An account of the Yugoslav War written by by Jan Marijnissen and Karel Glastra van Loon
Jan Marijnissen is leader of the Socialist Party of the Netherlands (SP)
Karel Glastra van Loon was a novelist and journalist, closely associated with the SP, who has died, at the age of only 43, since this book was published in the original Dutch. His best known work in English was The Passion Fruit
The Last War of the 20th Century - Chapter Five
March 18, 2008 19:05 | by Jan Marijnissen and Karel Glastra van Loon
Strategy for advanced players
"That men do not learn very much from the lessons of history is the most important of all the lessons that history has to teach."
Every disaster, every crisis and every war creates its own Dutch celebrities. To bring order from the chaos of information (or perhaps simply to find a cheap way to fill broadcasting schedules), news programmes drum up experts to provide a commentary on the satellite pictures of mudslides, lootings or bomber planes.
Rob de Wijk, formerly a leading official at the Ministry of Defence and now connected with the influential Clingendael Institute, otherwise known as the Netherlands Institute for International Relations, is one such instant expert. During the Kosovo war he was night after night a guest on the leading news and analysis television programme Nova, shedding light on the occurrences of the day and making predictions of what would happen next. But De Wijk had something that many of his colleagues were missing: an indisputable expertise coupled with complete independence in thought and statement. Where calling on other experts could sometimes be seen as rather an admission of editorial weakness, De Wijk's television appearances almost always added something substantial to the viewer's understanding of and ability to judge what was going on. That Rob de Wijk should play a role in this book was for us certain from the start. That he was one of the few prominent personalities who during the war came out with persistent criticism of NATO made him, of course, doubly interesting to us. But is says a great deal, if not about everything about De Wijk's independence that he never spared the other parties to the conflict, which exposed him to the 'warm' interest of certain Serbian elements in Dutch society.
De Wijk: 'During the war I had quite a few threats at my own address. Measures were taken against these.'
From whom did they come?
De Wijk: 'From the Serb side. Anyone who expressed themselves publicly on this war has been threatened in one way or another. With strange faxes, strange telephone calls, and weird people in the street. All of the military police officers in the Netherlands were at the time driving around in armoured cars, and with good reason.
Perhaps we should begin with the most obvious question: why was the decision taken to address the Kosovo crisis by means of a large scale military intervention? How could things have reached this pitch?
De Wijk: 'What prompted it I think is crystal clear. There there were at a given moment 100,000 Kosovo-Albanians outside the country and tens of thousands more in the mountains in Kosovo itself. If the atrocities against the Albanians had not taken place, no action would have been taken against Milosevic, no more than we would declare war on Belgium. But the question is, of course, should you respond to such a provocation with an actual intervention? Or, to put it differently, what determines, in the end, whether you intervene or not? In this case the answer is that there had been some twenty-five final and absolutely final warnings from the West to Milosevic, and that people began at a given moment to feel themselves forced to match words with deeds. That is, I think, the real reason why the intervention eventually came: the credibility of NATO was at stake.
'Both sides got the other wrong. Milosevic thought "these folk will leave it at warnings and in the meantime I can carry on as usual. And the Western leaders thought "if we threaten violence, he'll come around. This erroneous assessment was fed by all kinds of myths coming out of the Gulf War and the performance of UNPROFOR in Bosnia during the first half of the 1990s. The Gulf War, because it was then that the idea took hold that with the help of the air force you can call a potentate to order. And Bosnia because in 1995, when the siege of Sarajevo was brought to an end, the image was created of the Serbs as having been driven to the negotiating table by NATO air raids, which eventually led to the Dayton accords. And this image is completely incorrect, but popular indeed.'
Let's return to these myths later, and first return to October 1998. The Yugoslav army had by then, under pressure from the West, pretty well completely withdrawn from Kosovo. What happened then was that there was an upsurge of violence from the UCK, the Kosovo Liberation Army. Our own minister Jozias Van Aartsen admitted at the time that this presented the West with an enormous dilemma. You couldn't after all blame the Serbs for wanting to send their troops back in to stop this terrorism.
