THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release July 26, 1999
As Prepared for Delivery
REMARKS BY SAMUEL R. BERGER
ASSISTANT TO THE PRESIDENT FOR NATIONAL SECURITY AFFAIRS
THE COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS
JULY 26, 1999
Winning the Peace in Kosovo
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak with you today about the challenges America has faced in Kosovo -- and the important tasks still ahead. To look back, and to look forward.
All across Kosovo, we see reminders that America and our allies did the right thing in taking a stand against ethnic cleansing. We see it in the heart-rending returns of the living -- and in the stark and silent testimony of the dead.
The Serb forces responsible for the violence are gone. Already, more than 720,000 of the roughly 1 million refugees have returned. But there is also tremendous sadness -- from the pain of remembering and the devastation left behind by Milosevic' s campaign of hate. And in many victims there is rage, a desire for justice, and sometimes revenge.
As we face these challenges, we cannot forget why we acted.
In Bella Crkva, where Serb forces murdered scores of villagers, a man who survived by pretending to be dead returned and helped bury the victims. “All of my best friends were killed,” he said. “They killed 12 children. I had two buses. They burned them. I had a home. They destroyed it.”
Returning residents of Mitrovica say that beginning last September the smell of burning flesh rose from the chimneys at the Trepca mine. NATO soldiers found around the mine piles of clothing, shoes, and identity cards belonging to Kosovars.
In the town of Orahovac, a family returned to find unmistakable evidence that their house had been turned into a center for sexual assault -- pornography, torn and blood-stained clothing, restraints.
In the city of Pec, those returning came across an elderly Kosovar woman whom Serb forces had ordered to remain in her home. It was the same home where Serb paramilitaries cut her son' s throat. His blood still stained her carpet. They had stolen her television and washing machine. They had taken her wedding ring from her finger.
In a landscape dotted with mass graves, NATO troops found, near the village of Ljubenic, the largest mass grave site discovered so far from this conflict, with as many as 350 bodies. Returning Kosovars recalled how Serb forces lined up villagers and fired with machine guns, continuing to shoot long after every victim had fallen to the ground.
In the hills outside of Lubizhde, a man in his sixties stood by a pile of rocks and dirt, under which was visible a black jacket and the remains of a young man. “This is my son,” he said.
We cannot forget the atrocities, the assault on humanity that prompted America and our allies to act in Kosovo. During the conflict, Elie Wiesel, at the request of the President, visited refugees in the camps. He reported back: “What I saw and heard there was often unbearable to the survivor that still lives in my memory. I never thought that I would hear such tales of cruelty again.”
I am proud that our country did the right thing in Kosovo.
It was not happenstance that NATO prevailed. Our cause was just. Our goals were clear. Our strategy was right. And our military forces performed with enormous skill.
Could Milosevic have won? I believe the answer is yes – not by defeating NATO militarily, but by splitting the alliance politically. That was his strategy for success; as he put it when the conflict began, “I am ready to walk on corpses and the west is not -- that is why I shall win.” That is why it was not enough for us simply to concentrate on winning a military victory. At the heart of our strategy had to be building and sustaining the unity of our alliance.
More than once, Milosevic made conciliatory gestures, even as his forces continued their brutality. He offered a phony cease-fire. He released prisoners. He purported to accept the G-8' s general principles -- but not the crucial details -- for ending the conflict. Through it all, NATO, which in its 50 years had never been tested by protracted conflict, did not crack.
Even during the bad moments that Milosevic sought to exploit -- strikes against military targets that resulted in collateral civilians casualties, and, of course, the mistaken bombing of China' s embassy in Belgrade -- NATO stood together. From Germany, engaged in its first post-war military action, to Greece and Italy, with historic or economic ties to Serbia, to our three new NATO allies finding themselves at arms just 12 days after joining NATO, our 19 democracies stayed on course -- until it became clear that Milosevic could not undermine our unity and purpose.
Undeniably, there were costs to operating as an alliance. In the beginning, our military leaders did not have all the authority, for example in terms of targeting, that we would have had if we were acting alone. But day by day we worked to raise the level of allied consensus.
The critical moment came, I believe, at the 50th anniversary NATO summit in Washington, four weeks into the air campaign. The leaders arrived each having made their own choice to go forward in Kosovo. They left with a firm collective will.
Maintaining that essential unity required carefully handling the issue of ground forces, much discussed here during the conflict. NATO did develop and update ground force options. And, if necessary, the President was prepared to seek allied and congressional support for a ground operation, because he was determined that NATO prevail. But a premature debate over a ground invasion would have been divisive and counterproductive, weakening, not strengthening, our essential solidarity against Milosevic, perhaps even giving him an opportunity to achieve a dishonorable compromise.
