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avgust 20, 2008
The Failure of Diplomacy
By Rollie Keith
ROLAND KEITH is a 32-year career military officer in the Canadian
military. He's a former director of the Kosovo Polje Field Office of the Kosovo
Verification Mission, from which position he returned in April.
Canada was participating in the NATO coalition air bombardment of the Federal Republic
of Yugoslavia, ostensibly to force compliance with the terms of the Rambouillet and
subsequent Paris "Interim Agreement for Peace and Self-Government in Kosovo".
The justification for this aggressive action was to
force Yugoslavian compliance and acceptance to the so-called "agreement" and to end the alleged humanitarian and human rights abuses
being perpetrated on the ethnic majority Kosovar Albanian residents of the Serbi an
province of Kosovo.
The bombardment then is rationalized on the basis of the UN Declaration of Human Rights
taking precedence over the UN Charter that states the inviolability of national
sovereignty. While I am concerned with human rights abuse, I also
believe many nations, if not all, would clearly be vulnerable to this criticism;
therefore, we require a better mechanism to counter national human rights violations than
What, however, was the situation within Kosovo before March 20, and are we now being
misled with biased media information?
Is this aggressive war really justified to counter alleged humanitarian violations, or
are there problematical premises being applied to justify the hostilities? Either way,
diplomacy has failed and the ongoing air bombardment has greatly exacerbated an internal
humanitarian problem into a disaster. There were no
international refugees over the last five months of the Organization for Security and
Co-operation in Europe's (OSCE) presence within Kosovo and Internal Displaced Persons only
numbered a few thousand in the weeks before the air bombardment commenced.
As an OSCE Kosovo Verification Mission (KVM) monitor during February and March of this
year, I was assigned as the Director of the Kosovo Polje Field Office, just west of the
provincial capital of Pristina. The role of the 1380 monitors of the KVM, from some 38 of
the OSCE's 55 nations, including 64 Canadians, was authorized under UN Security Council
Resolution 1199 to monitor and verify cease-fire compliance, or non-compliance,
investigate cease-fire violations and unwarranted road blocks, assist humanitarian
agencies in facilitating the resettlement of displaced persons and assist in
democratization measures eventually leading to elections. The agreement which was the
basis of the KVM (I refer to it as the "Holbrooke-Milosevic agreement") was
signed on October 16, 1998, ending the previous eight months of internal conflict.
Given its international composition, the KVM was organized and deployed quite slowly
and was not fully operational on a partial basis until early in 1999. By the time I arrived, vehicles and other resources along with
the majority of international monitors were arriving, but the cease-fire situation was
deteriorating with an increasing incidence of Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) provocative
attacks on the Yugoslavian security forces. In response the security
forces of the Ministry of Internal Security police supported by the army were establishing
random roadblocks that resulted in some harassment of movement of the majority Albanian
Kosovars. The general situation was, though, that the bulk of the population had settled
down after the previous year's hostilities, but the KLA was building its strength and was
attempting to reorganizei n preparation for a military solution, hopeful of NATO or
western military support.
Consequently the October Holbrooke-Milosevic agreement restraining the Internal
Security police and army was not strictly adhered to, as unauthorized forces were deployed
to maintain security within the major communities and internal lines of communication. In
my estimation, however, the KLA was left in control of much of the hinterland
unchallenged, comprising at least some fifty per cent of the province. In addition the
parallel Albanian government of the Kosovo Democratic League (KDL) continued to provide
some leadership to the majority of the Albanian Kosovars.
This low intensity war since the end of 1998 had resulted in a series of incidents
against the security forces, which in turn led to some heavy-handed security operations,
one being the alleged "massacre" at Racak of some 45 Albanian Kosovars in
Upon my arrival the war increasingly evolved into a mid intensity conflict as ambushes,
the encroachment of critical lines of communication and the kidnapping of security forces
resulted in a significant increase in government casualties which in turn led to major
Yugoslavian reprisal security operations that included armour, mechanized forces and
artillery to secure there same lines of communication.
By the beginning of March these terror and counter-terror operations led to the
inhabitants of numerous villages fleeing, or being dispersed to either other villages,
cities or the hills to seek refuge. As monitors we attempted to follow and report on these
cease-fire violations, but I and my fellow monitors also continued to work with both
Kosovo factions and the internally-displaced population to promote the other aspects of
our mission. In particular within our field office rea of responsibility, we were making
progress to facilitate the resettlement of an unoccupied village from the previous summer,
while six other villages were about to be abandoned due to the increasing hostilities.
