Rambouillet: Imperialism in disguise

By Jan Oberg

TFF PressInfo 55 – February 16, 1999

Originally published here.

“What happens now in Rambouillet has little to do with creating peace for the suffering citizens in the Yugoslav province of Kosovo/a. Disguised as “negotiations” about a “peace” plan, the international so-called community promotes less noble values and long-term goals in the region and use the Serbs and Albanians as supernumeraries in its drama. It’s time we ask what the self-proclaimed “conflict managers” are actually up to. If peace in Kosovo or the wider Balkans had been the real aim, we would have witnessed a completely different approach leading up to Rambouillet. We come closer to the truth about Rambouillet if we use words such as globalisation, strategic expansion, Caspian oil, Greater NATO, containment policy and imperialism disguised as conflict-management and peace-making,” says Dr. Jan Oberg upon returning from the 34th TFF mission to the region since 1992, this time to Skopje, Belgrade and Kosovo.

“If peace was their profession, the governments of the international community would – around 1992 – have put enough diplomatic and other civilian pressure on the parties to begin a dialogue, not negotiations. It would have provided 5-10 different secluded meeting places for Albanians, Serbs and other peoples – NGOs, teachers, intellectuals, journalists, doctors etc. – to explore their problems and possible solutions. In short, an international brainstorm to produce creative ideas for later elaboration at a complex negotiation process that would take at least a year.

Today, instead, we are left with only one – legalistic and formal – plan developed by U.S. ambassador Christopher Hill. It is not the result of neutral mediation, contains no creative ideas and is so unattractive to the parties that it has to be imposed as a fait accompli by bombing threats and by arrogant talking down to the delegations (“they must be brought to understand their own best..”)

Six years ago, the international community would have announced that it was well aware that extreme Albanian factions had begun to develop an army and, when Albania fell apart, it would have prevented the spill-over into the Kosovo province by sealing the border.

When trouble started becoming manifest it would have negotiated with Belgrade to allow an expansion of the excellent UN mission in Macedonia, UNPREDEP, and the equally excellent OSCE mission in Skopje to cover also the Kosovo province. The success of preventive diplomacy in Macedonia could have been boosted by taking on Kosovo. In terms of substance, this would be well-founded as the two problems and regions are intimately related, strategically connected and it would permit a wider Balkan policy to take shape. It would have signalled respect for Serbia/Yugoslavia and all its citizens. For a fraction of what NATO deployment will cost for 10 years ahead or so, it could have prevented the war from breaking out. Trust- and peacebuilding could have been vibrant throughout Kosovo today.

Furthermore, ANY peace-related activity would have looked at the BASIC PROBLEMS in Kosovo which are: deep poverty, overall economic crisis, corruption, lack of human trust, manifest human alienation, miserable schools, miserable transport, miserable health facilities, miserable media, miserable politics – everywhere. The international community would have sided with the citizens living there, promised them a better future through aid and co-operation and offered Belgrade and the Kosovo Serbs and Albanians an alternative future, an alternative perspective – and thus cultivated and empowered alternative leaders. Of course, the economic sanctions against Yugoslavia would have been lifted as their psychological effects boosted authoritarian Serb and hardline Albanian leaders alike.

As social misery and deteriorating life opportunities as well as psychological despair creates a fertile ground for ethnic hatred and extremism, the vicious circle we have seen since 1989 would have been stopped. People would stop believing in the propaganda about “the world being against us Serbs and we must protect our sovereignty at all costs ‘on the one hand and the equally propagandistic argument on the Albanian side that’ independent Kosova will solve all our problems.”

In short, the whole situation would have moved away from deadlocked POSITIONS and ATTACK on human beings – leading to war – toward a common exploration of PROBLEMS and possible SOLUTIONS leading to hope. It would have promoted democracy too, because it would be building PEACE from the ground up, with citizens’ participation.

The international community ignored dialogues or negotiations before, during and after Dayton. Early warnings fell on deaf ears. It failed miserably to support Dr. Rugova’s nonviolent line on the one hand and the changes in Belgrade during the period when Milan Panic was a prime minister and Dobrica Cosic president. It did nothing to help dissidents or support the millions who marched the streets in Belgrade for democratisation, economic development and a civil society in peace. (But it did sell arms and turn a blind eye to years of militarization, smuggling and black market profiteering in the wake of its sanctions).

