Kosovo Five Years Later


military campaign in history was so heralded as “the right
thing to do” by Western political leaders before, during, and
after its initiation, as NATO’s intervention in Kosovo in 1999.
The unprecedented moralistic rhetoric that accompanied Operation
Allied Force suggested that NATO was forging a peaceful era for
the inhabitants of Kosovo and the wider world. It was, according
to Tony Blair, “A war fought for the values of civilization.”
However, the recent riots in Mitrovica (and the occupation of Afghanistan
and Iraq) illustrate that not only has the immediate aim of the
intervention failed utterly, but also that the template established
in Kosovo facilitated the escalation of aggressive Western hegemony
in the post-Cold War world.  

March 2004, amid the scenes of renewed violence, smouldering churches,
and huddled refugees, bewildered UN officials witnessed the re-emergence
of the Western theory that “ancient ethnic hatreds” ultimately
determine events in the Balkans. In assessing the periodic violence
in the Balkans, George Kennan stated, “Deeper traits of character
inherited, presumably, from a distant tribal past” continue
to plague the region and “seem to be decisive as a determinant
of the troublesome, baffling and dangerous situation that marks
that part of the world.” This ultimately racist outlook is
echoed by chief UN officials currently “administering”
Kosovo. While touring the province in the aftermath of the recent
carnage that left 31 people dead and over 850 injured, the head
of the UN mission in Kosovo, Harri Holkeri, solemnly declared, “The
concept of multiethnic Kosovo that the international community has
been persistently attempting to implement in recent years is no
longer tenable.” In other words, the incompatible ethnic identities
endemic in Kosovo have triumphed over the West’s “earnest”
efforts to instill a culture of multi-ethnicity. This is simply
untrue. The international community, in the guise of NATO, accentuated
the ethnic fissure in Kosovo through its intervention in 1999 and
the record of the UN since the cessation of Operation Allied Force
has been marked by a tolerance of low level ethnic oppression more
so than by any genuine attempts to reconcile the communities. 

diplomatic efforts in the Balkans throughout the 1990s were consistently
predicated on the flawed logic of ethnic hatreds. Violence in the
region was portrayed as the consequence of embedded ethnic prejudices,
rather than Western interference. Whenever Western diplomatic initiatives
failed, as they invariably did, it was because the locals couldn’t
extricate themselves from their primitive ethnic identities and
genetic predilection for violence. If the region were to ever become
civilized, the argument went, order would have to be forcibly imposed
by the West. 

contemporary variant of the “white man’s burden”
has engendered among Western actors in the Balkans a psychological
detachment from the consequences of their actions and imbued the
myriad “internationals” who wield enormous power throughout
the region with a sense of cultural and political superiority. It
is, therefore, not surprising that Holkeri could survey the wreckage
of the March riots without seeing any correlation between the violence
and Western actions. In reality, the violence did not occur despite
Western involvement in Kosovo, but because of it. 


then, did it all go wrong? Throughout the 1990s the EU and the U.S.,
at the behest of then-ally Miloševic, declared Kosovo an “internal
matter” and the issue was consciously ignored. The lack of
any provision relating to Kosovo in the Dayton Accords enflamed
the Kosovar Albanians and support gradually shifted from the pacifist
LDK party to the Kosova Liberation Army. By 1998, the conflict had
escalated dramatically and Western politicians became concerned
that the conflict might spread to Macedonia where it could potentially
engulf key NATO allies Greece and Turkey. After a number of initiatives
failed, the Kosovar Albanians and the Yugoslavs were ordered to
peace talks at Rambouillet, France in February 1999. 

the lofty rhetoric proffered at the time, it is now clear that Rambouillet
was not a genuine attempt to achieve a settlement. In April 2000,
Madeline Albright’s personal secretary James Rubin admitted,
“Our internal goal was not to get a peace agreement at Rambouillet.”
The real internal U.S. goal was “to get a war started with
the Europeans locked in,” by orchestrating a situation whereby
the Yugoslav delegation would be made to appear intransigent and
beyond diplomatic reason. This was achieved through the dismissal
of repeated compromises suggested by the Yugoslavs and the determined
courting, by U.S. officials, of the Kosovar Albanian delegation
and, in particular, KLA leader, Hashim Thaçi. 

