FEUILLETON Henry Kissinger, America, and Kosovo (1): Using NATO for the separation of Kosovo is an unprecedented act

Henri Kisindžer
Source: Print Screen/CBS news

Writing for Kosovo Online: Dragan Bisenic

The former US Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, who passed away on November 29 at the age of 101, was exceptional in that even after formally leaving the US administration, he retained significant global influence for almost half a decade after leaving power.

He had help from an enormous network of contacts that he carefully nurtured, but even more so by his interest and involvement in almost all issues on the international stage.

In this regard, the Balkans was no exception. Given that the war in former Yugoslavia was a dominant theme in US foreign policy in the 1990s, Kissinger leveraged his European background and deep knowledge of European issues. Also, his personal inclination towards the concept of "balance of power", developed in European diplomacy after the Congress of Vienna, led him to seek influence on American actions in the Balkans as much as possible.

Against "humanitarian interventions"

During the crisis in Bosnia, and especially during the NATO bombing of Serbia in 1999, Kissinger strongly opposed US military action. He considered US military engagement particularly unacceptable if it stemmed from an orientation toward the realization of the concept of "spreading democracy" or "humanitarian intervention". These motives for foreign policy action, Kissinger regarded as deviations from the understanding of foreign policy that arose from the "Vietnam shock" and its misunderstanding.

"In the late 60s and 70s, a debate dominated during which the argument emerged—not that we were wrong, but that there was something rotten in American thinking itself and that our agony in Vietnam was a kind of punishment for our moral inadequacy. Therefore, it was not desirable to make the best possible deal, but to lose, because that was the only way to cleanse ourselves. When I went to colleges those days and said that we wanted an honorable peace, I angered those whose concept of honor was precisely the opposite of ours. They believed that honor depended on never again being tempted to get into such situations. No dispute from the 60s and 70s can be understood without first understanding how American idealism turned against itself", Kissinger explained.

He pointed out that after the "period of humiliation", the "neoconservative incarnation" in the Reagan era followed.

"Neoconservatives in the US insist that our real mission is not to defend, maintain a balance of power, or support our allies, but to spread democracy. But how? In the 70s, it was said that moral pressure should be used. In the 80s, it was said that economic sanctions should be used. And now there is a debate about using military force, arguing that traditional principles of national interest are not decisive. It is precisely these beliefs that lead to many challenges that the US faces today and make our domestic debate extremely difficult", Kissinger explained.

He considered himself a part of the "minority that believes that crusades have caused much more suffering than cabinet wars".

"Therefore, I have more sympathy for policies aimed at a broad conception of national interest", Kissinger defined his doctrinal standpoint regarding conflicts in the Balkans and his divergence from the then-dominant "neoconservative faction" that sought unconditional "humanitarian interventions" under the platform of "spreading democracy".

Because of this, Kissinger was a staunch opponent of the form and substance of the negotiations in Rambouillet, NATO military engagement, the bombing of Serbia, and the forcible separation of Kosovo and Metohija from Serbia.

"You know, one must consider that using NATO for the separation of a province from a country with which we are not at war represents an unprecedented gesture", Kissinger said.

Henry Kissinger, early on, positioned himself as someone who questioned US plans regarding Kosovo, both diplomatic and military. Firstly, regarding the immediate cause of the war: the official line is that Yugoslavia hastened NATO bombing when it refused to sign the "peace agreement" accepted by the main NATO powers and the KLA in Rambouillet. Clinton repeatedly described Rambouillet as a fair and humane attempt to negotiate a settlement acceptable to all parties interested in peace.

Rambouillet was a provocation

Here's what Kissinger has to say about it:

"Several fateful decisions were made in those seemingly distant days in February when other options still seemed open. The first was the demand for 30,000 NATO troops to enter Yugoslavia, a country with which NATO was not at war, and to govern the province that had emotional significance as the cradle of Serbia's independence. The second was to use the predictable refusal as a justification for the start of the bombing. Rambouillet was not a negotiation — as often claimed — but an ultimatum".

He wrote on June 28, 1999, in the British "Daily Telegraph" that "the Rambouillet text, calling on Serbia to accept the deployment of NATO troops throughout Yugoslavia, was a provocation, an excuse for the start of bombing".

"Rambouillet is not a document that any godly Serb could accept. It was a terrible diplomatic document that should never have been presented in such a form", Kissinger stated.

As early as January 6, 1999, Californian Congressman Randall Cunningham had assessed that Rambouillet was a very unsuccessful foreign policy venture, citing "quotes from Larry Eagleburger and Henry Kissinger to say that Rambouillet was a failed foreign policy from the beginning".

"Slobodan Milosevic is not Hitler but a Balkan thug. Neither Milosevic nor any other Balkan leader is in a position to threaten the global balance, as President Clinton claims. Milosevic bears great responsibility for the brutalities in Bosnia, and I strongly supported US engagement there. But unlike Bosnia, Kosovo is a war for territory that the Serbs consider a national shrine. Therefore, there was little, if any, opposition in Belgrade to Milosevic's Kosovo policy. The Serbs rejected the peace agreement from Rambouillet because they saw it as a prelude to the independence of Kosovo. They also view the presence of NATO troops as a kind of foreign occupation historically resisted by Serbia, similar to opposition against the Ottoman and Austrian Empires, Hitler, and Stalin. Even if they are bombed into surrender, it is unlikely that they will be willing supporters of the outcome".

On March 10, 1999, Kissinger opposed the deployment of US troops to Kosovo as a part of NATO peacekeeping forces in the US Congress. These forces were supposed to be sent to monitor a peace agreement if it were to be signed by the Serbs and ethnic Albanians. Kissinger spoke on Capitol Hill, where there was a scheduled vote on whether to send troops or not, and he was there at the invitation of Republican leaders opposing the deployment of US troops to Kosovo. During the morning meeting, Kissinger made it clear that he agreed with them.

"In substance, I did not favor the deployment of US troops to Kosovo. I also have to consider the impact on negotiations. It's a bit late in the game, and..."
Later, Kissinger used even stronger words during a hearing before lawmakers on the topic of sending US troops to Kosovo.

Kissinger stated that such NATO forces exceeded the scope of their mandate in Europe.

"I, too, advocated for the early cessation of Serbian intervention in Bosnia. This is not necessary for US ground forces, so I believe the introduction of US ground forces and NATO military forces for this purpose is the first unprecedented expansion of NATO's jurisdiction, an extraordinary violation of international law, and a dangerous precedent for the US", Kissinger said.

Madeleine Albright called on Congress to postpone the vote, stating that the parties in conflict were preparing to resume peace talks.

Continuation tomorrow: Opponent of Rambouillet