Two years ago, on March 24, NATO unleashed a round-the-clock aerial assault that pulverized Yugoslavia for 78 days. U.S. military forces, in coordination with its NATO partners, flew 11,000 strike sorties and dropped 20,000 tons of munitions, killing at least two thousand civilians and injuring many more. The stated purpose of the bombing campaign was to prevent ethnic cleansing and liberate Albanians in Kosovo, a Yugoslav province, from Serbian oppression.
Ironically the U.S.-led blitzkrieg employed high-tech weapons such as "Apache" helicopters and "Tomahawk" missiles, an Orwellian twist that prompted a journalist from Le Monde Diplomatique to ask: "Is it cynicism? Amnesia? Or have the Americans just not stopped to reflect that the arms they use to attack the Serb regime with its odious ethnic cleansing are named after the Indians exterminated last century?"
Hypocrisy, doublespeak, contradiction, deceit, and outright lies have been the hallmarks of U.S. policy toward Kosovo, which turned a localized human rights crisis into a major catastrophe. The devastating consequences of NATO's "humanitarian" war continue to reverberate throughout the region, as Macedonia, Kosovo's neighbor, teeters on the verge of a bloodbath.
In retrospect it's clear that NATO made no serious attempt to negotiate a peaceful resolution to the Kosovo conflict. Instead, NATO's pre-war "diplomacy" consisted of presenting an ultimatum to Belgrade that included the right of NATO forces to occupy all of Yugoslavia, a demand no sovereign country would accept. Moreover, many reports of Serbian atrocities in the months leading up to the bombing raids were exaggerated and, in some cases, completely fabricated. U.S. State Department officials spoke of a half million missing Kosovo Albanians and mass graves filled with thousands of victims. These unsubstantiated charges were presented as facts and repeated by gullible journalists.
A recent study by FAIR, the New York-based media watch group, took the American press to task for aiding and abetting the U.S. government's anti-Serbian disinformation campaign, which helped push NATO into war. In particular FAIR criticized media coverage of an alleged massacre of 45 ethnic Albanians by Serb forces in the Kosovo village of Racak in January 1999. U.S. diplomat William Walker condemned the "horrendous" slaughter of civilians, stating that all the victims had been brutally executed and some were mutilated after death. Described in vivid detail by news outlets throughout the world, the story of the Racak massacre "transformed the West's Balkan policy as singular events seldom do," according to the Washington Post, convincing our hesitant European allies that air strikes against Yugoslavia were necessary.
But Walker's version of what transpired at Racak was later refuted by a team of Finnish forensic pathologists hired by the European Union, which found no evidence of a massacre, no sign of mutilated bodies, and no proof of butchered civilians. Those who died at Racak were actually members of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), a CIA-trained paramilitary organization, and most were killed while battling Serbian soldiers. The Sunday Times of London determined that Walker was covertly working with the CIA when he hyped the massacre tale in order to justify a full-scale air attack.
State Department spokesperson James Rubin has admitted that KLA commanders were the source of several unconfirmed accounts of Serbian war crimes. While Yugoslav forces in Kosovo certainly had blood on their hands and were responsible for heinous acts of violence, they did not engage in systematic ethnic cleansing or genocide, as the U.S. government claimed. This was made explicit by the various international observers, including the German Foreign Office, which concluded that "The actions of the [Yugoslavian] security forces [were] not directed against the Kosovo-Albanians as an ethnically defined group, but against the military opponent and its actual or alleged supporters."
There was never any grand plan to eliminate Kosovo's 1.5 million Albanians. Yugoslavia's goal was to defeat the KLA, which had initially been branded a terrorist organization by U.S. officials. Immersed in the international narcotics trade, cutthroat KLA fanatics were magically recast as freedom fighters while being tutored by CIA advisors in 1998. Boosted by generous supplies of weapons from the United States, Germany, Albania, and Islamic fundamentalists, the KLA succeeded in staging a rebellion that provoked a vicious crackdown by Serbian troops. The arming of KLA, which functioned as NATO's on-the-ground ally in Kosovo during the aerial bombardments, could only have occurred by violating the weapons embargo against all parts of former Yugoslavia enacted by the United Nations Security Council in 1991.
