Tuesday, February 23, 1999
A panel of experts on Eastern Europe and the Balkans discuss the crisis in Kosovo and the difficulties inherent in effective international action. The panel included Thomas Buergenthal, Hyman Bookbinder, James Anderson, Janusz Bugajski, James Hooper, and John Lampe.
Thomas Buergenthal: Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. I would like, first of all, to welcome you to the Museum and to this program on Kosovo: Obstacles and Options. My name is Thomas Buergenthal. I’m the chairman of the Committee on Conscience of the Holocaust Memorial Council. This program, as you know, is sponsored by the Committee on Conscience. The council of the Museum is the governing body of the Museum, and the Committee on Conscience is one of its principal standing committees.
In providing for the establishment of the Committee on Conscience, the President’s Commission on the Holocaust and the United States Congress gave the Committee on Conscience the mandate, “To alert the national conscience, influence policymakers, and stimulate worldwide action to confront and work to halt acts of genocide and related crimes against humanity.” Through the Committee on Conscience, the council seeks to relate the suffering of the Holocaust to contemporary genocide and crimes against humanity. For who better than the victims of the Holocaust and those charged in their name or the administration of this Museum to speak out against these horrendous crimes?
An internal bond will forever link today’s and tomorrow’s victims of these crimes to the victims of the Holocaust. To remain silent in the face of such crimes is to betray the memory of those whose memory we honor in this Museum. That is why the Committee on Conscience is here, and that is why we are here tonight.
The Committee on Conscience is composed of Museum council members, as well as a group of distinguished Americans from different walks of life who share with us a commitment to prevent, punish, and eradicate genocide and crimes against humanity.
In addition to our activist mandate, which requires us to speak out against policies and activities determined by us to constitute genocide and crimes against humanity, we have recently also begun to hold meetings and conferences to educate the members of the Committee on Conscience and the public at large about contemporary issues and events that may in one way or another bear on our mandate. Kosovo is certainly that, and that is why we decided to hold tonight’s meeting.
We have gathered a distinguished panel of experts under the chairmanship of Mr. Hyman Bookbinder, who deserves full credit and appreciation for convening and organizing tonight’s conference. Mr. Bookbinder moreover was one of the founding members of the Committee on Conscience and one of a very small number of individuals to whose perseverance and commitment we owe the existence and the mandate of the Committee on Conscience. I won’t introduce him further. You have the bios for tonight’s panelists in front of you, but I do want to say that throughout his long and distinguished career, Hyman Bookbinder has been in the forefront of the struggle for civil rights and human rights in the United States and abroad. Mr. Bookbinder?
Hyman Bookbinder: Tom, I appreciate the fact that you read that exactly the way I wrote it. Welcome, all of you, and it’s good to see so many of you here. We sensed that this subject would be of great importance. We couldn’t have sensed that we picked a date that was so right on target.
Following some brief comments I will be making now, my only role will be that of timekeeper and organizer of the discussion. But I do want to say at least the following. All day today, like many of you I’m sure, I was glued to CNN and the radio hoping that there would be an announcement of a real breakthrough in the Kosovo negotiations. As you know, because I’m sure you’re just as anxious to follow this as I am, today did not bring that kind of announcement that we could be celebrating this evening.
There will be at least a two-week delay now, and hopefully that will be the last delay that is found necessary. But whatever happens today or two weeks from now, whatever happens in the weeks ahead on the Kosovo situation as such, the meeting that we have this evening, the discussion that we will soon be participating in, would still be necessary, because the basic issues that are reflected in the Kosovo situation will continue to challenge us.
How do Kosovo-type crises develop? Do ethnic conflicts have to lead to ugly violence, to massacres, to genocidal atrocities? What are the appropriate and acceptable roles for the United Nations, for NATO, and for other multinational bodies? And, of course, what is the appropriate and acceptable role for the United States? No matter how the immediate Kosovo challenge is resolved, these greater questions will inevitably surface again and again in the days and years ahead.
As Tom Buergenthal has already told you, this evening’s program is sponsored by the Committee on Conscience. The story of this Committee is itself a reflection of the complications and the difficulties we face in defining a credible effort to eliminate or at least reduce the threat of new genocides or other major crimes against humanity.
It was easy enough for us 18 years ago, with the Carter Commission, to pronounce the concept of a Committee on Conscience, to scream out every time there’s a threat. But it isn’t as easy as screaming out, is to define an appropriate role for a body like ours, which is quasi-public, quasi-private, but we’re trying to do it and under Tom’s leadership I think we will be defining that role and making a useful contribution.
During the very weeks about four or five years ago when we were finalizing our Committee on Conscience, we were forcefully reminded of how difficult and sensitive our task would be. During the very weeks that we were finalizing our plans for the Committee, our government was involved in bitter debate over whether the Rwanda horrors should be labeled as “genocide.” We were trying to define “genocide” as our guidance, and we were, as I say, forcefully reminded of how difficult it was for the government as a whole to make that judgment. But we weren’t concerned about that difficulty and we spoke out on Rwanda as we had spoken out earlier on the Bosnia crisis.
