The Saga of the Missing Footnote


On June 3, the Serb Parliament voted 136-73 to ratify the terms of a

cease-fire with NATO. The document had been hand-delivered to Slobodan

Milosevic the previous day by the Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari and the

Russian Special Representative to Yugoslavia Viktor Chernomyrdin. Reports of

the trio’s final face-to-face meeting in Belgrade portrayed Milosevic as

asking them whether the terms laid out in the document were the

"best" ones "he was going to get from NATO" (New York

Times). "I had to be candid," Ahtisaari told the media; "it was

the best offer the international community could come up with."

The most contentious issue between NATO and the Serbs had always been over

the command and composition of any civilian or military force that one day

might be introduced into Kosovo. Last October, the Serbs first agreed to allow

2,000 unarmed observers to enter Kosovo under the auspices of the Organization

for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Later, during the talks held at

Chateau Rambouillet in France, they again offered to permit a more robust

international civilian presence into Kosovo, provided it was under the command

of the United Nations and included a sizeable Russian contingent.

But Belgrade never once wavered in its rejection of occupation by a foreign

military presence drawn from the adversarial parties of the Contact Group: the

U.S., U.K., France, Germany and Italy-the "quint" that in fact

occupies Kosovo today. Not once. Not from the first day of talks at Chateau

Rambouillet onward.

No sooner had the Serb Parliament ratified the June 3 agreement than

Associated Press put an English translation of it on the wires. Over the next

seven days, the Ahtisaari-Chernomyrdin-Milosevic document was reproduced

around the world. On June 7, the Permanent Representative of Germany to the

United Nations officially transmitted the document to the Security Council

(Document S/1999/649). Meeting in Cologne the next day, members of the Contact

Group drafted a Security Council resolution that included the June 3 document

as Annex II (S/1999/661). And on June 10, the Security Council adopted

Resolution 1244, which once again included the terms of the June 3 document as

Annex II.

Thus as of June 10, the Serb Parliament and the 15 members of the Security

Council (with the exception of China, which abstained from the vote) had been

presented with, read, understood, debated, and accepted a document that

reaffirmed the same terms that the Serb Parliament had accept seven days

before. Crucially, each draft of this document called for (among other things)

the deployment of international civilian and security presences within Kosovo,

under U.N. auspices and acting according to Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter-a

Chapter VII mission clearly intended to mean under the command and control of

the Security Council’s Military Staff Committee (Articles 45-47 of the U.N.

Charter). Not-repeat: not–under the command and control of a unilateral or

multilateral power acting independently from the Security Council and contrary

to Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter.

Of course, what would eventually happen on the ground in Kosovo was another

matter.

The day before the Security Council vote, the New York Times buried a very

short, and very curious, 176-word article on page A13. Titled "A Missing

Footnote: ‘NATO at the Core’," the article reported that "When the

Serbian Parliament voted on an international peace proposal last Thursday

[June 3], it omitted one footnote on NATO’s participation in the security

force that would enter Kosovo…."

According to the Times, the "missing footnote" stated: "It

is understood that NATO considers an international security force with

‘substantial NATO participation’ to mean unified command and control and

having NATO at the core. This in turn means a unified NATO chain of command

under the political direction of the N.A.C. [North Atlantic Council]…."

At least three things were striking about this little story:

First, the Times cited no source for the startling claim that a Second

Footnote to the June 3 agreement not only existed, but had been

"omitted" from the document ratified by the Serb Parliament.

Second, no official draft of the June 3 agreement has ever turned up that

contained a Second Footnote. For example, when the Security Council voted to

adopt Res. 1244 on June 10, not even that document’s Annex II contained a

Second Footnote.

Third, and crucially, the substance of the alleged "missing

footnote," its contention that the international security presence to be

deployed in Kosovo would be "under the political direction of the N.A.C.,"

contradicted the rest of the June 3 agreement, which called for an

international security presence for Kosovo "under United Nations

auspices" and "acting as may be decided under Chapter VII of the

U.N. Charter" (Article 3).

So, what are we to make of this saga of the "missing footnote"?

Well, the least plausible explanation was provided by the New York Times: that

the Serb Parliament "omitted" the footnote. This is plainly

ridiculous. Not only the draft ratified by the Serb Parliament, but the draft

of the same document provided by the U.S. Department of State, as well as U.N

Res. 1244 itself, omitted the footnote in question. In short, it appears that

everybody "omitted" the footnote.

A far more plausible explanation is that the so-called "missing

footnote" does not exist-at least not within the documentary record that

dealt with the negotiated resolution to the Kosovo crisis. Nor for that matter

can the terms that the alleged "missing footnote" was said to

authorize-NATO’s occupation of Kosovo–be found anywhere within the

documentary record. Quite the contrary. They are to be found in scattered news

reports that cited the existence of the Second (or "missing")

footnote. But absolutely nowhere else.

Instead, the "missing footnote" must be apocryphal. As are its

main terms: that any international security presence to be deployed within

Kosovo be placed under the political direction of the N.A.C., after a wholly

cynical and indeed meaningless tip of the cap to the United Nations.

In the end, the source of the widely held (and in many quarters

incorrigible) belief that the Serbs agreed to military occupation by NATO

seems to be what the capitals of NATO itself-Brussels, Washington, and London,

to be precise-"consider" the case. That is, it was not the accords

that authorized NATO to occupy Kosovo. It was NATO that authorized NATO to

occupy Kosovo. Being the world’s unparalleled military (not to mention

ideological) power, NATO simply took it upon itself to interpret the accords

in this fashion. And NATO’s interpretation was decided less by what the actual

terms of the accords said than by its intractable determination to resolve the

Kosovo crisis in a military fashion, and to become the occupying power in

Kosovo.

The saga of the "missing footnote" teaches us some important

lessons. But perhaps the most important lesson is the power of the leading

NATO countries to bring the world’s interpretation of the documentary record

into conformity with NATO’s interpretation of it and, more important, with the

facts as NATO creates them on the ground. In its most naked terms, NATO’s

interpretation of the accords became the interpretation-whatever the actual

terms of the documents may state.

It also teaches us a great deal about the gullibility of the news media.

Taking their cues from the state managers and intellectuals within the NATO

countries, the news media have repeated without questioning NATO’s claim that

the Serbs agreed to NATO’s military occupation of Kosovo-even if the footnote

which spelled out the terms somehow went "missing" (i.e., never

really existed). Faced with documents that said one thing, while NATO said and

did something else, the news media acquiesced to NATO’s interpretation-a

misinterpretation, to be sure, and a deliberate one at that–and thus helped

NATO turn it into holy writ.

(* David Peterson is a writer living in the Chicago area.)

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