For once, there’s good news on Kosovo: the Serbian parliament has agreed to Kosovar autonomy, an end to military actions, and a military occupation force under UN command and flanked by a Russian military presence.
The Washington Post, the New York Times, and most other newspapers have hailed the agreement as a victory.
And now, the bad news: the Serbian parliament was ready to agree to markedly similar terms before the war began. In reality, NATO, which has always claimed its position is non-negotiable, has apparently made several major, if little-acknowledged, concessions, elaborated below.
As reported in this space for weeks, the primary disagreement between NATO and Yugoslavia has always been over the composition and powers of the force to occupy Kosovo.
Madeleine Albright has insisted repeatedly that only a NATO force would be satisfactory; the point was utterly non-negotiable. Belgrade has insisted, just as stubbornly, that the force must be under UN or neutral-country command.
Make no mistake: this is the sticking point that started and nourished this war: not the welfare of Kosovo or its people, but who is to administer the peace.
A digression on the efficiency of arial bombing
It’s common to denounce opponents of the NATO airstrikes as modern-day Neville Chamberlains, eager to appease this Serbian Hitler. However, if World War II is to teach us any useful lessons, a far more apt analogy exists.
At the outset of World War II, the British RAF originally tried to aim for strategic economic targets. However, this required flying in daylight, which made it easy for the Germans to shoot down the planes.
And so the British began flying at night. But radar wasn’t available, and any real targeting was all but impossible. So RAF commander Arthur “Bomber” Harris figured, basically, what the hell — declaring that the main target was the “morale” of the Germans. The bombs would fall, well, wherever they fell. The idea was: bomb enough civilian targets, and eventually the people will rise up and overthrow Berlin.
(Sound vaguely familiar?)
Such an uprising obviously never happened. Nor did anything like it ever come close to happening.
Instead, 300,000 civilians were killed. One-fifth of all German homes were destroyed as the Germans were, in Harris’ immortal phrase, “de-housed” by the bombings.
Did “morale bombing” work? Nope. After the war, U.S. government studies found that the campaign had no appreciable affect on the German military effort, and if anything, hardened German resolve.
The ground campaign in Germany, on the other hand, was the success that won the war.
NATO is fighting specifically to avoid a ground campaign. And they’re surprised that the war has lasted about five times longer than their early estimates.
If the air campaign has moved Milosevic at all, it’s reportedly due not to the destruction of any civilian infrastructure or the plight of his people — I mean, come on, this is Slobo we’re talking about here; he’s not real big on empathy, exactly — but because of a relative handful of bombings which have destroyed much of the private holdings of Milosevic and his coterie of wealthy supporters.
This makes sense: Serbian civilians living in Novi Sad have even less influence over Milosevic than the people of, say, Milwaukee have over Clinton. Destroying a brewery or I-94 wouldn’t do much to sway Washington; blowing up Camp David or Robert Rubin’s old office at Goldman Sachs would much sooner get Clinton’s attention.
The lesson for NATO, should it in future wage a war via similar tactics, seems to be the same one taught to a child the first time he picks up a water pistol: before you pull the trigger, perhaps it’s worth a moment of your time to aim.
Return to the negotiations
The current proposal, negotiated by Russian envoy Viktor Chernomyrdin, is for a UN force (including NATO troops in a fashion not yet fully elaborated) accompanied by a Russian contingent (on terms yet to be finalized) guaranteeing Kosovar autonomy within Yugoslavia. Belgrade’s armies go home, and so do the refugees.
This is widely reported as a great breakthrough, vindication of the bombing campaign. It isn’t.
Less widely reported is that the agreement, whose text is as yet unavailable and must be gleaned from various statements of the negotiators, contains four major NATO concessions:
- NATO troops are to be placed under at least nominal UN command,
- NATO troops are to be kept out of Serbia itself,
- the KLA will be disarmed, and
- a referendum on Kosovo independence, which was to be held in 2002, has been abandoned.
So after over 10 weeks of bombing, the current deal as reported is, in many details, essentially the same deal NATO could have agreed to in late February, a month before the bombings began.
In short, as a ground war becomes more clearly politically and militarily unfeasible, NATO has agreed to many of Belgrade’s terms and now proclaims, without a hint of irony, that Milosevic has surrendered. The media, evidently unable to compare the accord with their own back issues from mere weeks ago, dutifully parrots the NATO claim.
And so, in the potential return of a refugee exodus which largely did not yet exist prior, to a state which barely remains, on terms negotiable before the first bomb fell, agreed to by an enemy whose opposition no longer exists, NATO is ready to proclaim victory.
