June 26, 2000

Gumpline: War in Europe

Part 3: The Rambouillet Gambit

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: But there is a second reason and the second reason has to do with NATO. We consider NATO the prime military alliance of all time and our leadership in it is very important. And, while the Europeans need to take up more and more of the responsibilities, especially when it's happening on the European continent, it's very important to keep the American link with NATO and to maintain our leadership within the NATO alliance.
(PBS Online NewsHour, Feb. 4, 1999)

The U.S. could and did provide the leadership in combining Albright's two concerns into a single strategy. The Contact Group (Russia and the big fish in NATO) had agreed on the general principles of a political plan that gave Kosovo autonomy within Serbia but not independence. Frontline let Ivo Daalder, one of Clinton's trusted warlocks, explain how the Administration planned to save both the ethnic Albanians and the Alliance: "Get the Kosovars to sign on, get the Serbs to renege, bomb the Serbs, get the Serbs to sign on - deal - that's the strategy."

Serbian and Kosovo Albanian representatives (including the KLA) were summoned to Rambouillet, France, for peace talks that would start on Feb. 6. Why trouble the Russians with the idea that peace was a journey rather than a destination and that bombing was an intended stop along the way? For that matter, why bother telling the small fry of the Alliance? The U.S. and Britain knew how to crack a dictator by threatening to unite his country behind him, and had previously used this approach to nourish democracy in Iraq. NATO's two loudest members are often witness to the devastating effect that popularity can have on the minds of those unaccustomed to it.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Once the Serbs had said no and the Kosovars had said yes it was a very clear choice and it was - that was what triggered the poss - made it clear that the use of force had to take place.
(Frontline, Feb. 22, 2000)

Getting the Serbs to say no was the easy part, requiring only Albright's fondness for speaking freely. Her Feb. 4 1999 announcement at the U.S. Institute of Peace that "a NATO implementation force is part of the deal" laid a nice coat of plaster over any cracks that separated Milosevic and the police from the army and the Serbian people. When Frontline looked to award blame for Milosevic's willingness to risk a war and his ability to survive a loss, its first nominee was Clinton's March 24 statement "I do not intend to put our troops in Kosovo to fight a war." Missing from the short list was the earlier decision that the Serbs "would be presented with terms they almost certainly would reject: foreign troops on Serbian soil," Frontline's understated summary of the ultimatum that NATO would bomb Yugoslav air defenses if Milosevic refused to let 28,000 Allied soldiers into Kosovo.

The call for a NATO police force revealed deep differences between the United States and Russia, Serbia's political ally. Christopher Hill, the American who is leading the talks, said the Russians do not agree with the military aspects of the plan. Boris Mayorski, his Russian counterpart, said Russia was not taking part in any discussions on the military annex to the peace agreement.

...Sources close to the Serbian delegation at the talks said if the pressure continues, they might consider allowing foreign troops in Kosovo, but only if they did not include soldiers from "unfriendly" nations like the United States, Germany, Britain and France. Americans would never accept such Serbian conditions, a senior Western diplomat said.
(AP, February 18, 1999)

As the Allies knew that Milosevic couldn't afford to accept a NATO force and Milosevic knew that they couldn't afford to back away from Albright's bluster, the Rambouillet talks were only necessary as an opportunity for the wrestlers to shout their moral challenges before the match. The suspense was in whether Serbia could spoil the U.S. pretext for bombing by suggesting the possibility of a force under UN or OSCE control. At a Feb. 23 press conference, Albright showed off the body slam she had been practising on any allies or adversaries who tried to slip such a hold on American military power : "It was asked earlier, when we were all together whether the force could be anything different than a NATO-led force. I can just tell you point blank from the perspective of the United States, absolutely not, it must be a NATO-led force."

