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NATO’s Invasion of Kosovo & Apologetics for State Violence


Z Sustainer: In an interview on Irish television (RTS News “On the Iraq War and Rendition Flights”, January 19, 2006) you were asked some questions about NATO’s “humanitarian intervention” in Kosovo. The interviewer quoted the executive summary of the OSCE report KOSOVO – As Seen, As Told concluding that the Serbian forces’ “intent to apply mass killing as an instrument of terror, coercion or punishment against Kosovo Albanians was already in evidence in 1998”. You responded “They didn’t say that. What they said is that they had contingency plans to carry out atrocities if they were under attack”. I haven’t been able to find any mention of “contingency plans” in this report.

Noam Chomsky: Hard for me to remember exactly what was said in an interview 3 months ago, particularly one like this, which was mostly a tirade in which I was barely able to get a word in edgewise. However, what you cite — "intent to apply mass killing" — is a contingency plan, in that context: intent under certain circumstances, if they arise. That wasn’t in question. It would have been unnecessary to add, redundantly, that the intent if those circumstances arise was formalized in a contingency plan. That’s taken for granted. If the US and UK "intended" to invade Iraq, they had "contingency plans" to do so. That seems elementary. And note that after the period you are referring to, there was a tentative settlement, which more or less held until it was broken by the KLA guerrillas, and was maintained, in fact, until NATO announced the intention to bomb and withdrew the monitors and the KLA escalated its attacks (the OSCE reported)

When I wrote about this at the time and since, I mentioned that obviously the Serbs had contingency plans, as every sane person knew. The US has contingency plans to invade Canada. Israel has contingency plans to expel Palestinians, and few sane people doubt that they would carry them out if under attack. That&undefined;s what military planners do for a living.

The OSCE (and other Western) records are reviewed in some detail in my book A New Generation Draws the Line. I don&undefined;t know of any other detailed review. Later, I also reviewed the British Parliamentary Inquiry, which reached the remarkable conclusion that up to January 1999, most of the atrocities — ugly, but at a low level, by international standards — were committed by KLA guerrillas attacking Serb targets in the hope of eliciting a harsh response, and we know from OSCE and other sources that nothing substantial changed from then until the announcement of the bombing. The OSCE records describe an upsurge in KLA attacks when the monitors withdrawn were withdrawn in preparation for bombing (March 20). In that book I reviewed the kind of material selected from the OSCE report by the Irish TV announcer, but also reviewed the material that would have been selected by his exact counterpart in Belgrade, and the full conclusions. You can check and see.

There are a few serious scholarly studies by supporters of the bombing, which I&undefined;ve cited, in particular Nicholas Wheeler&undefined;s. Unlike almost everyone, he reports the timing of atrocities accurately. He draws the astonishing conclusion that of the 2000 killed in the year up to the bombing, 500 were killed by Serbs. That&undefined;s even more extreme than the British Parliamentary Inquiry. You can find citations in my Hegemony or Survival.

Z Sustainer: In the interview you also talk about “the entire Western documentation”. Is there any mention of “contingency plans” or any suggestion that the atrocities committed against the Kosovo Albanians were the product of the Serbs’ implementation of “contingency plans” that were only set in motion because the Serbs “were under attack” in these documents? Or anything that amounts to same thing (in other words)? Your interpretation seems reasonable, but is there anything that suggests that the documentation (or NATO or the political leadership) interpreted the events the same way?

Noam Chomsky: That’s constant, throughout, including the phrase you quote from the interview. Throughout, the record reviews possible "intent" — that is, contingency plans. After the bombing, with the anticipated atrocities, it was commonly argued that the Serbs were going to carry them out anyway, so that the US and its allies are not responsible for the atrocities which, they anticipated, would result from the bombing. There was one explicit discussion of contingency plans (instead of just "intent," which is about the same thing, under the assumption of sanity). After the bombing elicited the anticipated atrocities, there was a leak of an alleged contingency plan — Operation Horseshoe — which was brought forth to show that the atrocities would have taken place anyway. Nato commander General Clark was asked about this, and said he had never heard of it. Even if true, it’s irrelevant anyway, since it was not "known" before the bombing was undertaken, and therefore couldn&undefined;t have been a motive. The "Operation" was soon exposed as a probable intelligence fabrication. You can find details in my book. However, after exposure, and despite the transparent irrelevancy even if true, it continues to be evoked as a justification for the atrocities that were the anticipated consequence of the bombing.

As to NATO interpretation, in the same book I reviewed the official story. Once the standard inversion of the historical record is corrected (the timing of the bombing and the anticipated atrocities), the US official justification reduces to preserving "the credibility of NATO," which of course means "credibility of the US." For the meaning of "credibility," ask your favourite Mafia Don.

