Edward S. Herman 

and David Peterson


a little more than one year after the ending of Nato’s 78- day bombing of

Yugoslavia and the beginning of Nato control of Kosovo (June 10-12, 1999), the

mainstream media have been exceedingly reticent in offering the public serious

retrospectives on the war and its aftermath. One reason for this may be that

Nato’s bombing campaign and year-long occupation not only failed to realize most

of Nato’s proclaimed objectives, but the intervention also produced a far higher

level of ethnic violence than had existed previously–first against ethnic

Albanians, then later against all ethnic minorities. As the Norwegian foreign

affairs analyst Jan Oberg notes, "the largest ethnic cleansing in the

Balkans [in percentage that fled] has happened under the very eyes of 45,000

Nato troops" in occupied Kosovo.


Nato did eventually succeed in getting Belgrade to withdraw the Serb army from

Kosovo. But in the process, Nato’s bombing campaign triggered a Serb military

response against ethnic Albanians that Nato officials themselves had predicted

would occur; a response that was based not on the unprovoked nastiness of Serbs

but rather on rational military calculations. Expulsions were greatest where

fighting was heaviest, mainly in territories controlled by the Kosovo Liberation

Army (KLA). Indeed, in the words of the OSCE, much of the refugee flow was

designed "to keep main communications routes open to supply Serb forces

with material, fuel, and food." Moreover, although Nato had denied any

collaboration with rebel forces during the bombing, top Nato officials now admit

that KLA guerrillas were "constantly on the phone to Nato," and that

Nato had "instigated" a major KLA offensive (Paul Richter, LA Times,

June 10, 2000). President Clinton may have announced that the main purpose of

bombing was "to deter an even bloodier offensive against innocent civilians

in Kosovo" (March 24, 1999), but as the bombing increased it exponentially

(as well as adding Nato’s contribution to Albanian pain), that aim was clearly

not met.


the increase in violence following the bombing, Nato officials quickly announced

that the Serb attacks and expulsions would have taken place anyway, under a

pre-arranged plan the Serbs allegedly called "Operation Horseshoe."

But no mention had ever been made of such a plan prior to the bombing, and a

pre-war German Foreign Office report had even denied that Serb actions in Kosovo

constituted "ethnic cleansing;" instead, the report found that the

Serb military campaign was designed to quell an insurgency. UN Special Envoy

Jiri Dienstbier says the same: "Before the bombing Albanians were not

driven away on the basis of ethnic principle. [They were] victims of the brutal

war between the Yugoslav army and the Kosovo Liberation Army" (CTK National

News Wire, April 20, 2000). The fact that Belgrade was willing to allow 2,000

OSCE observers into Kosovo (although the OSCE contingent never exceeded 1,400),

and that it objected strongly to their removal before Nato launched its bombing,

is also inconsistent with a planned "Operation Horseshoe." As the

retired German Brigadier General, and now a consultant with the OSCE, D. Heinz

Loquai argues in his recent book, Der Kosovo-Konflikt Wege in einen Vermeidbaren

Krieg ("The Kosovo Conflict: The Road to an Avoidable War"), the

German Foreign Ministry’s revelation two weeks into the war that it possessed

intelligence confirming the existence of "Operation Horseshoe" was an

outright fabrication culled from Bulgarian intelligence reports and the

imagination of Nato military propagandists. None of this, however, has prevented

apologists for Nato’s war from repeating the lie that Operation Allied Force was

justified by the imminent implementation of this mythical plan to

"ethnically cleanse" Kosovo of its Albanian population. (On June 11,

2000, the ineffable George Robertson asked Jonathan Dimbleby on Britain’s ITV to

"imagine if almost 2 million refugees had been expelled…if Milosevic had

succeeded with that ethnic cleansing.")