This is Orwellian activity of the highest order.
To recap how we got here:
The talks at Rambouillet lasted from February 6th through the 23rd. These were not peace negotiations in any meaningful sense; NATO presented a non-negotiable proposal guaranteeing Kosovar political autonomy, which the Serbs were clearly willing to accept. However, as explained below, they balked at the military part of the agreement.
During this period, there were 1400 international observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) already in Kosovo, pursuant to UN Security Council resolutions. The OSCE’s Kosovo Verification Mission (KVM), headquartered in Pristina and supported by NATO surveillance aircraft, was tasked with monitoring the fragile cease-fire between Yugoslav security forces and the rebel KLA.
You can read for yourself the press releases and documents of the KVM observers, which are online at http://www.osce.org/e/kosovo.htm. The whole point of the KVM was to tell the UN and the world what was going on in Kosovo. Read what they wrote. You’ll find not a one-sided conflict, but reports of kidnappings, killings, and other abuses on both sides.
For example, on February 23rd, the KVM protested Yugoslav mistreatment and harassment of the observers. But on January 15th, two KVM observers were shot and wounded by the KLA. Read the whole set of press releases for yourself, and you’ll find both Serbs and the KLA denounced for violations on a regular basis.
As the Rambouillet talks drew to a close, neither the Serbs nor the Kosovars had signed the agreement. And by the end — reports conflict over when the language was added — NATO’s implementation language, Appendix B, raised tensions further by giving NATO troops not just the right to occupy Kosovo, but to act as commandant through the rest of Yugoslavia as well.
(For your convenience, I’ve placed both the full Rambouillet document and Appendix B on my website, http://www.bobharris.com.)
This demand for the right to occupy all of Yugoslavia wasn’t even part of the Kosovars’ shopping list, but NATO made it the center issue. This is utterly inconsistent with having only the Kosovars’ interests at heart.
Indeed, a senior State Dept. officer reportedly boasted at the time to American reporters — off the record, of course — that the U.S. “had deliberately set the bar higher than the Serbs could accept… they need some bombing, and that’s what they’re going to get.”
This is hardly surprising, in light of a press release issued by the U.S. Senate Republican Policy Committee on August 12, 1999, predicting more than six months in advance that the White House was planning to lead America into war over Kosovo. (I’ve placed a mirror of the entire document on my website at http://www.bobharris.com/GOPpolicycommittee.html, with key passages noted in red.)
The White House’s concern, notably, was not for the refugees, but about them: at that time, the massive flight was still months away. Instead, as this space has long noted, the real concern was regional stability, hoping that military action would prevent a flow of refugees into neighboring countries, thus destabilizing the entire region.
Notably, the bombing campaign has had precisely the opposite effect: there are now at least 800,000 refugees.
Digression on “humanitarian bombing”
The whole concept that this was intended as a humanitarian intervention is belied by several obvious facts: Rambouillet says virtually nothing about the existing refugee population of the time; no relief aid is being flown in by the U.S. or NATO, as outlined below; and the U.S. is doing nothing right now — nothing — to assist in similar conflicts in Turkey, East Timor, and elsewhere. In fact, the U.S. has armed the oppressors in both cases, as they have in recent memory in Guatemala, El Salvador, and so on.
Speaking of which — y’ever hear of Vojvodina? No? I thought not. It’s right there in Yugoslavia. It’s the northern province. Over 300,000 of the locals are ethnic Hungarians. Belgrade wants them to abandon their homes and leave the country. Sound familiar? And no one in NATO even acknowledges their existence. See? Even right there in Yugoslavia, for crying out loud, there’s ethnic conflict brewing that the U.S. and NATO ignore at their own convenience.
Then again, Vojvodina is, as far as I can tell, mostly rolling farmland and vinyards with no lead, zinc, cadmium, or coal in sight. It’s probably just a coincidence that nobody ever mentions it.
End of digression, beginning of a new one, on the KLA
Notably, at the very same moment the White House was already preparing for war, August of 1998, the State Department characterized the KLA as “armed extremists:”
Warning: The Department of State warns U.S. citizens against travel to and around Serbia’s southern province of Kosovo… Both the police and Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK) are active in the region and each operates numerous checkpoints throughout Kosovo… Police checkpoints are numerous throughout Kosovo and the Yugoslav Army is increasingly visible outside garrisons. Armed ethnic Albanian extremists are also increasingly visible and have set up temporary roadblocks at some points…
— U.S. State Dept. Consular Information Sheet, August 26, 1998
In reality, the KLA, a violent contra group which has never been the elected voice of the Albanian Kosovars, is as expansionist as the Serbs, fighting for the dream of a “Greater Albania,” comprising all of Albania and Kosovo, plus parts of Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, and Greece. (I’ve posted their official map at http://www.bobharris.com for your convenience.)