The current debate -- finally, I want to make this comment -- over Kosovo has prompted in our country a frequent expression of what has become a cliché. That cliché is that the United States cannot be involved in every conflict around the world. Of course not. But the realistic truth that we cannot be involved in every conflict must not rule out prudent, responsible involvement in situations where the American interest is well served and where such involvement could contribute to world order and respect for basic human rights, which takes us to this evening’s program.
Even as we do not hesitate to express our indignation, our horror, over the cruel Kosovo violence we saw on our TV screens last year, and read about, even as late as this morning, new atrocities being reported, we are challenged to understand better the situation in Kosovo to focus on possible long-term solutions and options for, and obstacles to, effective international action. To do this, we have brought together four outstanding scholars and experts. Because their expertise is so extensive and their bios so impressive, we could take the rest of this evening just reciting their credentials. So, we will not do that.
Instead, we have prepared, as I hope all of you have helped yourself to, short biographical sketches of these backgrounds with a summary paragraph or two. If you failed to pick it up, on your way out there will be more copies on the table. Each panelist will make a 10-minute presentation.
Without further introductions from me, you will be hearing in turn from John Lampe, the chair and professor at the University of Maryland and senior consultant to the East European Studies at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Dr. Lampe has been asked to provide the historical background of the current situation.
Then we will be hearing in turn James Anderson of the Heritage Foundation; Janusz Bugajski -- my accents are terrible -- of the Center for Strategic and International Studies; and from James Hooper, the executive director of the Balkan Action Counsel.
Professor Lampe, will you please lead off.
John Lampe: History and Kosovo, or Kosova as the Albanians would say it, history and Kosovo -- high time for a no-exit strategy. Impending American commitment to the fate of this small territory stretching barely 100 miles in any direction, this faraway place of which we know so little, confronts us with an apparent dilemma.
On one horn of that dilemma is anxiety over an American exit strategy. Air strikes offer an easy, automatic exit but by themselves fail to provide any clear path to a political solution. The peace plan presented to both sides by the contact group does over a least bad path, feasible of course only if the United States joins the NATO stabilization force on the ground for a commitment stretching at least three years into the future. No easy exit there. And one that Henry Kissinger suggests in The Washington Post of February 22nd that we best resist by not entering. I respectfully disagree.
On the larger horn of the dilemma, which resolves differently for me than for Dr. Kissinger, rests two interests that override when combined: our national interest in a NATO alliance that stands for security across all of Europe; and our humanitarian responsibility for the civilian population of Kosovo, primarily the Albanian majority that has so far suffered the great majority of disposition and death but also a beleaguered Serbian minority.
Their forced exodus – their forced exodus under any circumstances -- would try to make a right out of two wrongs. If we generally know too little about Kosovo, or Kosova, what can its history tell us to encourage what I call, and call for, a no-exit strategy for the entire multi-ethnic population of the province.
That history has of course been used by both sides to de-legitimize the current presence of the other. But I would argue that the best historical evidence takes us in another direction.
That evidence directs us to two portentous conclusions: (1) For at least the past 500 years, both Serbs and Albanians ethnically differed in speaking two totally unrelated languages, but they had both inhabited this territory, albeit in varying proportions within political borders that, unlike Bosnia, were typically not the present ones established in 1945; and (2) the population movement in and out of the province, particularly for the past 100 years, has been considerable and primarily the result of external pressure that has prompted the official internal regime, whether Serbian and Albanian hands, to use that power against the other side.
For the larger part of the 20th century, the Serbian side has used and abused that advantage, but there have been significant periods of Kosovar Albanian dominance and abuse. The result, according to one American scholar, has been a never-ending cycle of status reversal. I’m arguing that it’s high time to put an end to such reversals.
Only a NATO-enforced period of internal stabilization will allow the province’s civilian population the freedom from external pressure that has cost them so dearly over the past century. But let me start some centuries earlier with a Serbian and Albanian population already in place in Kosovo, as does the recent book I most recommend -- not my own -- Miranda Vickers’ Between Serb and Albanian: A History of Kosovo. That’s out in a paperback, published this last year.
By the 13th century, Kosovo’s limited amount of arable land was settled fully, not densely, by Serbs primarily. Their autocephalous or independent Christian Orthodox Church had begun to honeycomb the territory with the churches and monasteries that would market as Serbian more than any institution of the mid-evil Serbian state.
The migration of Albanians stock herding uplanders into Kosovo may have begun with the Ottoman conquest of mid-evil Serbia by the 15th century, and maybe before, but rather than becoming agents of Ottoman control, the Kosovar Albanians spent the empire’s first 200 years struggling against Ottoman efforts to subdue them, as well as to Islamasize them.
Now, later on, in 1690, again in 1737, failed Austrian Hapsburg incursions into the Ottoman Balkans prompted tens of thousands of Serb Orthodox families -- the number is disputed -- to migrate north with the retreating Austrian forces, the bulk of the Serbian population shifting north. We may speak of an Albanian majority in Kosovo by the first half of the 19th century at the latest, a majority not lost at any time since then. We may not, however, speak of serious local conflict beyond bandit raids and family disputes between Serbs and Albanians, as such, across this long period.
A far less promising picture emerges from the two subsequent time periods that demand review before we jump to present-day conclusions -- 1878 to 1968 and then 1968 to the present.
