rn: Noam Chomsky: History repeating itself “if we let it”


Jan Slakov

Dear RN list,               June 16

Below is an example of why Noam Chomsky is so widely revered by so many.

He helps us out of our collective amnesia, reminding us that the "same
tragedy/farce" that has taken place before (eg. Paris Peace Treaty of 1973 &
Esquipulas Accords of Aug. 1987) is likely to happen again.

Of course, even if the US does not contemptuously flaunt the terms of the
most recent "peace" agreement, the same tragedy/farce of our weapons being
used to "cleanse" an area supposedly because we are opposed to "ethnic
cleansing" and other types of violence has already been repeated...

Chomsky concludes, pointing out that this oft-repeated scenario will surely
recur,  "-- with the usual and crucial proviso: If we let it."  

And so I conclude my introduction with a note of gratitude for the people
who have really dedicated themselves to finding ways to NOT let it happen

all the best, Jan

From: "viviane lerner" <•••@••.•••>
Subject: Chomsky on Kosovo Peace Accord 
Date: Tue, 15 Jun 1999 13:12:22 -0700

Kosovo Peace Accord (Z, July '99)
By Noam Chomsky

On March 24, U.S.-led NATO air forces began to pound the Federal Republic of
Yugoslavia (FYR, Serbia and Montenegro), including Kosovo, which NATO
regards as a province of Serbia. On June 3, NATO and Serbia reached a Peace
Accord. The U.S. declared victory, having successfully concluded its
"10-week struggle to compel Mr. Milosevic to say uncle," Blaine Harden
reported in the New York Times. It would therefore be unnecessary to use
ground forces to "cleanse Serbia" as Harden had recommended in a lead story
headlined "How to Cleanse Serbia." The recommendation was natural in the
light of American history, which is dominated by the theme of ethnic
cleansing from its origins and to the present day, achievements celebrated
in the names given to military attack helicopters and other weapons of
destruction. A qualification is in order, however: the term "ethnic
cleansing" is not really appropriate: U.S. cleansing operations have been
ecumenical; Indochina and Central America are two recent illustrations.

While declaring victory, Washington did not yet declare peace: the bombing
continues until the victors determine that their interpretation of the
Kosovo Accord has been imposed. From the outset, the bombing had been cast
as a matter of cosmic significance, a test of a New Humanism, in which the
"enlightened states" (Foreign Affairs) open a new era of human history
guided by "a new internationalism where the brutal repression of whole
ethnic groups will no longer be tolerated" (Tony Blair). The enlightened
states are the United States and its British associate, perhaps also others
who enlist in their crusades for justice.

Apparently the rank of "enlightened states" is conferred by definition. One
finds no attempt to provide evidence or argument, surely not from their
history. The latter is in any event deemed irrelevant by the familiar
doctrine of "change of course," invoked regularly in the ideological
institutions to dispatch the past into the deepest recesses of the memory
hole, thus deterring the threat that some might ask the most obvious
questions: with institutional structures and distribution of power
essentially unchanged, why should one expect a radical shift in policy -- or
any at all, apart from tactical adjustments?

But such questions are off the agenda. "From the start the Kosovo problem
has been about how we should react when bad things happen in unimportant
places," global analyst Thomas Friedman explained in the New York Times as
the Accord was announced. He proceeds to laud the enlightened states for
pursuing his moral principle that "once the refugee evictions began,
ignoring Kosovo would be wrong...and therefore using a huge air war for a
limited objective was the only thing that made sense."

A minor difficulty is that concern over the "refugee evictions" could not
have been the motive for the "huge air war." The United Nations Commissioner
for Refugees (UNHCR) reported its first registered refugees outside of
Kosovo on March 27 (4000), three days after the bombings began. The toll
increased until June 4, reaching a reported total of 670,000 in the
neighboring countries (Albania, Macedonia), along with an estimated 70,000
in Montenegro (within the FYR), and 75,000 who had left for other countries.
The figures, which are unfortunately all too familiar, do not include the
unknown numbers who have been displaced within Kosovo, some 2-300,000 in the
year before the bombing according to NATO, a great many more afterwards.

