The New York Times on the Kosovo Crisis

The New York Times is a strongly ideological establishment institution, and when a topic falls within the orbit of its ideological commitments or premises, its biases overwhelm its integrity as a newspaper. This is standard when it deals with Israel, and applies regularly with foreign policy challenges such as those posed by Saddam Hussein’s non-existent weapons of mass destruction, Iran’s supposed “threat,” or Hugo Chavez’s internal and foreign policies. 

It has also long been true of the paper’s treatment of Yugoslavia, where the editors quickly aligned with the U.S. and NATO policies of anti-Serb and pro-Bosnian Muslim, Croatian, and Kosovo Albanian intervention, and ultimately warfare and the dismantlement of Yugoslavia. Bias and misreporting became standard operating procedure in coverage of this area of conflict. Veteran Times Balkans reporter David Binder was pulled off that beat for insufficient one-sidedness, and more amenable and less knowledgeable ones were installed, headed by Marlise Simons, with laughably biased and propagandistic results. (For detailed studies of Simon’s propaganda see articles by Peterson and Herman on ZNet). 

All the New York Times’s biases and willingness to suppress evidence and rewrite history as regards Yugoslavia have been evident in its treatment of the current “crisis” over the failed negotiations regarding the future of Kosovo and the anticipated declaration of independence by the Kosovo Albanians. These biases are clearly observable in the paper’s editorial “Dangerous, Unfinished Business” (December 6, 2007). It should be noted at the start that the editors can misrepresent reality here without much cost because the paper largely abandoned reporting on Kosovo once the bombing war was over in June 1999 and NATO began its occupation of the province. Readers would therefore not be aware of many developments there that are pertinent to the debate over the prospective quasi-independence—“quasi” because the UN proposes NATO’s continued occupation to protect threatened minorities. 

For example, the editorial recognizes that the Serbs remaining in Kosovo have a “legitimate fear of persecution.” But they don’t explain why this is so or give it any context. The fact is that following NATO’s victory over Yugoslavia and occupation of Kosovo, there then transpired the “largest ethnic cleaning in the Balkans [in proportionate terms]” (Jan Oberg), with some 150,000 Serbs put to flight along with thousands of Roma—with thousands of Roma suffering the loss of houses torched by the returning Kosovo Albanians. All this was done under NATO authority. The fear, tensions, separation, and ghettoization continue today, and Roma spokespersons believe that “independence” will be followed by a complete exodus of Roma from Kosovo. 

Bill Clinton had claimed that the aim of the bombing war was to help create a “multi-ethnic, tolerant, and inclusive democracy” in Kosovo. That a war would bring about this result was hardly likely and that such tolerance would result from a triumph of the KLA-led Kosovo Albanians was outrageous nonsense. In fact, increased ethnic cleansing and terrorism flowed automatically from NATO’s alliance with the KLA, an ultra-nationalist terrorist organization, that was supposed to be disarmed under the June 10, 1999 peace agreement (Security Council Resolution 1244), but whose members were, in fact, incorporated into the new Kosovo police force and given further arms and training. The Times editorial says that under the proposed independence agreement, which the editors support, “The international community will still oversee an independent Kosovo and ensure that the Serb minority is protected and guaranteed substantial autonomy.” The paper has kept out of sight the fact that that same protection was required under 1244, but was not implemented by many thousands of NATO troops, which makes this editorial assurance ridiculous propaganda. 

The editorial says that “getting Kosovo wrong could plunge the Balkans back into turmoil” and that Russia should not be “whipping up old hatreds” by threatening to veto the U.S.-supported quasi-independence plan. But the editorial never mentions that NATO was heavily responsible for the Balkans’ “turmoil” by making clear to the breakaway interests in Slovenia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, and the Serbian province of Kosovo that NATO was behind them, by literally sabotaging peace efforts and eventually, in Kosovo, by fighting a major war on behalf of the Kosovo Albanians and allowing them to wreak havoc on their enemies and rivals—truly “whipping up old hatreds.” The editorial also fails to point out that NATO has gotten Bosnia and Kosovo “wrong” and has caused the latter to remain in “turmoil” on a continuous basis. Bosnia is still a badly divided and poor NATO neo-colony without self-rule 12 years after the end of open warfare there. NATO’s occupation of Kosovo not only failed to prevent massive ethnic cleansing, it has done nothing to ease ethnic tensions, produce any kind of sustainable economic development, or prevent crime syndicates from growing and functioning easily and even dominating the state. 