Getting the Kosovo Albanians to sign on was a trickier manoeuvre, as this meant telling the Russians that NATO hoped for a peaceful solution while convincing the KLA that they would not be disarmed and that their endorsement would trigger the poss - oops! - make it clear that the use of force would take place. Frontline claims that "Albright finally found a language the Kosovars understood" by threatening to abandon them and discredit her own bombast. The camera shows her talking to the press. "Let me say that if the talks crater because the Serbs do not say yes, we will have bombing. If the talks crater because the Albanians have not said yes, we will not supp- we will not be able to support them and in fact will have to cut off whatever help they are getting from the outside."

No matter how much weight the KLA gave to Albright's threat of setting herself on fire, the Kosovo Albanians left Rambouillet without signing the plan. Frontline tells that "three weeks would pass before the Kosovars signed the agreement," without mentioning Albright's attempt to have former U.S. Senator Bob Dole reassure the stragglers of U.S. intentions. The Rambouillet plan gave NATO the right to enforce VJ and MUP reductions and "demilitarization of Other Forces," and the discretion to decide what this meant. On March 5, Dole and KLA representative Jacob Krasniqi ruminated on the wide range of meanings that the word "demilitarize" can have in American English, such as buying new hats.

Dole's March 11 denouncement of the KLA illustrated just how much influence the Rambouillet strategy had given the U.S. with the rebels. "This is a set-up by this small group of people who don't want to give up power," he told Reuters after more than six hours of meetings between Christopher Hill and KLA leaders on March 7 failed to produce a signature. "Maybe they think they can make a profit from this somehow." Or maybe they thought that they could hold out for a guaranteed war of independence with an auxiliary air force. In Paris on March 18, the Kosovo Albanian delegation finally signed a document whose military annex removed any residual danger of Serbian acceptance.

GENERAL NAUMANN: I should mention, we in the military, Clark and I, had really argued that one should start the negotiations with the military annex first . . . . This was the way we had succeeded in Dayton and now for reasons which only some foreign ministries may know, we changed the pattern and negotiated all the other things first. . . . In the very last moment the military annex was introduced, so the most difficult part was negotiated at the end when it already was obvious that the other things which were not as difficult to take for Serbia did really not fly with Serbia.
(Frontline: PBS Online)

The versatile annex, with its demands for NATO prevalence throughout the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia including immunity from FRY and Serbian laws, was a glossary for anyone confused about the meaning of the phrase "Interim Agreement for Peace." It was also the home equity contract that the Allies could later show to Serbia's citizens to prove that Milosevic had started the war by refusing NATO's very reasonable terms.

8. NATO personnel shall enjoy, together with their vehicles, vessels, aircraft, and equipment, free and unrestricted passage and unimpeded access throughout the FRY including associated airspace and territorial waters. This shall include, but not be limited to, the right of bivouac, maneuver, billet, and utilization of any areas or facilities as required for support, training, and operations.
(U.S. Department of State, Interim Agreement for Peace and Self-Government in Kosovo - Appendix B: Status of Multi- National Military Implementation Force)

Scrupulously separating his roles as Foreign Minister of (NATO member) Norway and Chairman-in-Office of the OSCE, Knut Vollebaek announced on March 19 his decision to withdraw the Kosovo Verification Mission. The monitors left Kosovo the next morning, and Frontline remarks that rather than taking them hostage to try to prevent a bomb attack, "the Serbs moved in heavily against the KLA." The campaign appeared limited to the principal purpose that the German text would ascribe, at least until NATO announced its strike order in the evening of March 23.

In Kosovo, homes burned and shellfire echoed over the central Drenica region as the Yugoslav military pursued an offensive against strongholds of separatist ethnic Albanian guerrillas. Aid workers say the fighting has driven 40,000 people, a vast majority of them ethnic Albanians, from their homes over the last week since international peace monitors left the province in anticipation of possible NATO bombing.

