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chomsky on the NATO/FYU/kosov@ settlement

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date: 9 juni 99
author: Noam Chomsky
subject: internationaal/Kosovo

Kosovo Peace Accord

     On March 24, U.S.-led NATO air forces began to pound the Federal
     Republic of Yugoslavia (FYR, Serbia and Montenegro), including
     Kosovo, which NATO regards as a province of Serbia. On June 3,
     NATO and Serbia reached a Peace Accord. The U.S. declared victory,
     having successfully concluded its "10-week struggle to compel Mr.
     Milosevic to say uncle," Blaine Harden reported in the New York
     Times. It would therefore be unnecessary to use ground forces to
     "cleanse Serbia" as Harden had recommended in a lead story
     headlined "How to Cleanse Serbia." The recommendation was natural
     in the light of American history, which is dominated by the theme
     of ethnic cleansing from its origins and to the present day,
     achievements celebrated in the names given to military attack
     helicopters and other weapons of destruction. A qualification is
     in order, however: the term "ethnic cleansing" is not really
     appropriate: U.S. cleansing operations have been ecumenical;
     Indochina and Central America are two recent illustrations.

     While declaring victory, Washington did not yet declare peace: the
     bombing continues until the victors determine that their
     interpretation of the Kosovo Accord has been imposed. From the
     outset, the bombing had been cast as a matter of cosmic
     significance, a test of a New Humanism, in which the "enlightened
     states" (Foreign Affairs) open a new era of human history guided
     by "a new internationalism where the brutal repression of whole
     ethnic groups will no longer be tolerated" (Tony Blair). The
     enlightened states are the United States and its British
     associate, perhaps also others who enlist in their crusades for

     Apparently the rank of "enlightened states" is conferred by
     definition. One finds no attempt to provide evidence or argument,
     surely not from their history. The latter is in any event deemed
     irrelevant by the familiar doctrine of "change of course," invoked
     regularly in the ideological institutions to dispatch the past
     into the deepest recesses of the memory hole, thus deterring the
     threat that some might ask the most obvious questions: with
     institutional structures and distribution of power essentially
     unchanged, why should one expect a radical shift in policy -- or
     any at all, apart from tactical adjustments?

     But such questions are off the agenda. "From the start the Kosovo
     problem has been about how we should react when bad things happen
     in unimportant places," global analyst Thomas Friedman explained
     in the New York Times as the Accord was announced. He proceeds to
     laud the enlightened states for pursuing his moral principle that
     "once the refugee evictions began, ignoring Kosovo would be
     wrong...and therefore using a huge air war for a limited objective
     was the only thing that made sense."

     A minor difficulty is that concern over the "refugee evictions"
     could not have been the motive for the "huge air war." The United
     Nations Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported its first
     registered refugees outside of Kosovo on March 27 (4000), three
     days after the bombings began. The toll increased until June 4,
     reaching a reported total of 670,000 in the neighboring countries
     (Albania, Macedonia), along with an estimated 70,000 in Montenegro
     (within the FYR), and 75,000 who had left for other countries. The
     figures, which are unfortunately all too familiar, do not include
     the unknown numbers who have been displaced within Kosovo, some
     2-300,000 in the year before the bombing according to NATO, a
     great many more afterwards.

     Uncontroversially, the "huge air war" precipitated a sharp
     escalation of ethnic cleansing and other atrocities. That much has
     been reported consistently by correspondents on the scene and in
     retrospective analyses in the press. The same picture is presented
     in the two major documents that seek to portray the bombing as a
     reaction to the humanitarian crisis in Kosovo. The most extensive
     one, provided by the State Department in May, is suitably entitled
     "Erasing History: Ethnic Cleansing in Kosovo"; the second is the
     Indictment of Milosevic and associates by the International
     Tribunal on War Crimes in Yugoslavia after the U.S. and Britain
     "opened the way for what amounted to a remarkably fast indictment
     by giving [prosecutor Louise] Arbour access to intelligence and
     other information long denied to her by Western governments," the
     New York Times reported, with two full pages devoted to the
     Indictment. Both documents hold that the atrocities began "on or
     about January 1"; in both, however, the detailed chronology
     reveals that atrocities continued about as before until the
     bombing led to a very sharp escalation. That surely came as no
     surprise. Commanding General Wesley Clark at once described these
     consequences as "entirely predictable" -- an exaggeration of
     course; nothing in human affairs is that predictable, though ample
     evidence is now available revealing that the consequences were
     anticipated, for reasons readily understood without access to
     secret intelligence.