As an example of this humanitarian work, we had conducted some dozen negotiating
sessions with both belligerents as well as displaced villagers. Our objective was to
create conditions of confidence and stability and commence the resettlement of the village
of Donje Grabovac. This village of some 700 former inhabitants sits next to a major coal
mine guarded by security forces, which fuels an adjacent thermal generating plant. On the
other side of the village, less than a kilometre away, the KLA also occupied another
village. Donje Grobovac was the scene of daily shooting incidents and in this case most
were probably initiated by the mine guards. Regardless,
tensions were high and fatal casualties and kidnapping of mine and security forces by the
KLA had occurred prior to our arrival. After our lengthy series of
negotiations, all participants agreed not to provoke their opponents and we were about to
escort former village delegations back to commence resettlement. If this kind of program
could have been expanded and built upon throughout Kosovo, perhaps supported by an
enlarged international monitoring mission to better reduce the cease-fire violations, I
believe both the international air bombardment and intensified civil war would have been
avoided. But western diplomacy would have to be more flexible for this to occur.
The situation was clearly that KLA provocations, as personally witnessed in ambushes of
security patrols which inflicted fatal and other casualties, were clear violations of the
previous October's agreement. The security forces responded and the
consequent security harassment and counter-operations led to an intensified
insurrectionary war, but as I have stated elsewhere, I
did not witness, nor did I have knowledge of any incidents of so-called "ethnic
cleansing" and there certainly were no occurrences of "genocidal policies"
while I was with the KVM in Kosovo. What has
transpired since the OSCE monitors were evacuated on March 20, in order to deliver the
penultimate warning to force Yugoslavian compliance with the Rambouillet and subsequent
Paris documents and the commencement of the NATO air bombardment of March 24, obviously
has resulted in human rights abuses and a very significant humanitarian disaster as some 600,000 Albanian Kosovars have fled or been expelled from
the province. This did not
occur, though, before March 20, so I would attribute the humanitarian disaster directly or
indirectly to the NATO air bombardment and resulting anti-terrorist campaign.
So what led to this breakdown of the peace process and the air bombardment?
The Rambouillet and subsequent
amended Paris ultimatum "Interim Agreement for
Peace and Self-Government in Kosovo" was divided into both political and military
The political accord called for a return of political, cultural and judicial autonomy
for Kosovo Province as previously provided in the 1974 constitution and was generally
acceptable to both factions. The stumbling block was
that the Serbian delegation insisted on the long-term territorial integrity of Yugoslavia
and the supremacy of federal law. With the KLA
desiring total independence, however, and American compliance, the Albanian Kosovars were
given the incentive of a referendum in three years time to determine the ultimate
political future of Yugoslavia.
On the military accord, the Contact Group, less Russia, and the Ambassador Chris Hill's demand that a NATO force be
employed to secure the Kosovo Implementation Mission of the proposed plan was also
completely unacceptable to Yugoslavia, since it constituted foreign occupation of their
sovereign territory by the western alliance. In turn, the acceptance by the KLA of their supervised
disarmament was only accepted after American political inducements of obvious independence
were offered. The result then
is that proposed agreements were in fact ultimatums, unacceptable to
Russia as well as Yugoslavia, as they left that
nation with the clear alternative of surrender or bombardment.
Was there a diplomatic alternative?
I believe there always has to be political alternatives to war, although I am not a
pacifist and I do believe that defensive hostilities may be justifiable for the right
cause. The western members of the Contact Group, the European Union and the United States
and the Russian Federation could have worked within the United Nations and kept the
Russians on side. As an inducement to an enhanced OSCE or UN monitoring presence within
Kosovo, Yugoslavia could have had its 1991 economic sanctions cancelled and economic
restructuring funds offered to promote its integration within the new Europe, with a
guarantee, in return, to eliminate human rights concerns within Kosovo. This proposed
enhanced OSCE presence, perhaps supported by a limited armed UN presence, may well have
been acceptable to the western power, in order to monitor a fair and genuine Kosovo
However, the NATO bombardment has been counterproductive, as it
has created a significant European humanitarian problem of more than 600,000 external
refugees that threaten to destablize the surrounding vulnerable nations, exacerbating
regional security. Another estimated 600,000 plus internally-displaced Kosovars are also
being subjected to the deprivations of the full-scale civil war. Then in the end the international community will also have to
rebuild not only Kosovo, but the rest of Yugoslavian to ensure their future participation
in the new Europe of the 21st century, This is what the failure of diplomacy with its consequent ill-prepared and
ill-conceived air bombardment has accomplished.
What is crucial to have happen then, is that the unjustified moral certitude that that
has resulted in the demonization and vilification of Yugoslavia and its nationalist
President Milosevic cease, and be replaced by a rational discourse to enable a fair and
just solution to be agreed to.
NATO has gone to war to prevent "the humanitarian expulsion of an ethnic minority" and has caused the catastrophic Kosovo population displacement to
occur. The western government, led by inept diplomats and
politicians, have failed to provide a rational and diplomatic alternative, and instead
have incited an irresponsible public opinion, whose conscience has led it to demand
actions to solve problems that it does not comprehend. NATO is now in a war that it cannot
win. Its objective of liberating the Kosovo Albanians from Serbian misrule has been
counterproductive, and has resulted in their expulsion. The war has broken international law, disregarded the UN Charter, and violated
the NATO mandate. This has arguably irrevocably damaged the dreams and aspirations for
rational diplomacy and the rule of law, meant to establish an international system with
limits on great power ambitions.