Was a peaceful Kosovo Solution Rejected by U.S.?

By Seth Ackerman.

May 14, 1999

Since the beginning of the NATO attack on Yugoslavia, the war has been presented by the media as
the consequence of Yugoslavia's stubborn refusal to settle for any reasonable peace plan--in
particular its rejection of plans for an international security force to implement a peace plan in

An article in the April 14 New York Times stated that Yugoslavian President Milosevic "has
absolutely refused to entertain an outside force in Kosovo, arguing that the province is sovereign
territory of Serbia and Yugoslavia."

Negotiations between the Serb and Albanian delegations at the Rambouillet meeting in France ended
with Yugoslavia's rejection of the document that had been adopted, after much prodding, by the
Kosovo Albanian party.

But is that the whole story?

There were two parts to the peace proposals: a political agreement on autonomy for Kosovo; and
an implementation agreement on how to carry out the political deal--usually understood to require
international peacekeepers in Kosovo.

By the end of the first round of Rambouillet in February, the Serb side had agreed to the essentials of
a political deal. Agence France Presse (2/20/99) quoted a U.S. official as saying that the "political
part" of a peace accord "is almost not a problem, while the implementation part has been
reconsidered many times."

The U.S. wanted the Kosovo plan to be implemented by NATO troops under a NATO command,
and had already made plans for a 28,000-troop force. The Yugoslavian leadership was opposed to
the idea, claiming such an arrangement would amount to a foreign occupation of Kosovo by hostile

On February 20, the Russian ITAR-TASS news agency reported from Rambouillet that unnamed
"Contact Group members may offer, as a compromise, Milosevic an option under which a
multinational force will be deployed under the U.N. or the OSCE flag rather than the NATO flag as
was planned before."

Agence France Presse reported the same day that the Serb delegation "showed signs that it might
accept international peacekeepers on condition that they not be placed under NATO command" and
added that the head of the Serb delegation "insisted that the peacekeepers answer to a non-military
body such as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe…or the United Nations." A
U.S. official confirmed this to AFP: "The discussions are on whether it should be a UN or OSCE
force," the official said.

The next day, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright declared: "We accept nothing less than a
complete agreement, including a NATO-led force." Asked on CNN the same day: "Does it have to
be [a] NATO-led force, or as some have suggested, perhaps a UN-led force or an OSCE…force?
Does it specifically have to be NATO-run?" she replied, "The United States position is that it has to
be a NATO-led force. That is the basis of our participation in it."

Two days later, Albright repeated this position at a press conference: "It was asked earlier, when we
were all together whether the force could be anything different than a NATO-led force. I can just tell
you point blank from the perspective of the United States, absolutely not, it must be a NATO-led

Over the next month, this position was repeated countless times with increasing vehemence by State
Department officials. Furthermore, the U.S. refused to allow the Serbs to sign the political agreement
until they first agreed to a NATO-led force to implement it.

"The Serbs have been acting as if there are two documents but they can't pick and choose," Albright
said (AFP, 3/13/99). "There is no way to have the political document without the implementation
force that has to be NATO-led…. If they are not willing to engage on the military and police
chapters, there is no agreement."

Finally, on March 23, the day before the NATO bombing began, Ambassador Richard Holbrooke
met with Milosevic one last time to deliver his ultimatum: Sign the agreement or be bombed. The
response was delivered that night by the Serbian parliament, which adopted resolutions again
rejecting the military portion of the accords, but expressing willingness to review the "range and
character of an international presence" in Kosovo.

At a March 24 State Department press briefing, spokesman James Rubin was asked about this

          QUESTION: Was there any follow-up to the Serbian Assembly's yesterday? They had
          a two-pronged decision. One was to not allow NATO troops to come in; but the
          second part was to say they would consider an international force if all of the Kosovo
          ethnic groups agreed to some kind of a peace plan. It was an ambiguous collection of
          resolutions. Did anybody try to pursue that and find out what was the meaning of that?

          RUBIN: Ambassador Holbrooke was in Belgrade, discussed these matters extensively
          with President Milosevic, left with the conclusion that he was not prepared to engage
          seriously on the two relevant subjects. I think the decision of the Serb Parliament
          opposing military-led implementation was the message that most people received from
          the parliamentary debate. I'm not aware that people saw any silver linings.

          QUESTION: But there was a second message, as well; there was a second resolution.

          RUBIN: I am aware that there was work done, but I'm not aware that anybody in this
          building regarded it as a silver lining.

In other words, the State Department was aware that the Serbs had once again expressed openness
to an "international presence," but this was not seen as a "silver lining," apparently because only a
NATO force was acceptable to the U.S.

In an intriguing corollary to the insistence on NATO forces, a leaked version of the Pentagon's
1994-1999 Defense Planning Guidance report advises that the United States "must seek to prevent
the emergence of European-only security arrangements which would undermine NATO….
Therefore, it is of fundamental importance to preserve NATO as the primary instrument of Western
defense and security, as well as the channel for U.S. influence and participation in European security

This whole subject seems to have escaped the interest of the major media.

Those who support the bombing of Yugoslavia argue that the motives are humanitarian and that all
peaceful options for arriving at a settlement in Kosovo had been exhausted. Journalists need to do
more reporting on the Rambouillet process to see if that in fact was the case.