The Kosovo Peace Talks in crisis: Nato's New Lies

History repeats itself, wrote Karl Marx. First as tragedy, then as farce. After the most inept military campaign since the Crimean War, we are now treated to the spectacle of the most ridiculous diplomatic bungling in history.

"It was a fumbling war, probably unnecessary, largely futile, certainly extravagant, yet rich in unintended consequences"
(D. Thomson, Europe since Napoleon, on the Crimean War)

History repeats itself, wrote Karl Marx. First as tragedy, then as farce. After the most inept military campaign since the Crimean War, we are now treated to the spectacle of the most ridiculous diplomatic bungling in history.

From the beginning of this war we have consistently explained that NATO could not achieve its objectives by air power alone, and that, in the end, some kind of compromise would have to be stitched up, with the aid of Russia. Thus, on May 13 we wrote: "Faced with the threat of a bloody and protracted war, the US will be finally compelled to reach a compromise and sell it to world public opinion as best they can." (NATO looks for the nearest exit, p. 6) This is exactly what has happened. Of course, if we are to believe the press and television, NATO has won a famous victory. The Serbs have been defeated, and Milosevic is on the point of being overthrown by an angry people. However, a careful examination of the facts shows that any resemblance between this version of events and the truth is purely accidental.

The bombardment of Yugoslavia has inflicted terrible damage on the economy. But it has not succeeded in its principal aim: the destruction of the Yugoslav army. This is admitted by all serious observers. The Economist (5th June) commented: "Serbia's forces could not indefinitely go on absorbing punishment at the rate NATO has recently been meting it out, with up to 400 air attacks per day by bombers now sweeping in from Hungary and Turkey as well as from Nato bases in Italy. But nor, it appeared, have Serb forces been reduced to the ruined shell that would force Mr Milosevic to sue for a humiliating peace"

Propaganda is an arm of diplomacy, and diplomacy is an arm of war. The present barrage of propaganda was worked out a long time ago. Like all NATO's propaganda, it is designed to mislead public opinion as to the aims, strategy and conduct of the war, and to convince the public that everything is for the best in the best of all possible NATO worlds. NATO's original war aims were spelled out in the infamous Rambouillet agreement. As we have explained in previous documents, this amounted to the occupation, not of Kosovo, but of all Yugoslavia by NATO forces under the most humiliating terms. This aim has now had to be abandoned. There is no more talk of occupying Yugoslavia. The terms of the proposed settlement are limited exclusively to Kosovo.

As far as Kosovo is concerned, the new deal completely abandons the idea of a referendum in three years' time to decide the future status of the province. The sub-text of this agreement was the possibility of independence for Kosovo. Let us recall that only on this basis did the Americans manage to pressurise the KLA into signing up to the Rambouillet agreement. Now this offer is off the agenda, and the KLA is muttering darkly about a NATO sell-out of the Kosovars. This we also predicted. On May 1 we wrote: "The conclusion is inescapable. The Kosovars will have to be sacrificed. These, in any case, were always expendable from the standpoint of imperialism. Milosevic could offer a return to the kind of autonomy they had before 1989." (One month into the bombing campaign, p. 10)

What were the terms of the deal put together to end the war? Under the terms of the peace document agreed by the EU's envoy, Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, and Russia's Viktor Chernomyrdin, agreement should be reached on the following principles to move toward a resolution of the Kosovo crisis: Points one and two call for an "immediate and verifiable end of violence and repression in Kosovo." and a "verifiable withdrawal from Kosovo of all military, police and paramilitary forces according to a rapid timetable." However, the document allows for the presence in Kosovo for an unspecified number of Yugoslav troops.

Point three refers to the "deployment in Kosovo under UN auspices of effective international civil and security presences, acting as may be decided under Chapter VII of the Charter, capable of guaranteeing the achievement of common objectives." The force, which is clearly referred to as a UN force, although with substantial Nato participation, must be deployed under unified command and control, and authorised to establish a safe environment for all people in Kosovo and to facilitate the safe return to their homes of all displaced persons and refugees." And it specifically states that Russian troops will not be under NATO command:

"It is understood that Russia's position is that the Russian contingent will not be under Nato command and its relationship to the international presence will be governed by relevant additional agreements."

