Global Policy Forum

The War NATO Wanted


By Diana Johnstone

In These Times
April 16, 1999

To justify their assault on Serbia, the United States and its obedient NATO allies claimed they had no choice. As the official story goes, Slobodan Milosevic (suddenly the reincarnation of Hitler who has the power to make all other citizens of Yugoslavia invisible to the Clinton administration) refused to negotiate and rejected the Rambouillet peace agreement. Therefore, there was nothing else to do but bomb Yugoslavia.

This preposterous lie is only one among countless others. In reality, Belgrade never refused to negotiate. Rambouillet was never about negotiations. It was about presenting the Serbs with an ultimatum precisely designed to provide the pretext for NATO bombing. Rambouillet was a tragic farce, a low point in the history of diplomacy, in which the United States had to coax and cajole a band of well-armed criminals into signing the death warrant of their adversary, the legitimate government of Yugoslavia.

The Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) is scarcely the sort of outfit one might expect to see invited to a famous French chateau to decide on the future of war and peace in Europe. The connection between KLA gunmen and the ethnic Albanians who dominate the heroin traffic through the Balkans from Turkey to Switzerland and Germany has been widely reported. As for ideology, violent ethnic Albanian irredentism has switched opportunistically from fascism during World War II, to "Marxism-Leninism" in the days of Albanian dictator Enver Hoxha, to today's enthusiasm for NATO. The constant factor is hatred of Serbs in particular and Slavs in general.

The rise of the KLA was a challenge to the leadership of the ethnic Albanian nationalists' nonviolent leadership, headed by Ibrahim Rugova. The killing of Serbs in Kosovo began in April 1996, thanks to the arms glut caused by the total collapse of law and order in Albania. Not only Yugoslav police but also ethnic Albanians branded as "traitors" were targeted. Last summer, by posing for news photographers with a KLA officer, Richard Holbrooke publicly signaled that the United States was dropping Rugova in favor of the KLA. The process was completed at Rambouillet with the Feb. 6 arrival of the official ethnic Albanian delegation of 16 members, five of them from the KLA. Rugova and the older generation of leaders were suddenly shoved onto the sidelines, as an unknown, 29-year-old KLA chieftain named Hashim "The Snake" Thaqi was introduced to the world as the leader of the delegation.

The KLA's irresistible rise was nurtured notably by Morton Abramowitz, a prominent member of the U.S. foreign policy elite. Abramowitz served as ambassador to Thailand when the CIA's Bangkok bureau was perpetrating the "yellow rain" hoax that accused Vietnamese victims of U.S. chemical warfare of using chemical agents in Laos. In 1986, as assistant secretary of state in charge of intelligence and research in the Reagan administration, Abramowitz and top CIA officials accompanied Sen. Orrin Hatch to Beijing to work out a deal with China and Pakistan for providing Stinger missiles to Islamic Afghan rebels.

He then passed, quite naturally, to the presidency of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Under the Clinton administration, he has participated in a blue-ribbon panel on CIA reform--selected by the Council on Foreign Relations--which recommended easing restrictions on covert actions. More recently, Abramowitz has been a leading figure in the high-level International Crisis Group, a leading designer of policy toward Kosovo. There, he became an advocate of arming the KLA. At Rambouillet, Abramowitz and another U.S. official, Paul Williams, led a team coaching the KLA delegation.

Even so, at Rambouillet, 'The Snake" bit the hand that fed him and refused to sign the document. To the fury and dismay of Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, it was not the Serbs but the Albanian KLA that balked, depriving the United States of its pretext to launch a NATO war against the Serbs. Rambouillet was adjourned. Former Sen. Bob Dole, recipient of generous campaign contributions from the Albanian-American lobby during his political career, was dispatched to the Balkans to urge the Albanians to sign the treaty--not to make peace, but to "maintain pressure" on the Serbs. KLA leaders were bribed with a promise of a "visit to Washington to discuss matters of interest," notably the future of the KLA--veiled language meaning that the United States would not insist on disarming the KLA, but would find some formula for transforming what U.S. envoy Robert Gelbard had described as a "terrorist" group into "liberated" Kosovo's police force.