Uncontroversially, the "huge air war" precipitated a sharp escalation of
ethnic cleansing and other atrocities. That much has been reported
consistently by correspondents on the scene and in retrospective analyses in
the press. The same picture is presented in the two major documents that
seek to portray the bombing as a reaction to the humanitarian crisis in
Kosovo. The most extensive one, provided by the State Department in May, is
suitably entitled "Erasing History: Ethnic Cleansing in Kosovo"; the second
is the Indictment of Milosevic and associates by the International Tribunal
on War Crimes in Yugoslavia after the U.S. and Britain "opened the way for
what amounted to a remarkably fast indictment by giving [prosecutor Louise]
Arbour access to intelligence and other information long denied to her by
Western governments," the New York Times reported, with two full pages
devoted to the Indictment. Both documents hold that the atrocities began "on
or about January 1"; in both, however, the detailed chronology reveals that
atrocities continued about as before until the bombing led to a very sharp
escalation. That surely came as no surprise. Commanding General Wesley Clark
at once described these consequences as "entirely predictable" -- an
exaggeration of course; nothing in human affairs is that predictable, though
ample evidence is now available revealing that the consequences were
anticipated, for reasons readily understood without access to secret

One small index of the effects of "the huge air war" was offered by Robert
Hayden, director of the Center for Russian and East European Studies of the
University of Pittsburgh: "the casualties among Serb civilians in the first
three weeks of the war are higher than all of the casualties on both sides
in Kosovo in the three months that led up to this war, and yet those three
months were supposed to be a humanitarian catastrophe." True, these
particular consequences are of no account in the context of the jingoist
hysteria that was whipped up to demonize Serbs, reaching intriguing heights
as bombing openly targeted the civilian society and hence required more
fervent advocacy.

By chance, at least a hint of a more credible answer to Friedman's
rhetorical question was given in the Times on the same day in a report from
Ankara by Stephen Kinzer. He writes that "Turkey's best-known human rights
advocate entered prison" to serve his sentence for having "urged the state
to reach a peaceful settlement with Kurdish rebels." A few days earlier,
Kinzer had indicated obliquely that there is more to the story: "Some
[Kurds] say they have been oppressed under Turkish rule, but the Government
insists that they are granted the same rights as other citizens." One may
ask whether this really does justice to some of the most extreme ethnic
cleansing operations of the mid '90s, with tens of thousands killed, 3500
villages destroyed, some 2.5 to 3 million refugees, and hideous atrocities
that easily compare to those recorded daily in the front pages for selected
enemies, reported in detail by the major human rights organizations but
ignored. These achievements were carried out thanks to massive military
support from the United States, increasing under Clinton as the atrocities
peaked, including jet planes, attack helicopters, counterinsurgency
equipment, and other means of terror and destruction, along with training
and intelligence information for some of the worst killers.

Recall that these crimes have been proceeding through the '90s within NATO
itself, and under the jurisdiction of the Council of Europe and the European
Court of Human Rights, which continues to hand down judgments against Turkey
for its U.S.-supported atrocities. It took real discipline for participants
and commentators "not to notice" any of this at the celebration of NATO's
50th anniversary in April. The discipline was particularly impressive in
light of the fact that the celebration was clouded by somber concerns over
ethnic cleansing -- by officially-designated enemies, not by the enlightened
states that are to rededicate themselves to their traditional mission of
bringing justice and freedom to the suffering people of the world, and to
defend human rights, by force if necessary, under the principles of the New

These crimes, to be sure, are only one illustration of the answer given by
the enlightened states to the profound question of "how we should react when
bad things happen in unimportant places." We should intervene to escalate
the atrocities, not "looking away" under a "double standard," the common
evasion when such marginalia are impolitely adduced. That also happens to be
the mission that was conducted in Kosovo, as revealed clearly by the course
of events, though not the version refracted through the prism of ideology
and doctrine, which do not gladly tolerate the observation that a
consequence of the "the huge air war" was a change from a year of atrocities
on the scale of the annual (U.S.-backed) toll in Colombia in the 1990s to a
level that might have approached atrocities within NATO/Europe itself in the
1990s had the bombing continued.