A recent detailed study of Kosovo, “Operationalizing of the Security Sector Reform in the Western Balkans” by the German Institute for European Politics, concluded that Kosovo is now “a mafia society” based on the “capture of the state by criminal elements.” The authors quote German intelligence on the “closest ties between leading political decision-makers and the dominant political class,” and they conclude that an independence settlement with gradual withdrawal of international forces could allow the criminal element to “come closer than ever to their goal of total control of Kosovo.” 

The New York Times has not mentioned this German study of Kosovo, which shows Kosovo to be a disaster area and predicts real trouble in the quasi-independent future. The study was reported in the Washington Times (by former New York Times reporter David Binder) and in the International Herald Tribune, an affiliate of the New York Times, but apparently such departures from the party line are not permissible at the “Paper of Record.” 

The editorial says that Kosovo came under international trusteeship from 1999 “when NATO went to war to reverse Slobodan Milosevic’s brutal campaign to drive out Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian majority.” This multi-level disinformation is now institutionalized. It is well established that the pre-bombing war creation of refugees was a result of a civil war between Yugoslav authorities and the KLA and that the big flight of the Albanian majority—along with Serbs and others—after March 24, 1999 was a result of the bombing war itself, not any Serb campaign to drive out Kosovo Albanians. The earlier flight of Kosovo Albanians had been ended by a negotiated agreement, and most of the Albanians had returned to their homes, only to be driven out again (or voluntarily exiting) during the bombing war. Equally interesting, the evidence is now clear that the CIA had armed and advised the KLA before the bombing war, and led them to believe (correctly) that provoking the Yugoslav army would help bring NATO into fighting on behalf of the Albanians. It is also well established that the Rambouillet peace conference, whose failure was quickly followed by the bombing war, was intended to fail, just as all prior efforts by the Serbs and outsiders to settle the Kosovo conflict by peaceable means were of no interest to the NATO powers. They had large aims, and reversing Milosevic’s ethnic cleansing of Kosovo Albanians was not one of them. 

One aim of the United States and its allies was to shift political power in Kosovo to their client KLA and other Kosovo Albanian allies. One evidence of this was the immediate construction by the United States of a gigantic military base, Camp Bondsteel, on land seized without permission in Kosovo. That base was surely not needed to merely reverse Milosevic’s “brutal campaign,” and it would not be assuredly preserved if Kosovo remained part of Serbia. The Times doesn’t mention this base and consider its compatability with Kosovo “independence” either in its editorial or in any other discussion of the proposed settlement, any more than it discusses the contradiction between Iraqi “sovereignty” and the presence of large U.S. military bases in Iraq. 

UNSC resolution 1244, which ended the bombing war in June 1999, specifies that Kosovo was to remain part of Serbia—it speaks of respecting “the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia” (now Serbia), while looking toward “substantial autonomy and meaningful self-administration for Kosovo.” How then is the granting of independence compatible with 1244? It isn’t, and any declaration of independence by the Kosovo Albanians and recognition of that act by the United States and EU countries would be a violation of international law. But this declaration and recognition is likely to happen for the simple reason that the United States supports this severance of Kosovo from Serbia, and international law doesn’t apply to the United States and its allies. 

A main argument of Western spokespersons on why Kosovo must be allowed independence from Serbia is that Serbia “forfeited” its rights to Kosovo by its maltreatment of the Kosovo Albanians. But that maltreatment was in large measure provoked by the KLA, with U.S. connivance, for the precise purpose of providing a casus belli to allow the United States and NATO to attack Serbia and conquer and occupy Kosovo. The U.S.-NATO attack was in violation of the UN Charter and Kosovo’s post-June 1999 status of NATO-UN occupation was by right of conquest. What NATO produced thereafter, as summarized by Swedish analyst Jan Oberg, is “for all practical purposes, a segregated community, a predominatly black economy, a state run by Western supported, non-convicted war criminals—in short a failed state before declared a state.” 