De Wijk: 'You're right about that - of course that was also the case. You have in fact to go still further back, to 1989, the year in which Kosovo's autonomy was to a large extent suspended. It's a very complex story, but the fact is that this suspension was absolutely unacceptable to the Kosovans. In the years that followed, the moderate and non-violent Kosovan leader, Rugova, had for a long time the upper hand, which meant that a reasonable solution still seemed possible. But then there came a change in the way violence was thought about, a consequence of the violence of the Croats and the Muslims against the Serbs, supported, if not openly, by the West. A number of people in Kosovo then began to think, well, if you use violence, you can apparently provoke a foreign intervention. This weakened Rugova's position, and strengthened that of the hardliners. They saw that violence had had its rewards in Bosnia, and that led directly to a situation in which the UCK was going to show its presence ever more emphatically. Then of course Milosevic couldn't do anything but try to bring the UCK into line. Which again led to a direct confrontation between the UCK and the Serbian troops.
The question is therefore one which refuses to go away, so I'll put it again: were the streams of refugees inside and outside Kosovo now the result of a clash between the UCK and the Serbian troops, or were they the consequence of ethnic cleansing? Draw for a moment a parallel with Chechenya or East Timor. In Chechenya the population left: is that ethnic cleansing? NO, of course not, it's the result of a clash between the rebels and the Russian army. East Timor, ditto. And the problem with a guerrilla war is that the rebels, guerrillas, freedom fighters, call them what you will, merge into the general population. That is the essence of a guerrilla struggle. So if you want to finish off a guerrilla movement, you have to finish off their base, and that is the people amongst whom they bivouac. I have often had the feeling that in Kosovo nothing but an ordinary counter-guerrilla insurgency was in play, and that the people were its victims.'
But what are your thoughts on Operation Hoefijzer - the alleged Serbian plan systematically to drive the Albanians out of Kosovo?
De Wijk: 'I've yet to see really hard evidence for the existence of this operation. I've made enquiries with various people, but it's always said that there are secrets involved. This is how it always goes in relation to this conflict. The facts don't lend support to what's said. Was there talk of a threatened genocide? The evidence was never produced. And what is left of the many successes which NATO announced during its air campaign. Not so much now. The contradiction between image and reality runs like a leitmotiv right though this conflict.'
Was there, in addition to NATO's credibility and the fate of the refugees, not also still another motive behind this action, for example dislodging Milosevic from his throne?
De Wijk: 'No, I don't think so. You can draw a parallel here with the Gulf War. There too it was never the aim to remove Saddam Hussein, even if the suggestion in all the rhetoric over Saddam as the new Hitler persists amongst a section of the public. But you can't get rid of a dictator through military violence. It was in the Kosovo war therefore also not the intention to get rid of Milosevic, but to force him to his knees.'
But there was at the same time a desire to see the back of Milosevic.
De Wijk: 'Yes, of course, but what was unusual in this whole conflict was that it wasn't at all clear how that bombing fitted into an overall solution to the problem. It's now thought that the problem will be solved if Milosevic is out of the way, which I seriously doubt, but the bombings were not aimed at bringing that about. I'd go even further: it was always thought that threats would be enough and that there would be no need to proceed to exercise real violence. Which brings me back to the myths and the role they played. The people with whom I spoke were all absolutely convinced that Milosevic was forced to the negotiating table in Dayton by the bombing.'
And that, you argue, is incorrect?
De Wijk: 'Yes. The real reason why the Serbs went into negotiations was that the relation of forces in Bosnia had totally changed. And that was a separate matter from the bombings. The Croats were on the offensive, the Muslims had regrouped and had become stronger, and the Serbs actually no longer had a choice. They could no longer gain a military victory. It was stalemate. But this reading of the facts did not suit NATO. If you are as strong as NATO you can only ever win. The Americans would also rather have as little to do with diplomacy as possible, for the very simple reason that diplomacy is for the weak. These are people who think in terms of power and of force. Capitulation won't do, and neither will a stalemate or a diplomatic solution. That is another way of thinking.'
So what they accuse Milosevic of, that he is typical of someone who thinks only in terms of power, actually goes for them as well?
De Wijk: 'Yes, of course.'
And how did the Rambouillet negotiations fit into this?
De Wijk: 'I have a strong conviction that Rambouillet came too early. The parties to the conflict each retained a military option. Milosevic had the feeling, still, that he could defeat the UCK, and the UCK thought that they could yet drive the Serbs out. No stalemate had as yet been reached. This is classic, you see. Peace can be achieved in one of two possible ways: either one party is victorious, which is for the most part what leads to a stable peace, or a stalemate is reached after which a solution is found by diplomatic means. That's what happened with Dayton. But Rambouillet simply came too soon.'