We know have a more authoritative source, however. From the highest level of the Clinton administration: Strobe Talbott, now director of the Brookings Institution, who was the lead American negotiator and director of a joint National Security Council-Pentagon-State Department task force on diplomacy during the bombing. Talbott wrote the foreword to a recent book on the war by his director of communications, John Norris. In it, Talbott writes that thanks to Norris’s book, anyone interested in the war in Kosovo “will know…how events looked and felt at the time to those of us who were involved” in the war. That sounds fairly authoritative. Presenting the position of the Clinton administration, Norris writes that “it was Yugoslavia’s resistance to the broader trends of political and economic reform – not the plight of Kosovar Albanians – that best explains NATO’s war.” That had been surmised, but is now confirmed from a very high level.

Z Sustainer: Another Kosovo question. In a review of your book The New Military Humanism: Lessons from Kosovo Adrian Hastings writes the following: “Doubtless without intervention there would not have been hundreds of thousands of Kosovars fleeing the country within weeks, but there were already – as Chomsky admits – several hundred thousand internal refugees and an extensive policy of torching Albanian homes. There is no reason to think that this would not have continued and grown worse. The refugees were bound to abandon the country in ever-increasing numbers with no likelihood of return and the permanent destabilisation of neighbouring states. A Kosovo left in the hands of Miloševic would have continued in a state of bitter conflict unless it became one in which over a number of months the majority of Albanians were ethnically cleansed. The growing flow of Albanian refugees all across Europe would have been as big a problem as that of Bosnians had been a few years earlier. Chomsky repeatedly claims that the bombing ‘failed’ in that it greatly escalated the refugee flow; but its failure in that regard was only temporary. It in fact ensured the rapid return of the refugees, undoubtedly to miserable conditions but not to worse conditions than they had experienced in the months before the bombing, and essentially to a situation which would improve rather than indefinitely deteriorate.”

Noam Chomsky: The word "admit" gives the game away. There’s no "admission," any more than there is an "admission" that the KLA committed atrocities. Rather, I reviewed the record prior to the bombing. The book that infuriated him said virtually nothing about the decision to bomb; it was about a different topic, as the title indicates. But in my next book, when the record was available from impeccable Western sources, I did review it, infuriating the Hastings of the world even more.

Z Sustainer: 1. How would you respond to this kind of “it had to get bad before it could get better” argument? 2. Is the argument sensible if we make the assumption that diplomacy was not – and could not ever be – an option (just like our leaders)?

Noam Chomsky: I rarely bother to respond to vulgar apologetics for state violence. We can put aside Hasting’s surmises, which have no interest or credibility. What we do know is that there had been a steady low level of violence, with some surges and declines, and that nothing special happening up to the bombing, apart from the KLA escalation right before the bombing, reported by the OSCE. We also know that according to the British parliamentary inquiry, most of the violence (as noted) was provoked by the KLA guerrillas seeking (as they openly said) to provoke a harsh response that they could use to elicit Western intervention, and that the bombing was undertaken with the clear anticipation that it would lead to an escalation of atrocities, as it did. This much was already clear from the Milosevic indictment, relying on US-British intelligence: with one exception, the charges were after the bombing — which also elicited the first refugee flow out of the country sufficient for the UNHCR to begin issuing reports. Hasting also knows — but would never say — that there were two diplomatic options on the table at the time when NATO bombed, a NATO proposal and a Serb proposal, and that after 78 days of bombing, a compromise was formally reached between them, ending the war (I add "formally" because NATO instantly violated it, as he also knows). That at least suggests that peaceful means were still available, had NATO (meaning the US and UK) not been intent on military action — for reasons that are now conceded publicly. Of course, if we adopt the North Korean stand and worship our Dear Leaders without question, then there were no diplomatic options.

To see how depraved such arguments are, consider a comparable one. Suppose that the relative military strength of Iran and Israel were the same as that of NATO and Serbia. Suppose that an Iranian Hastings were to advocate bombing of Israel, knowing that it would lead to an escalation of atrocities against Palestinians and probably expulsion of Palestinians, but saying that it doesn’t matter because after Israel was forced to capitulate after heavy bombing the Palestinians could return. How would we react? How is this different?

It is also worth adding that the hypocrisy of the pretense of concern for the fate of the Kosovar Albanians is so colossal that it takes a really well indoctrinated educated class to suppress it. To mention only the obvious (discussed in New Military Humanism, but scrupulously ignored by outraged reviewers), at the very same time, the US and UK were not only tolerating comparable or worse atrocities, but were actively participating in escalating them — including a major case that was not "at the borders of NATO," as the Hastings and others like him lamented, but right within NATO. To "overlook" all this and shed tears for the victims of the crimes of others takes a really impressive level of vulgarity and disciplined subordination to power.

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