 Shouldn’t the United States, NATO, and the UN “forfeit” rights to determine the Kosovo outcome for reasons of the illegality of their war of conquest? Shouldn’t NATO, the UN, and KLA forfeit rights to declare independence based on their failure to protect the Serb, Roma, and other minorities from massive ethnic cleansing in violation of 1244? Shouldn’t the UN-NATO- Kosovo Albanian team forfeit rights based on the fact that under their control Kosovo has become a criminal state and sex and drug trade capital of Europe? Should a UN-NATO-Kosovo Albanian combine that has voted in or sanctioned as head of the Kosovo state three successive terrorists and war criminals—Hachim Thaci, Ramush Haradinaj, and Agim Ceku—be permitted to overturn international law and the obligation written into 1244 in favor of the sex, drug, and war criminals of a failed and ethnic-cleansing state? (The New York Times and its comrades would have gone berserk if Serbia or Republika Srpska had voted into power Mladic or Karadzic, but their rage is wonderfully selective, as is the performance of the ICTY.) 

None of these matters surface in the New York Times editorial, which once again ignores international law where their leaders choose to ignore it, and ignores both the real background of the war, the NATO-Albanian record in “protecting minorities”—actually protecting and engaging in massive ethnic cleansing—and the criminal character of the Kosovo Albanian state. The Russians are alleged to be opposing the quasi-independence agreement out of pugnacity—according to the editorialists, “a handy stick to beat the West…to remind the world that Russia still wields a Security Council veto.” This is the evasive rhetoric of editor-ideologues, who take it as the U.S. right to impose a settlement on its own terms that favor its Kosovo Albanian client, with no disagreement allowed. In this case, however, the Russian position is not only consistent with the rule of law that the United States and its organs of propaganda try to walk over once again, the Russian position reflects Russian public opinion, which since the NATO bombing war has turned against the West (as described in an interview with Alexander Solzenitsyn in July 2007, under the title “The bombardment of Serbia by NATO has changed Russia,” reprinted in Balkans-Infos, Sept. 2007). Furthermore, the Russians don’t call for any particular solution, merely that diplomacy be allowed to function between Serbia and the Kosovo Albanians, rather than be terminated by arbitrary U.S.-UN fiat. In fact, there had been no diplomacy previously as the Kosovo Albanians knew that if nothing were achieved by an arbitrary December deadline the United States would support its independence. 

The Serbs have already offered almost complete autonomy to Kosovo, which might actually give the Kosovo Albanians more autonomy than nominal independence with continued NATO occupation. However, the Kosovo Albanians will never agree to this. Partition is possibly the best of a collection of problematic solutions, and might be brought about by real negotiations between the two antagonists, if the Albanians did not sense that the United States will force independence without territorial concession. 

The New York Times editorial does not mention partition—their government has spoken for (quasi-) independence, and that settles the matter. But their notion that this U.S.-imposed solution will prevent “turmoil” is a pipe-dream. With a Kosovo Albanian declaration of independence the Kosovo Serbs may do the same in their northern enclave, and a Kosovo Albanian armed group, the ANA, has already warned that it will act to protect Kosovo’s “territorial integrity” (Krenar Gashi, “Kosovo Armed Group Issues Warning,”, Dec. 27, 2007). Also, how will the Kosovo Albanians act when they discover that they remain an occupied country and are not really independent, when foreign aid to the now semi-“independent” state shrinks while foreign investment continues to stay away from a fear-ridden and crime-dominated polity? The sex and drug trades have been their growth industries under NATO auspices. Perhaps they still have a good growth potential. But this failed state has an explosive potential. 

The Times editorial urges Serbia to be good, and not align with Russia in opposing the U.S.-favored settlement, its “brighter future” depending on “turning its back on Milosevic’s nightmarish legacy” and “repairing relations with the European Union and NATO.” But it was NATO that imposed devastating sanctions on Yugoslavia, bombed it relentlessly, and supported the massive ethnic cleansing of Serbs from Croatia and Kosovo—and Serbia has more refugees than any other part of the former Yugoslavia. That was NATO’s nightmarish legacy, and that legacy has continued from a vengeful NATO long after Milosevic’s departure and the triumph of NATO-friendly politicians in Serbia. The further integration of Serbia into the EU will also involve a further dose of neoliberalism that will make that country more dependent and less able to revive what was once a more egalitarian and humane polity. More resistance to U.S. and EU bullying and blandishments will very possibly help Serb public welfare as well as pride. 


Edward Herman is a Professor Emeritus of Finance at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, as well as an author and media critic. His recent book is Degraded Capability: The Media and the Kosovo Crisis (Pluto Press).