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Crisis 1999
Opinions Archive 1999
A soldier's view

Milosevic held out against a humiliating peace accord

Many of us were critical of the bombing campaign's wastefulness. In the end, we were proved right

By Lewis MacKenzie

The Vancouver Sun

Thursday, June 10, 1999

How quickly some commentators, particularly in Canada and the United States, jumped on and off the Kosovo war bandwagon. Since the first hint of a ceasefire more than a week ago some reputable columnists proclaimed a NATO victory and declared that the air strikes worked to perfection in forcing President Slobodan Milosevic's capitulation. They decried the retired politicians, bureaucrats and generals who said the air strikes would fail as a bunch of crybabies who were woefully out of date.

Assuming that I was included in this condemnation I decided to research what some of the anti-bombing alumni had actually said.

To my considerable pleasure I discovered that the Kissingers and Powells, the Lord Owens and Ambassador Bissetts of the world, and further down the food chain, the MacKenzies, never said that air strikes would not prevail. Let's face it, if the most powerful military alliance in the world possessing two-thirds of all the fire power on the face of the Earth and including three nuclear powers, cannot bring a tiny country of 11 million citizens to heel we had better get rid of the alliance.

All the critics of the bombing, without exception, persuasively argued - in my biased opinion - that bombing was not the best option available. In fact, bombing was a very bad option, creating as it did exactly the humanitarian catastrophe it was trying to stop.

Prior to the negotiations at Rambouillet in March there were approximately 100,000 Kosovo Albanian refugees in countries bordering Kosovo and throughout Europe. These refugees had been driven from their homes by two years of fierce fighting between the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia security forces and the secessionist Kosovo Liberation Army. After 11 weeks of bombing by NATO the number of refugees has grown to a million.

During the past two weeks Milosevic achieved major concessions from the West regarding the two conditions of the Rambouillet agreement that encouraged him to start his ruthless ethnic cleansing campaign in Kosovo in March. The first condition achieved by Milosevic had originally stipulated that the International Implemental force would have total freedom of movement throughout the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. In other words, members of the force would have the legal right to go anywhere in the republic at a time of their choosing.

It's my opinion that Milosevic was under the impression that he had been secretly indicted - like a number of others - as a war criminal by the International War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague at least a year ago. The last thing Milosevic wanted was NATO peacekeeping troops patrolling the streets outside his office and residences in Belgrade. The humiliation of such an obvious presence by an occupying force would preclude any chance he has of staying in power.

Milosevic got his way. The current peace accord authorizes the international force freedom of movement only in Kosovo. Serbia is out of bounds.

The key Rambouillet condition that encouraged Milosevic to escalate the ethnic cleansing of Kosovo was the statement that the future political structure of Kosovo and its status within the federal republic would be revisited in three years by way of a referendum and the will of the people would be considered. With an overwhelming Albanian majority in Kosovo that condition virtually guaranteed Kosovo independence from Yugoslavia in the near future. Milosevic would be drawn and quartered by his own people if he gave in to such a condition. But in the end he didn't have to; the current peace plan calls for autonomy only and there is no reference to independence or a referendum.

Those who say that Milosevic rejected a better deal at Rambouillet than the one he is getting from the international community following the bombing campaign have not given the two concessions mentioned the emphasis they deserve. Staying out of jail and denying Kosovo its independence are clearly sweet personal victories for someone who, for all intents and purposes, has lost four wars in the last eight years.

Perhaps we should not be too hasty in declaring our own unqualified victory.

We have been implicated in the displacement of approximately one million refugees from Kosovo and the deaths of God knows how many. We have destroyed up to $100 billion worth of infrastructure in a sovereign nation. We claim we had no quarrel with the Serbian people and yet, when all was said and done, we killed at least 5,000 of them and we are still doing deals with their president.

Surely there's something wrong with this picture.

Retired major general Lewis MacKenzie commanded UN troops during the siege of Sarajevo in the Bosnian civil war in 1992.

(c) The Vancouver Sun 1999

Source: The Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research

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