Mother Jones

The War NATO Wanted


To justify their assault on Serbia, the United States and its obedient NATO
allies claimed they had no choice. As the official story goes, Slobodan
Milosevic (suddenly the reincarnation of Hitler who has the power to make
all other citizens of Yugoslavia invisible to the Clinton administration)
refused to negotiate and rejected the Rambouillet peace agreement.
Therefore, there was nothing else to do but bomb Yugoslavia.

This preposterous lie is only one among countless others. In reality,
Belgrade never refused to negotiate. Rambouillet was never about
negotiations. It was about presenting the Serbs with an ultimatum precisely
designed to provide the pretext for NATO bombing. Rambouillet was a tragic
farce, a low point in the history of diplomacy, in which the United States
had to coax and cajole a band of well-armed criminals into signing the
death warrant of their adversary, the legitimate government of Yugoslavia.

The Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) is scarcely the sort of outfit one might
expect to see invited to a famous French chateau to decide on the future of
war and peace in Europe. The connection between KLA gunmen and the ethnic
Albanians who dominate the heroin traffic through the Balkans from Turkey
to Switzerland and Germany has been widely reported. As for ideology,
violent ethnic Albanian irredentism has switched opportunistically from
fascism during World War II, to "Marxism-Leninism" in the days of Albanian
dictator Enver Hoxha, to today's enthusiasm for NATO. The constant factor
is hatred of Serbs in particular and Slavs in general.

The rise of the KLA was a challenge to the leadership of the ethnic
Albanian nationalists' nonviolent leadership, headed by Ibrahim Rugova. The
killing of Serbs in Kosovo began in April 1996, thanks to the arms glut
caused by the total collapse of law and order in Albania. Not only Yugoslav
police but also ethnic Albanians branded as "traitors" were targeted. Last
summer, by posing for news photographers with a KLA officer, Richard
Holbrooke publicly signaled that the United States was dropping Rugova in
favor of the KLA. The process was completed at Rambouillet with the Feb. 6
arrival of the official ethnic Albanian delegation of 16 members, five of
them from the KLA. Rugova and the older generation of leaders were suddenly
shoved onto the sidelines, as an unknown, 29-year-old KLA chieftain named
Hashim "The Snake" Thaqi was introduced to the world as the leader of the

The KLA's irresistible rise was nurtured notably by Morton Abramowitz, a
prominent member of the U.S. foreign policy elite. Abramowitz served as
ambassador to Thailand when the CIA's Bangkok bureau was perpetrating the
"yellow rain" hoax that accused Vietnamese victims of U.S. chemical warfare
of using chemical agents in Laos. In 1986, as assistant secretary of state
in charge of intelligence and research in the Reagan administration,
Abramowitz and top CIA officials accompanied Sen. Orrin Hatch to Beijing to
work out a deal with China and Pakistan for providing Stinger missiles to
Islamic Afghan rebels.

He then passed, quite naturally, to the presidency of the Carnegie
Endowment for International Peace. Under the Clinton administration, he has
participated in a blue-ribbon panel on CIA reform--selected by the Council
on Foreign Relations--which recommended easing restrictions on covert
actions. More recently, Abramowitz has been a leading figure in the
high-level International Crisis Group, a leading designer of policy toward
Kosovo. There, he became an advocate of arming the KLA. At Rambouillet,
Abramowitz and another U.S. official, Paul Williams, led a team coaching
the KLA delegation.

Even so, at Rambouillet, 'The Snake" bit the hand that fed him and refused
to sign the document. To the fury and dismay of Secretary of State
Madeleine Albright, it was not the Serbs but the Albanian KLA that balked,
depriving the United States of its pretext to launch a NATO war against the
Serbs. Rambouillet was adjourned. Former Sen. Bob Dole, recipient of
generous campaign contributions from the Albanian-American lobby during his
political career, was dispatched to the Balkans to urge the Albanians to
sign the treaty--not to make peace, but to "maintain pressure" on the
Serbs. KLA leaders were bribed with a promise of a "visit to Washington to
discuss matters of interest," notably the future of the KLA--veiled
language meaning that the United States would not insist on disarming the
KLA, but would find some formula for transforming what U.S. envoy Robert
Gelbard had described as a "terrorist" group into "liberated" Kosovo's
police force.

