FEUILLETON Henry Kissinger, America, and Kosovo (5): Serbia was on America's side in two world wars

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Writing for Kosovo Online: Dragan Bisenic

The war in Kosovo is a product of conflicts that stretch through the centuries, Henry Kissinger stated in the article "An Insult to History", published on April 5, 1999, in the magazine "Newsweek".

In this analysis, Kissinger provided a historical perspective and an analysis of the conflicts in the Balkans.

Kissinger's long-time collaborator, later a partner in a consulting firm, and previously both a diplomat and Ambassador to Belgrade, Lawrence Eagleburger, when he became Secretary of State in the administration of George H.W. Bush, said about Kissinger, "Henry thinks in terms of the balance of power. He firmly believes in the principle of stability. Goals set in this way are entirely contrary to the US experience. Americans tend to follow a set of moral principles. However, Henry does not have an inherent sense of the US political system, and he does not follow the same basic values and prerequisites".

History should be studied

For Kissinger, this corrective factor of the US policy was history, much as Winston Churchill defined it, "The longer you look back, the farther you can look forward".

As an educated historian, he viewed the world in terms of analogies with historical situations he had studied and lessons drawn from them.

"When I entered the office, I brought with me a philosophy formed by two decades of studying history", Kissinger said.

Kissinger referred to the assertion of the ancient Greek historian Thucydides that "the present, though never repeating the exact past, must inevitably resemble it. Hence the future".

"More than ever", Kissinger sought, "we need to study history to see why nations and people have succeeded and why they have not". Despite that, he warned that "history is not a cookbook that offers tried and true recipes. It teaches us by analogies, not by maxims. History can illuminate the consequences of actions in comparable situations". But here is the key—to do so, "each generation must discover for itself which situations are truly comparable", Kissinger explained.

The Balkans had been an area of interest for Kissinger since the beginning of his study of diplomatic history.

The conflict 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.

Reflecting on President Clinton's statement that "after a short period of NATO occupation, ethnic groups will reconcile", Kissinger asserted that "there is no realistic basis for that assumption",

Ethnic groups in Bosnia did not reconcile after three years of NATO peace operations.

When US forces are engaged in combat, victory is the only exit strategy, Kissinger argued.

"The administration, in search of symbols that resonate with the public, presented three categories of arguments. The most compelling is that the suffering in Kosovo is so offensive to our moral sensibility that we will use force to end it even without traditional considerations of national interest. However, since this leaves the question open as to why we do not intervene in Eastern Africa, Sri Lanka, Kurdistan, Kashmir, and Afghanistan, to name just a few places where infinitely more casualties have occurred than in Kosovo?

The President referred to historical analogies or current threats that are highly questionable.

Where is he insulting history?

Milosevic is not Hitler

Slobodan Milosevic is not Hitler but a Balkan bully, and the crisis in Kosovo has no analogy with events that preceded World War I. Neither Milosevic nor any other Balkan leader is in a position to threaten the global balance, as the President constantly claims. Milosevic bears significant 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 holy site. Therefore, there was little, if any, opposition in Belgrade to Milosevic's Kosovo policy", Kissinger explained.

He disputed that World War I started in the Balkans as a result of ethnic conflicts but rather for precisely the opposite reason – external powers got involved in a local conflict. The assassination of the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne by a Serbian nationalist led to a world war because Russia supported Serbia, France supported Russia, and Germany supported Austria.

"World War II did not start in the Balkans, much less as a result of its ethnic conflicts. It is absurd to claim that the economic prosperity of the European Union, with a GDP larger than that of the United States, depends on the outcome in impoverished Kosovo. NATO cohesion is threatened primarily because it invested in an unsustainable agreement from Rambouillet. It remains to be seen how long it can hold up when the public reaction to the scale and duration of the bombing becomes apparent, and when it becomes clear that the long-term consequences of the current campaign must be controlled by NATO ground forces", Kissinger pointed out to the US public.

He emphasized that he "respects the humanitarian motive for intervention, but that does not exempt democracy from the need to find a sustainable solution". The Rambouillet Agreement does not meet that test. Conducting negotiations based on an agreement entirely drafted in foreign offices and attempting to impose it through the threat of air bombardment has only exacerbated the crisis in Kosovo.

The text from Rambouillet was handed over to the Kosovo Liberation Army, which initially rejected it as a means to divert the full force of NATO against Serbia, and perhaps tempted Milosevic to accelerate the repression of the KLA before the bombs fell. Now there is a risk of involving NATO and US ground forces in implementing an agreement that neither side truly desires. "It was a serious mistake to abandon any effort to empower observers already in Kosovo in favor of NATO peace forces that will not bring peace", Kissinger warned.

Serbia on our side

He then commented on President Clinton's address to the Serbs, where he stated, "NATO allies support the Serbs in retaining Kosovo as a part of your country". He added that the agreement would "guarantee the rights of all people, Kosovo Serbs and the Albanians in Serbia". Therefore, the Rambouillet Agreement envisions the KLA handing over its weapons to NATO forces, with around 10,000 Serbian police maintaining security, and about 1,500 Serbian soldiers guarding the borders.

"None of this is possible to achieve through agreement, only through imposition. The Serbs rejected the Rambouillet Agreement 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 to which Serbia historically resisted against the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian Empires, Hitler, and Stalin. Even if they are bombed into capitulation, it is unlikely that the Serbs would be willing supporters of such an outcome", Henry Kissinger warned.

Pointing out that, for him, as "someone who supported every military action of the Clinton administration or criticized it for acting too hesitantly, as was the case in Iraq", Kissinger revealed that the war against Yugoslavia created "deep ambivalence" in him.

The reasons for this are historical. It can be said that Kissinger was among the few who, in the 90s, actually took historical events into account and thus rehabilitated Serbia's role in historical relations with the United States.

"Serbia fought on our side in two world wars and opposed Stalin at the height of its power. We cannot ignore Milosevic's brutality, but the disappearance of Serbia from the Balkan balance can trigger eruptions in other neighboring countries that contain ethnic minorities. More importantly, the issue of Macedonia's integrity will be upon us, threatening a broader Balkan war. Let us hope that it will be approached with greater foresight than the prelude to the current crisis", Kissinger wrote.

Continuation tomorrow: The unsustainability of Bosnia and the Dayton Agreement