Would the alternative then have been to wait longer?
De Wijk: 'If the member states of NATO had wanted to prevent a situation arising in which they felt forced to intervene, then they would have had to recognise that they had a problem which they could not manage. And they would then have had to bring that problem before the Security Council, which was in the end an advantage to them. That was the escape clause.
But would that have meant too much loss of face?
De Wijk: 'Not at all for the outside world, because I think that it in fact involved absolutely no loss of face, except for NATO itself. That's how they would have perceived it. Look, we didn't sit at the table in Rambouillet, but what struck me as well was that in reality they were taking the side of the UCK. The Albanians were pitiable and they were struggling for a just cause and it turned out exceptionally well for them that the UCK signed and the Serbs didn't. I recall that there was a great fear that both parties would fail to sign and that would really have been a problem, because then there could have been no intervention. Milosevic would then have had carte blanche to continue, and there would have been no possibility to act against this. Then NATO's credibility would have been on the line.'
Wouldn't you therefore say that the aim of Rambouillet was to lend legitimacy to the intervention?
De Wijk: 'Yes, but it only became so during the negotiations. I'm absolutely convinced that, to begin with, NATO did not want to intervene. Of that I am one hundred percent certain. I have talked this over with so many people. The political consequences are gigantic, you don't know what sort of trouble you might run into, you don't know how it will turn out. That's the paradox. Whenever I go to Russia, or anywhere else for that matter, and I try to explain that NATO really didn't want this war, no-one believes me. And that's not so crazy, because NATO of course gave the opposite impression.'
It's said that there was a line of reasoning at NATO that it was desirable to do something concrete to mark its fiftieth anniversary.
De Wijk: 'And I don't believe that at all. People really didn't want this war. It was generally always thought that Milosevic would change his tack. Europe was especially keen to make its mark in Rambouillet. Don't forget that Blair and Chirac made a real attempt there to make it clear that Europe could be relied on to manage its own affairs. The Americans were originally not even invited. But the tactical error was that these negotiations came too soon. The parties to the conflict were not really prepared to resolve it, because there remained military options for each. So at a given moment it became clear that the Europeans could not save the day, and at that same moment the Americans took over. Next the decision came, because of their own credibility, to intervene militarily. That's how things unfolded, in my opinion.'
Could we nevertheless consider just three hypotheses as to why NATO in fact might have wanted this war? 1: Enlargement of the Western sphere of influence. 2: To provide an actually existing basis for the new strategic concept, a sort of justification for this concept in advance. And 3: To please interest groups in the US.
De Wijk: 'But it was precisely the Americans who did not want it!'
But Albright did, certainly.
De Wijk: 'Yes, but Clinton absolutely didn't. He also didn't want a ground war, to mention just one aspect. The Americans always have big problems with intervention in countries where there own interests are not involved. The US Congress was also dead against it. The President didn't at any time have the nerve to activate the War Powers Act, by which he could have taken on certain powers to conduct the operation. But he didn't do it. And as far as this conscious interpretation of the strategic concept goes, I don't believe in that either. Because NATO doesn't function in that way. NATO has no opinions, because NATO is nothing. It is a club of nineteen sovereign countries each with its own idea.'
And the hypothesis of the sphere of influence? NATO has surely now got its foot in the door in that part of Europe.
De Wijk: 'Yes, but you have to look at the state of that foot - a wounded foot! No, we in democracies can almost never decide to go to war, but we can certainly become involved in them. Didn't you also here (in the Dutch national parliament) find that a call for intervention wouldn't win any applause?'
Well, at the time of Srebrenica, Van Traa did win a majority, although in other countries nobody wanted to go there. We had just then formed the light mobile brigade and Van Traa said 'if we have it, we should use it.'
De Wijk: 'Yes, that's true. It was on those stupid grounds… But that still isn't to say that you could also carry nineteen countries along. Because Srebrenica was our decision and thus became our problem. In Kosovo the whole of NATO had to go along with it.'
But wasn't it also a factor that in general more of an atmosphere of self-reproach was created around the whole Yugoslav crisis - the feeling that we should be doing more to put an end to the violence?
