Chapter 10 - Hangover on the Morning After Kosovo
July 22, 2008 8:54 | by Jan Marijnissen and Karel Glastra van Loon
There is nothing that war has ever achieved that we could not better achieve without it. - Henry Ellis, British writer, 1859-1939, Selected Works
Some time in the near future the International Court of Justice in the Hague will pronounce judgement in the case brought by the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia regarding the legality of Operation Allied Force (see also Part 1, Chapter 7). Without doubt questions will be raised which have already arisen elsewhere in this book. Were the NATO actions proportionate? Were no other methods than massive and persistent bombing possible? Was it really necessary to bomb factories, power stations, bridges, TV studios and other civilian targets? Was this carried out in conformity with laws of warfare? Was everything possible done to avoid civilian casualties? Why were times chosen for the bombing when it was known for certain that there would be people in the target buildings and on the target bridges? Is the term collateral damage always used correctly and was as much as possible done to prevent such damage? Why were cluster bombs employed, in the knowledge that these bombs would continue to create casualties months after the war?
The question of whether an alternative to bombing existed is important. In other words, was enough in reality done before the start of the war on the diplomatic and political front, as has repeatedly been asserted?
Before this last question can be answered it is of the utmost importance to have a good understanding of the prehistory of the Kosovo war. The interviews in the foregoing chapters have already made clear that a great number of misconceptions, oversimplifications and myths are in the air regarding this history. For this reason we shall now, on the basis of what we were told by the diversity of people whom we interviewed, attempt to reconstruct just what happened before our most recent war, enabling us to answer the question as to whether Operation Allied Force can now be counted a success, or not.
Many people begin this history leading up to the Kosovo war with the Battle of the Blackbird's Field in 1389. Yet as historian Raymond Detrez explained in Chapter 2 of Part 1 of this book, this famous battle had in fact little to do with the conflict - it was dragged into it much later by, amongst others, Slobodan Milosevic, for entirely opportunistic reasons. As for Milosevic's historical awareness, we don't think much of it at all.
It seems to us to make more sense to go back to 1974, the year in which, under the leadership of Marshall Tito, Yugoslavia adopted a new constitution which extended to Kosovo, which formed part of Serbia, almost the same rights as one of the official republics of the Yugoslav Federation, such as Slovenia or Croatia. The reason for this autonomous status was a desire to rein in the power of what was, in both surface area and population, the biggest such republic, Serbia. As the Albanians formed a great majority within Kosovo, Albanian became the principal language, Albanian schools and universities were established, as well as an autonomous Albanian-language press. In addition, links with Albania were strengthened. Serbs living in Kosovo - including families who had been there for generations - felt themselves increasingly isolated by this process and forced into a corner.
After Tito's death in 1980 ever more centrifugal forces were released throughout Yugoslavia, as was explained by Kees van der Pijl in Chapter 3 of Part 1. In Kosovo, just as in other parts of Yugoslavia, nationalism grew rapidly. Calls for accession to Albania became ever louder. Though the police came down hard on demonstrators, this could not stop the outflow of Serbs from getting under way. In reaction to this, Milosevic, at the time Serbian President, decided in 1989 to rescind Kosovo's autonomy. And things didn't stop there. Many Albanians were sacked from state-owned enterprises and replaced by Serbs, once more adding fuel to the fire of the Albanians' nationalistic feelings. In 1990 the Albanians openly turned their backs on the official administration and called for independence. They held their own elections and set up a parallel society with its own schools and its own medical services. By halfway through the 1990s confrontations with the Yugoslav army were growing in both frequency and intensity. The UCK, the Albanians' liberation army, was attracting more and more support, and the violent struggle for independence and accession to Albania began to take shape. As Rob de Wijk, from the Clingendael institute, pointed out in Chapter 5 of Part 1, the growing success of violence directed against Serbs in Bosnia and Croatia played an important role in this.
