Issue 231 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published June 1999 Copyright Socialist Review

Stop Nato's War

An offer Serbia couldn't refuse

The devil's in the detail of the Rambouillet accords, says Gareth Jenkins
Cooking up an ultimatum

The failure to reach agreement at Rambouillet is the justification for Nato's intervention. The accords drawn up there could have been the basis for a peaceful and democratic settlement. Kosovo would have had the rights of its Albanian majority restored--but without separation from Belgrade. Both parties stood to gain. The Serbs, however, unreasonably refused to to accept them, thus proving that their intentions were evil all along. Nato then had no alternative but to use force where diplomacy failed.

That, at least, is the story endlessly repeated by people like Robin Cook. Yet until recently the precise wording of the Rambouillet interim agreement had not been readily available. Why has Nato been so coy about revealing its contents? Because, quite simply, Rambouillet was an ultimatum. Nato wanted an excuse to step in and reshape this part of the Balkans.

It is not until you have thumbed through nearly all of the document that this becomes clear. The opening sections are full of worthy sentiments about peace, democracy and human rights. Page after page gives detailed proposals about such things as the constitution, about protecting the rights of the different national communities, about the numbers of members elected to the assembly and the way they get elected.

One question, however, is constantly evaded--until, that is, you have nearly reached the end. And that is the question of who exercises real authority. It does not arise from the way in which the parties agreeing to the document operate the proposed constitution. Rather, it is the total and unaccountable power exercised by the occupying forces of Nato to do what they want--and not just in Kosovo itself. The solemn declarations that the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) has 'competence in Kosovo' or that Kosovo 'shall govern itself democratically through the legislative, executive, judicial and other organs' are pure hogwash.

In reality, Nato reserves for itself powers that even a 19th century colonial administration occupying hostile territory might have blushed at. It is not just that Nato forces can decide how the agreement will be interpreted and implemented or that they can issue 'binding directives' to the parties and local security forces. It is not even that in Kosovo they 'have the right to bivouac, manoeuvre, billet and utilise any areas or facilities to carry out [their] responsibilities' or that none of their personnel 'shall be liable for any damages to public or private property that they may cause in the course of duties.'

It is rather the extension of these powers to the whole of Yugoslavia. The relevant sections are worth quoting at length. What they reveal is breathtaking:

In other words, Nato would be allowed to take over the infrastructure of Yugoslavia for free to be used when and as often as it liked. It would not be liable for any damage it did, nor would anyone be prosecuted by the local authorities. So a soldier beating up a Serb, molesting a woman, or stealing property could not be touched. If the US pilot who sheared the cable of a cable car in the Italian Alps could escape prosecution for murder in the courts of a 'friendly' country, it is only too easy to imagine what would happen in a hostile country, where hatred between occupiers and occupied would be extremely high.

What Rambouillet represented was a means for forcing Belgrade into an impossible position. Nato was saying, if you accept this agreement we will not only occupy Kosovo but the rest of your territory, if you reject it we will destroy you. What country could have rationally accepted such conditions?

The final point concerns the kind of economy this agreement is meant to implement. The document states baldly that the 'economy of Kosovo shall function in accordance with free market principles.' This is a truly puzzling requirement. What has it got to do with the political rights of Kosovans--constantly drummed into us as the only reason why the west has intervened? Shouldn't this, as an elementary matter of democracy, be what Kosovo's elected representatives decide?

And, of course, this is the giveaway. The apparently gratuitous reference to the free market is all about upholding the west's economic interests and the right of big business to move in and operate without any kind of control--least of all from Kosovans.

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