De Wijk: 'Yes, certainly, and that self-reproach is correct to the extent that we got it wrong wrong. But there's no good saying that we should have acted earlier, because the fact is we didn't act earlier. That's the real problem. Exactly when should this earlier have been when you should have done something? Perhaps what Max van der Stoel does: a sort of preventive diplomacy in the framework of the OSCE , to ensure that a dispute doesn't degenerate into an armed conflict. That is of course excellent. But if there's already an armed conflict in a region, it's already in fact too late. The West understands the art of intervening at precisely the wrong moment in an armed conflict. Because either you do it preventatively, or you do it at the moment that the fighting has passed its peak and you're faced with a stalemate. But when you're in the middle of an escalation, you shouldn't intervene.'
But then you have to reckon with public opinion. Because it's precisely when it escalates that the call goes up to do something.
De Wijk: 'Yes, that's true. It's a dismal conclusion but the escalation of violence makes the public believe that something must be done, and this creates political support for intervention, but at the moment when it is completely unsuitable actually to intervene. And the worst of it is that this scenario recurs time and time again.'
So you agree with Minister Van Aartsen who says that the rapidity of the news and the impact of television pictures make it certain that the public will call for intervention. This influences politicians who then have no time for reflection or to give consideration to long- or medium-term goals.
De Wijk: 'Yes, but hold on - with the first part, that television pictures lead to a call for intervention, I certainly do agree. But that the politicians as a result are forced to intervene, here we part company. The problem is that many politicians have themselves no idea of how they should deal with this kind of crisis. If you do have a concept of this, and a good analysis, then you're already well on your way. But if you don't have an analysis story, then you will be pushed around by that day's illusions."
And why do so few politicians have that analysis?
De Wijk: 'Because there are very few people, in politics as much as anywhere, who are prepared to give serious consideration to the question of how you deal with military force and with armed conflict.'
I find that quite a conclusion. You are saying in fact that politicians, parliamentarians, the leaders of NATO, none of them has given sufficient consideration as to what these military processes actually amount to.
De Wijk: 'Absolutely, even the military. The military has certainly given this more consideration, but their perception is still very strongly guided by the East-West conflict. The last forty years has seen us grow lazy. We all thought in terms of a balance of deterrence. We knew precisely what we had to do if the great, evil enemy wanted to extend its workers' paradise to the North Sea. It was a scientific, almost mathematical approach to the conduct of war. But the problems by which we are now confronted are of a whole other order. Here we're talking about the best way to manage conflict.'
But haven't we in the meantime gained any experience? We've had Lebanon, Somalia, Rwanda, Bosnia. Have no lessons been learned from these?
De Wijk: 'No, unfortunately not. The only conclusion which has been drawn is that it's impossible to make a sharp distinction between peace keeping and peace enforcing. That you have to conduct a peace-keeping missions using heavy methods, so that you can possibly move on to enforce a peace. But how precisely you must do that, nobody knows, nor do they at all know when. The problem is also that there are some seventy-five limited armed conflicts going on in the world, any of which could escalate into a war. How in God's name can you decide where to step in?'
So we intervene in the Balkans and not in Chechenya.
De Wijk: 'Yes, because the Balkans were seen as being too close to home and are surrounded by NATO countries. When matters there really exploded, this could have had serious consequences for NATO member states such as Greece and Turkey. Moreover, large numbers of Kosovars fled to Italy, and the Albanians provoked rather a lot of problems in Italy. So the stability of this part of Europe was involved. NATO had also repeatedly stated that they would intervene in Kosovo because the conflict there could spread to neighbouring countries.'
Isn't that a legitimate concern?
De Wijk: 'Yes, it's completely legitimate to want to prevent a conflict from spreading further. But the big problem is that there is a difference between legitimacy and legality. The military intervention, aside from the fact that it was badly timed and therefore did not lead to the desired results, was also once again illegal.'
In a later chapter we take a much more extensive look at the question of how the Kosovo war stands in relation to international law. We will do that in the company of an expert in international law, Professor Paul de Waart. The specific expertise of Rob de Wijk lies much more within the area of military power, and above all where military and political power intersect. In his present function as an independent adviser he travels throughout the world giving lectures for top military personnel and politicians on the question of how military power should relate to politics, and vice versa. De Wijk is personally acquainted with a large number of decision-makers within NATO, and moreover regularly exchanges thoughts with politicians who carry direct responsibility for the deployment of military means. He is one of the few people in the Netherlands who knows the alliance's functioning from the inside, and who is able and willing to speak freely about it.