In his book, To Kill A Nation (Verso, 2000), Michael Parenti maintains that Serbian paramilitary operations in Kosovo were no justification for NATO's unrelenting aerial offensive, which obliterated civilian as well as military targets and delivered "a magnitude of destruction across Yugoslavia far greater than any it claimed to arrest." Schools, libraries, hospitals, clinics, maternity wards, geriatric homes, and sanitariums were demolished along with hundreds of factories, refineries, bridges, airports, electric and water facilities, museums, churches, and cultural monuments. In addition to causing billions of dollars of infrastructure damage and destroying the productive capacity of an entire nation, NATO weapons poisoned rivers and agricultural lands with highly toxic chemicals and carcinogens. Parenti described the war against Yugoslavia, which had virtually no air defense system, as "a sadistic, one-sided, gang-battering of a small country by the most powerful military forces in the world."
Last year Amnesty International issued a report that reprimanded NATO forces for committing "serious violations of the laws of war leading in a number of cases to the unlawful killing of civilians" during the aerial assault on Yugoslavia. Among other examples, Amnesty cited NATO's bombing of Radio-Television Serbia in Belgrade, calling it a "direct attack on a civilian object [which] therefore constitutes a war crime."
It is not unreasonable to argue that NATO is guilty of wholesale criminal terrorism on a scale exceeding any of the Kosovo-related charges brought against former Yugoslavian president Slobodan Milosevic, who has been indicted by an international war crimes tribunal. But the tribunal, which is funded by the U.S. government and its European allies, has yet to hold any NATO official accountable for war crimes, even though a strong case could be made that the extensive use of cluster bombs and the deliberate destruction of civilian targets violated the Geneva Convention.
What did NATO actually accomplish in Kosovo? Eleven weeks of nonstop air raids ended with the deployment of NATO "peacekeeping" troops in June 1999. The transatlantic military partnership, which had been floundering since the end of the Cold War for lack of an adversary, acquired a new lease on life by demonstrating that it still had an indispensable role to play. NATO peacekeepers were supposed to disarm the KLA, protect the Serb minority in Kosovo, and nurture a multi-ethnic society. But that never happened.
Instead, NATO presided over the installation of a KLA-dominated government in Kosovo, with close ties to drug dealers, sex traffickers, and organized crime networks.
While Albanian thugs murdered Serbs and gypsies with impunity, the new regime implemented "free market reforms" that gave multinational corporations access to Kosovo's natural resources.
Rather than dismantling the KLA, the CIA utilized its terrorists-cum-freedom-fighters to destabilize the Milosevic government in Yugoslavia. The Balkan nightmare was supposed to have ended when Milosevic fell from power in October 2000 after losing the presidential elections amid growing protests. But KLA extremists had their sights set on annexing Albanian-populated areas of Serbia and Macedonia to create a "greater Kosovo."
For the most part, Macedonia had avoided the bloodshed that accompanied the break-up of Yugoslavia. The peace was shattered in February when Albanian nationalist gunmen launched an insurgency in Macedonia, which threatened to escalate into another Balkan conflagration. "Now that Milosevic is gone, the State Department seems incapable of reining in its bastard army," a European NATO commander told the London Observer.
Macedonian officials bitterly rebuked U.S. peacekeeping forces for ignoring the massive infiltration of Albanian rebels and arms that slipped across the border from Kosovo. NATO's failure to cut off rebel supply lines is a major embarrassment to Carl Bildt, the United Nations envoy in the Balkans. Bildt says that the West has a "moral debt to honor" in Macedonia, whose government was instrumental in supporting NATO efforts to oust Yugoslavian forces from Kosovo. During the 1999 bombing campaign, Western leaders praised Macedonia for allowing NATO to station tanks and soldiers on its territory. Macedonia also provided a safe haven for thousands of war refugees.
Thus far, however, the NATO alliance has done little to return the favor. Turning a deaf ear to urgent pleas for help, NATO officials say they have no plans to dispatch troops to assist the Macedonian government in its time of need. With friends like NATO and the CIA, who needs enemies?
Martin A. Lee (email@example.com) is the author of Acid Dreams and The Beast Reawakens, a book on neofascism. His column, Reality Bites, appears here every Monday.
Copyright 2001 San Francisco Bay Guardian