But first, in 1878 the modern Serbian state won its full independence from the Ottoman Empire and received sovereignty over new southern territory, the so-called Nis Triangle adjoining Kosovo -- the forced migration of perhaps 50,000 Albanians or other Muslims from the Triangle or elsewhere into these two Ottoman vilayets, as they were called, that contained Kosovo. This coincided with the ascension of a new Ottoman sultan, Abdul Hamid II.
Now, he, in response to Ottoman defeat at Russian hands that had cost the Empire several Balkan territories, first turned his irregular [indecipherable] troops loose in Kosovo against local Serbs and then continued less violent pressures through local Albanians that pushed a disputed number of Serbs into Serbia by the year 1912. Was it 60,000? Up to 150,000? Maybe some were attracted by Serbia in any case.
Then Serbia’s 1912 victory over the Ottoman Empire in the first Balkan war liberated the one- quarter of Kosovo’s population that were Serbs but subjected the Albanian majority to the depredations, including perhaps 20,000 deaths, of which the renown Carnegie Commission reports showed, in fact, all the parties to that Balkan war to be guilty.
After some limited Albanian reprisals in the Austrian-occupied portion later in World War I, Serbian troops returned in 1918 to begin a struggle for full control of the territory with quite repressive tactics that continued against rebel “kaçaks” (bands), until the Serbs finally won in 1924. The rebel movement, however, moved back and forth across an uncertain border with the new state of Albania. This helped to prolong the struggle, the start of something we’ve seen more recently.
The rest of the inter-war period, however, sees the Belgrade government maintaining police control over the territory and bringing two waves of Serb colonists, totaling at least 60,000 persons, in from elsewhere in the new Yugoslav Kingdom. Albanian political representation and educational advances are repressed and, not surprising, some 25,000 Kosovar Albanians leave for Albania or Turkey. Those remaining, still over 60 percent of the population in the late 1930s, were threatened with a much larger transfer to Turkey as World War II approached and killed off the transfer.
But Italian, then German occupation, 1941 to 1944, gave the upper, official hand back to an Albania side, now united with occupied Albania. Kosovar Albanian collaborators -- if you’d want to call them that, and some wouldn’t -- destroyed houses, burned churches, murdered enough colonist families to force 10,000 more families of Serbs to flee at the start of the war -- colonists almost entirely. And then under German officers in the SS Skunderveg division, another 10,000 families fled near the end.
When Tito’s communists tried to mobilize surviving Kosovar Albanians to join them and their small communist party in Kosovo that was dominated by Serbs to pursue retreating Germans northward in 1944, there was resistance and revolt from the Kosovar Albanians to the communist partisans. This spread from the very Drenica that has again become a center of conflict.
To help consolidate control, Tito first barred and then delayed the return of those inter-war Serb colonists, many of whom in any case had been on the wrong, or Chetnik, side during World War II up to the Tito/Stalin split in 1948. Perhaps 25,000 at the most -- this is a wildly exaggerated number in some Serbian accounts – were allowed to cross back into Kosovo from Albania.
The estrangement of Albania that went with the Yugoslav split from the Soviet Bloc brought an end to any rebalancing of inter-war inequities in Kosovo. Security forces led by interior Minister Alexander Rankovic pushed Serbs back into most official positions, made any Kosovar Albanian assertion of political or economic rights punishable by arrest, disappearance, or death with no legal recourse.
Culturally, in the Tito regime the notion that these Albanians -- were they really Turks? – were allowed instruction in the Turkish language, in addition to Serb or Croatian, in public schools. Then under an agreement with Ankara and in the wake of the regime and campaign -- the Rankovic campaign – to confiscate all remaining weapons – and that’s always plenty in Kosovo -- nearly 200,000 Kosovar Albanians emigrated to Turkey in the mid-1950s.
Still, despite a further influx of Serbs for some new economic positions, their share of the population’s province in 1958 was only 25 percent. The descent of that Serbian share to its present 6, 8 percent -- we’re not sure, but it’s under 10 – began with the fall of Rankovic and the communist concessions of 1968-69 but gave the problems real autonomy from the Republic of Serbia.
Autonomy included a parliament that could pass laws, an independent court system, rights for Albanian language instruction, and a new university following in short order – as did the less fortunate arrival of schoolbooks, and even instructors from Albania. They introduced the Tosk, or southern, version of their language rather than the northern Gheg version familiar to Kosovars and also familiar to Serbs.
Albanians from elsewhere in Yugoslavia began returning to Kosovo but also there began this exodus of Serbs that totaled 100,000 from, say, 1970 to the mid-1980s. Why was that? Murder, rape, attacks from the Albanian side? Well, the province is poor, there was poor use of its investment and a resulting decline in living standards compared to the rest of Yugoslavia. This combined with informal Albanian harassment that involved livestock and tombstones rather than rapes and murders. These together seem to be the best explanation. There was real psychological pressure felt, however.
It’s not that the Albanian prospects were much more promising. Their high birth rate helped to swamp the Serbs but also added to an overcrowding of arable land that was already Yugoslavia’s highest per capita per acre by 1960. By 1980, perhaps half a million Kosovar Albanians were working outside of Yugoslavia.