Can you give us a glimpse of NATO's daily practice in time of war? What role did the Netherlands for example play in the whole decision-making process within NATO?
De Wijk: 'The Netherlands has little influence in NATO - let's begin by making that clear. It is absolutely the case that the four big countries - the United States, the United Kingdom, France and Germany controlled things during the Kosovo war. And when it came to the crunch only the Americans were in charge. Every day a video conference was held between the supreme commander General Wesley Clark and his sub-commanders within the various headquarters in Europe and America. That began at 8 a.m. Until half-past eight it was "US only" and after that the Europeans could shuffle in, by which time the decisions were of course already taken. In addition there was also in Vicenza, from where the operation was led, a section of the meeting each day reserved for Americans only. During this the Americans' targets were determined, and these would be bombed by American planes.'
And what was the difference between the American and the European strategy?
De Wijk: 'That the Americans had a strategy, and the Europeans didn't. It's as simple as that.'
And this American strategy could be described as "bombing from a great height"?
De Wijk: 'Amongst other things. The American strategy was put neatly on to paper for the benefit of the Gulf War. What we saw in Kosovo, Operational Plan 4601, was a copy of Desert Storm. The strategy was based on seeing a country as a system, as a cohesive organic whole. What you therefore try to do is to undermine this system. This you do by tackling a large number of elements within that system simultaneously. To avoid difficulties from anti-aircraft guns you deploy high-flying bombers and cruise missiles. In this manner you can at the same time destroy the leadership, not Milosevic himself, but his ministries and headquarters, and also industry, particularly the industry upon which the war effort depends, as well as the infrastructure and communication interchanges, so that troops become isolated. So you strive for the total destruction of the power base, of the whole system of command. That's what they tried in Iraq, where it didn't incidentally succeed, and they tried it in Kosovo, where it succeeded even less. But that is the aim.'
And why did that not succeed?
De Wijk: 'Because the strategy was based on a number of assumptions which were incorrect. For example, that by means of such attacks the morale of the population would be broken, after which the people would turn against their leaders. The opposite is the case. Moreover, the starting point was a Western manner of conducting war, with big military units commended from a central point. In such a case long logistical supply lines are needed and a flawlessly functioning communication network. With the help of NATO's strategy these were easily disrupted. Only in Kosovo was the war most certainly not conducted in this manner. There the Serbs made use of small paramilitary units, the Arkans of this world.'
And these can operate without telephone, computers, or if needs be any logistical support.
De Wijk: 'Precisely. So the wrong sort of war was fought.'
So what you're saying is that the Americans had a clear but flawed strategy, and the Europeans had no strategy whatsoever. .
De Wijk: 'Yes. That was also shown by the Americans' annoyance over, for example, the French dawdling whenever a decision had to be taken over bombing targets, as came out later.'
Now we still need to talk about something else: how do you explain the fact that all of the countries, including one such as Greece where ninety percent of the population was opposed to NATO intervention, nevertheless stayed on board right to the end?
De Wijk: 'Because extremely smart diplomatic work was done by the Americans. There was continual telephone contact, every day. And the Greeks did not participate in the operation. Thessalonika's harbour was also not used even though at a given moment 2000 marines had to be shipped in. They couldn't go through there. And that the Greek government took up a position that it would go further in its participation, yes, it's possible something was done behind the scenes to bring this about. A subtle arrangement for extending credit, for example. I don't know precisely what, but that's usually how these things go.'
What do you know about the Dutch government's involvement in the whole process?
De Wijk: 'In my opinion there was no question of any such involvement.'
Weren't they telephoned? Kok has let slip something about this.
De Wijk: 'Yes, Kok was indeed telephones, but the question is what happened then? The Dutch government had no demonstrable influence on the way in which events unfolded. Which is in fact quite remarkable, because we flew five percent of the total number of sorties and eight percent of the combat sorties. After the French we shared third place with the British. In military terms we made a disproportionate contribution.'
Why is that?
