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Lessons in 'humanitarian' imperialism from the Kosovo War

By Dan Gorry
On February 23, 2014

This Friday marks the 16th anniversary of the beginning of the Kosovo War, which was the fourth war in a series of largely ethnic conflicts that ultimately eviscerated the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. The most notable aspect of the Kosovo War was NATO's decision to bomb Yugoslavia in order to stop an alleged genocide. In reality, there was no genocide, but the bombings heavily contributed to ongoing ethnic cleansing perpetrated by both belligerents. With widespread insurgencies threatening a host of states, primarily in the tumultuous Middle East, a reexamination of the effects of militarized intervention-such as those used in Kosovo-is more prudent than ever.
Yugoslavia was a former member of the Non-Aligned Movement, and one of the few Eastern European states that remained relatively stable after the collapse of the U.S.S.R. It was comprised of various ethnic groups, the largest being Serbians, and enjoyed an admirably efficient economy notable for its widespread nationalization of industry. By the 1990's, however, Yugoslavia became the target of western powers who sought to extend economic liberalization (i.e. privatization of industry). Then-president of Yugoslavia, Slobodan Milosevic, had already begun to slowly relinquish state-owned enterprises to private interests, as mandated by the IMF, but he ardently rejected surrendering the state's sovereignty.
Concurrently, Germany's secret service-the BND-began recruiting Albanian Kosovars in 1996, shortly after the collapse and ensuing violence within Albania, to serve as soldiers in the newly formed Kosovar Liberation Army, as detailed by Matthias Kuntzel-a senior advisor to the German parliament. Additionally, Canadian Ambassador to Yugoslavia James Bisset implicated the CIA, along with the British Special Air Service, in arming and training the KLA with the intent of catalyzing a violent insurgency within Kosovo. "The hope was that with Kosovo in flames NATO could intervene," he said.
Sure enough, beginning in 1998, the KLA intensified an ongoing campaign of ethnic cleansing in order to secure an ethnically pure Kosovo, which resulted in the mass displacement of 200,000 Serbs, Romas and other Kosovar minorities. Milosevic organized a response via the Yugoslavian Army that responded to the KLA's terrorist activities with irresponsibly indiscriminate killing of civilians, which further added to the widespread ethnic cleansing. At the insistence of Russian President Boris Yeltsin, Milosevic reluctantly allowed international representatives to set up the Kosovo Diplomatic Observer Mission, which attempted to broker a ceasefire between the parties, but was stymied by American officials like Mike McCurry and Kenneth Bacon who demanded that Yugoslavian forces withdraw, "without linkage to...the 'stopping of terrorist activities.'"
In 1999, Richard Holbrooke, Clinton's envoy to the Balkans, flew to Belgrade where he was infamously photographed with KLA commanders whilst issuing his ultimatum to Milosevic: obey or "what's left of your country will implode." Yugoslavian authorities attempted to reach a peace agreement under the threat of NATO bombing at the Rambouillet Conference, but left after the sudden addition of Annexure B, which demanded that an army of 30,000 NATO troops have permanent unrestricted passage within Yugoslavia and be immune to Yugoslavian law. However, British Foreign Office minister Lord Gillbert later admitted Annexure B was added last minute to deliberately provoke rejection.
NATO bombings commenced on March 24, 1999, which were not authorized by the UNSC, but were later defended as being "illegal but legitimate," because of the need to stop the imaginary genocide being waged against the ethnic Albanians. Though only 14 Yugoslavian tanks were destroyed by NATO, the military alliance utterly annihilated at least 372 public industrial facilities, in addition to scores of hospitals, schools, bridges, houses, nurseries, broadcasting centers and power stations. The bombing also directly lead to an exponential increase in civilian displacement.
Realizing that Russia would not come to his aid, Milosevic acquiesced to NATO demands and withdrew Yugoslavian forces from Kosovo, in addition to granting the former territory full autonomy, which has resulted in an additional 200,000 people being ethnically cleansed by remnants of the KLA. FBI investigators sent to uncover Kosovo's "mass graves" found only 2,788 bodies, and most of the corpses were Roma or Serbs killed by KLA forces. Today, Kosovo provides a "free market" for 70 percent of Europe's heroin in addition to human trafficking services, and murder of non-ethnic Albanians remains common. Yet, the country hosts the enormous U.S. Army base Camp Bondsteel, which has been implicated by the Council of Europe as a secret detention and torture facility. Thus encapsulates the "saintly glow" of NATO's humanitarian intervention.

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