Urban unemployment and poor facilities triggered the 1981 riot of Kosovar Albanian university students in Pristina that took some 30,000 Yugoslav army troops to put it down. Some Serbs were assaulted as rumors and riots spread, and some 300 Kosovar Albanian students and others were killed in the end.
Enter the Milosevic regime in Serbia from 1987 to the present day: its origins in nationalist rhetoric over Kosovo, its apparent success by 1990 in dissolving the parliament’s province, and its taking control to the exclusion of local Albanians of the media, education, the health system. This is well known. The legal, judicial, banking systems followed.
The Albanian response under the leadership of Ibrahim Rugova and his Democratic League of Kosovo has been admirable but ineffective -- whether in its appeal for Western support or in its refusal to vote in the 1996 election that have could have put Milosevic out of office. But the appeal of the KLA, founded in 1995 as a small irredentist movement among several emerging at the time talking about guerilla tactics and relying on immigrant support outside and terrorist tactics inside the province, remained minimal until 1998.
And a final thought. Serbian policy since then, since early 1988, bears some final historical comparison to the British experience in Northern Ireland. Imagine the effect if, in response to IRA sabotage and assassinations that one could rightly call a terrorist acts, the British army had moved into Londonderry or some other town or towns to round up and execute any adult males left around and at the same time loot and then burn most of the houses. What prospects would we have for peace in Northern Ireland 80 years after the troubles began?
But, my last thought -- if we cannot trust the present Serbian security forces to behave any better than they did last year, we also cannot be encouraged by the KLA’s practices to date and its reliance on the external people returning or coming for the first time that have been the bane of Kosovo’s past hundred years. Does anyone believe that their military leadership would leave a single Serb enough security to remain in Kosovo if they are given full charge now? No.
The civilians of both sides in the province deserve a better or least bad fate at long last. Both would, I believe, welcome the NATO presence that would offer their children some chance for a future in Kosovo, or in Kosova.
James Anderson: Good evening, and thank you for the opportunity to share some thoughts tonight on the issue of Kosovo and the crisis there. Let me start by discussing some of the obstacles to effective international action. I will then try to describe some of the pitfalls of the proposed NATO intervention, and finally I will outline perhaps what I believe to be a better approach to the Kosovo crisis.
First, the main obstacles to effective international action thus far. Obviously, one of those has to be Milosevic’s intransigence, his recalcitrance. This gentleman has a lot of blood on his hands, and he has demonstrated an almost limitless capacity to sacrifice the interests of his own people to ensure his political survival. I’m not at all suggesting that if somehow he were ousted today the problems in the Balkans would magically disappear, but it would certainly remove one of the primary causes of Balkan instability.
Number two, Milosevic’s recalcitrance has been matched by Europe’s inability to handle conflict in its own backyard. This has led to the formation of this awkward six-member contact group, which includes Russia. The inclusion of Russia, which has historical sympathies with the Serbs, has diluted the threat of force in recent months. Milosevic can be pardoned in a narrow sense for not taking NATO threats seriously.
The US-brokered peace agreement, or cease- fire agreement last fall, called for the deployment of 1200 armed observers in Kosovo under the auspices of the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe, the OSCE. For all its good intentions, though, the OSCE is a toothless organization.
Small wonder we hear reports today that these observers are being harassed by Serbian authorities. Expecting the OSCE to secure peace in Kosovo is a little bit like asking a Cub Scout troop to secure peace in the inner city between rival gangs. It’s fair to say, I think, that Kosovo, as Bosnia before it, shows that decisive European action on security problems remains, at the very least, highly problematic.
A third problem here has been the Clinton administration’s lack of clarity regarding its objectives and its strategy in this region. For example, the Clinton administration is justifying its proposed deployment of US troops upward of 4,000 in NATO on the grounds that this is necessary to contain further violence in the region.
Containment is certainly a worthy goal. Nobody wants to see Balkan violence spread to neighboring countries. But remember this -- that was also a large part of the rationale that was used to justify us going into Bosnia more than three and a half years ago. I’m suggesting here that it may not be the case that US troops are necessary on the ground to serve the interests of containment.
Number four, the peace agreement under consideration now is, I think, flawed in some important respects. Among other things, the agreement calls for the disarming of the Kosovo Liberation Army. I happen to believe that objective is neither realistic nor perhaps even desirable. Even more significantly, the agreement under consideration now is flawed because it attempts to paper over what appear to be very irreconcilable differences.
Left uncorrected, these four problems combined will no doubt plague the next round of peace talks and also cause problems for any enforcement of a peace agreement.
Let me spend some time now on the intervention option because this is certainly something that NATO will revisit in the coming weeks. I think that committing US ground troops to a NATO deployment in the aftermath of an interim agreement would in fact be a mistake for several reasons.
First, consider the cost. The costs would be high even if there isn’t a single American or NATO casualty. There’s a cost involved in committing US ground troops further to the Balkans. This cost is that these troops will not be available elsewhere in the world to protect and defend vital national security interests.
It is somewhat ironic that the Clinton administration is proposing this additional deployment at the very moment when there’s widespread agreement that US military forces are now at their breaking point in terms of readiness. This will also tie up further diplomatic resources regarding a problem that is perhaps in excess, especially when we consider that there are other humanitarian crises around the globe.
