The Saga of the Missing Footnote
On June 3, the Serb Parliament voted 136-73 to ratify the terms of a cease-fire with NATO. The document had been hand-delivered to Slobodan Milosevic the previous day by the Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari and the Russian Special Representative to Yugoslavia Viktor Chernomyrdin. Reports of the trio's final face-to-face meeting in Belgrade portrayed Milosevic as asking them whether the terms laid out in the document were the "best" ones "he was going to get from NATO" (New York Times). "I had to be candid," Ahtisaari told the media; "it was the best offer the international community could come up with."
The most contentious issue between NATO and the Serbs had always been over the command and composition of any civilian or military force that one day might be introduced into Kosovo. Last October, the Serbs first agreed to allow 2,000 unarmed observers to enter Kosovo under the auspices of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Later, during the talks held at Chateau Rambouillet in France, they again offered to permit a more robust international civilian presence into Kosovo, provided it was under the command of the United Nations and included a sizeable Russian contingent.
But Belgrade never once wavered in its rejection of occupation by a foreign military presence drawn from the adversarial parties of the Contact Group: the U.S., U.K., France, Germany and Italy-the "quint" that in fact occupies Kosovo today. Not once. Not from the first day of talks at Chateau Rambouillet onward.
No sooner had the Serb Parliament ratified the June 3 agreement than Associated Press put an English translation of it on the wires. Over the next seven days, the Ahtisaari-Chernomyrdin-Milosevic document was reproduced around the world. On June 7, the Permanent Representative of Germany to the United Nations officially transmitted the document to the Security Council (Document S/1999/649). Meeting in Cologne the next day, members of the Contact Group drafted a Security Council resolution that included the June 3 document as Annex II (S/1999/661). And on June 10, the Security Council adopted Resolution 1244, which once again included the terms of the June 3 document as Annex II.
Thus as of June 10, the Serb Parliament and the 15 members of the Security Council (with the exception of China, which abstained from the vote) had been presented with, read, understood, debated, and accepted a document that reaffirmed the same terms that the Serb Parliament had accept seven days before. Crucially, each draft of this document called for (among other things) the deployment of international civilian and security presences within Kosovo, under U.N. auspices and acting according to Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter-a Chapter VII mission clearly intended to mean under the command and control of the Security Council's Military Staff Committee (Articles 45-47 of the U.N. Charter). Not-repeat: not--under the command and control of a unilateral or multilateral power acting independently from the Security Council and contrary to Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter.
Of course, what would eventually happen on the ground in Kosovo was another matter.
The day before the Security Council vote, the New York Times buried a very short, and very curious, 176-word article on page A13. Titled "A Missing Footnote: 'NATO at the Core'," the article reported that "When the Serbian Parliament voted on an international peace proposal last Thursday [June 3], it omitted one footnote on NATO's participation in the security force that would enter Kosovo ."
According to the Times, the "missing footnote" stated: "It is understood that NATO considers an international security force with 'substantial NATO participation' to mean unified command and control and having NATO at the core. This in turn means a unified NATO chain of command under the political direction of the N.A.C. [North Atlantic Council] ."
At least three things were striking about this little story:
First, the Times cited no source for the startling claim that a Second Footnote to the June 3 agreement not only existed, but had been "omitted" from the document ratified by the Serb Parliament.
Second, no official draft of the June 3 agreement has ever turned up that contained a Second Footnote. For example, when the Security Council voted to adopt Res. 1244 on June 10, not even that document's Annex II contained a Second Footnote.
Third, and crucially, the substance of the alleged "missing footnote," its contention that the international security presence to be deployed in Kosovo would be "under the political direction of the N.A.C.," contradicted the rest of the June 3 agreement, which called for an international security presence for Kosovo "under United Nations auspices" and "acting as may be decided under Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter" (Article 3).
So, what are we to make of this saga of the "missing footnote"? Well, the least plausible explanation was provided by the New York Times: that the Serb Parliament "omitted" the footnote. This is plainly ridiculous. Not only the draft ratified by the Serb Parliament, but the draft of the same document provided by the U.S. Department of State, as well as U.N Res. 1244 itself, omitted the footnote in question. In short, it appears that everybody "omitted" the footnote.
A far more plausible explanation is that the so-called "missing footnote" does not exist-at least not within the documentary record that dealt with the negotiated resolution to the Kosovo crisis. Nor for that matter can the terms that the alleged "missing footnote" was said to authorize-NATO's occupation of Kosovo--be found anywhere within the documentary record. Quite the contrary. They are to be found in scattered news reports that cited the existence of the Second (or "missing") footnote. But absolutely nowhere else.
Instead, the "missing footnote" must be apocryphal. As are its main terms: that any international security presence to be deployed within Kosovo be placed under the political direction of the N.A.C., after a wholly cynical and indeed meaningless tip of the cap to the United Nations.
In the end, the source of the widely held (and in many quarters incorrigible) belief that the Serbs agreed to military occupation by NATO seems to be what the capitals of NATO itself-Brussels, Washington, and London, to be precise-"consider" the case. That is, it was not the accords that authorized NATO to occupy Kosovo. It was NATO that authorized NATO to occupy Kosovo. Being the world's unparalleled military (not to mention ideological) power, NATO simply took it upon itself to interpret the accords in this fashion. And NATO's interpretation was decided less by what the actual terms of the accords said than by its intractable determination to resolve the Kosovo crisis in a military fashion, and to become the occupying power in Kosovo.
The saga of the "missing footnote" teaches us some important lessons. But perhaps the most important lesson is the power of the leading NATO countries to bring the world's interpretation of the documentary record into conformity with NATO's interpretation of it and, more important, with the facts as NATO creates them on the ground. In its most naked terms, NATO's interpretation of the accords became the interpretation-whatever the actual terms of the documents may state.
It also teaches us a great deal about the gullibility of the news media. Taking their cues from the state managers and intellectuals within the NATO countries, the news media have repeated without questioning NATO's claim that the Serbs agreed to NATO's military occupation of Kosovo-even if the footnote which spelled out the terms somehow went "missing" (i.e., never really existed). Faced with documents that said one thing, while NATO said and did something else, the news media acquiesced to NATO's interpretation-a misinterpretation, to be sure, and a deliberate one at that--and thus helped NATO turn it into holy writ.
(* David Peterson is a writer living in the Chicago area.)