mission is the price of half a days bombing, an embittered senior UN official said, and without it this place will fail, to the great pleasure of Milosevic. A November donors conference of Western governments pledged only $88 million to cover the budget of the UN mission in Kosovo, but pledged $1 billion in aid for reconstruction for the next yearpublic funds that will be transferred to the pockets of private contractors, if there is some resolution of the controversies within NATO about how the contracts are to be distributed. In mid-December the UN mission again pleaded for funds for teachers, police officers, and other civil servants, to little effect.
Despite the limited aid, the appeal of a disaster that can be attributed to an official enemy, and exploited (on curious grounds) to show why 78 days of airstrikes against Serbian forces and infrastructure were necessary, has been sufficient to bring severe cutbacks in aid elsewhere. The U.S. Senate is planning to cut tens of millions of dollars from Africa-related programs. Denmark has reduced non-Kosovo assistance by 26 percent. International Medical Corps is suspending its Angola program, having raised $5 million for Kosovo while it hunts, in vain, for $1.5 million for Angola, where 1.6 million displaced people face starvation. The World Food Program announced that it would have to curtail its programs for 2 million refugees in Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea, having received less than 20 percent of requested funding. The same fate awaits four million starving people in Africas Great Lakes regionwhose circumstances are not unrelated to Western actions over many years, and refusal to act at critical moments. UNHCR expenditures per refugee in the Balkans are 11 times as high as in Africa. The hundreds of millions of dollars spent on Kosovo refugees and the crush of aid agencies eager to spend it was almost an obscenity, said Randolph Kent, who moved from UN programs in the Balkans to East Africa. President Clinton held a meeting with leading aid agencies to emphasize his own enthusiasm for aid to Kosovo.
All of this is against the background of very sharp reductions in aid in the United States, now at the height of its glory (Fromkin), the leadership basking in adulation for their historically unprecedent altruism as they virtually disappear from the list of donors to the poor and miserable.
The OSCE inquiry provides a detailed record of crimes committed under NATO military occupation. Though these do not begin to compare with the crimes committed by Serbia under NATO bombardment, they are not insignificant. The occupied province is filled with lawlessness that has left violence unchecked, much of it attributed to the KLA-UCK, OSCE reports, while impunity has reigned instead of justice. Albanian opponents of the new order under UCK dominance, including officials of the rebel groups principal political rival, have been kidnapped, murdered, targeted in grenade attacks, and otherwise harassed and ordered to withdraw from politics. The one selection from the OSCE reports in the New York Times concerns the town of Prizren, near the Albanian border. It was attacked by Serbs on March 28, but the overall result is that far more damage has been caused...after the war than during it. British military police report involvement of the Albanian mafia in grenade attacks and other crimes, among such acts as murder of elderly women by men describing themselves as KLA representatives.
The Serb minority has been largely expelled. Robert Fisk reports that the number of Serbs killed in the five months since the war comes close to that of Albanians murdered by Serbs in the five months before NATO began its bombardment in March, so available evidence indicates; recall that the UN reported 65 violent deaths of civilians (Albanian and Serb primarily) in the two months before the withdrawal of the monitors and the bombing. Murders are not investigated, even the murder of a Serb employee of the International Tribunal. The Croat community left en masse in October. In November, the president of the tiny Jewish community in Pristina, Cedra Prlincevic, left for Belgrade after denouncing a pogrom against the non-Albanian population. Amnesty International reported at the years end that Violence against Serbs, Roma, Muslim Slavs and moderate Albanians in Kosovo has increased dramatically over the past month, including murder, abductions, violent attacks, intimidation, and house burning...on a daily basis, as well as torture and rape, and attacks on independent Albanian media and political organizations in what appears to be an organized campaign to silence moderate voices in ethnic Albanian society, all under the eyes of NATO forces.
KFOR officers report that their orders are to disregard crimes: Of course its mad, a French commander said, but those are the orders, from NATO, from above. NATO forces also seem completely indifferent to attacks by armed ethnic Albanian raiders across the Serb-Kosovo border to terrorize border settlements, steal wood or livestock, and, in some cases, to kill, leaving towns abandoned.
Current indications are that Kosovo under NATO occupation has reverted to what was developing in the early 1980s, after the death of Tito, when nationalist forces undertook to create an ethnically clean Albanian republic, taking over Serb lands, attacking churches, and engaging in protracted violence to attain the goal of an ethnically pure Albanian region, with almost weekly incidents of rape, arson, pillage and industrial sabotage, most seemingly designed to drive Kosovos remaining indigenous Slavs...out of the province. This seemingly intractable problem, another phase in an ugly history of intercommunal violence, led to Milosevics characteristically brutal response, withdrawing Kosovos autonomy and the heavy federal subsidies on which it depended, and imposing an Apartheid regime. Kosovo may also come to resemble Bosnia, a den of thieves and tax cheats with no functioning economy, dominated by a wealthy criminal class that wields enormous political influence and annually diverts hundreds of millions of dollars in potential tax revenue to itself. Much worse may be in store as independence for Kosovo becomes entangled in pressures for a greater Albania, with dim portents.
The poorer countries of the region have incurred enormous losses from the blocking of the Danube by bombing at Novi Sad, another center of opposition to Milosevic. They were already suffering from protectionist barriers that prevent the ships from plying their trade in the EU, as well as a barrage of Western quotas and tariffs on their exports. But blockage of the [Danube] is actually a boon for Western Europe, particularly Germany, which benefits from increased activity on the Rhine and at Atlantic ports.
There are other winners. At the wars end, the business press described the real winners as Western military industry, meaning high-tech industry generally. Moscow is looking forward to a banner year for Russian weapons exports as the world is rearming apprehensively largely thanks to NATOs Balkans adventure, seeking a deterrent, as widely predicted during the war. More important, the U.S. was able to enforce its domination over the strategic Balkans region, displacing EU initiatives at least temporarily, a primary reason for the insistence that the operation be in the hands of NATO, a U.S subsidiary. A destitute Serbia remains the last holdout, probably not for long.
A further consequence is another blow to the fragile principles of world order. The NATO action represents a threat to the very core of the international security system founded on the UN Charter, Secretary-General Kofi Annan observed in his annual report to the UN in September. That matters little to the rich and powerful, who will act as they please, rejecting World Court decisions and vetoing Security Council resolutions if that becomes necessary; it is useful to remember that, contrary to much mythology, the U.S. has been far in the lead in vetoing Security Council resolutions on a wide range of issues, including terror and aggression, ever since it lost control of the UN in the course of decolonization, with Britain second and France a distant third. But the traditional victims take these matters more seriously, as the global reaction to the Kosovo war indicated.
The essential pointnot very obscureis that the world faces two choices with regard to the use of force: (1) some semblance of world order, either the Charter or something better if it can gain a degree of legitimacy; or (2) the powerful states do as they wish unless constrained from within, guided by interests of power and profit, as in the past. It makes good sense to struggle for a better world, but not to indulge in pretense and illusion about the one in which we live.
Archival and other sources should provide a good deal more information about the latest Balkans war. Any conclusions reached today are at best partial and tentative. As of now, however, the lessons learned do not appear to be particularly attractive. Z
From the Afterword to the French translation of The New Military Humanism (Common Courage, 1999; Page Deux Lausanne, 2000).