to Pleurat Sejdiu, a Kosovar press spokesperson at Rambouillet,
“It was an open secret that while sequestered with Hashim Thaçi,
Albright was telling him that his delegation had to sign because
otherwise NATO could not carry out its threat.” In a press
statement on April 21, Rubin admitted, “All of the officials
who have worked on this have made very clear that in order to move
towards military action, it has to be clear that the Serbs were
responsible.” On April 23, Albright declared, “It’s
now up to the Kosovar Albanians to create this black or white situation.”

the two-week break in negotiations, increased U.S. pressure was
exerted on the Kosovar Albanians and the KLA in particular. Nightly
broadcasts of “Agreement for Peace,” comprising interviews
with senior U.S. officials urging the Kosovars to sign, produced
by the United States Information Agency, were aired on Albanian
television. No similar effort was made in Serbia. When the talks
resumed Albright assured the Kosovar Albanians, “You’ll
get NATO to protect your people. Don’t mind the small print
because you will be running the show and many of the problems in
the text will be irrelevant.” The U.S.-led propaganda campaign
worked and as LeBor writes, “The Albanians signed in much the
same spirit that the Bosnian government had agreed to various peace
plans—knowing that as the Serbs would reject them, they might
as well take the diplomatic credit.” The Yugoslavs refused,
largely on the basis of the provisions of Annex B, which sanctioned
the deployment of an implementation force comprised exclusively
of NATO troops. In addition to immunity from prosecution, the annex
stipulated, “NATO personnel shall enjoy, together with their
vehicles, vessels, aircraft, and equipment, free and unrestricted
passage and unimpeded access throughout the Federal Republic of
Yugoslavia, including associated airspace and territorial waters.”
This was tantamount to asking Yugoslavia to surrender its sovereignty
as there was no logical reason why any implementation force deployed
to oversee political transitions in Kosovo should have had the right
to travel throughout Vojvodina and Montenegro. 

2000, Lord Gilbert, minister of state in the British Ministry of
Defense from 1997-1999, outlined the West’s motives at the
negotiations when he stated to the Defense Select Committee of the
House of Commons, “I think certain people were spoiling for
a fight in NATO at that time…. If you ask my personal view, I
think the terms put to Miloševic at Rambouillet were absolutely
intolerable; how could he possibly accept them; it was quite deliberate.
That does not excuse an awful lot of other things, but we were at
a point when some people felt that something had to be done, so
you just provoked a fight.” The Yugoslav delegation had consistently
stated they were willing to “discuss the scope and character
of the international presence in Kosovo,” but would not agree
to an exclusively NATO force. The proposed security provisions afforded
to NATO were more expansive than even the Kosovar Albanians had
sought. The Independent International Commission on Kosovo concluded
that compromising on this aspect of the deal was “an obvious
negotiating opening that might have broken the impasse.” NATO,
however, insisted the provisions were non-negotiable, thereby deliberately
choosing war over diplomacy. Significantly, the deal brokered by
the EU and Russia that ended the air strikes omitted the contentious
provisions rejected at Rambouillet. 

Humanitarian Bombing 


immediate consequence of NATO’s bombardment was to escalate
the suffering endured by the Kosovar Albanians. NATO’s Supreme
Allied Commander in Europe, General Wesley Clark, warned his political
superiors that without a ground contingent reprisals against the
Kosovars were “inevitable.” However, fearing a backlash
against U.S. casualties, President Clinton insisted that the intervention
be limited to air strikes. NATO pilots were instructed to fly at
15,000 feet to avoid anti-aircraft fire, while a refugee crisis
of unprecedented proportions erupted on the ground. NATO’s
priorities were obvious. The wholly inadequate provisions made for
the “inevitable” exodus further exacerbated the plight
of the Kosovars. Neither the UN High Commission for Refugees nor
the governments of Albania or Macedonia were readied for the crisis,
prompting Macedonian Prime Minister Ljupco Geogijevski to lament,
“The people in Brussels started this war then left for the
Easter holidays.”  