the face of the Nato-induced surge in violence in March and April 1999, Nato

officials changed course and proclaimed that their new main objective was

returning the Kosovo Albanians to their homes quickly and safely; and with the

help of the media Nato successfully portrayed the bombing as a response to the

mass exodus rather than its cause. But even this new objective was met only in

part–the Albanians who had fled Kosovo did return quickly, but their safety and

welfare were compromised by several factors. One was that Nato bombs had killed

and seriously injured many hundreds of fleeing Albanians. Nato also used both

deadly cluster bombs and depleted uranium munitions in Kosovo, a choice of

weapons not conducive to the long-run safety of the returnees. To date, an

estimated 100 people have been killed and many hundreds injured by exploding

fragmentation bombs. The toll from depleted uranium– radiation-induced

illness–will come later, as it has in Iraq.


bombing also contributed heavily to infrastructure damage, and reconstruction

has been slow. Nato’s generosity was largely exhausted in providing resources to

destroy and kill–the estimated cost of the military operations against

Yugoslavia has run in excess of $10 billion, whereas the resources spent for

humanitarian aid and reconstruction in Kosovo have been well under $1 billion.

Thus, hundreds of thousands remain homeless, jobless, and lacking in basic



occupation also failed to bring law and order to Kosovo. This was partly a

consequence of the destruction, poverty, and exacerbated hatred produced by the

war. But it was also a result of the fact that, in direct violation of UN

Resolution 1244 which called for the "demilitarization" of the KLA,

under Nato authority the KLA has been incorporated into a "Kosovo

Protection Corps," thereby legalizing and legitimating what until then had

been an armed rebel force. This, plus the Nato bias in favor of the KLA and

against the Serbs, has helped institutionalize a system of violence and

pervasive fear, mainly damaging to the minority Serbs, Roma and Turks, but also

adversely affecting most Kosovo Albanians. On top of this, organized crime has

soared throughout the region. The British-based Jane’s Intelligence Review

reports that "large numbers of international criminals are now seeking

refuge in Kosovo" (Paul Harris, June 1, 2000). According to a study by the

International Crisis Group, the areas of southwest Serbia (both Kosovo and parts

of Serbia proper) where the KLA’s influence remains greatest have become the

preferred "Balkan route" for the "heroin trail" between

Turkey and Western Europe ("What Happened to the KLA," March 3, 2000),


must be admitted, however, that Nato did succeed in "teaching the Serbs a

lesson." But what exactly was that lesson? Certainly not that ethnic

cleansing is unacceptable to the Western conscience. Although Nato allegedly

waged war to terminate ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, and although an agreement of

June 9, 1999, stipulated that Nato would "establish and maintain a secure

environment for all citizens of Kosovo," under Nato’s occupation somewhere

between 60 and 90 percent of Serbs and Roma have left Kosovo, mainly because of

KLA harassment, home burnings, and killing, and a large fraction of Kosovo’s

Jews and Turks have also fled. Thus the biggest story of Nato’s 12-month

occupation is that under Nato’s watch, Kosovo’s ethnic minorities have been

subjected to a truly massive multi-ethnic cleansing. For the media, however,

Nato is trying to do its best under difficult circumstances, and Milosevic

remains the only villain in sight. And they fail to see that the only lesson

taught the Serbs by Nato has been "Don’t mess with us"–a lesson

devoid of moral content.


one year later, Nato’s policies have not brought peace and stability to Kosovo

and the Balkans. Kosovo is still legally a part of Yugoslavia, but while a Nato

protectorate it has been turned over to the Albanians and KLA. This has allowed

them to do a fine job of ethnic cleansing, but has made Kosovo a cauldron of

hatred and violence and a likely base for further instability and warfare.

Unwilling to provide large resources for rebuilding, Nato has no solutions and

no evident "exit strategy." This was not "humanitarian

intervention," it has been an irresponsible misuse of power that made a bad

situation worse, gilded over with lofty rhetoric.


Herman is co-editor, with Philip Hammond, of Degraded Capability: The Media

and the Kosovo Crisis (Pluto, 2000); David Peterson is a Chicago-based

researcher and journalist.



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