How to Sabotage the OSCE-8
With the collapse of the Soviet bloc, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) was widely favoured to succeed both the dismantled Warsaw Pact and NATO as an all-inclusive institution to ensure security, resolve conflicts and defend human rights in Europe. This naturally encountered opposition from all those who wanted to preserve and expand NATO, and with it, the leading U.S. role in Europe -- that is, from many important officials in many NATO countries, especially Britain and the Netherlands, as well as the United States itself.
On the eve of the Kosovo war, the tandem of Richard Holbrooke and Madeleine Albright once again moved to cripple a rival to NATO and clear the way for NATO bombing.
On October 13, 1998, under threat of NATO bombing, U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke got Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to sign a unilateral deal to end security operations against armed rebels. The agreement was to be monitored by 2,000 foreign "verifiers" provided under the auspices of the OSCE. Fromthe start, opinions in Europe were divided as to whether this Kosovo Verification Mission (KVM) marked an advance for the OSCE or a kiss of death, designed to prove the organization's impotence and leave NATO as the uncontested arbiter of conflicts in Europe.
The mission's fate was sealed in favour of the second alternative when the European majority in the OSCE was somehow persuaded to accept U.S. diplomat William Walker to head the KVM. Walker was a veteran of Central American "banana republic" management, who had collaborated with Oliver North in illegally arming the "Contras" and had covered up murderous state security operations in El Salvador as U.S. ambassador there during the Reagan administration.
Walker brought in 150 professional mercenaries from the Arlington, Virginia-based DynCorp which had already worked in Bosnia, drove around in a vehicle flying the American flag, and did everything to confirm what his French deputy, Ambassador Gabriel Keller, described as the "wide-spread conviction in Serbian public opinion that the OSCE was working under cover for NATO, [...] that we acted with a hidden agenda".
That impression was shared by many members of the KVM. A number of Italians, whose comments were published anonymously in the geostrategic review LiMes, accused the Americans of "sabotaging the OSCE mission". Said one: "The mission in my view had two primary aims. One was to infiltrate personnel into the theatre with intelligence tasks and for special forces activities (preparatory work for a predetermined war). The other was to give the world the impression that everything had been tried and thus create grounds for public consent to the aggression we perpetrated".
According to Swiss verifier Pascal Neuffer: "We understood from the start that the information gathered by OSCE patrols during our mission were destined to complete the information that NATO had gathered by satellite. We had the very sharp impression of doing espionage work for the Atlantic Alliance".
KVM members have criticized Walker and his British chief of operations, Karol (John) Drewienkiewicz, for rejecting any cooperation with Serb authorities, for blocking diplomatic means to ensure human rights, for controlling the mission's information flow, and most serious of all, for using the mission to make contact with UÇK rebels and train them to guide NATO to targets in the subsequent bombing. Since the Serbs were quite aware of this activity, as soon as the bombing began on March 24, Serb security forces set out to root out all suspected UÇK indicators. These operations are very probably at the heart of what NATO has described as ethnic cleansing.
However, prior to the bombing, KVM members testify to a low level of violence, as well as a pattern of UÇK provocations. According to Keller, "every pullback by the Yugoslav army or the Serbian police was followed by a movement forward by [UÇK] forces [...] OSCE's presence compelled Serbian government forces to a certain restraint [...] and UÇK took advantage of this to consolidate its positions everywhere, continuing to smuggle arms from Albania, abducting and killing both civilians and military personnel, Albanians and Serbs alike."
By the end of 1998 and the beginning of 1999, an increasingly audible split was taking place within the KVM between Walker and most of the Europeans. Every incident was an occasion for Walker and the U.S. State Department to denounce the Serbs for breaking the truce, and to accuse Milosevic of violating his commitment. The Europeans saw things differently: the Albanian rebels, with U.S. encouragement, were systematically provoking Serb attacks in order to justify NATO coming in on their side of the conflict.
In mid-January, Walker settled the score with his European critics by bringing the world media over to his side. This was the political significance of the famous "Racak massacre". On January 15, Serb police had carried out a pre-announced operation, accompanied by observers and television cameras, against UÇK killers believed to be hiding out in the village of Racak. As the Serbs swept into the village, the UÇK gunmen took refuge on surrounding high ground and began to fire on the police, as TV footage showed. But the Serbs had sent forces around behind them, and many UÇK fighters were trapped and shot. After the Serb forces withdrew that afternoon, the UÇK again took control of the village, and it was the KLA who led Walker into the village the next day to see what they described as victims of a massacre. It may be, as Serb authorities claimed and many Europeans tended to believe, that the victims were in fact killed in the shootout reported by the police, and then aligned to give the appearance of a mass execution, or "massacre".
In any case, the extremely emotional public reaction by the high-profile head of the KVM, condemning the Serbs for "a crime against humanity", "an unspeakable atrocity" committed by Serbs "with no value for human life", ended any possible pretense of neutrality of the OSCE mission.
Walker's accusations were quickly taken up by NATO politicians and editorialists. A complex conflict was reduced to a simple opposition between Serbian perpetrators of massacres and innocent Albanian civilian victims. The UÇK and its provocative murders of policemen and civilians were to all intents and purposes invisible. Presented as a gratuitous atrocity, "Racak" became the immediate justification for NATO war against Yugoslavia.
In Kosovo itself, KVM members have testified, after Racak the Serbs were totally convinced that the OSCE was working for NATO and began to prepare for war, while the UÇK became still more aggressive. KVM members have also complained of the fact that Walker evacuated the mission to Macedonia on March 20, five days before the bombing began. This way, no outside observers were there to see exactly what did happen when the bombing began, much less try to prevent it. Walker's leadership had effectively removed all pressure or incentive for either side to show restraint.
"In the history of international missions it would be hard to find such a chaotic and tragically ambiguous enterprise", concluded an Italian participant.