     One small index of the effects of "the huge air war" was offered
     by Robert Hayden, director of the Center for Russian and East
     European Studies of the University of Pittsburgh: "the casualties
     among Serb civilians in the first three weeks of the war are
     higher than all of the casualties on both sides in Kosovo in the
     three months that led up to this war, and yet those three months
     were supposed to be a humanitarian catastrophe." True, these
     particular consequences are of no account in the context of the
     jingoist hysteria that was whipped up to demonize Serbs, reaching
     intriguing heights as bombing openly targeted the civilian society
     and hence required more fervent advocacy.

     By chance, at least a hint of a more credible answer to Friedman's
     rhetorical question was given in the Times on the same day in a
     report from Ankara by Stephen Kinzer. He writes that "Turkey's
     best-known human rights advocate entered prison" to serve his
     sentence for having "urged the state to reach a peaceful
     settlement with Kurdish rebels." A few days earlier, Kinzer had
     indicated obliquely that there is more to the story: "Some [Kurds]
     say they have been oppressed under Turkish rule, but the
     Government insists that they are granted the same rights as other
     citizens." One may ask whether this really does justice to some of
     the most extreme ethnic cleansing operations of the mid '90s, with
     tens of thousands killed, 3500 villages destroyed, some 2.5 to 3
     million refugees, and hideous atrocities that easily compare to
     those recorded daily in the front pages for selected enemies,
     reported in detail by the major human rights organizations but
     ignored. These achievements were carried out thanks to massive
     military support from the United States, increasing under Clinton
     as the atrocities peaked, including jet planes, attack
     helicopters, counterinsurgency equipment, and other means of
     terror and destruction, along with training and intelligence
     information for some of the worst killers.

     Recall that these crimes have been proceeding through the '90s
     within NATO itself, and under the jurisdiction of the Council of
     Europe and the European Court of Human Rights, which continues to
     hand down judgments against Turkey for its U.S.-supported
     atrocities. It took real discipline for participants and
     commentators "not to notice" any of this at the celebration of
     NATO's 50th anniversary in April. The discipline was particularly
     impressive in  light of the fact that the celebration was clouded
     by somber concerns over ethnic cleansing -- by
     officially-designated enemies, not by the enlightened states that
     are to rededicate themselves to their traditional mission of
     bringing justice and freedom to the suffering people of the world,
     and to defend human rights, by force if necessary, under the
     principles of the New Humanism.

     These crimes, to be sure, are only one illustration of the answer
     given by the enlightened states to the profound question of "how
     we should react when bad things happen in unimportant places." We
     should intervene to escalate the atrocities, not "looking away"
     under a "double standard," the common evasion when such marginalia
     are impolitely adduced. That also happens to be the mission that
     was conducted in Kosovo, as revealed clearly by the course of
     events, though not the version refracted through the prism of
     ideology and doctrine, which do not gladly tolerate the
     observation that a consequence of the "the huge air war" was a
     change from a year of atrocities on the scale of the annual
     (U.S.-backed) toll in Colombia in the 1990s to a level that might
     have approached atrocities within NATO/Europe itself in the 1990s
     had the bombing continued.

     The marching orders from Washington, however, are the usual ones:
     Focus laser-like on the crimes of today's official enemy, and do
     not allow yourself to be distracted by comparable or worse crimes
     that could easily be mitigated or terminated thanks to the crucial
     role of the enlightened states in perpetuating them, or escalating
     them when power interests so dictate. Let us obey the orders,
     then, and keep to Kosovo.

