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  In retrospect — 3  

  Vol I : issue 2

  Noam Chomsky
  Amitav Ghosh
  Nirmal Verma
  MT Vasudevan Nair
Mrinal Sen
  Urvashi Butalia

Sunil Gangopadhyay
  Only in Print

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Noam Chomsky

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to determine whether diplomacy could succeed if NATO’s most provocative, and evidently irrelevant, demands had been withdrawn; the monitoring enhanced, not terminated; and significant sanctions threatened.

When such questions have been raised, leaders of the US 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.[33] 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 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 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."[34]

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 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 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. 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 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 July 14, which discussed the severe economic and health effects. The bombing itself was not reported, though it was covered by wire services.[35]

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.[36] 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."[37]

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 US involvement that elicited "almost total lack of interest in the US press and in the US Congress," New York Times Balkans correspondent David Binder observes.[38]

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 US "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 US 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; UNHCR and the 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 day’s 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 year — public 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.[39]

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 US Senate is planning to cut tens of millions of dollars from Africa-related programmes. Denmark has reduced non-Kosovo assistance by 26 per cent. International Medical Corps has suspended its Angola programme, 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 programmes for 2 million refugees in Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea, having received less than 20 per cent of requested funding. The same fate awaits 4 million starving people in Africa’s Great Lakes region — whose 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 programmes in the Balkans to East Africa. President Clinton held a meeting with leading aid agencies "to emphasise his own enthusiasm for aid to Kosovo."[40]

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 unprecedented ‘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 group’s 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."[41]

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 year’s 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 organisations in what appears to be "an organised campaign to silence moderate voices in ethnic Albanian society," all under the eyes of NATO forces.[42]

KFOR officers report that their orders are to disregard crimes. "Of course it’s 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 terrorise border settlements, steal wood or livestock, and, in some cases, to kill," leaving towns abandoned.[43]

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 Kosovo’s remaining indigenous Slavs... out of the province." This "seemingly intractable" problem, another phase in an ugly history of intercommunal violence, led to Milosevic’s characteristically brutal response, withdrawing Kosovo’s autonomy and the heavy federal subsidies on which it depended, and imposing an "Apartheid" regime (Vickers).[44] 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."[45] 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 centre 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.[46]

There are other winners. At the war’s 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 NATO’s Balkans adventure," seeking a deterrent, as widely predicted during the war.[47] More important, the US 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 US 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.[48] 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 US 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 decolonisation, 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 point — not very obscure — is 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 pretence 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.

p. 1 p. 2 p. 3

Noam Chomsky is Professor of Linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, USA. A political analyst, he is believed to be the most quoted author alive