NATOs Empty Victory: A Postmortem on the Balkan War

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The proposed Rambouillet accord would have superseded the October cease-fire agreement. The Rambouillet agreement provided for 1 the withdrawal of most Yugoslav military and paramilitary forces from Kosovo; 2 the restoration of Kosovo's political autonomy; 3 a three-year transition period, at the end of which there would be a referendum on Kosovo's future; 4 disarmament of the KLA; and 5 deployment of an armed NATO peacekeeping force in Kosovo.

After 18 days, the Rambouillet talks were at an impasse, with both Belgrade and the KLA refusing to sign the accord. The talks were thereupon adjourned for 19 days, until March 15, while the KLA emissaries returned to Kosovo for consultations with their leadership. The KLA representatives refused to sign because they did not receive an explicit guarantee that Kosovo would become independent at the end of the three-year transition period.

Washington and the West Europeans had agreed only to consider the results of the referendum in determining Kosovo's future status. When the Rambouillet meeting reconvened, the KLA, after considerable arm-twisting by the United States, signed the proffered accord. The Yugoslavians, however, held fast in their refusal to sign, and thereupon NATO made good on its threat to bomb Yugoslavia.

Rambouillet is a textbook example of how not to practice diplomacy. The U. At Rambouillet the United States did not play the role of an impartial mediator attempting to bring rival parties to an agreement. After all, in March Secretary Albright had pinned full responsibility for the unrest in Kosovo on the Belgrade government, notwithstanding that it usually requires two parties to cause an armed conflict.


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Albright and the rest of the Clinton team seem to have overlooked the fact that in Kosovo there was an ongoing insurgency mounted by the KLA. On the eve of the Rambouillet talks, Albright declared, "If the Serbs are the cause of the breakdown, we're determined to go forward with the NATO decision to carry out air strikes. Indeed, the United States was remarkably vague about the actions it would take against the KLA under those circumstances. That assertion hardly does justice to the facts. At Rambouillet the Yugoslavians were "negotiating" with a gun to their head.

Indeed, the United States and the West Europeans were not negotiating with Belgrade at all; Belgrade was presented with an ultimatum and given the choice of signing or being bombed. That was repeatedly underscored by administration officials, including Clinton and Albright.

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The administration's strategy of coercing Yugoslav acquiescence to Rambouillet was knocked off the tracks by the KLA's initial refusal to sign, which, as the New York Times reported, "flabbergasted" the Clinton team. After the Rambouillet impasse, the administration spent the better part of the recess in the talks cajoling the KLA to sign. In the end, of course, the KLA was persuaded to sign the accord, and Belgrade refused to do so.

The Yugoslavians refused to sign at Rambouillet for two reasons.

Policy Report

First, Belgrade correctly believed that the Rambouillet settlement disproportionately favored the KLA. Although the Rambouillet plan provided that Kosovo would nominally remain part of Yugoslavia for three years, Belgrade's actual control over the province would have been reduced to a nullity. Notwithstanding that the United States and NATO did not explicitly specify Kosovo's status at the end of the plan's three-year transition period, the KLA made it quite clear what would happen: either Kosovo would become independent or the KLA would resume the war. Indeed, even as they agreed to sign the Rambouillet accord, KLA leaders expressed their intent to ignore its disarmament provisions and to keep the KLA's military capabilities intact.

The Yugoslavians also refused to sign because they believed that the provision requiring them to accept the presence of NATO soldiers in Kosovo as peacekeepers infringed on their sovereignty. Indeed, an appendix to the Rambouillet agreement would have permitted NATO to deploy its forces not only in Kosovo but anywhere on Yugoslav territory. Belgrade hardly can be condemned for balking at the prospect of such a pervasive regime of military occupation. Few, if any, governments would willingly accept such onerous terms.

Specifically, Chapter 8, Annex B, Section 8 stated: NATO personnel shall enjoy, together with their vehicles, vessels, aircraft, and equipment, free and unrestricted passage and unimpeded access throughout the FRY [Federal Republic of Yugoslavia] 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 bombing campaign was based on serious miscalculations about its effect on the Serbs and on events on the ground in Kosovo.

The available evidence indicates that the Clinton foreign policy team, especially Secretary Albright, expected that the Rambouillet process would have one of two outcomes. In all likelihood, U. But if Belgrade refused to do so, it would quickly change its mind after NATO conducted a brief "demonstration" bombing of Yugoslavia. Indeed, many U.


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The reasoning was that by submitting to superior force Milosevic could resolve the Kosovo problem on NATO's terms without damaging his domestic political position. In reaching that conclusion, U. After all, according to the Clinton administration's misinterpretation of recent history in the Balkans, NATO air strikes on the Bosnian Serbs in had caused Belgrade to agree to the Dayton accords.

