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Essential Public Policy Points Relating to the ISSA Mission to Yugoslavia, April 18-21, 1999

The International Strategic Studies Association organized a fact-finding mission from Washington DC to Yugoslavia on April 18-21, 1999. The purpose was for the Association and a key US Congressman to determine to a greater extent factors important to future policymaking with regard to the war being prosecuted against Yugoslavia. ISSA worked with a Yugoslav NGO, the Institute for Geopolitical Studies, in facilitating the mission.

US Congressman Jim Saxton (Republican, New Jersey), an ISSA Life Member and Chairman of the US House of Representatives Task Force on Terrorism & Unconventional Warfare (and member of the House Armed Services Committee; and Vice-Chairman of the Joint [House-Senate] Economic Committee), participated in the mission, along with the Director of the Task Force on Terrorism, Yossef Bodansky.

The mission delegates met with key Yugoslav officials and politicians, at the highest levels, including the Foreign Minister. As well, contacts were made with non-governmental individuals in Yugoslavia, and an assessment was made of NATO bombing damage in the greater Belgrade area.

A. The Rationale Behind the Fact-Finding Visit

1. The visit was principally undertaken to ensure that the US Congress had sufficient independent information on the conduct of the war ("the Kosovo Crisis") to be able to fully debate proposals put to it by the US Administration. The Founding Fathers of the United States wished to ensure that there were checks and balances in the US system. The Congress was empowered to approve and fund - or disapprove and withhold funding - the actions of the Administration, and was charged with the function of declaring war. It was, therefore, the responsibility of Congress to satisfy itself through the utmost diligence that courses of action to which it committed its actions were appropriate. It was never intended that the Congress should blindly endorse the Administrative Branch, but rather should support it or check it after due debate and research.

2. The commitment of US lives into a combat situation, where many lives will certainly be lost, and where the long-term strategic interests of the United States are involved, cannot therefore be undertaken without the most complete research and understanding. With regard to the present situation in Yugoslavia, Congress had until this mission been virtually totally reliant on the Administration's view of events, and on the media, which has been greatly influenced by the only real source of information and opinion available: the Administration.

3. It was necessary to determine far more objectively the real situation before one-sided evidence and jingoism was allowed to determine whether Congress threw American lives, and the future strategic position of the United States, into a war. This was the underlying motive for the ISSA/Saxton mission to Yugoslavia.

4. It was also necessary to ensure that the United States did not unwittingly commit crimes of its own in pursuit of a just solution to the tragedy.

B. What was discovered

1. The Flow of Refugees: The international media, because it is largely on the external borders of Yugoslavia, has seen only the flow of refugees out of the country, to Albania and Macedonia. However, some one-third of the Albanian Yugoslav and other ethnic group refugees appear, in fact, to be fleeing further into Serbia, to avoid the Kosovo Liberation Army. Yugoslavia has already been burdened since 1992 with almost one-million refugees from Bosnian Serb areas and Croatian Serb areas, as well as Croatians and Muslims fleeing into Serbia-proper from what is now Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia.

2. There is no doubt but that the NATO bombings in Kosovo and in the rest of Serbia have contributed heavily - perhaps overwhelmingly - toward the outflow of refugees, not only the Kosovar Albanians but many other ethnic groups who have been forced on the road with the destruction of their homes or their livelihoods.

3. There are some 26 different ethnic groups in Yugoslavia, and some 20 different ethnic groups living in the Kosovo region. Within Yugoslavia, some one-third of the population is not of Serbian origin, and this makes it the most multi-cultural, multi-religious state in the Balkan region.

4. We saw extensive destruction of civilian targets, many of which could not be justified by NATO as military targets nor vital to the maintenance of a Yugoslav strategic power base. Given the widespread damage to these purely civilian targets which we saw, including the direct destruction of homes, it is not difficult to believe the claims of the Yugoslav Government that some 400,000 to a half-million people have been thrown out of work because of the destruction of their workplaces. This means that some 2-million Yugoslavs of all ethnic origins are without income, out of a population of some 10+-million people.

5. Justification for bombing civilian targets has now been given that these facilities were owned by relatives of President Milosevic, but the vast majority of these factories were either State-owned, privately-owned by non-Milosevic family members or, for the greater part, owned jointly by the State and by the workforces of the various factories. As a result, this has directly contributed to an attack on the average Yugoslav family.

6. There was no evidence to support the contention that the Yugoslav warfighting capability has been overwhelming broken by the sustained NATO bombing campaign. Rather, the bombing has driven the Yugoslav people to put aside their political differences and to unite in the face of an external threat, much as would be the case if the United States was attacked. We met with people who have, in the past, been totally opposed, politically, to President Milosevic. Today, they are working completely with Mr Milosevic to defend their country. So the intention of the bombing to break the Yugoslav people away from Mr Milosevic has totally failed, and shows no sign of succeeding.

