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Kosovo: the clear military objectives

Labour & Trade Union Review, August 1999


"Hon. Members have asked about the military objectives of the Government and of NATO. They are clear
cut; to avert an impending humanitarian catastrophe by disrupting the violent attacks currently being carried out by the Yugoslav security forces against the Kosovar Albanians, and to limit their ability to conduct such repression in future."

Those were the words of the Secretary of State for Defence, George Robertson, replying to a debate on Kosovo in the House of Commons on 25th March, the day after the NATO bombing of Serbia began.

A few days later it was obvious that far from averting a humanitarian catastrophe NATO had created one. By the time the bombing ended 11 weeks later, hundreds if not thousands of Kossovar Albanians had been killed mostly by Yugoslav forces but some by NATO bombs, almost a million were refugees in surrounding countries and an unknown number were displaced within Kosovo. Add to this, the Serbian civilians killed by NATO bombs plus the destruction of infrastructure throughout Serbia including Kosovo and to describe what occurred in Serbia as a result of the bombing as a humanitarian catastrophe is not an exaggeration.

Indeed by the standards employed by Robertson and other ministers in the use of language during the NATO war it is a gross understatement. Either Robertson or Cook described what was going on in Kosovo as "mass genocide" by Serb forces against Albanians. Genocide is the deliberate extermination of a whole ethnic group. That plainly didn't happen (and neither did "mass genocide" which is presumably the deliberate extermination of many ethnic groups). If the Serbs had been intent on genocide against the Albanians they would not have chased out of Kosovo; they would have wiped them out in Kosovo. Robertson himself said that what was going on in Kosovo was the worst ethnic cleansing in Europe since medieval times, in other words, worse than what happened to the Jews during the World War II.

On 24th June after the bombing ended George Robertson appeared before the Defence Select Committee of the House of Commons. A Conservative member of the Committee reminded him of his definition of NATO's military objectives on 25th March and asked him if in his opinion a humanitarian catastrophe had occurred in Kosovo. Despite having used having used much more extravagant to describe events in Kosovo during the war, he was very reluctant to admit that a humanitarian catastrophe had occurred, knowing full well that to do so would be tantamount to admitting that NATO had singularly failed to achieve its "military objectives" as defined by himself on 25th March. (This was shown in Despatch Box on BBC 2 on 25th June ­ minutes of the proceedings have yet to be published).

Robin Cook opened a debate on Kosovo in the House of Commons on 17th June after the bombing had stopped. He began by welcoming the Conservative Foreign Affairs spokesman, John Maples, to his new place on the Opposition Front Bench and congratulated him "on his good fortune in taking up his position on the first day on which the House may debate Kosovo in the confident knowledge that NATO's military campaign has secured its objectives". Not, of course, the original NATO objective of averting a humanitarian catastrophe but the new ones made necessary by the humanitarian catastrophe created by NATO bombing.

Soon after the bombing started and the humanitarian catastrophe created by it became evident, the NATO propaganda line changed. The reason for the bombing was the humanitarian catastrophe brought about by the bombing in the first place. Its failure to prevent the catastrophe was conveniently forgotten. And to compound their criminal irresponsibility the political leaders responsible for the catastrophe beat a path to the refugee camps in Macedonia and Albanian to progress Messiah-like for photo opportunities amongst the refugees produced by their criminal irresponsibility.


Before NATO bombed

If you have been relying on the British media and Government Ministers for information about the situation in Kosovo in the past few years, you would have got a picture of an Albanian guerrilla movement ­ the KLA ­ fighting in a just cause against the "oppression" by the Serbs led by the ogre Milosevic. The fact that Milosevic removed the autonomous status of Kosovo within the Serbian Republic about 10 years ago, despite the fact that Kosovo is about 90% Albanian and less than 10% Serb, was generally quoted as evidence of Serb "oppression". And the impression was given that the Yugoslav forces had responded in an unjustifiably brutal, and indiscriminate, manner to the killing of Serb police and civilians. Lots of innocent Albanians had been killed and lots more had been driven from their villages, either temporarily into the adjoining countryside or permanently abroad. No casualty figures were ever given but one had the impression that many more Albanians than Serbs had being killed.