It is a cruel irony that NATO air strikes could trigger terrible reprisals against the very ethnic Albanians the West hopes to protect. Serb hard-line politicians have sworn they will take revenge on ethnic Albanians in the wake of any attacks by the West.
(ITN, March 23, 1999)

Combining virtuous power with scientific inquiry, NATO started to lob bombs on March 24 to see if this would get everyone back home safely. The Allies knew Milosevic's history of unleashing police and paramilitaries to kill civilians whenever his forces were attacked on the ground, so by attacking from the air NATO could test whether retaliatory massacres were related to altitude. The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia published the results of the experiment, charging Milosevic and four senior officials with command responsibility for the following mass killings:

  • 15 Jan. 1999 Racak 45 dead
  • 25 Mar. 1999 Bela Crkva 77 dead
  • 26 Mar. 1999 Velika Krusa, Mali Krusa / Krushe e Mahde, Krushe e Vogel 105 dead
  • 26 Mar. 1999 Dakovica/Gjakove 6 dead
  • 27 Mar. 1999 Crkolez/Padalishte 20 dead
  • 28 Mar. 1999 Izbica 130 dead
  • 02 Apr. 1999 Dakovica/Gjakove 20 dead

The ICTY indictment covers the period between Jan. 1 1999 and May 22 1999, and the dates of the declared crimes highlight NATO's competence to alleviate ethnic conflicts. No matter how meticulously Milosevic had planned for the possibilities of OSCE withdrawal and NATO bombardment, he could not have been prepared for the intellectual firepower of the Supreme Allied Commander. From the first reports of the paramilitary rodeos that followed the bombs, General Clark maintained his status as a grand master who knew Milosevic's moves before Milosevic did.

"We've taken down a substantial proportion" of Yugoslavia's air defenses and command and control assets, said U.S. Army Gen. Wesley Clark, supreme NATO military commander. But Clark, speaking on NBC's "Today" show, said Yugoslavia "still has forces out in the field and, to be candid, of even more concern are the so-called paramilitary forces, including gangs of hardened criminals which have in the past and are apparently now being employed in ethnic cleansing operations against the Kosovar Albanian population."

U.S. and allied forces have suffered no losses and encountered little resistance during two days of air attacks, Clark said. But Serb military activity in Kosovo was intensifying despite the NATO attacks. Clark, speaking from his headquarters in Brussels, said he had fully expected that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic would step up aggression against ethnic Albanians, whose plight sparked the NATO action this week. "This was entirely predictable at this stage," Clark said.
(AP story in Morristown Citizen Tribune, March 26, 1999)

Clark's habit of telling anyone with a tape recorder that NATO had forseen all left the politicians to explain whether they had given priority to civilian welfare or to NATO credibility. President Clinton, known for morally uplifting legal interpretation, favoured the answer that Milosevic had planned to sneak all of the ethnic Albanians into neighboring countries if NATO didn't bomb. It was therefore a lucky break for Kosovo's Albanians that the bombing campaign started just before they began to flood out of the province.

It may not be much comfort, but the U.S. administration and NATO claim not to be shocked by what's happened so far. Clinton has no time for those who argue that NATO's bombs hastened Milosevic's ethnic cleansing of Kosovo. "We knew he would do this," the president told an aide last week. Clark is even more explicit: "I can't say I'm surprised by any of this," he told Newsweek. "The military authorities fully anticipated the vicious approach that Milosevic would adopt, as well as the terrible efficiency with which he would carry it out."
(Newsweek, April 12, 1999).

Instead of sharing with the viewers Clark's previously published thoughts that the escalation of violence was predictable and ordered by Milosevic, Frontline let General Naumann explain that if some of the atrocities were sparked by NATO bombs, "this was simply this vendetta feeling which is pervading in the Balkans anyway." Frontline also declined to attach any of the published numbers to Naumann's assessment that the expulsion of Kosovo's Albanians "may have been accelerated by NATO."

... in the space of little more than a week - from 24 March to the morning of 2 April - a total of 177,500 Kosovo Albanians arrived in Albania, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and nearby countries, with a further 130,000 arriving in Albania and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia the following day alone.
(OSCE, Kosovo/Kosova -As Seen, As Told, Dec. 6, 1999)

The April 12 Newsweek article noted that "the scale of the refugee flows is now so great that it has dashed any real hope of an early intervention by ground troops," and the OSCE report points to the regulated flow of refugees as "a further indication that the operation was clearly planned and executed, not least with a view to keeping key communication routes within Kosovo open." But Clark's background interview offers a neat proof of the proposition that the mass expulsions into Macedonia and Albania were unrelated to NATO's attack.

