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When Bad things happen in unimportant places.....

Sep 24, 2001 08:06 AM
by nos

Kosovo Peace Accord (Z, July '99) 
By Noam Chomsky

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 justice.

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 investigation 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 military 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 personnel...."

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 Metohija.

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

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 oversights.

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 consequences.

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

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

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

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.

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