My year long experience as the Force Commander and Head of Mission of the
United Nations Forces deployed in the former Yugoslavia has given me an
understanding of the fatal flaws of US/NATO policies in the troubled
region. It was obvious to most people following events in the Balkans since
the beginning of the decade, and particularly after the fighting that
resulted in the emergence of Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and the
former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, that Kosovo was a 'powder keg'
waiting to explode. The West appears to have learnt all the wrong lessons
from the previous wars and applied it to Kosovo.
(1) Portraying the Serbs as evil and everybody else as good was not only
counterproductive but also dishonest. According to my experience all sides
were guilty but only the Serbs would admit that they were no angels while
the others would insist that they were. With 28, 000 forces under me and
with constant contacts with UNHCR and the International Red Cross
officials, we did not witness any genocide beyond killings and massacres on
all sides that are typical of such conflict conditions. I believe none of my
successors and their forces saw anything on the scale claimed by the media.
(2) It was obvious to me that if Slovenians, Croatians and Bosniaks had the
right to secede from Yugoslavia, then the Serbs of Croatia and Bosnia had
an equal right to secede. The experience of partitions in Ireland and India
has not be pleasant but in the Yugoslavia case, the state had already been
taken apart anyway. It made little sense to me that if multiethnic
Yugoslavia was not tenable that multiethnic Bosnia could be made tenable.
The former internal boundaries of Yugoslavia which had no validity under
international law should have been redrawn when it was taken apart by the
West, just as it was in the case of Ireland in 1921 and Punjab and Bengal
in India in 1947. Failure to acknowledge this has led to the problem of
Kosovo as an integral part of Serbia.
(3) It is ironic that the Dayton Agreement on Bosnia was not fundamentally
different from the Lisbon Plan drawn up by Portuguese Foreign Minister
Cuteliero and British representative Lord Carrington to which all three
sides had agreed before any killings had taken place, or even the
Vance-Owen Plan which Karadzic was willing to sign. One of the main
problems was that there was an unwillingness on the part of the American
administration to concede that Serbs had legitimate grievances and rights.
I recall State Department official George Kenny turning up like all other
American officials, spewing condemnations of the Serbs for aggression and
genocide. I offered to give him an escort and to go see for himself that
none of what he proclaimed was true. He accepted my offer and thereafter he
made a radical turnaround. Other Americans continued to see and hear what
they wanted to see and hear from one side, while ignoring the other side.
Such behaviour does not produce peace but more conflict.
(4) I felt that Yugoslavia was a media-generated tragedy. The Western
media sees international crises in black and white, sensationalizing
incidents for public consumption. From what I can see now, all Serbs have
been driven out of Croatia and the Muslim-Croat Federation, I believe
almost 850,000 of them. And yet the focus is on 500,000 Albanians (at last
count) who have been driven out of Kosovo. Western policies have led to an
ethnically pure Greater Croatia, and an ethnically pure Muslim statelet in
Bosnia. Therefore, why not an ethnically pure Serbia? Failure to address
these double standards has led to the current one. As I watched the ugly
tragedy unfold in the case of Kosovo while visiting the US in early to mid
March 1999, I could see the same pattern emerging. In my experience with
similar situations in India in such places as Kashmir, Punjab, Assam,
Nagaland, and elsewhere, it is the essential strategy of those ethnic
groups who wish to secede to provoke the state authorities. Killings of
policemen is usually a standard operating procedure by terrorists since
that usually invites overwhelming state retaliation, just as I am sure it
does in the United States.
I do not believe the Belgrade government had prior intention of driving out
all Albanians from Kosovo. It may have decided to implement Washington's
own "Krajina Plan" only if NATO bombed, or these expulsions could be
spontaneous acts of revenge and retaliation by Serb forces in the field
because of the bombing. The OSCE Monitors were not doing too badly, and the
Yugoslav Government had, after all, indicated its willingness to abide by
nearly all the provisions of the Rambouillet "Agreement" on aspects like
cease-fire, greater autonomy to the Albanians, and so on. But they insisted
that the status of Kosovo as part of Serbia was not negotiable, and they
would not agree to stationing NATO forces on the soil of Yugoslavia. This
is precisely what India would have done under the same circumstances.
It was the West that proceeded to escalate the situation into the current
senseless bombing campaign that smacks more of hurt egos, and revenge and
retaliation. NATO's massive bombing intended to terrorize Serbia into
submission appears no different from the morality of actions of Serb
forces in Kosovo. Ultimatums were issued to Yugoslavia that unless the
terms of an agreement drawn up at Rambouillet were signed, NATO would
undertake bombing. Ultimatums do not constitute diplomacy. They are acts of
war. The Albanians of Kosovo who want independence, were coaxed and
cajoled into putting their signatures to a document motivated with the hope
of NATO bombing of Serbs and independence later. With this signature, NATO
assumed all the legal and moral authority to undertake military operations
against a country that had, at worst, been harsh on its own people.
On 24th March 1999, NATO launched attacks with cruise missiles and bombs,
on Yugoslavia, a sovereign state, a founding member of the United Nations
and the Non Aligned Movement; and against a people who were at the
forefront of the fight against Nazi Germany and other fascist forces during
World War Two. I consider these current actions unbecoming of great powers.
It is appropriate to touch on the humanitarian dimension for it is the
innocent who are being subjected to displacement, pain and misery.
Unfortunately, this is the tragic and inevitable outcome of all such
situations of civil war, insurgencies, rebel movements, and terrorist
activity. History is replete with examples of such suffering; whether it be
the American Civil War, Northern Ireland, the Basque movement in Spain,
Chechnya, Angola, Cambodia, and so many other cases; the indiscriminate
bombing of civilian centres during World War Two; Hiroshima and Nagasaki;
Vietnam. The list is endless.
I feel that this tragedy could have been prevented if NATO's ego and
credibility had not been given the highest priority instead of the genuine
grievances of Serbs in addition to Albanians. Notwithstanding all that one
hears and sees on CNN and BBC, and other Western agencies, and in the daily
briefings of the NATO authorities, the blame for the humanitarian crisis
that has arisen cannot be placed at the door of the Yugoslav authorities
alone. The responsibility rests mainly at NATO's doors. In fact, if I am
to go by my own experience as the First Force Commander and Head of
Mission of the United Nations forces in the former Yugoslavia, from March
1992 to March 1993, handling operations in Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and
Macedonia, I would say that reports put out in the electronic media are
largely responsible for provoking this tragedy. Where does all this leave
the international community which for the record does not comprise of the
US, the West and its newfound Muslim allies ?
The portents for the future, at least in the short term, are bleak indeed.
The United Nations has been made totally redundant, ineffective, and
impotent. The Western world, led by the USA, will lay down the moral values
that the rest of the world must adhere to; it does not matter that they
themselves do not adhere to the same values when it does not suit them.
National sovereignty and territorial integrity have no sanctity. And
finally, secessionist movements, which often start with terrorist activity,
will get greater encouragement. One can only hope that good sense will
prevail, hopefully sooner rather than later.
Lt General Satish Nambiar Director, USI, New Delhi 6 April 1999
Lt General Satish Nambiar
- First Force Commander and Head of Mission of the United Nations Forces
deployed in the former Yugoslavia 03 March 1992 to 02 March 1993.
- Former Deputy Chief of Staff, Indian Army.
- Currently, Director of the United Services Institution of India.