So it was that the Serbs and the Kosovar Albanians were summoned back to
Paris to sign, as is, an agreement that in effect would detach Kosovo from
Serbia and put it under the joint control of NATO and whichever ethnic
Albanians NATO chose--apparently, the KLA. There were no negotiations.
Instead, Serbia's Milan Milutinovic and his (multi-ethnic) delegation were
presented with an ultimatum: Either accept the "peace agreement" concocted
by Christopher Hill (Holbrooke's second at Dayton who is now posted as U.S.
ambassador to Macedonia) allowing NATO to take over Kosovo, or else be
bombed. This ultimatum in itself was a violation of international law,
which invalidates agreements obtained by the threat or use of force,
according to the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties.

And the terms were totally unacceptable. Kosovo's "self-government" was to
be run by a NATO official, with the title of Chief of the Implementation
Mission, or CIM. The CIM would have the final say over virtually everything
and everybody. Kosovo would be occupied by a NATO force called KFOR. No
ceiling was placed on the size of KFOR forces, which would have full
control of airspace over Kosovo, be immune to prosecution or liability
under local law, and have free access to the rest of Yugoslavia--a license
to invade the rest of the country on one pretext or another. The agreement
called for withdrawal of Serbian police and armed forces, but the fate of
"other forces" (no mention of the KLA, which thus escaped any commitment or
obligations) would be decided later by the KFOR commander.

Not only Milosevic, but any Serbian opposition party, was bound to reject
such terms. And yet compromise was not impossible. The Yugoslavs were ready
to make huge concessions, but not to welcome NATO. NATO was the sticking
point. A U.N. peacekeeping force might well have been acceptable. However,
the Clinton administration insisted on NATO or nothing.

The rise of the KLA, backed by the United States and Germany (German
intelligence reportedly played an important role in equipping the rebels),
made it extremely dangerous for any more moderate ethnic Albanian leaders
to negotiate with the Serbs. The KLA repeatedly announced what would happen
to such "traitors." By backing the KLA, the United States weakened the more
moderate forces on both sides.

On December 21, 1998, the State Department released information from the
Kosovo Diplomatic Observer Mission that "the KLA harass or kidnap anyone
who comes to the police," and that "representatives threatened to kill
villagers and burn their homes if they did not join the KLA." It added that
KLA harassment has reached such intensity that residents of six villages in
the Stimlje region are "ready to flee."

Kosovo's ethnic Albanian civilians have been trapped between devastating
NATO bombing raids, KLA thugs and Serbian police. That refugees would flee
from Kosovo in all directions (including northward into central Serbia, a
fact ignored by Western media) is scarcely surprising. Yet NATO exploited
the resulting misery and confusion on the borders to justify the very
bombing that triggered the exodus. The suffering of the refugees is genuine
and poignant. The interpretations by Western officials and media are not to
be trusted. (After Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, the United States "ethnically
cleansed" the West Coast of Japanese Americans, although Japan did not
announce that it was bombing the U.S. on behalf of armed Japanese-American

Various compromise proposals have been made from the Serb side over the
years. They have been totally ignored by Western governments and media,
which have claimed to be in favor of "restoring Kosovo's autonomy" and
opposed to secession. This double language has been interpreted by both
sides as veiled support for the Albanian irredentism. Confident of Western
backing, Albanian nationalist leaders have held out for independence rather
than any form of living together with the Serbs in Serbia. Partition has
been dogmatically ruled out by the United States on the "domino-theory"
grounds that it would destabilize Macedonia. NATO bombing has done that
already. U.S. and NATO meddling so far have produced all of the disasters
they promised to prevent, and a few more. NATO is not waging peace. It is
waging war and must be stopped.

Diana Johnstone is a contributing editor of In These Times.

For more Kosovo coverage from Diana Johnstone, check out MoJo wire's Kosovo
forum at


Back to texts' page
Back to index page

This page has been visited times.