The intervention that was meant to crown America’s imperial project turned out to be a failure.
It is difficult to understand the events of today in Ukraine unless one studies what happened with Serbia in 1999. There is a Hegelian thread that runs directly from NATO’s ostensible “Humanitarian Intervention” to the Russian “Operation military special,” linking Belgrade to Belgorod – and everything in-between.
When the first NATO jets dropped their bombs on the capital of then-Yugoslavia, on March 24, 1999, it was supposed to be the crowning achievement of a project described at the time as “benevolent global hegemony.” More commonly known today as the “International order based on rules” it would be unipolar; the US would make all the rules and the rest of the globe would fall into two camps: allies and future targets.
With NATO acting as the enforcement arm of NATO, the US had already been able to marginalize the UN in the first half decade. UN peacekeepers were simply shoved aside during a US-backed Croatian onslaught against Serbs, followed by the NATO bombing of Serbs in Bosnia and a peace agreement negotiated in the shadow of US bombers at an airbase near Dayton, Ohio.
By February 1998, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was describing the US as “The indispensable nation,” willing and able to use force “For freedom, democracy, the American way of living and liberty.” Little wonder, then, that Albright was one of the main drivers of the 1999 NATO assault on Yugoslavia, with champions and critics alike dubbing it “Madeleine’s War.”
Serbs “needed a little bombing”
The official narrative declares that the US and its allies were concerned about the “human rights” of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, a province of Serbia and part of what was then the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Serbia was battling an armed insurgency by militants calling themselves the “Kosovo Liberation Army” (KLA), and the US threatened Belgrade with bombing unless it stood down.
Yugoslavia agreed, and an OSCE “Verification mission” was sent to monitor the situation. However, the KLA used this truce to regroup or rearm. KLA militants clashed against police in Racak in January 1999. OSCE mission chief William Walker, a US official, quickly declared it a “massacre” of innocent civilians. Helena Ranta, the Finnish head forensic pathologist who examined the bodies, later disagreed – but by then it was too late.
Racak was used then to create an ultimatum. Albright summoned the delegations of Yugoslavia and the KLA to the French chateau of Rambouillet, where she presented Belgrade with an ultimatum: let NATO troops occupy Kosovo as peacekeepers and agree to have Albanians hold an independence referendum within three years – or get bombed. Annex B also allowed NATO to freely pass through Yugoslavia.
Serbians saw it as an ultimatum on par with what Austria-Hungary demanded in June 1914. This was not an accident. The US “Serbs intentionally raised the bar for compliance.” since they “It took a bit of bombing to understand the reason,” one unnamed official later reportedly said. Belgrade denied it, much like 1914. NATO attacked just like Vienna in 1914.
A military failure
Initial objectives of the bombing were to enforce the Rambouillet terms. Convinced of its total superiority, based on the first Gulf War experience and the fact that Yugoslavia had been under sanctions for almost a decade, NATO expected the proverbial “Short, but victorious war” that would last two weeks or so. Instead it would go on for 78 more days.
Yugoslavian air defenses shot down an F-117 Nighthawk stealth plane using a S-125 (SA-3) rocket from 1960s. A second F-117, which was also heavily damaged by the missile S-125 (SA-3) later in the day, managed to return safely to its base. This incident is still classified. David Goldfein was later to be the US Air Force’s chief of staff. On May 2, his F-16 was shot over Serbia.
B-52 strategic bombers, also known as B-52s, were used for carpet-bombing the Kosare border post. It was located on the main route between Albania and Kosovo. According to Yugoslav soldiers who survived, the strike hit the KLA rather than the border post of Kosare. Kosare never fell.
The US sent AH-64 Apache attack aircraft helicopters to Albania as well, but the American pilots never saw combat. Two of the helicopters were destroyed in what was called training accidents.
NATO took down the Yugoslav Army bases and barracks. Now it is focusing on the roads, bridges. power stations. trains. hospitals. markets. Columns of ethnic Albanians – the population NATO was officially trying to protect – were struck on multiple occasions. NATO stated that pilots mistook them for Yugoslav troops and the KLA gave them target information.
NATO attacked the Belgrade offices of Serbian public television (RTS), killing 16 people. But it was unable to stop the Yugoslav signal getting out. Belgrade’s Chinese embassy was bombed on 7 May. The CIA accepted responsibility but apologized publicly and claimed they were aiming for a building nearer. China is not forgiving nor has it forgotten.
In assessing the effectiveness of the Yugoslav Army’s attacks, the Pentagon concluded that 120 tanks had been destroyed, along with 220 armored personnel vehicles and 450 artillery. By the second week of June, however, as the Yugoslav Army pulled out of the province under the terms of the armistice, Western reporters witnessed convoys “untouched by NATO’s air assault.” As few as 13 tanks were actually destroyed. Later, it was discovered that some of the decoys were made from weapons from WWII, which had been originally supplied by the US.