And, in October , the alliance's threat to bomb Yugoslavia apparently had persuaded Belgrade to agree to a ceasefire in Kosovo. The administration's reading of past events was flawed. In particular, Belgrade was brought to the negotiating table at Dayton, not by NATO air strikes, but by the Croatian army's devastatingly successful ground offensive in the summer of The comparison with Bosnia was flawed in three additional respects. First, Dayton was possible because the Bosnian Serbs had wearied of the war. There was no corresponding Yugoslav war weariness with respect to Kosovo.

Second, Belgrade and the Bosnian Serbs could accept the Dayton accords because they largely had achieved their key war aim of establishing a Serbian enclave in Bosnia. In Kosovo, prior to the bombing campaign, Belgrade had not achieved its key objectives. Finally, Washington did not understand that Kosovo was far more important to the Belgrade government, and the Serbian nation, than Bosnia and the Krajina. Hence Belgrade would fight for Kosovo. It is evident that, in framing its Kosovo policy, the Clinton team had only the most superficial understanding of the origins of the Kosovo crisis, the complexity of the dispute, and the nature of Serbian nationalism.

Blinkered by her obsession with viewing all international crises through the lens of the "s analogy," Secretary Albright most egregiously failed to understand the distinctive roots of the conflict in Kosovo. But action and resolve save lives.

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The mass expulsion of ethnic Albanians from the province, and the reports of widespread atrocities, did not occur until after NATO commenced its air campaign. Prior to March 24, , Belgrade was restrained from putting its plan into effect by the presence of European civilian monitors on the ground in Kosovo. Clearly, there was.

However, the operations of the Yugoslav army up to that point were directed at rooting out the Kosovo Liberation Army from its strongholds, not at expelling ethnic Albanians en masse from Kosovo. Moreover, they were attempting to flee the fighting between the KLA and the Yugoslav army and were not targets of deliberate ethnic cleansing. Indeed, the Clinton foreign policy team was explicitly warned by both the Pentagon and the U. But while they [the monitors] stay where they are, things are more or less O.

The administration was told by the intelligence community, and by its own diplomatic representative in Kosovo, William Walker, that withdrawal of the monitors would be taken by Belgrade as a green light to proceed to drive ethnic Albanians out of Kosovo.


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They still did not, however, engage in an ethnic cleansing campaign. According to most estimates, those weapons killed between 1, and 2, civilians, or roughly one civilian for every 10 tons of explosives detonated. In the Christmas bombing around Hanoi and Haiphong Harbor, for example, 20, tons of explosives killed 1, civilians. In fact, U.

NATO's Empty Victory: A Postmortem on the Balkan War by Ted Galen Carpenter

And we should take great pride in that. The administration made that claim notwithstanding that NATO military officers, in a rare moment of candor, finally admitted that the air campaign would not succeed in halting the ethnic cleansing in Kosovo. Contrary to NATO claims, it now is apparent that, in addition to Serbian actions, the bombing of Kosovo by the alliance was a major cause of the refugee outflow from that province.

Policymakers are responsible for the reasonably foreseeable consequences of their actions.

Account Options

The Clinton administration was told that expulsion of ethnic Albanians was the likely consequence of air strikes. It elected to go ahead anyway, notwithstanding that its air power strategy was neither intended to stop, nor capable of stopping, the expulsions once they began. The Clinton administration bears a major share of the culpability for the humanitarian tragedy in Kosovo. Belgrade pulled the trigger, but by withdrawing the monitors and initiating the air strikes, the Clinton administration handed the Serbian authorities the gun. More than , ethnic Albanians fled or were driven from Kosovo, and hundreds of thousands were internally displaced.

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Quoted in John M. At daybreak the slaughter began there. That day, in Pec, 22 miles to the northwest, and Prizren, 15 miles southeast, Serbian forces began firing wildly and burning Albanianowned shops. Meanwhile, in Pristina, about 44 miles to the northeast, Serbian operatives driving military jeeps and private cars set fire to Albanian-owned cafes, clinics and the printing presses of Kosova Sot, an independent Albanian newspaper. These were the opening assaults in what quickly became a drive to empty the city, the provincial and intellectual center of Kosovo.

Craig R. On the night of March 22, the KLA apparently was responsible for several bombings of bars in Pristina that killed at least one person and wounded eight. A1; and R. Apple Jr. His first-hand accounts probably were decisive in forcing NATO to retract its denials 1 of bombing a refugee column near Djavocika and 2 of bombing residential areas in several towns in Kosovo. Figures are based on dollars coverted into dollars by Layne.

But the bulk of economic losses resulted from the severing of transportation routes along the Danube River and over land through Yugoslavia, and the loss of the Yugoslavia market itself as a result of the war and sanctions that have yet to be lifted.

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