Point five calls for the "establishment of an interim administration for Kosovo, as part of the international civil presence, under which the people of Kosovo can enjoy a substantial autonomy within the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, to be decided by the Security Council of the United Nations." So that, while provision is made for Kosovar autonomy, it is also made clear that the province will remain part of Yugoslavia. No provision is made for a referendum in three years, or any other time. And point 9 specifically calls for "the demilitarisation of the KLA.." Point seven calls for the "safe and free return of all refugees and displaced persons under the supervision of the UNHCR and unimpeded access to Kosovo by humanitarian aid organisations."

The NATO propaganda machine constantly repeats the idea that the present deal could have been arrived at two months ago, thus saving many lives and avoiding the frightful devastation of Yugoslavia. This is another lie. The truth is that Belgrade already offered a deal long ago which envisaged a withdrawal of most of the Serbian army, the return of all refugees, autonomy for Kosovo and the presence of an international "peacekeeping" force. The offer was ignored by NATO, which was intent upon inflicting the maximum damage on the Yugoslav people. The prolongation of the bombing campaign has led to the most catastrophic results for Serbs and Kosovars alike. About one million Kosovars have been forced to leave their homes, partly by intimidation by Serb extremists, but in large measure from fear of the bombing which does not discriminate between the homes and workplaces of Serbs or Kosovars. Far from defending the Kosovars, NATO's war has reduced them to the most appalling misery and suffering--with no end in sight.

NATO moves the goalposts

All the talk about defeating the Serb army and "saving the Kosovars" was just so much hypocritical demagogy. So long as a ground war was ruled out, such a solution was impossible. Now, at the eleventh hour, Clinton and Blair are talking big about the commitment of ground troops--up to 150,000 on some estimates. But such rhetoric rings hollow. There is no stomach for a war on the ground, with its inevitable consequence of heavy casualties, anywhere--except maybe in Number Ten Downing Street. Having failed in its objectives, as we predicted, NATO was compelled to seek some kind of compromise. Hence the continuous too-ing and fro-ing of Chernomyrdin for the last few weeks. After what must have been quite difficult and complex negotiations, a deal was eventually worked out which Milosevic seemed prepared to accept.

But once the two sides were brought together in Macedonia, things rapidly began to unravel. Facing the Yugoslav officers was the British general Sir Michael Jackson. This was the first mistake. There was a time when British diplomacy was considered to be the best in the world. Not any more. Instead of trying to get the Serbs to sign as quietly and gracefully as possible, the British, in a blatant attempt to squeeze the maximum propaganda benefit from the occasion, deliberately set out to humiliate the Serbs and rub salt in an open wound.

When the talks started, the Serb officers got a shock. The terms that were put before them differed in important respects with what they had been led to expect. The TV cameras showed pictures of British soldiers carrying piles of maps under their arms, in order to tell the Serbs by which roads they must leave, or else be bombed. NATO's spokesmen made it clear that "there would be no negotiation." The Observer of June 6 published on its front page an article under the headline: "Humbled army gets marching orders." All that was expected of them was to sign and leave. This is the kind of thing one would expect a defeated army to be subjected to. But the Yugoslav army has not been defeated. It remains in place, dug in in Kosovo and preparing to repulse a ground war. Thus, the conduct of the NATO representatives was provocative in the extreme.

NATO produced old maps of Kosovo, showing the province divided up into five NATO zones, with no mention of the presence of Russian, or any other non-NATO forces. This was an explicit violation of the deal brokered by Chernomyrdin and sold to the Serbs. There was also the question of a buffer zone, outside Kosovo in Serbia proper. This had been mentioned in the original deal, but only in the vaguest way. There was no specification of the size of it. Yet NATO unilaterally wanted to impose a zone that extended 25 kilometres into Serb territory. Then what would be left of the sovereignty of Serbia?

Whereas the deal stated that some Serb troops would be allowed in Kosovo, this point was ignored, thus leaving the Kosovar Serbs, their homes and monuments, at the mercy of a revenge-seeking KLA. Instead of the ethnic cleansing of Albanians, there would be the ethnic cleansing of Serbs. Worse still, the whole thing was to be presented as an exclusively NATO affair, with no participation of the United Nations. That is: the Russians (and Chinese) were to be frozen out altogether. This was a blatant violation of both the letter and spirit of the agreement so painstakingly cobbled together by Chernomyrdin. In such a form it was acceptable neither to Serbia nor to Russia. Small wonder, then, that the talks broke down.