Just as in Bosnia and Croatia, intensification of the violence led eventually to international intervention. As a reaction to the UCK's growing activities, the Serbian authorities in Kosovo began a round up of the separatists, resulting in numerous deaths and driving sections of the population from their homes. This prompted the Security Council to adopt Resolution 1199, demanding an end to hostilities. On 13th October of the same year, in the wake of the resolution, an agreement was signed between President Milosevic and the American emissary to the Balkans, Richard Holbrooke. The agreement included the withdrawal of Yugoslav troops from Kosovo, the establishment of peace negotiations, acceptance of the stationing of 2000 observers from the OSCE, and permission for unarmed surveillance flights over Kosovo. In neighbouring Macedonia a 2,300-strong military force, the so-called Extraction Force, was encamped in case the observers should find themselves in danger. In addition, on 13th October the North Atlantic Council (for which read the NATO leadership) issued its so-called Activation Order (Actord), Operation Determined Force. The Yugoslav army then withdrew, as agreed in the Belgrade accord outlined above, but no peace negotiations were set in motion. Worse still, the UCK had meanwhile continued its guerrilla activities, and Serb civilians were thus also made victims.
It can't do any harm here to recall that Foreign Minister Jozias Van Aartsen confirmed these developments at the time in letters to parliament. On 5th November 1998 he wrote: 'The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia has in large part complied with the demand regarding the withdrawal of units and their heavy weaponry to the positions held prior to March of this year. In a number of instances the UCK has taken over these positions. Persistent fears exist regarding the fragility of the cease-fire, particularly as a consequence of provocations by the UCK. For the time being the FRY units are in general reacting with restraint.' And in a letter dated 10th November he wrote: 'At the same time despite the declaration by UCK leader Demaci, the position of the UCK as to whether it will hold to the unilaterally declared cease-fire remains a worrying point. The cease-fire has, it's true, been largely respected, but remains nevertheless vulnerable as a result of provocations by the UCK and reactions from the Serbian side. The positions of the withdrawn FRY units are for the most part being taken over by the UCK.'
Because the violence on the part of the UCK continues, including that directed at civilians, and yet Kosovo remains within Serbia, Milosevic has decided to send his security forces back into Kosovo, more determined than ever to stamp eradicate the UCK root and branch. Subsequent fighting cost many lives, and tens of thousands of people were put to flight. On 15th January 999 Yugoslav security forces took the small town of Racak. A day later the bodies were found of forty-five people who had been shot dead. These shootings, the perpetrators of which have never been identified, made a huge impression on the world. The leader of the OSCE observers in Kosovo, the American William Walker, took less than a day to draw the conclusion that those responsible must have been from the Serb side. His assumption was entirely contrary to the opinion of French TV journalists who were present when the Serbs took Racak and said afterwards that the corpses were not yet there when the Serbs pulled out of Racak. The government in Belgrade was furious with Walker's overhasty conclusion and demanded his removal. They refused, moreover, to allow Louise Arbour, the Yugoslavia Tribunal's chief prosecutor, to cross the border from Macedonia into Kosovo.
There is a striking similarity between the murder of the civilians in Racak, and the attack a few years earlier on the market in Sarajevo. Each offered a major opportunity for a military intervention by NATO. The horrific bomb attack in Sarajevo, in which on 28th August 1995 thirty-five people died, was at the time the signal for NATO to intervene actively in the conflict in Bosnia and begin bombing the Serbian installations around Sarajevo. As we have seen, this decision was, for NATO and many politicians the beginning of the end of the war - a view challenged by a large number of experts, including Rob de Wijk and Sir Michael Rose. De Wijk and Rose are both of the opinion that it is possible indeed that the attack on the market in Sarajevo was in reality committed by Muslim forces seeking by this means to put NATO under pressure to take action. Sir Michael Rose: 'It's certainly possible that someone other than the Serbs did it. I don't, of course, know that for sure, but at the time I did indeed have evidence which pointed to it. In order to determine the direction from which it was fired you need at least four impacts. Only one bomb fell on the market. So in this case it's absolutely impossible to specify with certainty from which direction it came.' The positive assertion by our own Ministry of Defence that the bomb was certainly of Serbian origin he considers to be 'propaganda'.