Another cost is NATO’s transformation from what was a defensive military alliance into what is fast becoming what appears to be a constabulary Balkan police force. If Balkan intervention – I argue that it should not be considered a rationale to justify NATO’s existence if that is, in fact, a case, then maybe, just maybe it’s time to rethink NATO’s raison d’etre as a defense of military alliance.
In assessing Kosovo and Kosovo-like crises, it’s always important to listen to the country and regional specialists, as we just did. We should be grateful for their expertise and their knowledge for the importance of knowing the history and the local culture is self-evident.
But in deciding whether to place US troops in harm’s way, the task of the statesmen or stateswomen is to place the crisis in a larger comparative context. And when one does this to Kosovo, that poor, landlocked province the size of Connecticut, in a larger comparative context, it becomes clear that this terrain is not a US vital security interest. As evident, for example, by the fact that few Washington policymakers could even place Kosovo on the map until recent months.
Let me be specific in comparative terms. Kosovo is not the Persian Gulf. Kosovo is not the Korean Peninsula, the Taiwan Straits, or a dozen other chunks of real estate that are crucial to our political, military, and economic livelihood as a nation. Moreover, there are many threats to our security that are more important than Balkan instability.
Let me be specific again – for example, the proliferation chemical -- biological and nuclear weapons; the threat of missile attack, whether it’s authorized, unauthorized, or accidental; the threat of North Korean or Iraqi aggression. Our ability to respond and deter these threats and the resources we devote to them will be undermined to the extent we keep engaging costly open-ended peacekeeping assignments that appear to lack strategic purpose.
Now, this is not to assert that the United States has no humanitarian concerns in the Balkans. Obviously we do. Any time there’s the killing of innocent men, women, and children, this is a concern to us, and it is a measure of our humanity that we in the West take these issues seriously.
With that said, any assessment of these humanitarian concerns must be tempered by two realities: Kosovo is not a US vital security interest; and deploying troops in Kosovo will undermine our ability to protect our vital interests elsewhere in the world, interests which, by the way, also serve large humanitarian purposes.
Before committing US troops to the Balkans, the administration should be asking itself some very basic questions. Is it willing to see NATO transform itself into a permanent Balkan police force? How long are we willing to stay in Kosovo? We’ve been in Bosnia three and a half years with no end in sight. How many billions of dollars are we willing to pay in Kosovo? In Bosnia we have spent nearly $12 billion. What are the dangers of escalation? Will Americans be caught in a deadly crossfire? And what happens if public opinion, which appears largely indifferent to this point, goes sour?
I submit to you that the Clinton administration has failed to adequately address these questions. At least with Bosnia, there was a semblance of a national debate before that commitment of US troops. Not so, or at least not yet, with a prospect of intervening in Kosovo.
What should be done in the long term? I’ve sketched out the potential costs and risks of US military intervention in Kosovo. Let me put forth in an alternative consideration. This strategy I think should be built on three pillars.
One of the most important things we can do in conjunction with our allies is to help develop a focused political strategy designed to cultivate the opposition, political opposition, to Milosevic and his reign. Among other things, this should make clear the planning for a post-Milosevic regime, the lifting of sanctions, and also having Yugoslavia rejoin at the appropriate time the family of civilized nations once a new leadership emerges that is more democratic and respects the rule of law. In the long run, also, I think the US and its allies ought to re-think its reluctance to recognize the prospects of Kosovo becoming formally independent.
Serbia, in effect, has already lost Kosovo in demographic terms. Of course the former recognition of Kosovo’s independent status will take time – time for international opinion to shift, time for Belgrade to adjust to this reality, and time to extract agreements from the ethnic-Albanians, ensuring that their new state will respect the rights of Serb minorities and all the historical sights.
Thirdly, in terms of the strategy, I think there are important considerations about the future -- and not only for Kosovo but elsewhere in Europe peacekeeping operations. I think that with respect to Kosovo there probably will be a NATO intervention. I think the United States should at least try to shape it to serve its interests as well, and, again, I do not think the United States should commit ground troops to this operation. That said, the United States can certainly assist its allies by providing any number of other means of support -- for example, communications or intelligence assets, perhaps even logistics assets as well.
In considering the alliance relations between the United States and our European allies, I think what’s needed is a broader sense of maturity. Now, that may seem odd given the fact that NATO is celebrating its 50-year anniversary this April, but what’s needed is maturity to recognize that US troops on the ground are not always necessary for the United States to exercise leadership, and yet the alliance will not crumble if in fact our European allies bear the onus of the manpower for peacekeeping operations.
Having sketched out what I believe to be some of the impediments and also the pitfalls of intervention and an alternative strategy, let me close with one final note about the risks of putting US ground troops in Kosovo. It is, I think, significant that there has been no public outcry in this country for intervention. Indeed, reaction from the American public outside the Beltway has generally ranged from skepticism to apathy.
I’m not suggesting at all that our policies should be pull-driven; leaders must lead. But at the very least, the American public’s apparent indifference -- now, despite the heavy media coverage – should give our policymakers cause, and I submit to you that perhaps -- just perhaps – the American people in their own way intuitively understand what pro-interventionists do not, that the problems in Kosovo, as tragic as they are, do not now justify the risk or the expense of committing US ground troops to yet another open ended Balkan commitment.