De Wijk: 'Because we can do a great deal with limited resources. We deployed far fewer planes than did other countries, but we did a great deal more with them. That came, amongst other things, as a result of the 'swingroll' concept of the F-16s, the concept that they can perform numerous tasks simultaneously. In other countries they can either do bombing flights or defend the airspace. Another point is that Dutch flyers have better than average training and are trusted by the Americans. That's why they are allowed, to a modest degree, to join in with the big boys.'
That's the military-technical side, but what about the politics? Why does the Netherlands have the ambition to play with the big boys there, too?
De Wijk: 'I don't think that it's a conscious choice. It happens because the quality of our air force isn't bad.'
But Joris Voorhoeve wrote in his book Labiele vrede ("Unstable Peace") that the Netherlands, simply because it is a small country and therefore not influential, can through this sort of participation in international actions also achieve a disproportionate level of influence.
De Wijk: 'Perhaps that could indeed happen, but in practice it doesn't. We have no disproportionate political influence. I think that this Dutch preparedness to join in with this sort of action has more to do with our own credibility. We are a country that has for a long time put the emphasis on compliance with human rights, that is typical of the Netherlands, and certainly not typical of middle-sized and large countries, which have the possibility to pursue power politics, which we do not. We can make a difference in the moral-ethical area. So whenever human rights are abused, we're very quickly on the scene in order to be morally responsible or to raise our voices about the deployment of military means. Then we give ourself the duty to make a reasonable contribution to this. But we are not in a position to bend that into reasonable political influence. There's a constant in this, which you also see in relation to policy-making regarding international appointments. We Dutch are on average not all that good at getting top international functions - with the exception perhaps of those relating to agriculture. We believe that the quality of candidates for international functions must sell itself. And we think that whenever we contribute something good to international operations, we will automatically gain more influence. But of course that isn't so.'
So the Americans say, "you can fly more missions because you have good planes and good pilots, but that doesn't mean we're going to phone up your defence minister any more often in order to allow him to take part in defining policy."
De Wijk: 'Indeed. It led moreover to a situation in which we did have two officers in the command centre in Italy who worked on the planning of targets. But that isn't politics. I think that our military influence is certainly greater than our political influence.'
That's also an important subject: the power of the military in the entire conflict was many times greater than that of the politicians.
De Wijk: 'Isn't that stupid? That happened because diplomacy played no role, it was simply a military operation. Only at the end of May did diplomacy get the upper hand. Politics sidelined itself by closing all doors to Milosevic. He was a war criminal, so you couldn't talk with him. The diplomatic channels were shut tight. The big problem that arose then was that Wesley Clark went his own way. There were extraordinary internal problems at NATO over the way in which Clark carried on with his targets. You'll have to ask Niek Biegman from the North Atlantic Council about this. He's really angry over it.'
(The North Atlantic Council is NATO's political arm. We did later try to speak to Niek Biegman, the Netherlands' representative in the Council, but he did not get permission from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to speak to us)
Let's move on to the fact that all diplomatic channels were slammed shut. Is that why they brought the Russians on board?
De Wijk: 'Yes. Although they said they weren't willing to negotiate with Milosevic, that happened through seeking contact with the Russians. Then a number of formulations for a peace agreement were sought which would also be acceptable to Milosevic. So, for example, the role of the United Nations was emphasised, and Yugoslavia's territorial integrity, and the fact that Kosovo would continue to form part of the Republic of Yugoslavia.'
Is it then strictly correct to say that all diplomatic channels were slammed shut?
De Wijk: 'For the West, certainly. There were absolutely no openings. That's why I wasn't happy with the fact that charges were brought against Milosevic by Louise Arbour of the Yugoslavia Tribunal. Because you couldn't speak to such a man any more. And yet you needed him. If you're not prepared to remove him, then you've surely got to talk with him. That's also now one of the big problems, that he's still there, but the West can't talk with him.'
That's why Yugoslavia was kept out of the Stability Pact, the EU's plan to bring peace and security back to the Balkans. First Milosevic must disappear from the stage. Do you see this as a source of renewed conflict in the longer term?
De Wijk: 'Absolutely.'
And what should we think about the fact that the Yugoslav role in Kosovo seems to have played itself out?