Governments of the international community – some of which conduct what is euphemistically called a ‘moral foreign policy’ and Green non-violent values – DID NOTHING until the conflict became violent. They thus rewarded political hardliners on all sides and the Serbian police, paramilitaries and army units as well as the Kosovo Liberation Army. And they proved to have learnt NOTHING from the Dayton process.

So, what is really going on in Rambouillet? Rambouillet is a magnificent cover-up for the tremendous lack of advance analysis, early warning, early action and preventive diplomacy. But there is more:

1. The international community wants us to believe that its true mission is peace – that it is a civilising force in regions where primitive people fight atavistic conflicts. But Rambouillet is, however, nothing but gunboat diplomacy and interventionism with other means.

2. It wants to present NATO as the new world peacekeeper and marginalizes the United Nations – which, by the way, is the only organization with an accumulated experience in peace-keeping, peace-making and peace-building and which could do it much better than NATO if given the necessary resources and political legitimacy. Even small countries like Denmark and Norway no longer seem to care.

3. Through Rambouillet, NATO will expand. NATO country troops are already positioned in Bosnia, Hungary, Italy, the Adriatic and Macedonia, the latter having virtually no choice and a new inexperienced government. If Macedonia cannot formally get into NATO as it wants, it can lie down and let NATO into Macedonia. Besides direct, formal NATO expansion, we see an indirect one – making the alliance ‘the indispensable protector’ in war zones and grow its roots over the years: bases, infrastructure, equipment sales, training, intelligence, influence.

4. By stationing up to 30.000 NATO ground troops in Kosovo, NATO will not only expand. With US/NATO influence in Turkey, Greece, Georgia (and Azerbaijan?) and in Croatia, Bosnia, Albania, Hungary, Macedonia and Serbia, the goal of connecting NATO West and NATO East becomes more reachable, leading in the longer perspective to more control with the ‘devilish triangle’ of the Balkans, Middle East and the Caucasus – the end stations of which are a) permanent containment of Russia and b) access to the oil in the Caspian Sea region. Kosovo is nothing but a pawn in that game. Control over it and over Serbia proper is much more important than peace in it.

5. And where did the figure 30.000 ground troops come from? 5.000-10.000 robust peacekeepers would be enough to keep Serbian police and Albanian armed peasants separated and monitor a ceasefire. The KLA is not exactly a formidable force for NATO. A reasonable hypothesis is that 30.000 is what it may take to de facto terminate Yugoslavia’s status as a sovereign state. Incrementalism being a Western politico-military specialty, some of these troops may later be available for deployment as “peacekeepers” in e.g. Voivodina, Sandzak or elsewhere to control Serbia, i.e. when the self-destructive policies of the Markovic/Milosevic¥ leadership hits those areas – which is exactly what the West needs.

6. Kosovo’s quagmire can be exploited also to “permit” the international community to disregard international law with (false) reference to high human values and norms. Unfortunately for that argument, the following must be remembered: a) if the term ‘ethnic cleansing’ is to be used, it has been committed by both Albanians and Serbs over the last 20 years when no international intervention took place, b) a genocide has not taken place and the killings is so far much smaller than other conflicts such as Algeria or Eritrea-Ethiopia; c) Yugoslavia is a legitimate, sovereign state recognised by the international community with Kosovo inside it, d) it has not committed aggression against any neighbouring state, rather e) it is being threatened by neighbouring Albania as a KLA base and by Macedonia as a NATO base. Irrespective of what one may think of President Milosevic or other Yugoslav leaders, these are indisputable facts conveniently forgotten by interventionists on the right as well as on the left.

7. So, the Rambouillet ‘peace talks’ is a paradoxical replica of the norm that “might makes right” and “some of us are more equal before the law than others.” To the new ‘conflict-managers,’ wars are no disasters, they are opportunities to expand their power even when violating universal norms and the UN Charter. Their best allies are extremists and ‘war lords’ whose policies deliver the legitimation for this new contemporary peace imperialism. This emergent “jungle law” in international affairs bodes ill for world order and human security in the millennium to come.

Rambouillet is all for the cameras. It’s imperialism in disguise. With this type of ‘peace’ and “negotiations” the people living in Kosovo and the rest of Yugoslavia are doomed to suffer for years ahead,” Jan Oberg concludes.

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