     A minimally serious investigaton of the Kosovo Accord must review
     the diplomatic options of March 23, the day before "huge air war"
     was launched, and compare them with the agreement reached by NATO
     and Serbia on June 3. Here we have to distinguish two versions:
     (1) the facts, and (2) the spin -- that is, the U.S./NATO version
     that frames reporting and commentary in the enlightened states.
     Even the most cursory look reveals that the facts and the spin
     differ sharply. Thus the New York Times presented the text of the
     Accord with an insert headed: "Two Peace Plans: How they Differ."
     The two peace plans are the Rambouillet (Interim) Agreement
     presented to Serbia as a take-it-or-be-bombed ultimatum on March
     23, and the Kosovo Peace Accord of June 3. But in the real world
     there are three "peace plans," two of which were on the table on
     March 23: the Rambouillet Agreement and the Serb National Assembly
     Resolutions responding to it.

     Let us begin with the two peace plans of March 23, asking how they
     differed and how they compare with the Kosovo Peace Accord of June
     3, then turning briefly to what we might reasonably expect if we
     break the rules and pay some attention to the (ample) precedents.

     The Rambouillet Agreement called for complete military occupation
     and political control of Kosovo by NATO, and effective NATO
     military occupation of the rest of Yugoslavia at NATO's will. NATO
     is to "constitute and lead a military force" (KFOR) that "NATO
     will establish and deploy" in and around Kosovo, "operating under
     the authority and subject to the direction and political control
     of the North Atlantic Council (NAC) through the NATO chain of
     command"; "the KFOR commander is the final authority within
     theater regarding interpretation of this chapter [Implementation
     of the Agreement] and his interpretations are binding on all
     Parties and persons" (with an irrelevant qualification). Within a
     brief time schedule, all Yugoslav army forces and Ministry of
     Interior police are to redeploy to "approved cantonment sites,"
     then to withdraw to Serbia, apart from small units assigned to
     border guard duties with limited weapons (all specified in
     detail). These units would be restricted to defending the borders
     from attack and "controlling illicit border crossings," and not
     permitted to travel in Kosovo apart from these functions.

     "Three years after the entry into force of this Agreement, an
     international meeting shall to be convened to determine a
     mechanisms for a final settlement for Kosovo." This paragraph has
     regularly been construed as calling for a referendum on
     independence, not mentioned.

     With regard to the rest of Yugoslavia, the terms for the
     occupation are set forth in Appendix B: Status of Multi-National
     Military Implementation Force. The crucial paragraph reads: 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. The remainder spells out the conditions that permit
     NATO forces and those they employ to act as they choose throughout
     the territory of the FRY, without obligation or concern for the
     laws of the country or the jurisdiction of its authorities, who
     are, however, required to follow NATO orders "on a priority basis
     and with all appropriate means." One provision states that "all
     NATO personnel shall respect the laws applicable in the FRY...,"
     but with a qualification to render it vacuous: "Without prejudice
     to their privileges and immunities under this Appendix, all NATO

     It has been speculated that the wording was designed so as to
     guarantee rejection. Perhaps so. It is hard to imagine that any
     country would consider such terms, except in the form of
     unconditional surrender.

     In the massive coverage of the war one will find little reference
     to the Agreement that is even close to accurate, notably the
     crucial article of Appendix B just quoted. The latter was,
     however, reported as soon as it had become irrelevant to
     democratic choice. On June 5, after the peace agreement of June 3,
     the New York Times reported that under the annex to the
     Rambouillet Agreement "a purely NATO force was to be given full
     permission to go anywhere it wanted in Yugoslavia, immune from any
     legal process," citing also the wording. Evidently, in the absence
     of clear and repeated explanation of the basic terms of the
     Rambouillet Agreement -- the official "peace process" -- it has
     been impossible for the public to gain any serious understanding
     of what was taking place, or to assess the accuracy of the
     preferred version of the Kosovo Accord.