manner in which the military campaign was prosecuted belied its
humanitarian motives. As detailed by Amnesty International and even
the normally pro-U.S. Human Rights Watch, NATO dropped cluster bombs
and depleted uranium, bombed television stations, hospitals, and
water treatment facilities, purposely targeting civilians. Yet the
bombing impacted negligibly on the Yugoslav security forces responsible
for the expulsions. Robert Hayden, Director of the Center for Russian
and East European Studies at  the University of Pittsburgh,
noted, “The casualties among Serb civilians in the first three
weeks of the war were higher than all the casualties on both sides
in the three months that led up to the war, and yet those three
months were supposed to be a humanitarian catastrophe.” When
asked if he was worried about an investigation into NATO war crimes
by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia
(ICTY), NATO spokesperson Jamie Shea stated candidly that he was
“certain” no investigation would take place because “NATO
is a friend of the Tribunal…. NATO countries are those that
have provided the finances to set up the Tribunal, we are among
the major financiers.” In June 2000, the ICTY issued its report
on NATO’s conduct of the war. The report notes that answers
given by NATO to specific questions “were couched in general
terms and failed to address the specific incidents.” However,
in what was a damning indictment of its supposed impartiality, the
Tribunal decided not to pursue the matter further having based its
investigation on “statements made by NATO and NATO countries,”
which the Tribunal “tended to assume were generally reliable…and
honestly given.”  



to a November 2003 report by the Serbian Ministry of Internal Affairs,
based on data from the Red Cross, the UN, and the ICTY, 1,192 Serbs
and 593 other nationals had been murdered in Kosovo since the deployment
of 21,000 NATO peacekeepers in June 1999. Up to 200,000 Serbs and
67,000 Slavic Muslims were estimated to have fled the region, while
a further 790 people remained unaccounted for. The number of non-Albanian
refugees who have returned to Kosovo is, according to the UN Security
Council, “

small fraction of the number of Kosovo Serbs internally displaced
in Serbia and Montenegro.” A 2003 Amnesty International report
outlined the appalling conditions endured by non-Albanians, noting,
“Serbs and other ethnic minorities in Kosovo remain at serious
risk of death or injury…beatings, stabbings, abductions, drive-by
shootings and the use of hand grenades to intimidate and kill members
of these minorities are common in the province.” The fortunes
of the Albanian community have improved, yet, under the aegis of
the UN and NATO, one form of ethnic oppression has replaced another.
NATO and the UN’s inability and unwillingness to stop the violence
against the minority population has stifled the development of a
civil society essential to the functioning of any democracy. Institutional
paralysis in Kosovo has been accompanied by an accentuation of the
original societal fissure. 

bombing campaign further soured relations between Kosovars and Serbs
and the wider Slavic community. In Vojvodina, where previously there
was significant support for the Kosovars plight, the NATO bombardment
provoked an upsurge in resentment towards the Kosovar Albanians
among both the Serb and Hungarian population. Within Serbia and
throughout the Balkans, the NATO intervention induced a degree of
pan-Slavic solidarity that has negatively impacted on any support
the Kosovar Albanians may have previously had.  

ombudsperson, Marek Antoni Nowicki, reported to the Council of Europe
in February 2004 that human rights in Kosovo were “far from
the minimum of international standards,” warning that it is
the intent of certain sections of the Albanian community to “cleanse
this land from the presence of all Serbs.” His words proved
prophetic in mid-March when Kosovar Albanians went on the rampage
in Northern Kosovo. The spark for the violence was the allegation
that Serbs had chased three Albanian children to their deaths with
wild dogs. This later proved untrue, with NATO Secretary General
Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, among others, stating that the violence was
orchestrated well in advance by elements within the Albanian community. 

frustration felt by ethnic Albanians is understandable. Having initially
welcomed NATO and the UN as emancipators, Kosovar Albanians soon
realized that their faith in the West was misplaced. UN Security
Council resolution 1244, drafted to consolidate the post-war situation,
reaffirmed “The commitment of all member states to the sovereign
and territorial integrity of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.”
This explicit recognition of Belgrade’s authority over Kosovo
is an anathema to the Albanian community. As Michael Mandelbaum,
director of American Foreign Policy at John Hopkins University,
notes, “NATO intervened in a civil war and defeated one side,
but embraced the position of the party it had defeated on the issue
over which the war was fought.” The UN Mission In Kosovo (UNMIK)
has been unable to overcome this inherent paradox in Kosovo’s
status. With UNMIK now administering the province, the Kosovar Albanian’s
lack of influence over political power in the region persists and,
according to Aldo Blumi, executive director of the Albanian Institute
for International Studies, “What has changed in Kosovo since
June 1999 is the nature of rule not the discursive relationship
between power and subjects.” 