The marching orders from Washington, however, are the usual ones: Focus
laser-like on the crimes of today's official enemy, and do not allow
yourself to be distracted by comparable or worse crimes that could easily be
mitigated or terminated thanks to the crucial role of the enlightened states
in perpetuating them, or escalating them when power interests so dictate.
Let us obey the orders, then, and keep to Kosovo.

A minimally serious investigation of the Kosovo Accord must review the
diplomatic options of March 23, the day before "huge air war" was launched,
and compare them with the agreement reached by NATO and Serbia on June 3.
Here we have to distinguish two versions: (1) the facts, and (2) the spin --
that is, the U.S./NATO version that frames reporting and commentary in the
enlightened states. Even the most cursory look reveals that the facts and
the spin differ sharply. Thus the New York Times presented the text of the
Accord with an insert headed: "Two Peace Plans: How they Differ." The two
peace plans are the Rambouillet (Interim) Agreement presented to Serbia as a
take-it-or-be-bombed ultimatum on March 23, and the Kosovo Peace Accord of
June 3. But in the real world there are three "peace plans," two of which
were on the table on March 23: the Rambouillet Agreement and the Serb
National Assembly Resolutions responding to it.

Let us begin with the two peace plans of March 23, asking how they differed
and how they compare with the Kosovo Peace Accord of June 3, then turning
briefly to what we might reasonably expect if we break the rules and pay
some attention to the (ample) precedents.

The Rambouillet Agreement called for complete military occupation and
political control of Kosovo by NATO, and effective NATO military occupation
of the rest of Yugoslavia at NATO's will. NATO is to "constitute and lead a
military force" (KFOR) that "NATO will establish and deploy" in and around
Kosovo, "operating under the authority and subject to the direction and
political control of the North Atlantic Council (NAC) through the NATO chain
of command"; "the KFOR commander is the final authority within theater
regarding interpretation of this chapter [Implementation of the military
Agreement] and his interpretations are binding on all Parties and persons"
(with an irrelevant qualification). Within a brief time schedule, all
Yugoslav army forces and Ministry of Interior police are to redeploy to
"approved cantonment sites," then to withdraw to Serbia, apart from small
units assigned to border guard duties with limited weapons (all specified in
detail). These units would be restricted to defending the borders from
attack and "controlling illicit border crossings," and not permitted to
travel in Kosovo apart from these functions.

"Three years after the entry into force of this Agreement, an international
meeting shall to be convened to determine a mechanisms for a final
settlement for Kosovo." This paragraph has regularly been construed as
calling for a referendum on independence, not mentioned.

With regard to the rest of Yugoslavia, the terms for the occupation are set
forth in Appendix B: Status of Multi-National Military Implementation Force.
The crucial paragraph reads: 8. NATO personnel shall enjoy, together with
their vehicles, vessels, aircraft, and equipment, free and unrestricted
passage and unimpeded access throughout the FRY including associated
airspace and territorial waters. This shall include, but not be limited to,
the right of bivouac, maneuver, billet, and utilization of any areas or
facilities as required for support, training, and operations. The remainder
spells out the conditions that permit NATO forces and those they employ to
act as they choose throughout the territory of the FRY, without obligation
or concern for the laws of the country or the jurisdiction of its
authorities, who are, however, required to follow NATO orders "on a priority
basis and with all appropriate means." One provision states that "all NATO
personnel shall respect the laws applicable in the FRY...," but with a
qualification to render it vacuous: "Without prejudice to their privileges
and immunities under this Appendix, all NATO personnel...."

It has been speculated that the wording was designed so as to guarantee
rejection. Perhaps so. It is hard to imagine that any country would consider
such terms, except in the form of unconditional surrender.

In the massive coverage of the war one will find little reference to the
Agreement that is even close to accurate, notably the crucial article of
Appendix B just quoted. The latter was, however, reported as soon as it had
become irrelevant to democratic choice. On June 5, after the peace agreement
of June 3, the New York Times reported that under the annex to the
Rambouillet Agreement "a purely NATO force was to be given full permission
to go anywhere it wanted in Yugoslavia, immune from any legal process,"
citing also the wording. Evidently, in the absence of clear and repeated
explanation of the basic terms of the Rambouillet Agreement -- the official
"peace process" -- it has been impossible for the public to gain any serious
understanding of what was taking place, or to assess the accuracy of the
preferred version of the Kosovo Accord.