Was that impression correct? Apparently not. And we have it no less an authority than the Secretary of State for Defence, George Robertson, for saying so. He gave evidence to the Defence Select Committee on the day the bombing started (24th March). Conservative MP, Crispin Blunt, questioned him about NATO's relationship with the KLA. "Surely, in a sense we are now on their side?", he asked. Robertson was very uncomfortable at being associated with the KLA In the course of a meandering reply he made the following extremely injudicious remark, which was apparently aimed at indicting the KLA as a murderous terrorist organisation with which NATO couldn't possibly associate. He said:

"Up until Racak earlier this year the KLA were responsible for more deaths in Kosovo than the Yugoslav authorities had been."

The incident Robertson is referring to took place on 16th January this year in the village of Racek when Yugoslav forces are alleged to have killed 45 Albanians.

So, last autumn when Serbia was forced to allow civilian OSCE monitors into Kosovo and was told to restrict its troop levels there, the KLA killing count was in excess of the Yugoslav killing count, and this was still the case in January this year when, because of their alleged brutality to Kosovar Albanians, the Serbs were summoned to Rambouillet to sign up to independence for Kosovo in all but name.

Understandably the Government sat on that information. Had it been widely known, it would have been much more difficult to work up a head of steam in favour of the Rambouillet process and the war against Serbia.

(Lest there be any doubt about the authenticity of Robertson's remark, it is on the record in the Minutes of Evidence to the Committee dated 24th March, which is included in a report on the future of NATO dated 13th April. This is available on the Houses of Parliament web site. It is impossible to believe that the Ministry of Defence would be inclined to understate the number of deaths caused by Yugoslav forces in Kosovo.)

Up until NATO launched its air war, the response of the Yugoslav forces to KLA killing was not as severe or indiscriminate as was painted in the West (and certainly no more severe or indiscriminate than the Turkish military response to the Kurdish PKK). Listen to the following description of the situation in Kosovo written on 12th January this year:

"Even in Kosovo an explicit political persecution linked to Albanian ethnicity is not very visible. The east of Kosovo is still not involved in armed conflict. Public life in cities like Pristina has, in the entire conflict period, continued on a relatively normal basis. The actions of the security forces were not directed against the Kosovo Albanians as an ethnically defined group but against the military opponent and its actual, or alleged, opponent."

This was written by the German Foreign Office, which cannot be regarded as pro-Serb ­ it was quoted in an article by Labour MP, Bob Marshall-Andrews in the Independent on Sunday, 20th June.


After NATO bombed

After the NATO bombing of Serbia including Kosovo began on 24th March, large numbers of Albanian civilians were killed by Yugoslav forces, most within a few days of the start of the bombing. The eyewitness accounts which appear regularly on our TV screens bear this out.

Whether the number is as high as 10,000, as NATO is saying, is doubtful, but it is certainly numbered in 100s and perhaps a few 1000s. Hundreds of thousands more were expelled from their villages or left because they feared for their lives.

This was entirely predictable. By its bombing, NATO triggered a humanitarian catastrophe. And it is no excuse to say that it was bloodthirsty Serbs on the orders of the evil Milosevic who did the killing. NATO's intervention was supposed to counter Serb oppression of Kosovar Albanians, not encourage it and give it free rein. But how they expected to be able to do it from 15,000 feet with no forces on the ground is a mystery.

At the outset our Secretary of State for Defence actually seemed to believe NATO's intervention was being successful at countering Serb aggression. Listen to this from him in the House of Commons on 25th March:

"A year after the diplomacy started, after all the chances, the killing goes on. They [the Serbs] were doing it yesterday, and they would be doing it today if the [NATO] attacks had not taken place."

The killings (and expulsions) began in earnest after the NATO attacks took place and a few days later the Secretary of State was using them to justify the attacks.