This is every bit as insane and destabilizing a goal as “Greater Serbia,” although in this case, the KLA — whose actions were labeled as “terrorist” by KVM observers on several occasions — are the good guys du jour.
The KLA’s commander, predictably enough, is Agim Ceku, the former Croatian army general who oversaw the ethnic cleansing of at least 170,000 Serb civilians from Krajina.
I’m sure he won’t mind at all when NATO tries to disarm his troops.
Whoever winds up occupying Kosovo, chances are they’ll still have to fight the KLA.
Finally, we return to the main timeline
It’s only after the Rambouillet talks ended, with no prospect for peace in sight, that reports began of the Yugoslav military massing at the Kosovo border in preparation for war, just as preparations in the U.S. and other NATO countries escalated as well.
Even so, as late as March 1st, the KVM observers wrote from Kosovo that despite “an increase in tension… the [Yugoslav] authorities have been co-operative and have shown restraint throughout.”
On March 18th, Kosovar representatives were finally cajoled into signing the Rambouillet agreement by NATO assurances that, in 2002, the issue of Kosovo’s status would receive “final settlement” in a plebescite, virtually assuring independence. This is one of the promises NATO has now reportedly abandoned.
Meanwhile in Kosovo, KVM observers noted a massive build-up of Serbian military and paramilitary police, apparently in response to the Paris talks.
The next day, KVM Head of Mission William Walker announced the withdrawal of observers from Kosovo:
“I want to explain why it is essential that we leave… there is no way to break through the impasse other than a dramatically different approach demonstrated, if necessary by force, that both sides to the conflict must sign the draft agreement.”
In other words, the observers were leaving precisely so NATO bombs could begin to fall.
That’s a pretty weird thing for an impartial, international observer to say, but then, Walker is a pretty weird choice for a human rights monitor: as U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador, Walker looked the other way at atrocities committed by paramilitaries on the U.S. payroll.
Back in Belgrade, Yugoslav generals made open threats against the civilian population of Kosovo. But still, not all hope was lost. On March 23rd, the Serbian parliament issued a statement reiterating their acceptance of the political, but not the military terms, of Rambouillet and Appendix B. And as late as April, Newsweek magazine reported that peaceful negotiations might still have been possible.
We may reasonably doubt if the Milosevic government would have negotiated in good faith. But we know, too, that NATO did not.
The bombs began to fall on March 24th.
CIA warnings that the bombing campaign would lead to widespread atrocities by the Serbian military were cast aside. By most accounts, the White House and NATO leaders originally estimated that perhaps a fortnight of bombing would be sufficient to bring Milosevic to his knees.
It didn’t take a CIA briefing to know what would happen next. Read the letter from the editor of a Pristina newspaper, written the day the bombs began to fall, posted at http://www.nyu.edu/globalbeat/syndicate/Gorani0399.html, to get a sense of the uselessness of the NATO air attacks, and the inevitable consequences:
“The fear is that once the air strikes begin, ‘the massacre’ [quotes are his, showing it is a local phrase] many of us feared will finally come… they intend to cleanse the north and northeast, possibly parts of the east and some portions of the center… while these regions contain many valuable mines and some key Orthodox religious sites, the main aim is probably simply to ‘cleanse’ them… once the air strikes begin, Serb reprisals on the urban areas is inevitable… without a strong involvement of ground troops, the situation here will only deteriorate.”
(Damn. There’s the mining wealth mentioned by yet another local. Funny how everyone in Kosovo knows there’s a bunch of money in the ground, but nobody in America has heard about it yet.)
Indeed, Serbian forces unleashed a brutal offensive through the Kosovo countryside, virtually unimpeded by NATO aircraft, as all sides knew would occur.
Difficult as this may be to comprehend, no serious military strategist believes that a B-2 bomber, humping all the way from Missouri to bomb the Balkans, is really the most efficient way to stop armed thugs from raping a villager.
You simply can’t stop a massacre on the ground by dropping bombs from three to six miles in the air. You can, however, add to the suffering immensely.
