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What Was the War For?
What Rambouillet really said.

President Clinton declared that NATO's air war won a “victory for a safer world, for our democratic values and for a stronger America.” His boasts were echoed in the media, including a New York Times editorial that claimed the peace settlement represents “a victory for the principles of democracy and human rights.”

The air war destroyed Yugoslavia's economy and infrastructure. The NATO bombing and Serb burning left Kosovo a ruined landscape. Since the war began, thousands of Kosovar-Albanians have been massacred by Serb forces and 750,000 fled the province. An estimated 1,500 Serbian civilians and thousands of soldiers have been killed by NATO bombs.

For what? The peace plan drawn up by NATO and accepted by Yugoslavia on June 3 looks remarkably similar to what the Serbs themselves were proposing weeks before NATO bombing began.

The new plan specifies a Kosovo peacekeeping force "under U.N. auspices." At the Rambouillet peace talks, the Serbs offered precisely that. Agence France Presse reported on Feb. 20 that the head of the Serb delegation had "insisted that the peacekeepers answer to a non-military body such as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe ... or the United Nations."

In addition to NATO troops, the new plan calls for a contingent of Russian soldiers in Kosovo. On Feb. 23, the New York Times reported that Milosevic's chief negotiator at Rambouillet said that "the Serbs are ready to discuss 'an international presence in Kosovo' to carry out political arrangements of any agreement. And other Serbs have floated ideas that include leavening Western forces with lots of Russians."

So why did NATO bomb?

Less than 24 hours before the deadline ending the February talks at Rambouillet, U.S. negotiators handed the parties a totally new Kosovo plan written by State Department lawyers. The document stipulated that NATO troops would have unimpeded access throughout all of Yugoslavia, not just Kosovo. NATO would administer Kosovo's new political system, take control of all local broadcast media and prepare for a referendum on Kosovo's independence after three years. This provision contradicted the U.S. negotiators' earlier promise that Kosovo would remain part of Yugoslavia.

The Serbs said they would be willing to sign onto the document's political section, but wanted to negotiate on the military portion. On March 13, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright ruled that out, saying, "They can't pick and choose." The Serbs were given an ultimatum: sign the document as it was - or be bombed.

The State Department's plan appears to have been intentionally crafted to provoke a rejection from the Serbs. George Kenney, a former State Department Yugoslavia specialist, reported in The Nation that a high-level U.S. official told reporters at Rambouillet that officials had " 'deliberately set the bar higher than the Serbs could accept.' The Serbs needed, according to the official, a little bombing to see reason." Jim Jatras, a senior foreign policy aide to Senate Republicans, independently corroborated Kenney's account in a May 18 speech at the Cato Institute.

The new agreement, contains no mention of a referendum. The provision for NATO troops throughout Yugoslavia is gone. And Kosovo's political process will no longer be overseen by NATO, but by the United Nations.

Even the one element of the plan that the Serbs never openly accepted at Rambouillet - NATO-commanded troops in Kosovo — might well have been agreed to if the United States been willing to negotiate. A senior U.S. official told Newsweek that, just before Rambouillet, "We had gotten intelligence reports that suggested the Serbs might be open to the possibility of NATO troops. But those reports simply disappeared as Rambouillet became a shambles."

The United States apparently never intended to reach a peaceful settlement in Kosovo. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the United States has wanted desperately to keep the NATO alliance going even though it had lost its original purpose. As a leaked 1992 Pentagon planning document asserted, "It is of fundamental importance to preserve NATO as the primary instrument of Western defense and security, as well as the channel for U.S. influence and participation in European security affairs."

Without a Soviet threat, the United States had to search out other uses for the alliance. As a White House foreign policy adviser told the Washington Post on the eve of the bombing: "There are massive blood baths all over the world and we're not intervening in them. This one is in the heart of Europe. I'd argue that the alliance itself is at risk because if it's unable to address a major threat within Europe, it really loses its reason for being."

A senior NATO official recently told the New York Times: "Organizations seek out action. They need to do things. That's why NATO needs the Balkans as such as the Balkans need NATO. The Balkans is one security issue that NATO can actually do something about. We talked about dealing with drugs, terrorism, proliferation and the mafia, but the truth is there is not much we can really do about them. The thing about the Balkans is that what NATO has to offer is exactly what they need."

But what the Balkans needed was genuine diplomacy, not NATO.


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