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
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
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
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
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
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.)