The obtuseness of "Bomber Blair"

NATO's diplomatic bungling has produced a no-win situation. The breakdown of the talks means a total impasse. NATO will not stop its bombing until the Yugoslav army withdraws from Kosovo. The Yugoslavs will not withdraw until the UN passes a resolution. There will be no UN resolution until Russia is satisfied. And Russia will not be satisfied until NATO first stops its bombing. Thus, we are back to the starting-point, having achieved nothing.

But the starting-point was that NATO cannot inflict a decisive defeat on Belgrade without first engaging in a ground war. Tony ("Bomber") Blair is all in favour of this. From his comments, and those of Cook and Robertson, issuing stern warnings even before the talks had begun not to expect too much, not to trust Milosevic, etc., one could be excused for believing that they actually want a ground war in Kosovo.

British foreign secretary Robin Cook told the BBC: "There can be no suggestion of us slipping in a compromise or accepting any retreat from the document they signed last week. They agreed to the withdrawal of all forces. We want them to proceed with the withdrawal of all forces." This kind of sabre-rattling stuff goes down well with the gutter press in London, but bears no relation to the real problems of war and diplomacy. As usual, the right reformist leaders, in trying to be more imperialist than the imperialists, only succeed in making themselves look ridiculous. All of which confirms the old Greek saying: "Those whom the gods wish to destroy, they first make mad."

Puffed up with his success in the polls, Tony Blair now seems to be suffering from a severe attack of megalomania. He evidently sees himself as a new Churchill, leading the Nation to Victory. Actually, this is putting it mildly. Mr. Blair sees himself as leader, not just of little Britain, but of the entire Western world. His insistent demand for more bombing, no compromise and ground troops in Kosovo have gone much further than the tepid statements of the man in the White House, who is showing a manifest lack of enthusiasm for the whole business, and whose most fervent desire is to get it all over as soon as possible.

The British press has spared no effort to cover up for Blair's blunders and stupidity. This is no accident. The British ruling class recognises in Mr. Blair their most reliable representative--at least for the moment. They will require his services in the future, and therefore do not want to expose him just yet. But despite all the sound and fury, this would-be Churchill has understood precisely nothing, and is rapidly becoming an embarrassment even to the Americans. A ground war in Kosovo would not be like D-day. It would be a nightmare for the British people, and an even bigger nightmare for the Americans, who would have to do most of the fighting--and take the bulk of the casualties. No wonder some people on the other side of the Atlantic are getting a bit fed up of Mr. Blair and his intolerable pretensions as a great war leader.

In a letter to a recent edition of the Economist, an American correspondent ridiculed the British Prime Minister's pretensions: "like other British politicians before him, Mr Blair nourishes notions of Britain being able to "fight above its weight". However, at the very least this requires that you be able to fight. Britain's diminished military capabilities, however, leave it unable to make more than a token contribution to the war effort.

"In economic terms, this policy produces a negative externality - Mr Blair gets the moral benefit but bears none of the costs. Just as the air war has been largely an American show, So would be a ground war. American troops would do most of the fighting, American taxpayers will pay most of the bills, and American soldiers will do most of the dying. In light of these unalterable facts, Mr Blair's hectoring is morally indefensible." (The Economist, June 5 1999)

At the end of the day, Britain's role in world affairs is negligible. All the main decisions are taken in Washington. And Congress has already served notice on the White House that it is not in favour of US troops fighting a European war. Thus, while one cannot be sure that the obtuseness of the leaders of Britain and America can land them in a ground war in Kosovo, this remains the least likely option. Even if they were to decide in favour of it (which is not likely, despite all the propaganda), it is already probably too late to achieve a sufficiently large build-up of troops before winter sets in. Moreover, the political repercussions would be incalculable. It would provoke revolutionary movements in countries like Greece and Italy, and eventually in the USA itself.