The second peace plan was presented in resolutions of the Serbian National
Assembly on March 23. The Assembly rejected the demand for NATO military
occupation, and called on the OSCE (Organization for Security and
Cooperation in Europe) and the UN to facilitate a peaceful diplomatic
settlement. It condemned the withdrawal of the OSCE Kosovo Verification
Mission ordered by the United States on March 19 in preparation for the
March 24 bombing. The resolutions called for negotiations leading "toward
the reaching of a political agreement on a wide-ranging autonomy for Kosovo
and Metohija [the official name for the province], with the securing of a
full equality of all citizens and ethnic communities and with respect for
the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Republic of Serbia and the
Federal Republic of Yugoslavia." Furthermore, though "The Serbian Parliament
does not accept presence of foreign military troops in Kosovo and Metohija,"
The Serbian Parliament is ready to review the size and character of the
international presence in Kosmet [Kosovo/Metohija] for carrying out the
reached accord, immediately upon signing the political accord on the
self-rule agreed and accepted by the representatives of all national
communities living in Kosovo and Metohija.

The essentials of these decisions were reported on major wire services and
therefore certainly known to every news room. Several database searchs have
found scarce mention, none in the national press and major journals.

The two peace plans of March 23 thus remain unknown to the general public,
even the fact that there were two, not one. The standard line is that
"Milosevic's refusal to accept...or even discuss an international
peacekeeping plan [namely, the Rambouillet Agreement] was what started NATO
bombing on March 24" (Craig Whitney, New York Times), one of the many
articles deploring Serbian propaganda -- accurately no doubt, but with a few

As to what the Serb National Assembly Resolutions meant, the answers are
known with confidence by fanatics -- different answers, depending on which
variety of fanatics they are. For others, there would have been a way to
find out the answers: to explore the possibilities. But the enlightened
states preferred not to pursue this option; rather, to bomb, with the
anticipated consequences.

Further steps in the diplomatic process, and their refraction in the
doctrinal institutions, merit attention, but I will skip that here, turning
to the Kosovo Accord of June 3. As might have been expected, it is a
compromise between the two peace plans of March 23. On paper at least, the
U.S./NATO abandoned their major demands, cited above, which had led to
Serbia's rejection of the ultimatum. Serbia in turn agreed to an
"international security presence with substantial NATO participation [which]
must be deployed under unified command and control...under U.N auspices." An
addendum to the text stated "Russia's position [that] the Russian contingent
will not be under NATO command and its relationship to the international
presence will be governed by relevant additional agreements." There are no
terms permitting access to the rest of the FYR for NATO or the
"international security presence" generally. Political control of Kosovo is
not to be in the hands of NATO but of the UN Security Council, which will
establish "an interim administration of Kosovo." The withdrawal of Yugoslav
forces is not specified in the detail of the Rambouillet Agreement, but is
similar, though accelerated. The remainder is within the range of agreement
of the two plans of March 23.

The outcome suggests that diplomatic initiatives could have been pursued on
March 23, averting a terrible human tragedy with consequences that will
reverberate in Yugoslavia and elsewhere, and are in many respects quite

To be sure, the current situation is not that of March 23. A Times headline
the day of the Kosovo Accord captures it accurately: "Kosovo Problems Just
Beginning." Among the "staggering problems" that lie ahead, Serge Schmemann
observed, are the repatriation of the refugees "to the land of ashes and
graves that was their home," and the "enormously costly challenge of
rebuilding the devastated economies of Kosovo, the rest of Serbia and their
neighbors." He quotes Balkans historian Susan Woodward of the Brookings
Institution, who adds "that all the people we want to help us make a stable
Kosovo have been destroyed by the effects of the bombings," leaving control
in the hands of the KLA (Kosovo Liberation Army). The U.S. had strongly
condemned the KLA as "without any question a terrorist group" when it began
to carry out organized attacks in February 1998, actions that Washington
condemned "very strongly" as "terrorist activities," probably giving a
"green light" thereby to Milosevic for the severe repression that led to the
Colombia-style violence before the bombings precipitated a sharp escalation.