There were, moreover, good reasons to be cautious about deploying ground forces. In addition to testing allied unity, it risked our support from Serbia' s neighbors and our chances for working with Russia to end the conflict. And prevailing on the ground would have come at substantial cost, military and civilian.
I profoundly disagree with those who said that not putting forces on the ground, and instead relying on our own overwhelming air advantage, somehow undermined America' s moral position. Morality in a military conflict, I would submit, derives fundamentally from the justness of the cause and the care taken to minimize civilian casualties. In combat, it is a good thing to achieve your objectives with minimum loss to your side. We gain no moral elevation from needless loss of lives.
From the beginning and until the end, we strongly believed NATO could prevail with an air campaign. As we expected, we achieved essential domination from the air once we neutralized Serbia' s air defenses. We took advantage of precision munitions, stealth bombers and other advances that allow military operations with an accuracy and effectiveness far beyond what was possible just a few years ago. Our strong airlift and tanker capabilities, and staging support from nations in the region, allowed us to sustain the campaign virtually 24 hours a day, with debilitating effect on Serbia' s leadership.
Above all, we had the skill, training and courage of our men and women in uniform, and those of our allies. NATO flew more than 37,000 strike and support sorties over 78 days. Our air crews faced many dangers, including hundreds of surface-to-air missile attacks. In the end, NATO lost only two aircraft and not a single crew member, a remarkable performance.
We will never know exactly why Milosevic ultimately capitulated. But I believe there were several reasons. As I noted, he failed to split our alliance as he thought he could. Particularly in the final weeks of the campaign, our strikes were doing severe damage to Serbia' s ground forces in Kosovo and other assets supporting its military machine. And Serbia' s assault on Kosovo, far from eliminating the Kosovo Liberation Army, had energized and strengthened it.
We knew the power to change Serbia' s course was concentrated in Milosevic' s hands. And we knew he was not immune to pressure from within. By raising the alliance consensus, we were able to strike harder and wider at Serbia' s military-related assets.
And we employed other means -- enforcing tough economic sanctions; tightening travel restrictions; freezing financial holdings; making it difficult for Serbia' s privileged class to go abroad, move money around, or plan their exits. In one case, a Milosevic crony, with family in tow and suitcases bulging, found himself denied entry to a nearby country. Such developments raised the level of anxiety and discontent within Belgrade' s power circles.
The reverberations from NATO' s action spread, from the military, where defections and dissent mounted, to Milosevic' s economic patrons, whose losses were growing. The initial public mood in Serbia -- defiant support for Milosevic' s stance -- turned sour as the impact of our efforts came home.
Many around Milosevic came to see the futility -- and the risks -- of his intransigence. And I believe his indictment by the international war crimes tribunal also helped persuade his most powerful supporters that he was a falling star.
Last but not least, there was our continuous effort to engage Russia in diplomacy. Russia, of course, strongly opposed our air campaign. But it was prepared to work with us in an effort to end the conflict. The Russians agreed that the refugees should return, that Serb forces should leave, and that some form of international security force was needed to protect the people. When Finnish President Ahtisaari and Russian Special Envoy Chernomyrdin sat down with Milosevic in Belgrade and spoke with one voice, he had no place to go. He accepted our conditions the next day.
I want to make one more point about NATO' s military campaign. I believe we acted not only in the right way, but at the right time -- when intensive peace efforts had failed and Milosevic' s intent was unmistakable. Having gone through the agonizing experience of Bosnia, where it took far too long to refocus on stopping that war rather than simply aiding the victims, we were determined to gain an alliance decision to act swiftly.
Some have claimed that NATO' s air campaign caused the Serb campaign of ethnic cleansing in the first place. That is plainly wrong. When NATO strikes began, Serb forces already were implementing a carefully-planned campaign to rid Kosovo of its ethnic Albanian population, dead or alive, in short order. We hoped that initiating military action would stop them. But we knew that it was equally possible that it would not and that a sustained campaign might be necessary. We were determined to do the best we could to halt and, if necessary, reverse a massive ethnic cleansing.
Sadly, we could not prevent the tragedy that occurred. But had America and our allies done nothing, an entire people would have been erased, an entire region would have been dangerously destabilized. And, at the end of this bloodiest of centuries, we would have faced history' s judgment that the world' s most powerful alliance was unwilling to act when confronted with crimes against humanity on its own doorstep.