FRONTLINE: What are your memories of first hearing that he was cleansing people in the country, pushing them over the borders? How much of a shock was this, that hundreds of thousands of people could be expelled in this way?

GENERAL CLARK: ...We'd always known it was a possibility. But we thought it probably wasn't the most likely possibility, because we knew that if Milosevic did that, he would raise the ire of Western publics, and increase the pressure for more stringent military action against him.
(Frontline: PBS Online)

By excluding much of Clark's orbit around rational thought, Frontline denies the viewer the chance to approach the war's questions from the state of Allied enlightenment that transcends analysis. As peacekeeping forces work (when they work) by separating the hostile parties and effectively partitioning the disputed territory, how could NATO's KFOR scheme cause Serbs and Albanians to do anything other than fight to improve their positions on the ground? Why was making an occupation demand preferable to strengthening the OSCE-KVM and moving UNPREDEP?

The answers came on March 31 when 3 members of Task Force Able Sentry were taken hostage by the Serbs. Although President Clinton's March 25 letter to the Congress had stated that "operational control of these forces for force protection purposes only has been transferred to NATO," General Clark brushed off any lapse in Allied vigilance by suggesting to Newsweek that the Americans had been taken by a "Serb special-operations snatch team." Applying Clark's principle of retroactive intent, we see that Milosevic let the OSCE people leave because he was planning to abduct these three soldiers all along, so the air war had been necessary to rescue them.

The Frontline writers seem obsessed with the length of time it took for NATO to declare victory, and their poorly hidden basic question is whether the veneer of international legitimacy that the Alliance can paste over U.S. plans is worth the restrictions that it places on America's manifest right to bomb. Why should a celebrity tolerate an entourage that won't let him mark his territory as he sees fit? If another situation should arise where military intervention is so clearly indicated, America can hardly afford to associate with feeble allies who tie Liberty's hands behind her back before the fight begins.

LT. GENERAL SHORT: The United States should have said very clearly, "It appears NATO wants to go to war in the air, and in the air only. If that is the case, and that is the sentiment of, of the nations here, we will lead you to war. We, the United States, will provide the leadership, the enabling force, the majority of the striking power, the technology required. We will take the alliance to war, and we will win this thing for you. But the price to be paid is we call the tune. We are not just one of nineteen."
(Frontline, Feb. 29, 2000)

Short's frustration with Alliance politics is understandable, as his country has chafed under Canadian imperialism and been dragged into confrontations too often by the belligerence of Norwegian foreign policy. So with Milosevic, the MUP, and the paramilitaries left running the rackets in Serbia, and with the VJ and the Protection Corps Formerly Known as KLA quietly preparing for the next round in case KFOR ever leaves, the crucial issues for Frontline are whether America acted violently and independantly enough. NATO may have shown some talent in Yugoslavia at using military force to determine ethnic boundaries, but it still lacks the State Department's unilateral flair for handling autocrats and guerrillas.


"His personal approval rating in Serbia has slid from a high of 40 percent in the early 1990s to 20 percent today," wrote Jane Perlez in her October 25 1998 New York Times article "Unstacking Milosevic's Deck." The Allies' skillful resolution of Kosovo's troubles, coupled with their explicit promises of a gravy pipeline if Yugoslavia's voters chose someone other than Milosevic, eventually managed to knock his support all the way down to 36 percent.

Vojislav Kostunica, the 56 year-old law professor who claimed 51 percent of the vote in the September 24 2000 presidential election, rode the wave of popular admiration for Allied actions. "He described last year's NATO intervention in Yugoslavia as a 'criminal act'," the Associated Press reported on October 1 2000, "and has accused Washington of helping Milosevic remain in power with its confrontational policies."