Why don’t NATO planes fly lower, possibly giving some semblance of air cover to fleeing refugees? The reasons are political, not military. NATO leaders have feared from the outset — correctly — that any appreciable Western casualties would lead immediately to widespread protest. Thus the lives of over a thousand civilians on the ground, including hundreds of fleeing Albanians, have been sacrificed to keep an unpopular war politically viable.
Notably, in spite of NATO’s alleged concern for refugees, there’s essentially nothing in the Rambouillet agreement regarding their safety, nor has NATO bothered airlifting food, clothing, and other supplies to the 600,000 internally displaced refugees still within Kosovo. That would require flying low, since food, unlike bombs, must be aimed to have the desired effect. And that’s too dangerous a job for the gallant men of NATO to undertake.
Instead, the job of airlifting food has fallen to the private International Rescue Committee. A dozen courageous Russian pilots from Moldova are currently flying rickety old Antonov 26 transports into Kosovo airspace in order to feed the needy, so far without incident.
According to the L.A. Times, the Pentagon, informed of their plans, thought this was “not a good idea.”
The Pentagon’s ability to judge a good idea is abundantly open to question.
And so here we are, apparently soon to agree to terms largely available before the war even began.
800,000 Albanian Kosovars have fled since the start of the bombing; hundreds of thousands more are displaced within Kosovo. Most will never return. Many homes and villages are, in essential respects, gone.
Surrounding nations are appreciably affected by the influx of refugees. The political ramifications are hard to predict, but it can’t imaginably be a stabilizing force. Around the world, the Cold War has been kick-started. China is still furious over the embassy bombing (not to mention the Cox report), and Russian opinion of America is now at historic lows.
Nobody’s writing it yet, but there’s a damned good chance that as the direct result of this war, the communist party will win Moscow’s upcoming elections, with all the foreign policy headaches that will entail.
Roughly 5000 Albanians have been killed by Yugoslavia. This may or may not include some KLA members, whose casualty figures seem not to be known, even in rough numbers. Hundreds of thousands of Albanian men are reportedly missing.
Roughly 1200 civilians have been killed by NATO, mostly Serbs, but also including hundreds of Albanians, and smatterings of many other nationalities, including several Chinese. The Boston Globe ran the numbers and found that, smart bombs and high tech notwithstanding, the number of civilian casualties per ton of explosive used has been the same as in Vietnam and World War II.
The economic and environmental catastrophe will be chronicled in coming months. For now, we know that the bombing of Belgrade’s infrastructure will make it that much easier for Milosevic to retain power.
Coupled with NATO sanctions placed in an effort to destabilize the government by torturing the populace — a tactic which has worked so well in removing Castro and Hussein from power — the bombing’s destruction of water treatment, electric, fuel oil, and other facilities guarantees a harsh and deadly winter for the people of Serbia, whose hatred of the U.S. will only grow.
Likewise, the bombings are largely responsible for destroying the infrastructure of Kosovo, so the number of Albanian refugee deaths during the winter to come might well be fearsome as well.
Meanwhile, the West is backing a KLA as violent and expansionist as any Serbian paramilitary, led by a Croatian advocate of still more ethnic cleansing.
And so, no matter what the parties may eventually sign, peace is not yet at hand.
In short, well over a million lives have been uprooted or destroyed.
And depending on the terms of the final peace agreement, it’s entirely possible that historians will conclude that it didn’t even have to happen.
An update on the Trepca mines:
Further information is difficult to come by. Two tidbits, however, have presented themselves:
The Times of London carried a story on January 8, 1998, discussing the murky origin of the KLA/UCK:
“The KLA is run from Western Europe and people [in central Kosovo] have little idea who the leaders are. There is a widespread view, however, that many are veterans of a conflict at Trepca lead mine…”
Hmm. That fits.
(This is odd: the Times website ( http://www.the-times.co.uk/) includes an online archive of every issue since January 1, 1996. I’m sure this is purely a coincidence, but the issues of January 1998, when the origins of the KLA were discussed, appear to be the only ones now unavailable.)
Meanwhile, the July 8, 1998 New York Times report I quoted last week contained a quote from the director of the Trepca mining complex which I somehow managed not to notice:
“The war in Kosovo is about the mines, nothing else. This is Serbia’s Kuwait.”
It’s not clear who will get to run what under any peace agreement, but one likely scenario involves a de facto partition, with the Russians policing the end of Kosovo nearer the Serbian border, and the UN (with a NATO contingent) administering the end closer to Albania.
Let’s see if there’s a fight over whose side of the line the mines wind up on.
