FEUILLETON Henry Kissinger, America, and Kosovo (2): Opponent of Rambouillet

Medlin Olbrajt
Source: Večernje novosti

Writing for Kosovo Online: Dragan Bisenic

"The proposed deployment in Kosovo does not address any threat to American security", "Kosovo is no more a threat to the US than Haiti was to Europe", "American lives should be risked only when there is a visible threat to national security in pursuit of clearly defined objectives and with forces commensurate to those objectives", "I have studied the history of this region, and this is a struggle that has been going on for 600 years". These are all quotes from Kissinger's statements regarding the planning of negotiations in Rambouillet and the proposed agreement he considered an "ultimatum" because it envisaged a NATO military attack on Serbia if the Serbian side did not agree to the conditions imposed on it.

He said, "Any gradual deployment of forces in the Balkans will weaken our ability to deal with Saddam Hussein and North Korea".

The new round of Kosovo negotiations began on March 15 in Paris and ended in failure after only four days. The two delegations signed two different agreements on March 18.

Conflict between Holbrooke and Albright

The delegation of Kosovo Albanians signed the agreement offered by international negotiators, while the state delegation of Serbia signed its own proposal for a political agreement - the Agreement on Self-Government in Kosovo and Metohija.

Even in the last attempt on March 22, the Special Envoy of the United States, Richard Holbrooke, failed to convince Slobodan Milosevic, the President of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, to accept the agreement on Kosovo and the deployment of foreign troops in the province.

International mediators Majorski, Petritsch, and Hill were also unsuccessful.

During the Rambouillet talks, it is little known that there was a major dispute between the chief US negotiator for Kosovo, Richard Holbrooke, and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, as reported by Warren Bass. Although the Balkans was a crossroads for Holbrooke and Albright, it became a major problem in their relationship. During the first Clinton administration, Albright liked to say that she and Holbrooke were "on the same side" on most important European issues. Generally speaking, this applied to the Balkans—they both advocated an activist policy to defend some form of multi-ethnicity in Bosnia and Kosovo, and both hated Western disinterest while Bosnia bled.

During the first term, Albright vigorously advocated air strikes against Bosnian Serbs, while Holbrooke became a key figure in Bosnia only after the fall of the first bombs in 1995. But both were important players on the Kosovo issue, where Holbrooke, as a Special Envoy, persuaded Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to agree to a ceasefire and troop withdrawal in October 1998.

Warren Bass states that after Racak in January 1999, Albright claimed "that the previous policy—Holbrooke’s policy of negotiations and attempts to trust Milosevic—had completely failed" and that it should be replaced by the "Rambouillet strategy" of demanding Serbian concessions at gunpoint.

"Albright was a little disgusted to deal with Milosevic, who is not one of her favorite people—and, although Milosevic is not one of Holbrooke's favorite people either, he is one of his favorite negotiating partners", a foreign political insider notes.

While many of Holbrooke's protégés were in Rambouillet, the summit was marked by what was probably their biggest political dispute.

Holbrooke was present at key meetings before Rambouillet, according to administration officials, but, sensing a catastrophe, he made it clear that he preferred a more traditional diplomatic approach to resolving this dispute. Negotiating only with the weaker side, the Kosovars, and imposing an agreement on the Serbs, members of the Clinton team "put their heads on the chopping block for a deal that could never happen", one diplomatic source said.

While Holbrooke took care not to leave traces, sources from the administration say he expressed his dissatisfaction by privately talking to journalists. "All media reports against Madeleine came directly from Holbrooke", one source says.

"He was on the phone 25 hours a day, making sure he knew what was happening in Rambouillet and that every failure was portrayed as Albright's failure. But her allies argue that Rambouillet prepared the Europeans to use force, without which Milosevic could ethnically cleanse Kosovo with impunity.

"Richard Holbrooke, with all his skills, could not stop that dilemma", an administration official says.

"You might see one aspect of Holbrooke's personality in his absence from the public eye during the seventy-two-day bombing period, waiting to see how it would turn out while the rest of the administration hung out there", the official adds.

"Before, he always had a reason to go on TV. Albright concluded that the way to force Milosevic to give in was actually to threaten him and not send Richard Holbrooke, and she was right, and he was wrong", a former official says.

"For Albright, force is the only thing that works. For Holbrooke, it's a tool — and a marginal one because he thinks he can negotiate".

Kissinger's opposition

It is clear that Kissinger's criticism of Rambouillet played into Holbrooke's hands in these circumstances. Kissinger believed that "NATO cohesion was endangered primarily because an unsustainable agreement from Rambouillet was invested in", not because of Serbia's behavior. All of this is reminiscent of another debate that began over the use of the US and NATO forces in Bosnia.

Another giant of the US foreign policy, George Kennan, opposed that policy. At the time, Richard Holbrooke, the leading advocate of such US policy, responded to Kennan. Now, Holbrooke found himself in Kennan's position, opting for a diplomatic approach, which Albright considered complicity with Milosevic.

Kissinger strongly opposed the approach launched by Madeleine Albright in Rambouillet.

"I am uncomfortable with NATO saying we will bomb you if you do not accept our diplomacy", Kissinger told US senators. This was a part of his broader opposition to involving NATO in the Kosovo issue.

"I don't think it was wise to bind NATO with the demand that NATO forces enter a sovereign country with which we are not at war before that country has done something that could be credibly presented as a breach of peace in that area", Kissinger argued.

He believed that NATO would have to have a clearly defined defensive character in its actions, but it would also have to leave an "exit" for Serbia.

Since the NATO attack on Serbia was already underway, Kissinger saw the withdrawal of Serbian forces from Kosovo, acceptance of autonomy or self-government for Kosovo, the return of refugees, and consent to the establishment of an international protectorate presence without veto power over guardianship as elements of a future agreement in which the bombing would achieve its goals, which could be interpreted as a "victory" or "overcoming" of NATO demands.

For the Kosovo situation, he considered that the West had "three reasonable general goals". First - to end or, if not end, then minimize human suffering, the second - to contain the conflict in Kosovo, and the third - to have an outcome that would not make us the permanent policeman of that area. "Each of these goals is already lost in a way", Kissinger assessed.

Since the question of possible ground intervention was raised very early, Kissinger dismissed the debate on that.

"I would not consider the use of ground forces as another offensive act in a war in which we are already engaged", he said. Moreover, he believed that after a possible ground intervention, a guerrilla war against NATO forces would follow.

Continuation tomorrow: Facing CNN's argument