A confirmation of this is shown in a recent article in The Daily Express: "As the build-up of British and other NATO troops continued in Macedonia, plans for them to be joined by 2,200 US marines were scuppered by the Greek government," it explained, "Greece, an ally of Milosevic's homeland because of their shared Orthodox roots, said it feared that if it allowed the Marines to land, it would face anti-NATO protests from the public at a politically sensitive time--the eve of the European elections." (Daily Express, 7/6/99) An invasion of Yugoslavia--for that is what a ground war would mean--would transform the entire international situation in a way not seen since 1945. Even the most obtuse representatives of imperialism (with the exception of Tony Blair) can see that, and therefore, will move heaven and earth to avoid it.

What now?

The break-down of talks may or may not be long-lasting, but it is certainly not a trivial matter. The threat of a further intensification of the bombing--maybe even a ground war at the end--has set the alarm bells ringing in Paris and Bonn. The French and Germans, while publicly maintaining a show of unity with NATO, want to find a way out of this mess as quickly as possible. They have their own interests and agenda in the Balkans and Eastern Europe, which does not entail devastating Yugoslavia and antagonising Russia. They will be anxiously negotiating a new compromise with Russia.

In Russia itself, the events in Yugoslavia are causing turmoil. Having temporarily succeeded in defeating his enemies in the Duma, Boris Yeltsin was desperate to obtain two things--a deal in Kosovo and hard cash from the West. The two are inextricably linked. Clearly, Chernomyrdin put pressure on Milosevic to agree to a deal which, by denying NATO outright victory, offered him enough room for manoeuvre to sell it to the Serb parliament. But now all these carefully laid plans lay in ruins, after Sir Michael Jackson put his heavy army boot through them. Chernomyrdin and Yeltsin are not amused. The Russian generals still less so.

By its arrogance and heavy-handed stupidity, NATO has infuriated the Russians. The fall-out in Moscow is already considerable. There were doubts in the Duma (and still more in the barracks) even over the first deal. Many Russian officers considered it a sell-out of their "Serb brothers". Now Yeltsin will be in a far more difficult position to sell out a second time. His position remains extremely unstable. If he pushes his luck too far, he could even provoke a coup.

NATO has forced Moscow to come out in support of Belgrade. Russian foreign minister Ivanov commented angrily: "NATO is trying unilaterally to say that an international peacemaking force will be based on NATO forces, and have the right to use force. This is the UN Security Council's prerogative and we, the G8 foreign ministers, have come here specifically for working out the future Security Council resolution." He correctly pointed out that NATO had raised "the levels of its demands" during the weekend talks at Kumanovo."

In effect, NATO (that is, the Americans) do not want the Russians to control the situation. They want a free hand in Yugoslavia. They foolishly imagined that the murderous bombing campaign can allow them to establish a protectorate, not just over Yugoslavia, but over the Balkans in general. That is why they do not want the United Nations in control. They want to impose their own settlement before the UN has a chance to pass a resolution which may not be to their liking. The real intention here is to marginalise Russia and China, both of which, as members of the Security Council, have a right to veto.

NATO wants to squeeze Russia out altogether. There is no provision for any Russian-controlled zone in Kosovo. Instead NATO insists that any Russian troops will be under NATO control. This is a blatant provocation. Even Boris Nemtsov, the pro-Western "reformer" has stated on BBC television that Chernomyrdin, or any other Russian politician who agreed to place Russian soldiers under NATO command, would commit political suicide. There is no question of the Russians accepting such a proposal. From the very beginning the position was clear. Before setting out for talks in Belgrade on 2nd June, Mr Chernomyrdin said that "Nato will command the Nato force, Russia the Russian forces" in Kosovo. These words implied the possibility of the partition of Kosovo, something which Milosevic has long considered as a possible solution to the problem. This idea is being resisted by the West (at least for the moment) because it would provoke a violent reaction from the KLA. But in the long run, it may come about.

The obtuseness of the NATO spokesmen was shown by their insistence that their forces should be allowed to enter Kosovo under a NATO flag, as a typical Blair-Clinton "photo-opportunity". For such trivialities they were prepared to antagonise Russia and put the whole peace process in jeopardy! Particularly nauseating is the hypocritical and lying propaganda in the Western media, which tries to put the blame on the Serbs for the breakdown in the talks. They bluster about Milosevic's manoeuvres and "Serb trickery", when, in reality, it was NATO that resorted to trickery, trying to change the terms of the agreement, and thus precipitating the breakdown. They calculated that once the Serbs stopped fighting and started to withdraw, they would not be able to start again.