And Rob de Wijk is still more definite. 'I have been with representatives of the OSCE and of NATO in Sarajevo, and they all said that it could only have been the Muslims.' On the killings in Racak he has the following to say: 'The UCK does not shrink from sacrificing its own people for the cause. I've spent enough time with them, have seen enough, spoken with enough people, studied enough cases, to know that that would be an ordinary occurrence. It mustn't take too extensive a form, but a few dozen people isn't so bad. That's how these people reason.'
Neither forensic experts flown in specially from Finland, nor other experts from the United Nations, from NATO or the OSCE could later give a definite answer to the question of who the perpetrators of the shootings at Racak had been. And because the definitive, all-inclusive report by the Finnish experts was never made public (a fact which in itself gives pause for serious thought) this question will probably never be answered.
In the meantime the interpretation by the leader of the OSCE mission, William Walker, became generally accepted. And just as after the attack on the market in Sarajevo, a reaction from the Western powers was not long in coming. On 31st January NATO Secretary General Javier Solana was given full powers to take action against Yugoslavia. That it was then nevertheless almost two months before any intervention actually occurred was undoubtedly connected to the fact that the problems for NATO surrounding this new crisis were not small. Not every country, for example, was enthusiastic about military intervention. There existed moreover doubts over the strategy to be followed, and uncertainty over the role of the UCK.
That was the original reason why it was decided to increase the pressure on Milosevic by calling a conference in the Chateau of Rambouillet, just outside Paris. Under the leadership of the so-called Contact Group, created at the time of the war in Bosnia and consisting of representatives of the major powers, discussions were held at the Chateau from 3rd to the 23rd of February in an attempt to find an answer to the question of Kosovo. What was remarkable was that the parties to the conflict did not speak directly to each other, but only with the Contact Group negotiators, representatives of the United Kingdom (Robin Cook) and France (Hubert Védrine). Nonetheless, the first communiqués were positive, though by 23rd of February things seemed to have reached an impasse. On the one hand was Milosevic's refusal to allow NATO troops on to Yugoslav territory, and on the other the demand by the Albanian Kosovars for independence from Yugoslavia. The talks were therefore adjourned until 15th March. Both parties were told 'we have written an agreement and for you it's now a straight yes or no. On the 15th you can either sign or not sign.'
It is also quite remarkable that the details of this proposed agreement remain secret, even for example from members of parliament in the NATO countries. In the meantime the United States was talking ever more openly about a military intervention and pulling out all the diplomatic stops to ensure that the whole of NATO would adopt a single line, falling in behind the US. A great deal of pressure was put on the UCK representatives. It was made clear to them that NATO could do nothing if they continued to refuse to sign the accord. The Kosovo Albanians then managed to have included in the accord a clause specifying that within three years a referendum would be held in which the people of Kosovo could pronounce judgement on the future constitutional status of the region. This specification, and the pressure from in particular the United States, would lead in the end to the Kosovo Albanians' signing and thus assuring themselves NATO support. This would turn out to be, from the perspective of the UCK, an inspired move: NATO would do their dirty work and independence would in time be unavoidable, something which NATO and the UN had both repeatedly stated that they decidedly did not want.
As is well known, the Yugoslav government did not sign the Rambouillet agreement. Although they were prepared to agree to the whole of the political section of the accord, which offered Kosovo autonomy, elections under international supervision, self-administration of the judicial system, the police, taxation, health care, education, culture, and yes, even the establishment of a free market economy, they refused to go along with the proposal for a referendum within three years. Moreover, they continued to express insurmountable objections to the role which NATO assigned to itself in the agreement. NATO would (as emerged when the military annexes of the accord were made public) receive extremely far-reaching powers, not only in Kosovo but in the whole of Yugoslavia. So, for instance, in Annex B, Article 6, it is stated that NATO would have immunity from all legal procedures; in Article 8. that NATO must be given free, unconditional passage throughout the whole territory of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, in the air, on water and on land; and in Article 10, that the Yugoslav authorities must cooperate in all of this. The reality was that Yugoslavia must, therefore, give up its sovereignty.