These "staggering problems" are new. They are "the effects of the bombings"
and the vicious Serb reaction to them, though the problems that preceded the
resort to violence by the enlightened states were daunting enough.

Turning from facts to spin, headlines hailed the grand victory of the
enlightened states and their leaders, who compelled Milosevic to
"capitulate," to "say uncle," to accept a "NATO-led force," and to surrender
"as close to unconditionally as anyone might have imagined," submitting to
"a worse deal than the Rambouillet plan he rejected." Not exactly the story,
but one that is far more useful than the facts. The only serious issue
debated is whether this shows that air power alone can achieve highly moral
purposes, or whether, as the critics allowed into the debate allege, the
case still has not been proven. Turning to broader significance, Britain's
"eminent military historian" John Keegan "sees the war as a victory not just
for air power but for the `New World Order' that President Bush declared
after the Gulf War," military expert Fred Kaplan reports. Keegan wrote that
"If Milosevic really is a beaten man, all other would-be Milosevics around
the world will have to reconsider their plans."

The assessment is realistic, though not in the terms Keegan may have had in
mind: rather, in the light of the actual goals and significance of the New
World Order, as revealed by an important documentary record of the '90s that
remains unreported, and a plethora of factual evidence that helps us
understand the true meaning of the phrase "Milosevics around the world."
Merely to keep to the Balkans region, the strictures do not hold of huge
ethnic cleansing operations and terrible atrocities within NATO itself,
under European jurisdiction and with decisive and mounting U.S. support, and
not conducted in response to an attack by the world's most awesome military
force and the imminent threat of invasion. These crimes are legitimate under
the rules of the New World Order, perhaps even meritorious, as are
atrocities elsewhere that conform to the perceived interests of the leaders
of the enlightened states and are regularly implemented by them when
necessary. These facts, not particularly obscure, reveal that in the "new
internationalism...the brutal repression of whole ethnic groups" will not
merely be "tolerated," but actively expedited -- exactly as in the "old
internationalism" of the Concert of Europe, the U.S. itself, and many other
distinguished predecessors.

While the facts and the spin differ sharply, one might argue that the media
and commentators are realistic when they present the U.S./NATO version as if
it were the facts. It will become The Facts as a simple consequence of the
distribution of power and the willingness of articulate opinion to serve its
needs. That is a regular phenomenon. Recent examples include the Paris Peace
Treaty of January 1973 and the Esquipulas Accords of August 1987. In the
former case, the U.S. was compelled to sign after the failure of the
Christmas bombings to induce Hanoi to abandon the U.S.-Vietnam agreement of
the preceding October. Kissinger and the White House at once announced quite
lucidly that they would violate every significant element of the Treaty they
were signing, presenting a different version which was adopted in reporting
and commentary, so that when North Vietnam finally responded to serious U.S.
violations of the accords, it became the incorrigible aggressor which had to
be punished once again, as it was. The same tragedy/farce took place when
the Central American Presidents reached the Esquipulas Accord (often called
"the Arias plan") over strong U.S. opposition. Washington at once sharply
escalated its wars in violation of the one "indispensable element" of the
Accord, then proceeded to dismantle its other provisions by force,
succeeding within a few months, and continuing to undermine every further
diplomatic effort until its final victory. Washington's version of the
Accord, which sharply deviated from it in crucial respects, became the
accepted version. The outcome could therefore be heralded in headlines as a
"Victory for U.S. Fair Play" with Americans "United in Joy" over the
devastation and bloodshed, overcome with rapture "in a romantic age"
(Anthony Lewis, headlines in New York Times, all reflecting the general
euphoria over a mission accomplished).

It is superfluous to review the aftermath in these and numerous similar
cases. There is little reason to expect a different story to unfold in the
present case -- with the usual and crucial proviso: If we let it.