7. The cost in terms of human casualties from the NATO bombing have largely been civilian: between 500 and 1,000 dead, with several thousand injured. Military personnel casualties have been minimal.

8. There has clearly been significant damage suffered by Yugoslav military assets, including domestic oil refining capability. However, it would be a mistake to believe that the real warfighting capability of Yugoslavia has been degraded to anything like the level where the insertion of ground forces could be successful: that is, that it could militarily defeat Yugoslavia without massive loss of life and without destroying the one thing which the campaign intends to save, namely a viable restoration of Kosovars to their homes and livelihoods in the Kosovo region. The net result of an insertion of ground forces would be that a protracted war would continue within the very rugged terrain of the country, and that the lowland areas would be lain-waste to in the process. It surely is not our intention to achieve a victory without restoring the homes and employment of the Kosovar people (whether of Albanian origin or not).

9. Apart from a costly, protracted war with the massive loss of life among NATO states, including, of course, the United States, there is reason for grave concern over a wider war. Firstly, it is clear that there would be retaliatory actions against major Western targets, such as our own oil refineries and nuclear power stations, etc., from Yugoslav special forces or from non-government Serb activists. So we could expect a major outbreak of anti-NATO terrorism, perhaps on a scale not before seen, if we choose to escalate the war into a full ground operation. This must at the very least be taken into consideration.

10. We attempted to investigate reports that there has already been considerable loss of life among NATO forces, and we feel that we received some confirmation that this has been the case. Clearly, the cost to NATO in human and equipment terms has already been far greater than anything which has been announced. Just how extensive the NATO aircraft and personnel losses have been remains to be confirmed. What is clear is that already there has been a cost to us, apart from the mere monetary cost of equipment and consumables. This cost can only rise significantly as the conflict proceeds.

11. It has been stated by NATO that the Yugoslav Air Force has been driven from the skies, with half the Yugoslav fighter aircraft force lost, and that all defenses now consist only of anti-aircraft artillery and anti-aircraft missiles. It is more likely that the Yugoslav Air Force is preserving its forces to be used in any broader conflict. This is not Iraq, and we should not make the mistake of believing that the fight, or fighting capability, has been driven from the Yugoslavs.

12. There has, in fact, been considerable progress toward reaching a political solution acceptable to all moderate parties. And, of course, we except from the definition "moderate parties" the so-called Kosovo Liberation Army, which derived from the communist origins of the former Albanian stalinist leaders and which today is funded largely by narcotic trafficking into Western Europe and through extortion. It has been a mistake for the West to support the KLA now, when moderate Kosovar Albanian leaders have been committed to a political solution to the tragedy. Equally, attempts to discredit moderate Kosovar Albanian leader Dr Ibrahim Rugova are counter-productive to achieving a peaceful and lasting solution to the problem. The fact that Dr Rugova's enormous courage in remaining in Yugoslavia to seek such a solution is now being dismissed by allegations that he is a "virtual prisoner" only serve to reinforce the hand of the KLA, which has previously been labeled a terrorist force by the United States, and remains so today. [The matter of KLA terrorism and the prospect of Yugoslav special operations in a wider war are both matters which have been the subject of considerable study by the US House of Representatives Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare, chaired by Congressman Saxton.]

13. We received strong indications from the very senior officials with whom we met - and clearly the messages which we received were sanctioned by Mr Milosevic himself - that virtually all the substantive demands for Kosovo's future autonomy within Yugoslavia could be met, and met quickly, provided negotiations could resume. As a result, we need to undertake a careful step-by- step approach toward peace and we need to see some substantive evidence of commitment and goodwill on the part of the Yugoslavs. I believe that this will be forthcoming.

14. Without question, we need to ensure that Congress is totally clear on the situation before further escalation takes place, and before further funding is put in place to continue a protracted war. Congress needs to undertake this process of due diligence itself, given the fact that the enormous confusion which has taken place due to media manipulation on all sides has only contributed to a blood-lust which - if it is the only basis for decisionmaking - could lead to a much longer and wider war.

15. Finally, it seems clear that if we accept that we must commit to a broader war in Yugoslavia, then we must also accept that US and NATO military preoccupation with this conflict will open the door to a range of other conflicts which could be of massive and lasting consequence. In this regard, we must expect that an expanded war would lead to an exacerbation of Turkish-Greek tensions leading to a separate war, in which the Cyprus issue would become a key. We could expect North Korea to take the opportunity to initiate a military attack on South Korea, with Japan drawn into the fray. We could expect that the People's Republic of China would use the opportunity to attempt to invade Taiwan. We could expect a variety of new conflicts to arise in the Middle East. And so on. What is clear, not just to ourselves but to others, is that we have a finite military force available to NATO at present, and, because we have spent our post-Cold War "peace dividend", others will take advantage of the situation to launch their offensives, knowing the West does not have the capacity to fight on many fronts.

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Last revised: May 18, 1999