Janusz Bugajski: Good evening. I suppose you can call me the interventionist. I’ll try to be brief. Thank you, by the way, for inviting me to the Holocaust Museum for this important panel discussion on what I think has become a burning issue not just in the Balkans, but for the credibility of European security for the future of the Atlantic alliance.
A viable solution, as you know, to the conflict between Serbs and Albanians has evaded both the protagonists and the international community for nearly a decade.
The diametrically opposed positions of the two parties --with Belgrade adamant about the territorial integrity of Serbia and the Albanian leadership and the Albanian population unwilling to backtrack on demands for independence -- has presented a major challenge for NATO policymakers and international mediators.
I won’t go too much into the history, I think John did a very good job on the recent history. Let me just summarize it. I think the past year has been absolutely critical not only in internationalizing the Kosovo question but actually this confluence of simmering disputes has actually come to the fore as a result of several factors: first of all, the frustrations of the Albanian population with what had become virtually a police state.
Secondly, there is one theory that Milosevic wanted to provoke some kind of a conflict. He thrives on crises so he created a new one.
Thirdly, the guerilla uprising led by the KLA, the Kosovo Liberation Army, and Milosevic’s evident desperation to keep the remnants of Yugoslavia together.
This year has become even more decisive, and I think at the beginning of the year the international community was faced with basically four options: non-intervention, and we know what that would mean -- continuing slaughter; humanitarian engagement, which would have made us bystanders as we were in Bosnia to continuing slaughter; limited military involvement, in other words, bombing -- bombing doesn’t achieve very much and this one has a political objective; or, a fourth option, which I think was really the basis of the Rambouillet process, which was a full-scale military operation.
It became clear, I think, to policymakers that such a prolonged military intervention accompanied by the recognition of Kosovo’s interim status as an autonomous entity and, in effect, an international protectorate, would ensure any prospect of peace and stability -- only the long-term deployment of NATO troops, in terms of NATO’s newly emerging mandate.
We have moved beyond the Cold War. Whether we like it or not, NATO is Europe’s policeman or will be Europe’s policeman. Only this could provide, I think, security for civilians and allow for the implementation of any lasting political solution, and this was the objective of Rambouillet, who’s outcome, as we know, is still unclear.
In the longer term, however, I would argue that regardless of the success or failure of the current Kosovo police process, NATO must eventually deal with the central facts of instability in the Balkans, and that is the unstable remnants of Yugoslavia, which are controlled by Milosevic and what has become, in effect, a political mafia apparatus.
Four basic questions I think need to be addressed about the future of Milosevic’s Yugoslavia. First of all, can this unstable state survive with Milosevic in power? Evidently, this only appears possible through the application of massive and prolonged force; the maintenance of a virtual police state within Serbia itself; and under sustained international pressure and support as we have witnessed because of Milosevic’s peace-making role, so to speak, in Bosnia.
The populations of both Kosovo and, increasingly, Montenegro are dissatisfied with the existing Yugoslav federation. Montenegro is the second republic which seems to be also moving toward statehood. While the former has already opted for independence, the latter has embarked on the part of statehood. It’s waiting for its chance.
The second question is can Yugoslavia survive without Milosevic in power? The sources seem doubtful, especially if the only viable alternatives are either more avid nationalism, as displayed by this [indecipherable] Albanian or Montenegro aspirations in a multi-ethnic federal framework.
Third question: Can there be democratization in Kosovo without either democratization in Serbia or Kosovo’s detachment from Serbia and the current Yugoslavia? This seems to me highly unlikely, as Belgrade will continue to block the process of Kosovo’s democratization, and both sides will remain fixated on questions of sovereignty and ethnicity instead of the essential necessary political and institutional reforms.
Without a massive campaign of extermination or expulsion against the Albanian population, something that I would not discount with Milosevic in power, Serbs would be in the minority in their own state by the year 2020, and the demographic time bomb will become that much more explosive. It is in Serbia’s national interest, I believe, to let Kosova go and then adjust the historical and political explanations.
Fourth, can there be democratization in Serbia without either democratization in Kosova or authentic self-determination for this entity? Again, the chances for such a scenario appear to be bleak. The unresolved question will obstruct the necessity of institution building, democratic development, and the replacement of the corrupt political elite in Belgrade.
The only viable solution is independence for Kosovo, as well as for Montenegro and Serbia. Only such a step can the three sides focus on their own internal revolution and venture into national integration without destabilizing into ethnic and regional distractions.
Without independence for Kosovo, whether directly or through this interim accord, implemented and monitored by NATO, the scenario remains grim -- a prolonged guerilla war, escalating state terrorism, and massive civilian suffering.
Paradoxically, I believe, Kosovo’s detachment from Serbia could actually unleash potentially more constructive forces in Serbian politics, because it is the absence of Kosovo statehood at this point that is destabilizing the region by providing opportunities for militant gunmen and criminal organizations to prosper. Furthermore, Milosevic manipulates the Albanian question to help maintain his grip on power and to stifle any democratic political movements in Yugoslavia itself.
Several steps, I believe, need to be taken by NATO -- I’ll finish on this; I’ve shortened it somewhat -- several steps, I think, need to be taken by NATO leaders if Kosova and its neighborhood are to be stabilized. First, if the Rambouillet agreement is finally signed on or before the 15th of March, a rigid timetable must be established.