But standing against such evil is only half the battle. Now we have the opportunity -- the responsibility -- to stand for a positive vision and work to bring it about. We won the war, but it will be a hollow victory if we lose the peace. That is why the President and other allied leaders have articulated a vision for Kosovo and for all of southeast Europe: nations coming together to build stronger democracies and economies as they join the mainstream of Europe.
Despite 10 years of turmoil in the Balkans, many of southeast Europe' s nations are already on a path of political and economic reform and regional cooperation. But there is far to go. Our victory is not complete when hundreds of thousands of Kosovars are returning to shattered lives. Our work is not done when Serbia is still ruled by the same leaders who have caused such suffering for their people and the region. Our job is not finished when the people of this promising but troubled region are still threatened by dangerous instability. So we will work with our allies and partners to rebuild Kosovo, to promote democracy in Serbia, and to advance freedom, tolerance, prosperity and integration all across Southeast Europe.
In Kosovo, there are tremendous challenges ahead in creating a future from the total devastation left by the Serb assault.
First, we must create a secure environment, where people of all groups are safe and rebuilding can go forward. Already, some 35,250 troops, mostly from NATO nations but joined by forces from Russia and other countries, have deployed to Kosovo to constitute the international security force, or KFOR. The total force will be 50,000, with about 7000 American troops.
For obvious reasons, there a great deal of anger in Kosovo right now. Last month, I could hear it in the voices of the refugees I met with the President in Macedonia. Since the conflict ended, we have seen it in burning of houses, scapegoating of gypsies, and most chilling of all, in the murder last week of 14 Serb civilians in the village of Gracko. To be sure, this act of violence is not the same as the massive, systematic campaign that was unleashed by Milosevic. But it is profoundly wrong and unacceptable. We will work against it. And those in the region who wish to be our partners must work actively against it as well.
Over the weekend, Kosovar leader Thaqi strongly condemned the killings in Gracko. NATO, the UN and the War Crimes Tribunal are investigating them. We must be clear: America did not fight in Kosovo for one ethnic group over another. We fought for a stable, peaceful Europe -- and for the principle that no people should be singled out for destruction because of their ethnicity or faith. Unfortunately, most Serbs have left Kosovo, at least for now. But we must work to create an environment where those Serbs who want to return and remain can do so in safety.
Second, we must help meet the humanitarian needs of Kosovo' s people. In parts of Kosovo, entire neighborhoods and villages have been completely destroyed. Forty percent of the water supply in villages is of poor quality; in many places, polluted by corpses. Serb forces destroyed schools and clinics, stores and bakeries, farms and livestock. Already, more than 90 relief agencies and organizations from around the world, including our own USAID, are on the ground distributing food, water, tents, building materials and health care supplies.
This Wednesday in Brussels, nations and international institutions will hold a donors conference, focused on financing immediate humanitarian needs in Kosovo. The European Union and its member states will be the principal contributors for humanitarian aid and for reconstruction in Kosovo. But fair burden sharing cannot be an excuse for us to abdicate our responsibilities. So I am pleased to announce today that at the conference the United States -- through AID -- will be prepared to commit up to $500 million in additional humanitarian aid for Kosovo, subject to a clear assessment of needs and confirmation that other donors will also do their part. In the fall, after a more comprehensive damage assessment is completed, another conference will mobilize aid for longer-term reconstruction.
Third, to bring closure, to bring accountability, to ensure reconciliation triumphs over revenge, justice must be done. KFOR has identified more than 200 sites of atrocities. Scores of FBI personnel have been working with investigators from six other countries. Their tasks have included, of course, obtaining evidence related to the indictment of Slobodan Milosevic.
Fourth, an effective international administration must be established, to pave the way for self-government down the road. The United Nations is moving to get this done. The newly-appointed Special UN representative for Kosovo is Bernard Kouchner, founder of the highly-regarded humanitarian group Doctors Without Borders and until recently the French Health minister. His deputy is American Jock Covey, a seasoned Balkans veteran and a superb organizer and diplomat who, until recently, was a Special Assistant to the President at the NSC.
Over 700 UN and other international personnel already are in Kosovo. The UN Mission so far has appointed 19 judicial officials and is working to establish an effective court system. 18 nations have committed officers for the projected 3100-officer UN civil police force; 160 are now on the ground, with hundreds more expected in the next few weeks.
Fourth, we must help build local institutions of self-government that are responsive, effective, and will further ethnic and religious tolerance. UN officials are already working to build a local police force, with officer training to begin next month. They are addressing difficult questions regarding the selection of mayors and the apportionment of jobs among ethnic groups. They are working with officials of Pristina University to create mixed ethnic classes where there had been segregation. They are supporting efforts to revive and bolster local television and radio services and other independent media. And ten days ago leaders of Kosovo' s political groups, Serbs as well as ethnic Albanians, held the first meeting of the Kosovo Transitional Council, which will lay the groundwork for local autonomy.