So it was that the Serbs and the Kosovar Albanians were summoned back to Paris to sign, as is, an agreement that in effect would detach Kosovo from Serbia and put it under the joint control of NATO and whichever ethnic Albanians NATO chose--apparently, the KLA. There were no negotiations. Instead, Serbia's Milan Milutinovic and his (multi-ethnic) delegation were presented with an ultimatum: Either accept the "peace agreement" concocted by Christopher Hill (Holbrooke's second at Dayton who is now posted as U.S. ambassador to Macedonia) allowing NATO to take over Kosovo, or else be bombed. This ultimatum in itself was a violation of international law, which invalidates agreements obtained by the threat or use of force, according to the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties.

And the terms were totally unacceptable. Kosovo's "self-government" was to be run by a NATO official, with the title of Chief of the Implementation Mission, or CIM. The CIM would have the final say over virtually everything and everybody. Kosovo would be occupied by a NATO force called KFOR. No ceiling was placed on the size of KFOR forces, which would have full control of airspace over Kosovo, be immune to prosecution or liability under local law, and have free access to the rest of Yugoslavia--a license to invade the rest of the country on one pretext or another. The agreement called for withdrawal of Serbian police and armed forces, but the fate of "other forces" (no mention of the KLA, which thus escaped any commitment or obligations) would be decided later by the KFOR commander.

Not only Milosevic, but any Serbian opposition party, was bound to reject such terms. And yet compromise was not impossible. The Yugoslavs were ready to make huge concessions, but not to welcome NATO. NATO was the sticking point. A U.N. peacekeeping force might well have been acceptable. However, the Clinton administration insisted on NATO or nothing.

The rise of the KLA, backed by the United States and Germany (German intelligence reportedly played an important role in equipping the rebels), made it extremely dangerous for any more moderate ethnic Albanian leaders to negotiate with the Serbs. The KLA repeatedly announced what would happen to such "traitors." By backing the KLA, the United States weakened the more moderate forces on both sides.

On December 21, 1998, the State Department released information from the Kosovo Diplomatic Observer Mission that "the KLA harass or kidnap anyone who comes to the police," and that "representatives threatened to kill villagers and burn their homes if they did not join the KLA." It added that KLA harassment has reached such intensity that residents of six villages in the Stimlje region are "ready to flee."

Kosovo's ethnic Albanian civilians have been trapped between devastating NATO bombing raids, KLA thugs and Serbian police. That refugees would flee from Kosovo in all directions (including northward into central Serbia, a fact ignored by Western media) is scarcely surprising. Yet NATO exploited the resulting misery and confusion on the borders to justify the very bombing that triggered the exodus. The suffering of the refugees is genuine and poignant. The interpretations by Western officials and media are not to be trusted. (After Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, the United States "ethnically cleansed" the West Coast of Japanese Americans, although Japan did not announce that it was bombing the U.S. on behalf of armed Japanese-American secessionists.)

Various compromise proposals have been made from the Serb side over the years. They have been totally ignored by Western governments and media, which have claimed to be in favor of "restoring Kosovo's autonomy" and opposed to secession. This double language has been interpreted by both sides as veiled support for the Albanian irredentism. Confident of Western backing, Albanian nationalist leaders have held out for independence rather than any form of living together with the Serbs in Serbia. Partition has been dogmatically ruled out by the United States on the "domino-theory" grounds that it would destabilize Macedonia. NATO bombing has done that already. U.S. and NATO meddling so far have produced all of the disasters they promised to prevent, and a few more. NATO is not waging peace. It is waging war and must be stopped.

Diana Johnstone is a contributing editor of In These Times.

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