This interim protectorate needs to evolve, I believe from autonomy to sovereignty, particularly if Serbia itself remains under control of the current regime. Referendum or not, during the next three years, Kosova can establish all the elements and qualifications for statehood. The OSCE can supervise and oversee the creation of a new Kosova administration in a much more resolute manner, I believe, than they did in the early days in Bosnia.
The Pristina government will of course have to renounce any territorial claims to Macedonia, Serbia, and Montenegro; sign treaties with its three Slavic neighbors; and commit itself to democratic pluralism, the protection of minorities, the rule of law, and eventually European integration. I think the long-term presence of OSCE monitors under a NATO umbrella, under a NATO umbrella with an American presence -- without that I don’t think agreement is viable -- would help ensure Prishtina’s compliance with democratic norms.
Second, I believe NATO would need to supervise the security situation within Kosova, much like in Bosnia, and I think in some respects this task would prove easier once the Yugoslav military and Serbian special police are scaled down and removed. For instance, NATO ground troops would not have to patrol three entity lines, as the vast majority of Kosova’s population is committed to the integrity of Kosova. At the same time, the Kosova Liberation Army, must be transformed into Kosova Security Force under international supervision in which they will perform policing and military functions upon the full withdrawal of the Yugoslav and Serb units from the territory, still under a NATO protectorate.
Third, Kosova, Albania, Macedonia, and Montenegro should be encouraged to formalize a multilateral regional treaty that guarantees new borders, promotes free movement, trade, and all forms of interstate cooperation. Montenegro itself, I believe, needs to obtain more prominent recognition and protection as a sovereign state. In fact, in recent days the government in Podgorica says, adamantly underscored, that it will not allow its territory to be used by the Yugoslav army in case of any conflicts with NATO forces, indicating that if Podgorica, Montenegro itself, had some form of international protection, they too would oppose Milosevic’s policies much more forcefully.
Fourth, the international community needs to make a firmer commitment to Macedonia and to Albania in ensuring their territorial integrity and domestic development. In Macedonia, a multi-ethnic policy must be promoted with expanded rights for the Albanian population that would dissipate demands for separation. Indeed this is happening under the new agreement between Albania and Macedonians. Albania itself, I believe, must be rebuilt as a secure, law-abiding state while eliminating gunrunners, smugglers, and other criminal organizations.
Let me finish on this. I think the ongoing crisis in Kosova has a destabilizing effect throughout the Balkan region. It might be not in our vital national security interests, but it’s certainly in our national interests and the vital security interests of our allies in Europe that this be resolved. While the worst-case scenario is a spreading war, a more likely scenario is what I call insipid destabilization, characterized by deepening political instability, economic retardation, a freeze in foreign investment, and the growth of elicit business and international criminal networks. This will further estrange the Balkans from the European process, and the trans-Atlantic structures will face mounting costs and a permanent security headache for Europe.
James Hooper: I’d like to thank, first of all, the Committee on Conscience -- Tom, Mr. Bookbinder. Among all the committees in this town, I think there are no committees, few committees, whose message is more needed than the message that this committee tries to address and tries to project and I thank you for the invitation. There is no more appropriate setting to reflect on Kosovo and the policy issues involving Kosovo and the Balkans than at the Holocaust Museum.
The decision by the Kosovo Albanian delegation today to sign the three-year interim self-government agreement after two weeks, pending consultations with their own people, has narrowly averted a policy disaster. Indeed, it came very close to being a policy nightmare. Failure of the conference at Rambouillet would have left the US with no policy for dealing with a crisis that would likely spill over to neighboring countries and lead to a broader regional conflict, possibly drawing in two of our NATO allies if left untended. It would have left NATO with no direction for dealing with the rising tempo of violence in Kosovo in the past few days that may well signal the advent of a new Serbian offensive.
The sequence beginning with Rambouillet was supposed to be this: Albanian acceptance of the three-year interim self- government offer; imposition of the agreement on Belgrade through NATO air strikes if necessary; and insertion of NATO ground troops to enforce the political settlement in Kosovo.
That process is moving forward, thanks to the heroic efforts of Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who has done all of the heavy lifting for this administration on Kosovo while managing a virtual 12-ring circus involving Russia, France, Britain, NATO, the OSCE, Serbia, the Kosovars, the Congress, and the media. Nonetheless, it is fair to ask what went wrong and what can be changed over the next two weeks to move this across the finish line, as policymakers like to say.
Apart from Secretary Albright’s own impressive rescue efforts, in my view, it was amateur hour at Rambouillet. First, US diplomats assumed that they had the Kosovo Albanians in their pocket so hardly bothered to engage them in serious negotiations.
The Albanians received the draft text of the political agreement, constitution, and a series of annexes not including the crucial security annex, early in the process and dutifully provided written responses. But they received no feedback from the conference organizers and by the second week had almost nothing left to do. US negotiators ignored critical opportunities to elicit the real concerns of the Albanian delegation. In effect, the first week was almost a waste of time.
Second, the conference organizers let the 29-year-old Kosovo Liberation Army political director, named Hashim Thaqi be seated as the chairman of the delegation, in effect condoning a military coup against the civilian moderates. Then, after 12 days, we handed him the security annex to the agreement that called for the KLA to disarm and disband. This was a practical as well logical inconsistency that empowered the KLA and disturbed it.