With Russia taking Serbia's side, the G8 foreign ministers held another meeting--without Russia. This underlines the disarray in the Western camp. The G8 meeting had already been postponed once because of the delay in the talks between NATO and Yugoslavia. What NATO wants is to bring Serbia to its knees as a warning to others who might wish to challenge its might in the future. But NATO's manoeuvre has failed. It will cause a wave of anger in Serbia and all over the Balkans. The people want peace and will not be happy at the sight of NATO bombers continuing to bomb Serbia back into the stone age. The cracks within NATO will start to widen. Probably, the British and Americans will be forced to drop their demands and sign an agreement more to the liking of the Russians and Serbs.

The US General, Brent Scowcroft (National Security Councillor under George Bush and military adviser to both Ford and Nixon) revealed this possibility in an interview he gave to the Italian newspaper, Corriere della Sera, published on 7th June. He pointed out that, "The Alliance (i.e. NATO) set off on this adventure, convinced that Milosevic would have quickly surrendered. Its strategy had already failed over a month ago, but in order to save its face it was forced to continue, up to the point of being on the verge of a break up with of each of its members having a different opinion. Milosevic and the Russians have played at, and continue to play at, the game of splitting the Alliance. If the war had continued we would have witnessed an official and total split in its ranks. That is why we have arrived at this so-called 'peace'." The same newspaper, as opposed to the British press, also pointed out that rather than a "victory" any agreement now would represent a compromise on both sides.

If a peace is signed, it will be implacably opposed by the hard-liners of the KLA. This will cause new and bloody contradictions. As the Economist commented: "If there is a breakthrough towards peace, the KLA will in any case become increasingly awkward for the West, as well as for the Serbs, to handle. Hashim Tashi, the young KLA man who is the declared prime minister of a provisional Kosovo government, instantly sniffed a sell-out when it emerged from the talks in Belgrade that Russian and western peacekeeping forces might occupy different zones of the province.

It is an open secret that the KLA have set up recruiting and training centres in the refugee camps in Albania where some 100,000 Kosovars eke out a miserable existence. Although the United Nations denies the presence of guerrillas in the camps, this is common knowledge to aid workers and other observers. For this reason, the Yugoslav army has been bombing these areas inside Albania in recent weeks. Having built up the KLA, the West will now have to live with the consequences.

No matter what is signed, the KLA will wage a terrorist campaign which can be a poisonous ulcer for years, adding to the instability not only of Kosovo but also of Albania, Macedonia and Montenegro. Again The Economist comments: "Albania's 3 million pre-war residents could be forgiven if they secretly fear that Kosovars will take over their country." The government of Albania has been reluctantly forced to back the KLA, but in reality is under the control of NATO and the Americans. Any attempt to disarm the KLA or limit its activities could cause civil war in Albania, leading to further breakdown and the possibility of the return of Berishaite reaction. Above all, the unresolved conflict in Kosovo can have disastrous results in Macedonia, where the uneasy relation between Slavs and Albanians have been seriously aggravated and, under certain conditions, could lead to the break-up of Macedonia. This is precisely the scenario which the West has been desperate to avoid, since it can plunge the whole of the Balkans into war.

Despite all the propaganda, NATO's Kosovo adventure has been an expensive disaster. Its main war aims have not been achieved. It has caused a serious rift within the ranks of Nato itself, and aggravated the crisis in Russia. The problem of Kosovo has not been resolved and the Balkans are more unstable now than they were before the war started. The devastation of Yugoslavia is very poor compensation for all this. And to make things worse, Milosevic remains firmly in power. If he is removed in the future, it will not be by American bombs or NATO's intrigues, but by the movement of the masses in Serbia itself. As for the cost of the war, this has already reached the figure of at least three billion pounds, and will continue to rise as the costs of reconstruction will have to be met by the West.

As always, it is the working class which will pick up the bill for the crimes of imperialism. There will never be peace or stability in the Balkans until the working people take power into their own hands and carry out the socialist transformation of society.

Alan Woods
London, 8th June 1999

PS: As we publish this article, talks have been re-started and the UN is drafting a resolution.