     The second peace plan was presented in resolutions of the Serbian
     National Assembly on March 23. The Assembly rejected the demand
     for NATO military occupation, and called on the OSCE (Organization
     for Security and Cooperation in Europe) and the UN to facilitate a
     peaceful diplomatic settlement. It condemned the withdrawal of the
     OSCE Kosovo Verification Mission ordered by the United States on
     March 19 in preparation for the March 24 bombing. The resolutions
     called for negotiations leading "toward the reaching of a
     political agreement on a wide-ranging autonomy for Kosovo and
     Metohija [the official name for the province], with the securing
     of a full equality of all citizens and ethnic communities and with
     respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the
     Republic of Serbia and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia."
     Furthermore, though "The Serbian Parliament does not accept
     presence of foreign military troops in Kosovo and Metohija," The
     Serbian Parliament is ready to review the size and character of
     the international presence in Kosmet [Kosovo/Metohija] for
     carrying out the reached accord, immediately upon signing the
     political accord on the self-rule agreed and accepted by the
     representatives of all national communities living in Kosovo and

     The essentials of these decisions were reported on major wire
     services and therefore certainly known to every news room. Several
     database searchs have found scarce mention, none in the national
     press and major journals.

     The two peace plans of March 23 thus remain unknown to the general
     public, even the fact that there were two, not one. The standard
     line is that "Milosevic's refusal to accept...or even discuss an
     international peacekeeping plan [namely, the Rambouillet
     Agreement] was what started NATO bombing on March 24" (Craig
     Whitney, New York Times), one of the many articles deploring
     Serbian propaganda -- accurately no doubt, but with a few

     As to what the Serb National Assembly Resolutions meant, the
     answers are known with confidence by fanatics -- different
     answers, depending on which variety of fanatics they are. For
     others, there would have been a way to find out the answers: to
     explore the possibilities. But the enlightened states preferred
     not to pursue this option; rather, to bomb, with the anticipated

     Further steps in the diplomatic process, and their refraction in
     the doctrinal institutions, merit attention, but I will skip that
     here, turning to the Kosovo Accord of June 3. As might have been
     expected, it is a compromise between the two peace plans of March
     23. On paper at least, the U.S./NATO abandoned their major
     demands, cited above, which had led to Serbia's rejection of the
     ultimatum. Serbia in turn agreed to an "international security
     presence with substantial NATO participation [which] must be
     deployed under unified command and control...under U.N auspices."
     An addendum to the text stated "Russia's position [that] the
     Russian contingent will not be under NATO command and its
     relationship to the international presence will be governed by
     relevant additional agreements." There are no terms permitting
     access to the rest of the FYR for NATO or the "international
     security presence" generally. Political control of Kosovo is not
     to be in the hands of NATO but of the UN Security Council, which
     will establish "an interim administration of Kosovo." The
     withdrawal of Yugoslav forces is not specified in the detail of
     the Rambouillet Agreement, but is similar, though accelerated. The
     remainder is within the range of agreement of the two plans of
     March 23.

     The outcome suggests that diplomatic initiatives could have been
     pursued on March 23, averting a terrible human tragedy with
     consequences that will reverberate in Yugoslavia and elsewhere,
     and are in many respects quite ominous.

     To be sure, the current situation is not that of March 23. A Times
     headline the day of the Kosovo Accord captures it accurately:
     "Kosovo Problems Just Beginning." Among the "staggering problems"
     that lie ahead, Serge Schmemann observed, are the repatriation of
     the refugees "to the land of ashes and graves that was their
     home," and the "enormously costly challenge of rebuilding the
     devastated economies of Kosovo, the rest of Serbia and their
     neighbors." He quotes Balkans historian Susan Woodward of the
     Brookings Institution, who adds "that all the people we want to
     help us make a stable Kosovo have been destroyed by the effects of
     the bombings," leaving control in the hands of the KLA (Kosovo
     Liberation Army). The U.S. had strongly condemned the KLA as
     "without any question a terrorist group" when it began to carry
     out organized attacks in February 1998, actions that Washington
     condemned "very strongly" as "terrorist activities," probably
     giving a "green light" thereby to Milosevic for the severe
     repression that led to the Colombia-style violence before the
     bombings precipitated a sharp escalation.

