FEUILLETON Henry Kissinger, America, and Kosovo (4): Strategy without moral and political foundations

Klinton - Osmani
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Writing for Kosovo Online: Dragan Bisenic

Kissinger was opposed to resolving "ethnic crises" in this way and even then foresaw that they could spread "all the way to the Urals".

"This is exactly what is happening today in Ukraine and the Holy Land. These are two derivatives of the 'Kosovo crisis' of 1999 because they involve the right to use force, wage war, and create and defend the existence of a state. The Kosovo precedent has sown and still sows the poisonous seed that will spread in Europe and the world".

Kissinger was not alone in such thinking. On March 30, 1999, in an article titled "The Unhappy Policeman", The Washington Post predicted numerous far-reaching consequences of NATO's attack on Serbia.

NATO as an Unhappy Policeman

"If NATO makes Serbia so weak, the Kosovars will feel that secession is safe. What could then become insecure is the area between Germany and Russia. Ten to 15 percent of the 170 million people living there are ethnic minorities within their nations. For example, according to Professor P. Edward Haley of Claremont McKenna College, who wrote in the Los Angeles Times, 25 million non-Russians live outside the Russian Federation, and 40 percent of ethnic Albanians live outside Albania.                                                                                                             

If it seems that NATO, with its actions in Kosovo, affirms the principle of ethnic self-determination, or if the drama unfolding there encourages armed ethnic minorities to seek the right to self-determination, then NATO, which has expanded to the east and probably has not finished expanding, could become a very unhappy policeman", The Washington Post stated.

Kissinger started from the premise that the "war in Kosovo is the product of conflicts that stretch through the centuries". It occurs on the dividing line between the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires, between Islam and Christianity, and between Serbian and Albanian nationalism. Ethnic groups lived together in peace only when coexistence was imposed under foreign empires or Tito's dictatorship. President Clinton claimed that after a short period of NATO occupation, ethnic groups would reconcile. There is no real basis for this assumption. Ethnic groups in Bosnia did not reconcile after three years of NATO peace operations.

Kissinger portrayed the Clinton administration's policy in the Balkans as a "combination of political opportunism, incompetence, and thoughtlessness". He was particularly concerned about the long-term consequences for US relations with Russia and China, as well as the alliance between the US and European powers.

The following excerpt provides an example of his assessment:

"The rejection of a long-term strategy explains how it was possible to slide into conflict in Kosovo without adequate consideration of all its implications—especially the strong reaction of almost all nations against NATO's new doctrine of humanitarian intervention. Before the bombing began, it was customary in Washington to exaggerate Serbia's historical ties to Kosovo and to argue that Slobodan Milosevic sought an excuse to shed the burden he represented—which a few days of bombing were supposed to provide. But what if Serbia, a country that fought against the Turkish and Austro-Hungarian empires and defied Hitler and Stalin at the height of its powers, did not yield? How far were we willing to go?"       

Kissinger's argument expressed divisions within the US foreign policy establishment not only about the current war but also about long-term international strategy.

Regarding the causes of the mass exodus of Kosovo Albanians to neighboring countries, the US and NATO insisted that the start of the bombing played no role, and the responsibility was entirely on the Serbs and their policy of "ethnic cleansing".

Kissinger did not accept these explanations. He writes, "No provisions were made for a war of attrition or a flood of refugees that it must have caused—not to speak of the ethnic cleansing that the war accelerated and intensified".

Regarding the motives behind the bombing, Kissinger points out significant contradictions undermining claims of a "humanitarian" war. He states, "No issue demands more scrutiny than the concept of humanitarian intervention, presented as a contribution of the administration to a new approach to foreign policy. The air war in Kosovo is justified as the establishment of the principle that the international community—or at least NATO—will henceforth punish government abuses against its people. But we have not done this in Algeria, Sudan, Sierra Leone, Croatia, Rwanda, the Caucasus, Kurdish areas, and many other regions. And what will be our stance on emerging ethnic conflicts in Asia, for example, in Indonesia and the Philippines? The frequent answer is that we act where we can without unnecessary risk, not somewhere else. But what are the criteria for this distinction? And what kind of humanism expresses its unwillingness to endure military sacrifices by destroying the civilian economy of its adversary in the decades to come?"

Strategy of imperial dominance

"A strategy that justifies its moral convictions only from an altitude above 15,000 feet—and in the process devastates Serbia and renders Kosovo uninhabitable—has already produced more refugees and victims than any conceivable alternative mixture of force and diplomacy. It deserves to be questioned on both political and moral grounds“.

Kissinger implies that behind the humanitarian stance lies a strategy of imperial dominance.

Speaking about Russia and China's reaction to the war, he says, "Their leaders are products of societies that interpret decisions on war and peace according to whether they enhance the security of the nation or other vital interests. If they cannot discern such a traditional rationale for US behavior, they attribute our motives not to altruism but to a hidden plan for domination“.

Furthermore, he states, "Every nation views international events through the prism of its own history. And for China, the new NATO doctrine of humanitarian intervention evokes the unilaterally declared civilizing mission of 19th-century Europe, which led to the fragmentation of China and a series of Western interventions".

Pointing to the analysis of the danger of US policy entering into armed conflict with China, Kissinger cautioned, "We must not replicate in Asia the emotional and thoughtless policy that brought us such calamity in the Balkans".

From the outset, Kissinger argued that the best service to US national security was the fastest possible conclusion of the war.

"I believe that the continuation of this war will lead, at least in some European countries, to debates that could in the long run jeopardize our national interest – they can endanger NATO. Our credibility in the Gulf and elsewhere will be seriously weakened, and that's why I am focused on ending the war as quickly as possible, if we simply continue the air campaign unsuccessfully, at some point, we will find ourselves faced with endless proposals from various NATO and other countries on how to end it with various tricks that will still be unsuccessful. I would never have gone down this path we have taken. I say this reluctantly. I would never have risked a war in the Balkans without a degree of Serbian provocation that has not yet occurred when the war started", Kissinger warned.

Kissinger believed that the US "made serious mistakes entering into this, and we shouldn't slide into such crises again without careful analysis". In his opinion, the alternative would be an endless continuation of bombing, "which will lead to Vietnam unless Serbia collapses earlier", expressing that he was not in favor of invading Serbia. He thought that the withdrawal of Serbian forces from Kosovo would achieve the goal.

"This is not an analogy with Saddam Hussein because Saddam Hussein has significant oil resources. He is a significant threat to all neighboring countries. Serbia is so weak after this campaign, and its ambitions are, in any case, a defense against Saddam Hussein, that I don't believe we should conduct a military campaign to remove Milosevic", Kissinger said, adding, "although I would be happy if that were its outcome".

Continuation tomorrow: Serbia was on America's side in two world war