FEUILLETON Henry Kissinger, America, and Kosovo (3): Facing CNN's arguments

Source: CNN

Writing for Kosovo Online: Dragan Bisenic

How Kissinger confronted the arguments of the other side, which he completely rejected, can be observed from his interview on March 23, 1999, on the CNN network, just a few hours before the start of NATO's attack on Serbia.

Today, when the question of Kosovo's territory being taken from Serbia is being posed most directly, it is worth recalling Kissinger's views:

"I would make a distinction between two things. I can understand US military action to punish genocide or to prevent immediate genocide. The next step of deploying troops to Kosovo to reach a final solution - in terms of the agreement that is now on the table, I think that would be a terrible mistake".

NOVAK: But even so, sir, if there is no response from President Milosevic to the bombing, should we send combat troops against the Yugoslav Army?

KISSINGER: I would be opposed to that.

NOVAK: Mr. Secretary, the President today...

KISSINGER: You know, using NATO to separate a province from a country with which we are not at war, it's an unprecedented gesture.

NOVAK: Almost unprecedented in history, isn't it?

KISSINGER: Well, I don't want to go that far, but certainly unprecedented for NATO, and I think it's unprecedented for the United States.

NOVAK: The President today gave a speech in which he gave a sort of improvised justification for war policy. And he quoted anti-hate crimes laws in Washington, and in Congress, and said that it was the same thing.

KISSINGER: What crimes?

NOVAK: Against crimes, against hatred, against - prejudice against - crimes against homosexuals and minorities. And he said that it had some connection to what was happening in Kosovo. Is that a pretext for war by the United States when we oppose the reason why people around the world are killing each other?

KISSINGER: No, I absolutely would not agree with this statement. I think US military forces should not be used, nor be jeopardized for that purpose. The campaign against hatred that is within the US - that is a domestic matter. If the President said that genocide had been committed or would soon be committed, and that was so offensive to our deepest values, I can understand that. But that would be a very unusual use of the US military power.

NOVAK: Mr. Secretary, I don't want to put words in your mouth, but some have said that genocide or ethnic cleansing has occurred in Kosovo, as it was in Bosnia, as it may have been in Croatia, and that the air strikes represent punishment of those responsible and preventing further bloodshed. Under those conditions, would you say you would support air strikes on Serbia?

KISSINGER: Look, it is against everything I do, since I held a high position, to oppose the President of the United States before military operations. And I have never done that. I supported every military move of the Clinton administration. But I have to express my discomfort. If the President launches a one-time air campaign of one, two, or three days, I won't set limits to it; I can barely understand that. But if the purpose is to force Milosevic to come to the conference to sign an agreement, which I believe is deeply wrong, and impractical, and to have US ground forces inserted into Kosovo along with NATO ground forces. And let me explain what bothers me about the agreement. The agreement talks about the autonomy of Kosovo, and the President has said twice in the last two days that Milosevic must understand that this is the best way to retain Kosovo. The Albanians do not want autonomy; they want independence. Therefore, they will not accept this goal. The agreement calls for the disarmament of the Albanian forces. This will never happen. The agreement provides for 12,000 Serbian police and a number of Serbian military to remain in Kosovo. How will they treat the Albanians? And that's why I would like to know what these ground forces are supposed to do there. That is the part that bothers me. And that's what I would like the President to reconsider.

NOVAK: In the meantime, we see the murders happening in Kosovo. We see villages burning as we speak. Even if this is a part of Serbia, which it is, how can the US stand aside and watch people being killed or expelled from villages just for who they are, not for anything they have done? I mean, haven't we learned that lesson before?

KISSINGER: I think it's a terrible thing, well, if you look around the world, we could identify 10 or 20 places.

NOVAK: Absolutely.

KISSINGER: Where this is happening today. And I don't think you would argue that we should use US military force in each of them. I believe that this policy was designed from the beginning to rule out ground intervention and to use economic and other pressure and occasional punitive air strikes, we would achieve our basic goal, although we might not save every life. But I think the course we are on will also cost many lives.

NOVAK: Another question about this. There's a report that Primakov, the Prime Minister of the Soviet, not the Soviet Union, Russia—I'm going back to the Cold War days—has canceled his visit to the United States because of the imminent US and NATO action against Serbia. Is that a serious danger to the US, the strain in relations with Russia?

KISSINGER: Well, the Russians have historically been protectors of Serbia, and World War I started precisely over this issue. I don't believe that Russia has the capacity to militarily intervene and wants to—so we won't pay a military price for this. But for this, I think we'll pay a political price in relations with Russia, always bearing in mind that Russia is now very weak and very dependent on our support.

In the end, the host praised Kissinger for not wanting to "attack the administration before it goes into battle", but having "tremendous fears" and apprehensions about this "senseless military venture in Kosovo".

Continuation tomorrow: A strategy without moral and political foundations