     These "staggering problems" are new. They are "the effects of the
     bombings" and the vicious Serb reaction to them, though the
     problems that preceded the resort to violence by the enlightened
     states were daunting enough.

     Turning from facts to spin, headlines hailed the grand victory of
     the enlightened states and their leaders, who compelled Milosevic
     to "capitulate," to "say uncle," to accept a "NATO-led force," and
     to surrender "as close to unconditionally as anyone might have
     imagined," submitting to "a worse deal than the Rambouillet plan
     he rejected." Not exactly the story, but one that is far more
     useful than the facts. The only serious issue debated is whether
     this shows that air power alone can achieve highly moral purposes,
     or whether, as the critics allowed into the debate allege, the
     case still has not been proven. Turning to broader significance,
     Britain's "eminent military historian" John Keegan "sees the war
     as a victory not just for air power but for the `New World Order'
     that President Bush declared after the Gulf War," military expert
     Fred Kaplan reports. Keegan wrote that "If Milosevic really is a
     beaten man, all other would-be Milosevics around the world will
     have to reconsider their plans."

     The assessment is realistic, though not in the terms Keegan may
     have had in mind: rather, in the light of the actual goals and
     significance of the New World Order, as revealed by an important
     documentary record of the '90s that remains unreported, and a
     plethora of factual evidence that helps us understand the true
     meaning of the phrase "Milosevics around the world." Merely to
     keep to the Balkans region, the strictures do not hold of huge
     ethnic cleansing operations and terrible atrocities within NATO
     itself, under European jurisdiction and with decisive and mounting
     U.S. support, and not conducted in response to an attack by the
     world's most awesome military force and the imminent threat of
     invasion. These crimes are legitimate under the rules of the New
     World Order, perhaps even meritorious, as are atrocities elsewhere
     that conform to the perceived interests of the leaders of the
     enlightened states and are regularly implemented by them when
     necessary. These facts, not particularly obscure, reveal that in
     the "new internationalism...the brutal repression of whole ethnic
     groups" will not merely be "tolerated," but actively expedited --
     exactly as in the "old internationalism" of the Concert of Europe,
     the U.S. itself, and many other distinguished predecessors.

     While the facts and the spin differ sharply, one might argue that
     the media and commentators are realistic when they present the
     U.S./NATO version as if it were the facts. It will become The
     Facts as a simple consequence of the distribution of power and the
     willingness of articulate opinion to serve its needs. That is a
     regular phenomenon. Recent examples include the Paris Peace Treaty
     of January 1973 and the Esquipulas Accords of August 1987. In the
     former case, the U.S. was compelled to sign after the failure of
     the Christmas bombings to induce Hanoi to abandon the U.S.-Vietnam
     agreement of the preceding October. Kissinger and the White House
     at once announced quite lucidly that they would violate every
     significant element of the Treaty they were signing, presenting a
     different version which was adopted in reporting and commentary,
     so that when North Vietnam finally responded to serious U.S.
     violations of the accords, it became the incorrigible aggressor
     which had to be punished once again, as it was. The same
     tragedy/farce took place when the Central American Presidents
     reached the Esquipulas Accord (often called "the Arias plan") over
     strong U.S. opposition. Washington at once sharply escalated its
     wars in violation of the one "indispensable element" of the
     Accord, then proceeded to dismantle its other provisions by force,
     succeeding within a few months, and continuing to undermine every
     further diplomatic effort until its final victory. Washington's
     version of the Accord, which sharply deviated from it in crucial
     respects, became the accepted version. The outcome could therefore
     be heralded in headlines as a "Victory for U.S. Fair Play" with
     Americans "United in Joy" over the devastation and bloodshed,
     overcome with rapture "in a romantic age" (Anthony Lewis,
     headlines in New York Times, all reflecting the general euphoria
     over a mission accomplished).

     It is superfluous to review the aftermath in these and numerous
     similar cases. There is little reason to expect a different story
     to unfold in the present case -- with the usual and crucial
     proviso: If we let it.