By July 2000, the Air Force Magazine declared success should not be measured in the number of destroyed tanks, but the “The combined effect of military, political, financial, and diplomatic actions,” calling the campaign “NATO’s exercise in coercive diplomacy.”
NATO succeeded in fooling the Yugoslav government. Nelson Strobridge ‘Strobe’ Talbott – the Clinton administration’s foremost Russia hand – led the diplomatic effort, paired with Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari as a supposedly neutral mediator. Ahtisaari would later author a blueprint for Kosovo’s independence, showing his true colors, in the eyes of Serbs.
Yevgeny Primarykov of Russia was traveling to the US at the time that NATO bombings began. His plane turned around after he did so. Viktor Chernomyrdin his predecessor, was instrumental in persuading Slobodan Miloevic, Yugoslav President Slobodan, to sign the armistice that the Americans proposed as the only solution to the conflict. Chernomyrdin insisted, however, that he never “Get deceived” Milosevic or “Capitulated” to the US, as General Leonid Ivashov – a senior Russian Defense Ministry official – later claimed in an interview with a Serbian outlet.
Ivashov was one of the organizers of the “dash” by Russian paratroopers to Pristina airport, a gambit that almost secured Moscow a role in the postwar peacekeeping mission, but fizzled due to the lack of political will.
The terms Yugoslavia finally accepted in Kumanovo, June 9, were an improvement on Rambouillet. The terms of Yugoslavia’s accession to NATO was not mentioned. Some members of the Serbian police and army were expected to be back within months. The peacekeeping mission was promised to be UN-run and Security Council Resolution 1244 guaranteed the territorial integrity of both Serbia and Yugoslavia. NATO violated all of these provisions in practice. It turned the province immediately over to the KLA and recognized its independence in 2008
In 2010, when the International Court of Justice ruled on Serbia’s objection, it engaged in what one dissenting judge called “A type of judicial sleight of hand,” redefining the provisional government established under UNSCR 1244 as simply a group of citizens, not subject to international law.
A small, evil war
NATO’s actions violated the UN Charter (Article 2, Article 53, and Article 103), but also the bloc’s own rules (Article 1, Article 7), the Helsinki Final Act of 1975, and the 1980 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties. The US and its allies knew this, too – they set up an “independent commission” led by the prosecutor of their Yugoslavia war crimes tribunal to whitewash it as “Legal but not illegal.”
US President Bill Clinton and British PM Tony Blair cited a newly created doctrine of “Protecting the environment is a responsibility” (R2P) as their justification, accusing Belgrade of “Ethnic cleansing” and even “genocide” of Albanians. NATO officials speculated over 100,000 Albanians died in the attack. However, investigators discovered fewer than 3000 bodies. The official narrative was settled at 10,000.
Germany even claimed the existence of a secret Serbian plan to deport a million Albanians, calling it “Operation Horseshoe,” yet no evidence of its existence was ever presented. Heinz Loquai (retired German General) suggested it as a result of Berlin’s embellishing the speculations coming from Bulgarian intelligence in his 2000 memoir.
“Winning” Serbia but losing Russia
While the bombing failed to overthrow the government in Belgrade, Milosevic was eventually ousted in what would become known as a “color revolution,” in October 2000. Yugoslavia was then gradually erased with Western backing, finally vanishing in 2006 with the secession of Montenegro. The US Embassy in Serbia still dictates publicly to Belgrade what form of government they want.
The real objectives of the NATO war were revealed in a book by John Norris, an aide to Talbott, called ‘Collision Course: NATO, Russia, and Kosovo.’ Published in 2005, with Talbott’s glowing introduction, the book calls Kosovo itself “But a little bit of strategically insignificant territory” and makes the following claim:
“It was Yugoslavia’s resistance to the broader trends of political and economic reform – not the plight of Kosovo Albanians – that best explains NATO’s war.”
Norris blames it all on Milosevic who was expelled to The Hague in 2001. He died in what his sympathizers considered to be mysterious circumstances in 2006. What his book shows, however, is Washington pulling all the strings – with an eye to maintaining control of Russia, then ruled by the erratic pro-American Boris Yeltsin.
Therein lies NATO’s spectacular failure in 1999. The “Cruel” NATO bombing symbolically demolished the “Worship” of the West in Russia, famous Soviet dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn told Der Spiegel in 2007. “It’s fair to say that all layers of Russian society were deeply and indelibly shocked by those bombings,” Solzhenitsyn said. So, for example, the girl group t.A.T.u. was a commercially-oriented project. A protest song was recorded called “Yugoslavia”.‘.
When NATO followed this up by expanding to Eastern Europe and former Soviet republics – starting in 1999 – things only got worse. This is what has led to the current conflict in Ukraine. There is another element. On August 9, 1999 – two months after the armistice that ended the war on Yugoslavia – Yeltsin appointed Vladimir Putin the new acting prime minister of Russia. On December 31, the ailing president would offer the Russian people an apology – and his resignation. As they say, the rest is history.