Leon Wecke, a 'polemologist' - an expert on war - at the Instituut voor Vredesvraagstukken (Institute for Peace Problems) in Nijmegen, has said of this that it 'is a statute of occupation and would be acceptable to noone.' Professor Paul de Waart described it to us as 'a worgcontract'. Yugoslavia was joined by Russia, a member of the Contact Group, in rejecting NATO's demands. The Yugoslav government offered to continue to negotiate over the accord, but as it turned out, for the United States and NATO the limit had been reached. The OSCE observers in Kosovo were withdrawn and the NATO countries' embassies in Belgrade closed. The eyes and ears of the international community would in the first months no longer see or hear what was happening in Kosovo. On 22nd March Holbrooke did go to Belgrade, but nobody by then really still believed in the possibility of a peaceful solution.
On 24th March 1999, at around 7 p.m. local time, the bombing began. Because the NATO countries knew that the Security Council, as a result of Russian unease over the way things had unfolded at Rambouillet, would never give its approval for the action, no attempt was made to solicit the support of the United Nations. In the chapters that follow we will go into the consequences of all of this for the new world order in some depth. But just as important as the question of the legitimacy of Operation Allied Force is the question of whether or not it was effective.
What can be stated for certain is that the months of threatened violence had put NATO's credibility at stake. As a result, and because for whatever reason there was no will to continue negotiations at Rambouillet, NATO had put itself under pressure. Something had to be done, but with what goal? As we saw in Chapter 1, the official interpretation insisted that the aim was the prevention of a humanitarian disaster in Kosovo and the exertion of pressure on Milosevic to agree even now to the conditions for a political solution laid down in Rambouillet.
Criticism of the NATO action concerned from the very beginning not only its lawfulness but also its efficacy. Two assumptions underlay NATO's chosen strategy, both of which turned out to be invalid. The first was that Milosevic would pay attention to violence alone. And the second was that he was so determined to stay in power that he would pay quick and close attention to such violence. NATO's estimation (and that of virtually the whole Dutch political caste) was that the deployment of a few bombs and rockets over a period of a few days would be enough to bring the Yugoslav government to its knees. As it turned out, nothing could have been further from the truth. Worse still, NATO provoked precisely what it said it wished to prevent: a humanitarian catastrophe in Kosovo. When two elephants fight, the grass gets trampled underfoot. From the moment that the first bombs rained down on Serbia, the exodus from Kosovo really got under way. People fled en masse before the violence of a Yugoslav army and of paramilitaries intent on revenge for the alliance between NATO and the UCK, as well as from the NATO air-raids. Hundreds of thousands of people sought a safe haven in the neighbouring countries of Macedonia and Albania, and the Yugoslav republic of Montenegro. Remarkably enough, no relief, no emergency measures, awaited these refugees. Had NATO not taken into account this stream of fleeing people because they believed that Milosevic would immediately back down? Or had NATO indeed taken this into account, but did not accept that it was the job of its member states to do anything for the refugees? It remains a curiosity that millions were spent on an air war while at the same time the fact that wars create refugees was 'forgotten'. It was several weeks before there was even any talk of provisional relief.
