On March 24, 1999, NATO began a massive bombing campaign against Yugoslavia in what was described as a “humanitarian intervention” to stop Belgrade’s oppression of the Albanian Kosovars. We opposed the NATO bombing campaign at the time because the catastrophic effects of the air war on Serbia, including violations of international law and civilian casualties, subverted the Clinton Administration’s declared humanitarian intentions. Furthermore, NATO chose to launch a war against a sovereign nation without seeking United Nations approval, thereby undermining the UN’s authority. Against the backdrop of Russia’s war in Chechnya, a flare-up of tensions between Taiwan and China, and President Clinton’s peace-talking mission to South Asia, Kosovo emerges as a key test case of international efforts to deal with internal conflicts and human rights abuses. Richard Falk, who recently traveled to Kosovo with a thirteen-member delegation of the Independent International Commission on Kosovo, offers the following report.
During my recent visit to Kosovo two strong impressions emerged. The first is that the curse of Serbian oppression has been definitively lifted from the majority-Albanian population. The NATO campaign achieved the removal of Yugoslav military forces from Kosovo and, even more significant, the departure of the dreaded Serbian paramilitary units and police. This should be acknowledged by critics of the US/NATO war strategy, among whom I include myself. In this regard, it is important to acknowledge that even the Rambouillet ultimatum to Serbian President Milosevic, which was the abandonment of diplomacy rather than a good-faith effort, would have left a Serbian military and police presence in Kosovo, keeping ethnic violence alive, from both the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) and the Serbian sides. That is not a vindication of the NATO bombing campaign, but it is a tangible benefit to the Kosovars.
The unexpectedly rapid return of the Kosovar Albanians who had fled Serbian terrorism during the war, and their undisguised gratitude for the NATO intervention, further confirm such an interpretation. The Albanians themselves completed the job of securing Kosovo for the Albanians, regrettably committing their own crimes against humanity along the way, by driving most of the Serbs out of the province altogether and forcing the rest into a few heavily guarded enclaves. Thus, the Serbs have themselves become victims of ethnic cleansing, which although on a far smaller scale than the Albanians experienced, is well on its way to establishing an ethnically pure Kosovo. What remains are small Roma, Turkish and Bosniak minorities herded into a few villages in the south, dependent on KFOR (NATO troops) for protection. The most contested of the Serbian enclaves, and by far the most significant, is the divided city of Mitrovica in the north, near the Serbian border. That process of reverse ethnic cleansing was not effectively challenged by KFOR or by the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK); nor could it have been avoided, given the passions unleashed by the massive Serbian atrocities during the seventy-eight days of bombing that drove out almost half of Kosovo’s 2 million people.
After decades of abuse, this de facto emergence of an Albanian Kosovo seems a reasonable outcome of the war, bringing relief to 90 percent of the Kosovar population, a result in accordance with the right of self-determination. The viability of this outcome depends, however, on whether a long-term international commitment to provide border security against the possibility of future Serbian aggression will be sustained.
There should be no illusions that an independent Kosovo will be a democratic entity that respects human rights. As matters now stand, it is likely to be directly or indirectly dominated by the KLA. Although its leaders have adopted the sort of rhetoric that wins the approval of the UN and the world media, its background, outlook and activities invite strong suspicions of widespread ties to a criminal underworld and political goals that embody the values of ethnic authoritarianism. Without a long-term UN border control linked to some partition arrangement neither ethnic community is likely to be safe for very long, given the vast reservoirs of unspent hatred on both sides.