Third, there was no NATO presence at Rambouillet as a result of demands by the French, who remain outside NATO’s integrated military command structure that Washington acquiesced in. The Albanian delegation invited NATO supreme commander General Wesley Clark to Rambouillet on the second day. That invitation was ignored. It was never passed on. He never came to Rambouillet, nor did anyone else representing NATO.
General Clark, however, was brought into the talks only yesterday in a last-minute gambit of desperation, and even that involved a meeting at a secret offsite location with five KLA members who were driven there from the conference site at Rambouillet. Washington let traditional French trans-Atlantic jousting intrude on the more serious business at Rambouillet.
Yet NATO’s effective ground presence and the credibility of its threat of air strikes are crucial to Kosovo Albanian attitudes toward the agreement. Secretary-General Solano and General Clark should have been there at the beginning to establish the NATO presence and build relationships of trust and confidence with the delegations.
Fourth, the biggest policy mistake at the conference was the failure by the contact group to accept the KLA as a permanent feature of the geopolitical landscape in the Balkans. The contact group attempted to use the conference to seek the KLA’s agreement to go out of business. It was treated as a paramilitary force on par with the Serbian paramilitaries slotted for disbanding rather than as a standing army on par with the Serbian army, which was allowed to retain 2500 troops in Kosovo indefinitely. The desire of the KLA leaders to retain their organization intact in some form and the unwillingness of the conferees to accommodate them was, in my view, the single greatest cause of the KLA’s reluctance to accept the final signature on that agreement today.
Fifth, it would be inappropriate to ignore the letter made public yesterday from UN War Crimes Tribunal president Gabrielle Kirk McDonald to the French and British co-chairs of the peace conference. In it, she expressed concern about the dilution of the war crimes provisions of the draft agreement in terms of not obtaining Belgrade’s acknowledgment that the jurisdiction of the tribunal applies to Serbia. This was not an issue of concern at the conference, but it certainly should have been.
What to do next. Before we discuss that, let’s remember how we got to where we are today in Kosovo. Everything that has happened -- everything -- in the past year is the result of the failure of the United States to stand behind the Christmas warning, which was a threat conveyed by President Bush and reaffirmed in December of 1992 and reaffirmed by the Clinton administration a couple of months later when they came into office. It was conveyed to Mr. Milosevic that the US would respond militarily to any Serbian crackdown against the ethnic-Albanians.
Now, in February -- almost exactly a year ago in late February of 1998, Mr. Milosevic sent his forces in to attack several villages in central Kosovo. After these attacks, in which these villages were pulverized, he stopped, waited, and watched for Washington’s reaction. What he got was several rhetorical salvos and nothing else, and then he began to steadily escalate the conflict.
By failing to intervene early, we have through inaction contributed to a worsening of the situation on the ground and the undermining of NATO’s credibility. Our inaction has also raised the most serious questions about Washington’s resolve to deal with the toughest post-Cold War security problems in Europe.
As I have said, what should we do next? First, we must accept that the Balkans are, in fact, a region of strategic interest for the United States. They are the new Berlin, if you will, the testing ground for NATO’s resolve in US leadership. Milosevic has been very successfully dividing the United States from the European allies and the allies amongst themselves. The administration should level with the American people that we are likely to be in the Balkans militarily indefinitely or at least until he is replaced by a democratic government.
Second, we need to recognize that over the past eight years, the Europeans have consistently failed to solve Balkan problems. Whether they are in their front yard, back yard, side yard, whatever, they are incapable of dealing with the security problems in the Balkans even with the backup support of the United States. They lack the will and cohesion to act on their own.
Third, we need to use NATO air power now against the massive Serbian buildup forces on the border with Kosovo. This will demonstrate NATO’s success as a shield for the Kosovars against the Serbs and thereby have a positive impact on their debate that will be underway for the next two weeks over the agreement in Kosovo. Failure to act will doom the chances for its success.
Fourth, the KLA needs to be accepted as a permanent armed force and brought above ground reduced in size to about 2,000 or so members, put under NATO control, and channeled in constructive pursuits. The KLA needs to be vetted of its extremist wing so that it may become a pillar of support for the moderate civilian political leaders and the democratic procedures that are envisaged in the agreement. At present the KLA has shown little effectiveness as a military force but promised to become an effective secret police.
Fifth, the notion of an interim period of self-government for Kosovo is constructive, in my view, with independence on the table but not automatically given. The Kosovo Albanians should have to earn their independence by taking risks for peace, implementing the democratic procedures called for in the agreement, and by becoming a stabilizing force in southeastern Europe. The last thing we need is another Balkan police state with designs on its neighbors.
Finally, here in this very special building and this community, dedicated to preserving the memory of the victims of the Holocaust and the lesson that the failure of early intervention does indeed have consequences. I make a plea to keep alive the belief in American power, purpose, and resolve. We in this community, this city, and this country are the inheritors of the living legacy established at Normandy in 1944 and Berlin in 1948. Madeleine Albright, who understands the discipline and responsibilities of leadership is, in my view, in a tight spot now. She could use some support.