During these first few weeks of the war nothing whatsoever happened on the political and diplomatic front. Meanwhile NATO dropped its bombs and fired off its rockets, at first selecting military targets and then, ever more often, civilian targets; the Yugoslav army continued its campaign, sparing nothing and no-one, against the UCK and all who had any connection to it, while for its part the UCK pursued its guerrilla war, at first with the courage of the desperate, but gradually with more confidence and more success. Not until 6th May did Russia and NATO come face to face, at a conference of the G8. There an agreement in principle was reached over a UN-led military force for Kosovo. But a cease-fire only came into view when both parties to the conflict began to run into problems. On the one side was Milosevic's awareness that he was jeopardising Russia's support, and that moreover he was running the risk that if his country was further reduced to ruins, the mass support of the Serbian population, which thanks to the NATO bombings had fallen into his lap, would also be called into question. On the other side, NATO was beginning to face the problem that it had run out of targets to bomb (and also had ever fewer 'smart bombs' with which to do it), while at the same time some NATO member states, including the Netherlands, had decided that they did not want to send ground troops. Furthermore, another humanitarian disaster had appeared on the horizon: if the hundreds of thousands of refugees were unable to return to their homes in Kosovo before the winter, many would without doubt die from hunger and cold. It would then become extremely difficult to continue to speak in terms of a 'humanitarian mission'.
There was, in other words, a stalemate which offered neither party any option but to seek a diplomatic solution - just as Rob de Wijk states in his theoretical treatise on how wars end. After thousands had died, millions of dollars had been spent on bombs and rockets, and many more million dollars' worth of property had been destroyed or damaged, the Russian emissary Viktor Tsjernomyrdin and former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari finally made some progress at diplomatic level. On 1st June, at the Petersberg Hotel, the official guest-house of the Federal Republic in Bonn, they reached agreement on a new proposal with US deputy foreign secretary Strobe Talbott. The following day they presented this proposal to Milosevic, who agreed, as did the Serbian parliament a day later. It would be another week before the warring parties finally agreed on the detailed application of the accord, which would involve the withdrawal of military units and the stationing of KFOR, the peacekeeping force operating under a UN flag. On the 10th June the bombing of Yugoslavia was ended, the Security Council adopted a resolution which took the form of a mandate for KFOR,. and the war was officially over. In the days which followed long columns of KFOR troops marched into Kosovo with hundreds of thousands of relieved refugees in their wake.
But had NATO won the war?
In NRC Handelsblad - the Dutch equivalent of the Financial Times or the Wall Street Journal - of 12th June, 1999, Robert van de Roer, in a comprehensive reconstruction of the days immediately before the finalisation of the accord, described how the meeting with Milosevic on 2nd June had gone. According to the NRC correspondent, it had lasted four-and-a-half hours, The Finnish negotiator Ahtisaari informed Milosevic that he was not empowered to negotiate: it was a case of take it or leave it. According to the report Milosevic was calm and collected. He asked a few questions, such as 'Would the UN rather than NATO represent the authority in Kosovo?' Yes, said Ahtisaari, but NATO would have operational leadership. 'Is the Rambouillet accord still valid?' Milosevic wanted to know. Ahtisaari said that it had been replaced by the peace plan. In contrast with Rambouillet this plan gave NATO no freedom of movement within the rest of Yugoslavia, but only in Kosovo. Neither did it offer the Kosovars a referendum on independence after three years of autonomy, as had been agreed at Rambouillet. At this Milosevic relaxed and leaned back on his chair with a contented laugh.
What does all of this say about the efficacy of the NATO bombing? A humanitarian disaster was not prevented, but rather hastened and greatly enhanced. The political agreement has been achieved, but the question is to what extent this accord departs from the proposals which the Yugoslav government put on the table at Rambouillet II, and which were at that time described by NATO as unacceptable. The most important stumbling blocks for the Serbs - the referendum and the presence of NATO troops - had both disappeared from the new agreement. It would not be NATO but the UN which would be in charge in Kosovo, while the mandate for the presence of troops would apply only to Kosovo rather than to the whole territory of Yugoslavia.
And let's just take a look at what the NATO actions achieved beyond this. How is the situation now in Kosovo? The Serbs, the Roma and other minorities have fled en masse or become the victims of UCK violence. It is no exaggeration to say that both political and social life are dominated by the UCK and persons and organisations allied to it. Meanwhile the UCK remains undiminished in its support for the secession of Kosovo from Yugoslavia and its accession to Albania. The political future of Kosovo therefore remains uncertain. In fact the area is now a sort of UN protectorate. The international community has invested millions of dollars in the reconstruction of this stricken country, but what should the UN do when the rebuilding is complete and the UCK labels KFOR an occupying force and demands its withdrawal? Belgrade has no longer any say over Kosovo. How can the Yugoslav government's authority in Kosovo ever be restored, another worthy goal of the western powers?