De Wijk: 'Yes, that's also something. It's completely in conflict with the agreements made with Milosevic, in which there is, after all, talk of a multi-ethnic Kosovo under Serb administration. It strikes me that we're time after time ready to formulate visions of the future which are known in advance to be impractical. At the beginning of the war it was stated that a political objective was that an end must be put to the humanitarian tragedy. The basis of this was the assumption that the war would be over within two days. Which was not the case. Then it was said that a maximum of a week was needed to establish supremacy in the air. This supremacy was never for a moment achieved during the whole war.'
How's that - wasn't there only one Stealth bomber shot down? Isn't that proof of ascendancy in the air?
De Wijk: 'No, because they could not fly low. They never went below 10,000 feet, despite the fact that they would have to go lower than that to be effective. But they never succeeded in taking the Serb anti-aircraft guns out. Ant that once again was the fault of the fact that the Serbs simply kept quiet. They shot only very occasionally at an overflying aircraft, which meant that where precisely the anti-aircraft guns were located wasn't known. That was exceptionally intelligent, because as a consequence NATO had everywhere to be on the alert, and no-one could go below 10,000 feet. And NATO hadn't expected this because they proceeded on the basis of their own strategy and not that of the enemy. There was no question of using your imagination.'
Still, that must have been humiliating, wasn't it?
De Wijk: 'I only know that I was at NATO the day the war started and I heard Clinton say "now we're going to throw a couple of bombs and I'm sure then that Milosevic will back down." My first reaction was a spontaneous impulse, that believe it or not, the military tragedy would only get bigger. During the entire war I tried to put myself in Milosevic's place, and perhaps I'm a bad person, because I think I succeeded pretty well. If you reason from the man himself, then you could see what his options were. And one of these options was to mess about with the floods of refugees. By making the humanitarian tragedy still greater, he undermined NATO's objectives.'
But then we are still left with a problem. Because then you can either conclude that at NATO they are so blinded by their own position and their own power that they are completely incapable any longer of putting themselves in the enemy's shoes, or there is some kind of hidden agenda. Because the first supposition sounds unbelievable.
De Wijk: 'Let me put a question to you. Why did the Transport Minister, Tineke Netelenbos come out with a measure such as pay-to-drive as a solution to the problem of traffic congestion?'
Ugh… because she supposed that making it dearer for you to drive your car in the rush hour would mean that more people would choose to go by public transport.
De Wijk: 'Precisely. And because I am myself a driver, I know from my own environment that this is nonsense. Because it is in the rush hour that the traffic is almost exclusively business-related. And business passes these costs on to you and me, to the customer. Anyone can see that. And yet you have such a measure.'
But looking at Kosovo, people were asking why do you say the bombings didn't work. In the end Milosevic withdrew from Kosovo, the refugees went home. In short, NATO won.
De Wijk: 'And my point is that there was in fact absolutely no victory, but instead a deal was made.'
But certainly a deal which was to NATO's advantage.
De Wijk: 'No, you have to look at how this deal was put together. The deal was that a number of Serbian troops would be allowed to go back to Kosovo following a ceasefire; that they would be allowed to protect their own holy places and monasteries; that Serbian troops would position themselves along the borders with Macedonia and Albania; that the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Yugoslavia would be completely preserved. Moreover there was no more talk of a possible referendum on Kosovo's independence. So for Milosevic it was a completely acceptable compromise. If you take into account also the fact that a stability pact would be introduced for the whole region, and Milosevic understood that this would also cover Yugoslavia, including economic support for reconstruction. Then none of this happened. NATO didn't stick to its deal. And so Milosevic had been conned.'
But he was also in a position to be conned.
De Wijk: 'That's so. But because of that you still can't say that NATO won militarily. The fact is and the fact remains that a deal was concluded. And the question is whether you needed this entire war to get that deal.'
That question, and many others, we would have liked to have put to General Wesley Clark, the supreme commander of Operation Allied Force. The General also agreed to an interview, but unfortunately his staff informed us two days before it was due to take place that it could not go ahead. In connection to his early retirement (about which there has been a great deal of speculation, but officially it had nothing to do with the course of the Kosovo war) Clark was going on a farewell tour. He was truly sorry, so we were told, but it was impossible for him to find the time. And so the voice of the supreme commander is missing from the next chapter. But that does not make the critical comments of the military personnel who did speak to us any less relevant.