Finally, a personal note:
As you probably know, I sent out an open letter last week asking people to read a number public documents relevant to Kosovo for themselves. I also called for public support of a) a cease fire, b) a negotiated settlement administered under the UN flag — much like that which is now being discussed — and c) the idea that the White House might pursue this and future wars in accordance with the Constitution.
Somehow, a lot of readers misunderstood this as either ignoring — or worse, apologizing — for the rampaging evil the Serbian military has inflicted on Kosovo.
Clearly, and as I have noted here repeatedly, the Milosevic government and Serbian military have committed innumerable horrific acts — mass expulsions, rape, and murder — against the Albanian Kosovars. And yes, Serbian paramilitaries did similar things in Bosnia. And yes, that’s awful, far beyond my ability to describe.
That was so widely reported, and so obvious, that I didn’t think it was necessary to restate the obvious, nor did I think it hard to comprehend that the question before us isn’t “have the Serbs done really bad things?” but “is the U.S./NATO action making the situation better or worse?”
The answer to the latter question, frustrating and hard to confront as it might be, is obvious.
Even the most casual observer should be familiar with the hundreds of mainstream news reports stating that Kosovar Albanian refugees — whose numbers have swelled since the bombings began from tens of thousands to perhaps a million — are fleeing from NATO warplanes in addition to the Serbian security forces whom the NATO bombs have so little deterred.
It is entirely possible to — and in my mind impossible not to — oppose both.
Apparently understanding such a complex idea was too much to ask of some people.
Let’s make this clear, for anyone who has doubts:
Opposing a policy which strengthens Milosevic’s power in Belgrade is not equivalent to being pro-Milosevic.
Suggesting that the U.S. media act as more than a mouthpiece for NATO is not the same as suggesting that they act as a mouthpiece for anyone else.
Opposing the killing of Albanians by NATO is not synonymous with advocating the killing of Albanians by anyone else.
This is all as narrow-minded as the idea that anyone who opposed Joe McCarthy was, logically, a communist.
And yet letters oozing with logic of this type arrived by the dozen. (Letters of support, thankfully, arrived by the score.)
The following may seem blatantly self-serving, and for that I apologize, but the irony is too weird not to mention:
For criticizing the unnecessary killing of children and the elderly, I have been called a coward; for telling the truth about things that are a matter of public record, I have been called a liar; and for suggesting that the U.S. Constitution should matter, I have been called a traitor.
Wow. I mean, wow.
But still, I’d like to make peace with those for whom I have been unable to make my position clear.
I’ve long believed that Rabbi Abraham Heschel’s famous teaching that the purpose of prayer is to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable” applies to journalism, too.
But perhaps focusing my columns so much on doing the latter (to NATO) has given the false impression that I’m uninterested in doing more of the former (for the refugees). OK. My bad. Let’s fix that right now.
Here’s the contact info for three of the many really cool organizations that can turn your cash donation into food in a refugee’s stomach or a coat on their back:
Doctors Without Borders
6 East 39th Street, 8th Floor
New York, NY 10016
26 West Street
Boston, MA 02111
American Red Cross
P.O. Box 37243
Washington, D.C. 20013
To those of you who have asked how you can help the refugees, here’s how. Give these folks a call. They’ve made the process of giving them money remarkably easy. There are operators ready to accept your donations 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. They take VISA and MasterCard. (The Red Cross makes you work through a little menu. To support the Kosovar refugees, press “1” to donate, then choose option “2” for the International Response Fund.)
To those readers whose thoughtful replies helped me realize my position wasn’t clear, thanks. I appreciate your letters very much.
And to those who responded merely with imaginatively-spelled hate mail, wielding your idea of compassion as a bludgeon upon anyone who questions the wisdom of dropping cluster bombs from 15,000 feet when civilians are present, a friendly challenge:
I’ve debated whether I should mention this, since it’s gross to grandstand one’s own charity, but what the hell, it might do some good: even as some of you were frothing, I had already made donations to these three agencies — I won’t get into specifics, but combined, it’s a nice pile — earmarked for Kosovo relief.
If you think you care about the Kosovars more than I do… that’s excellent news. I’m glad. Put your money where your email is, and pretty soon, together, we’ll make one hell of a difference.
If you can’t afford to donate serious cash to all three, send a hundred bucks to just one. Or send fifty. Send twenty bucks. That’s what your internet access probably costs every month. If you can’t budget that much, you’ve got no business accusing others of lacking compassion.
You want the Kosovars fed and sheltered? Me, too.
So let’s feed and shelter them together.
Bob Harris is a radio commentator, political writer, and humorist who has spoken at almost 300 colleges nationwide.