new concerns have come to dominate the international agenda, the
final status of Kosovo has stagnated without any diminution of the
Serbs’ or Albanians’ mutually exclusive claims on the
province. In December 2003, UNMIK stipulated that no examination
of Kosovo’s final status would take place until certain political
and humanitarian standards were reached, suggesting 2006 as the
earliest date. UNMIK thus looks likely to emulate the UN administration
in Bosnia that has now run eight years over its original remit with
few signs of a resolution of the underlying problems. As David Chandler
has noted, “The ethnic Albanians are discovering that removing
Belgrade appointees from positions of power is not necessarily a
step towards greater autonomy or self rule.” UNMIK’s lack
of a clear exit strategy and the central paradox of refusing to
endorse Kosovar independence while negating Serbia’s influence,
has meant that since Operation Allied Force, UNMIK has become isolated
from both communities. The ethnic Albanians’ calls for self-determination
have become increasingly militant in the face of UN prevarication
on Kosovo’s final status. The attacks in March against the
UN and NATO, as well as the Serbs, illustrate the depth of Albanian

in Bosnia and Northern Ireland, the political solution imposed by
external actors in Kosovo have been based on those imagined nationalist
fissures that created the initial tension. UNMIK has institutionalized
the ethnic divisions that emerged in the province and, while in
the short term this is conducive to the reduction of tension, the
underlying fissure between ethnic groups will eventually impact
on the functioning of the political system. In Northern Ireland
the division between Unionists and Nationalists persists and no
cross-cultural political movement has achieved electoral success
since the Belfast Agreement came into effect in 1998. 

imposition of ethnic homogenization in Bosnia, as defined by the
terms of Dayton, has all but destroyed the inter-cultural climate
that existed in the country prior to the conflagration that erupted
in the 1990s. The international community has mistakenly perceived
ethnic disharmony in these regions as a product of local prejudices
and accepted them as a permanent fixture. This perspective fails
to appreciate the divisive influence of external actors in provoking
the disintegration of inter-community relations. The imposition,
therefore, of political provisions based on these false fissures
and contrived differences is inherently flawed. As Blumi states,
“The world should be appalled at the UN’s adoption of
ethnic categories to parcel out a number of operational domains
for Kosovo’s population. Unless reversed, any future interaction
between Kosovars will be permanently based on criteria beyond their
control; giving self asserted nationalists veto over any policy
inside Kosovo. 

tandem with the political reforms imposed on Kosovo, Western officials
have undertaken an aggressive privatization policy. Despite the
influx of EU and U.S. loans, unemployment stands at 57 percent.
This has added to the disillusionment and discontent. According
to UNMIK economist Iain King, what growth there has been in Kosovo
since OAF has been almost wholly the result of external support,
based largely on loans and aid packages. Imports outnumber exports
by ten to one and, as King notes, “Much of the new wealth earned
in Kosovo is being used to create jobs elsewhere. The combination
of external management and monetary support has meant that Kosovo’s
economy is arguably less independent today than when under Tito’s
economic system of workers management.  

intervention in Kosovo illustrates that military victory is less
important to future stability than a coherent post-conflict Administration,
yet the crises in both Afghanistan and Iraq show that this lesson
has not been learned. By siding with the Albanian community and
intervening on their behalf, to the extent of cooperating with the
KLA whose expressed aim is an ethnically pure Kosovo, the international
community accentuated the divisions in Kosovo, hardening Serbian
hearts to the Albanian’s cause, and imbuing the Albanians with
a sense of righteous infallibility. The current efforts to institutionalize
the existing impermanence will continue to prove futile unless the
oppression of the minority population is stopped and a coherent
plan for the final status of Kosovo is implemented. 

than heralding the intervention, the international community should
decry the moral duplicity, violence, and political inertia that
has characterized the record of the UN and NATO during the past
five years in Kosovo. The combination of empty rhetoric, administrative
impotence, and a UN-aided entrenchment of aggressive ethnic identification
bodes ill for the future stability of “the powder keg of Europe”
and illustrate the limits of the West’s “nation building”
capabilities. The adverse consequences of the U.S. interventions
in Afghanistan and Iraq have been more immediately obvious, but
the effects of the U.S.-led campaign in Kosovo, and the subsequent
mishandling of the post war situation, are becoming apparent. The
violence in Mitrovica may be just the beginning. Of course, when
further violent unrest does return to the region don’t expect
any admissions of Western culpability—those endemic ancient
ethnic hatreds will be to blame.

Aidan Hehir is
currently lecturing on Comparative European Politics with the Department
of Politics and Public Administration at the University of Limerick
and has spent the last four years researching NATO’s 1999 military
intervention in Kosovo.