There are, of course, unresolved questions about Kosovo' s long-term future. It is understandable that the people of Kosovo do not wish to be governed by Slobodan Milosevic' s Serbia any more. As a practical matter, they will not be. In time, when the people of Kosovo and Serbia have democracy, when, in all of southeast Europe, human rights are respected, minorities have a voice, and national boundaries are less and less important, a just future for Kosovo can be determined peacefully.
For now, the international community will protect Kosovo, and we will encourage efforts by the people of Serbia to bring democratic change, so the region can develop in peace. It is increasingly clear that Serbs from all walks of life have had enough of the brutal and hateful policies that have brought so much suffering to the Balkans. And let me stress this point: We will not provide a penny for reconstruction -- and we will not work to bring Serbia into Europe, as we will do with the rest of the region -- so long as an indicted war criminal rules in Belgrade.
As we rebuild Kosovo, we must seize this historic opportunity to make southeast Europe, at last, a vital and integral part of a peaceful, united continent.
We have traveled similar roads before. From the rubble of World War II, the Marshall Plan, NATO, and other efforts helped build a prosperous, democratic and united Western Europe that has been the cornerstone of our security for 50 years. With the collapse of the Berlin Wall, we and others helped the nations of Central Europe, and in a remarkable ten years they have overcome the harsh legacy of communism to build democracy and growing market economies, to become our security partners and even our NATO allies. Now we must help put the last pieces of the puzzle in place in southeast Europe -- and realize the vision the President has pursued since early in his presidency: a Europe undivided, democratic and at peace for the first time in history.
This Friday in Sarajevo, President Clinton and leaders from more than 35 other nations will gather to launch the Balkan Stability Pact, a framework for promoting democracy, prosperity and security across the region. As was the case with our earlier efforts for Europe, we will look to the leaders of the region to define their own plans for political and economic reform at home and cooperation across borders.
At Sarajevo, southeast Europe' s leaders will reaffirm their intent to improve the climate for trade and investment. We and our allies will undertake to help with reforms, speed their integration into the world trading system, and encourage our private sectors to play a strong role in their development. The nations of the region will commit to deepen cooperation among themselves, for economic growth and for greater security. We will reaffirm our commitment to helping these nations, who courageously bore a heavy burden in the Kosovo conflict, to strengthen their ties to Europe. The conference participants will also endorse democratic change in Serbia and reaffirm support for leaders who stand up for democracy, like President Djukanovic of Montenegro and Bosnian Serb Prime Minister Dodik.
And to hold this meeting in a peaceful Sarajevo, in a struggling but slowly healing Bosnia is, itself, remarkable. Near the start of the 20th Century, violence in Sarajevo triggered the First World War. More recently, Sarajevo was the site of some of the worst atrocities since the Second World War. Now we have the chance to end this century in Sarajevo, with a gathering of international leaders engaged in building a future of tolerance, peace and progress in the region.
As in Kosovo, the European Union will provide most of the funding for development across the region. But our participation is very much needed. For many people in southeast Europe, as in so many other places around the world, America is a symbol of hope and resolve. And helping the region is strongly in our national interest. It will make it far less likely that our troops will be called upon to risk their lives in another, perhaps far costlier European conflict in the future. It will help make the whole of Europe a stronger partner for advancing our interests and values.
So we need a strong U.S. commitment, and that means a strong bipartisan commitment. For that, we look to work with Members of Congress who recognize that we cannot ensure our prosperity and security at home unless we continue to engage and address critical problems abroad. There was bipartisan support in the Congress for helping the Kosovar refugees in their tents. I hope there will be bipartisan support for helping them in their homes.
Let me end as I began, with a tale of return.
Fehmi Agani was a prominent Kosovar professor who led with courage and dignity in the struggle to restore peace and human rights to Kosovo. Last month, his wife and son returned to the family home near Pristina. They found it ransacked. Serb forces had torn it apart on the same day that they took Agani off a bus full of Kosovars. His body was found on a roadside, three bullet holes in his head. After the conflict ended, Agani' s widow and son considered an offer to come to America. But, like hundreds of thousands of others, they went home to Kosovo. They went home to help realize Fehmi Agani' s dream -- of a democratic Kosovo, in a democratic southeast Europe where people build a peaceful and prosperous future together.
In the name of Fehmi Agani and others who perished, for the sake of their survivors, and in our own profound national interest, we must help make that dream a reality.
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