The escalation of violence, to which the NATO bombings had made an important contribution, had further strengthened the mutual feelings of hatred between Serb and Albanian. Moderate forces on both sides go in fear of their lives as such nuances are no longer accepted. And wherever in Kosovo there continues to be any possibility of mixed communities, things can burst into flames at any time, as happened in the first week of February 2000, when Serbian and Albanian inhabitants of the provincial Kosovar town of Mitrovica fell upon each other with whatever weaponry was left over from the war, with deaths resulting on both sides. The KFOR troops present in the area could do little in the chaos which broke out in the hours of night, and were moreover themselves treated as targets by both sides. Nationalism and ethnically-based feelings of superiority - which have gripped so many in the Balkans in such a time - are all that gained strength from this struggle. In such circumstances the UN's striving for a multi-ethnic Kosovo in the first decade of the twenty-first century has become an unreachable goal. And it is unrealistic and even dangerous to pursue goals which are beyond achievement - the recent history of the Balkans has demonstrated that indisputably. All of the involved parties, with the exception of the UCK, have consistently maintained the standpoint that accession of Kosovo to Albania would be undesirable, leading as it would to similar ambitions amongst the Albanian minorities in Montenegro and Macedonia. It would, moreover, be difficult to defend allowing the Kosovo Albanians what had been denied to, for example, the Serbs in the Bosnian Serb enclave of Srpska, namely accession to the country of their own choice.
A last, but most certainly not officially proclaimed goal of the NATO actions was to deepen the isolation of Milosevic and his government. The thing is, however, that he was already completely isolated on the international level, while in his own country he lorded it over an irreparably divided opposition. Milosevic appeared to emerge from the fight anything but weakened, and now he could say, time after time, with the help of media which he dominated, that he and his people had been the victims of an international conspiracy hatched by NATO. Already, the leaders if the opposition had repeatedly made clear that the bombing had not helped but on the contrary, weakened them, and that Operation Allied Force could not possibly be described as effective.
One of the people who came out with the most thoroughgoing war rhetoric during the Kosovo crisis was without doubt the man who succeeded the Spaniard Javier Solana as Secretary General of NATO, former British Defence Minister George Robertson. In an interview in NRC Handelsblad on 13th November 1999, he said: 'We have at last demolished his military machine, and that was our goal.' Strangely enough, no one was ever informed of this by NATO before that. If this had happened - and in an alliance of self-proclaimed democratic countries it should of course have happened - then immediately the question would have been ' how much human suffering are you prepared to tolerate in order to reach your goal?'
And the question which Robertson's statement poses now is this: does he himself really believe that Milosevic's military machine (by which he meant, of course, the army of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, of which Milosevic is president) - does the new Secretary General of NATO really believe that this army was destroyed by allied forces? Anyone who remembers the pictures of Serbian troops marching out of Kosovo will scarcely find this credible, when so many tanks rolled through the streets of Pristina and so much undaunted belligerence remained in evidence. As Clifford Beal, editor-in-chief of Jane's Defence Weekly remarked earlier in this book, when it comes to Serb losses, there is every reason seriously to doubt NATO's figures. Which means that even this sole, extremely limited, scarcely humanitarian goal, which was never mentioned prior to the air campaign, appears not to have been achieved. The former general Sir Michael Rose's claim that there is a great deal of discontent within NATO over Operation Allied Force, seems to us then also rather more probably true than that Secretary General Robertson really believes what he says.
Jan Marijnissen was at the time of writing the leader of the Socialist Party of the Netherlands (SP) Karel Glastra van Loon was a novelist and journalist, closely associated with the SP, who has died, at the age of only 43, since this book was published in the original Dutch. His best known work in English was The Passion Fruit