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The fatal flaws underlying NATO's
intervention in Yugoslavia

United Services Institution of India

By Lt General Satish Nambiar (Retd.)
First Force Commander and Head of Mission
of the UN Forces in the former Yugoslavia

USI, New Delhi,
April 6, 1999

For fair use only
Published under the provision of
U.S. Code, Title 17, section 107.

 * * * 


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.


(End quote)


   [ NATO's attack on Yugoslavia ]

   [ Kosovo: Cutting Through a Fog of Lies ]

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Last revised: April 14, 1999