Articles on the Kosovo Conflict



Noam Chomsky
On the reasons for the Kosovo War

In a 2006 interview on Serbian state TV, Chomsky is quoted as saying:

Take a look on John Norris's book and what he says is that the real purpose of the war had nothing to do with concern for Kosovar Albanians. It was because Serbia was not carrying out the required social and economic reforms, meaning it was the last corner of Europe which had not subordinated itself to the US-run neo-liberal programs, so therefore it had to be eliminated. That's from the highest level.

Following are three articles that demonstrate the inaccuracy of Chomsky's claim. While we don't endorse all the views of the authors, their politics don't make their facts about Chomsky's misstatements any less damning.

[Note: Naomi Klein misuses this same quotation from John Norris
in her book The Shock Doctrine, footnote on p. 328 (hard-cover), p. 415 (paperback).]


On the NATO Bombing of Yugoslavia...
By Brad DeLong
May 31, 2006

Having made the mistake of having joked about Noam Chomsky and so provoked a Chomskyite troll eruption that was painful to clean out, I believe that I have to make my position clear:

Noam Chomsky is a liar.

For example, Noam Chomsky says:

On the NATO Bombing of Yugoslavia, Noam Chomsky interviewed by Danilo Mandic: Director of Communications [for Clinton Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott], John Norris.... [T]ake a look on John Norris's book and what he says is that the real purpose of the war had nothing to do with concern for Kosovar Albanians. It was because Serbia was not carrying out the required social and economic reforms, meaning it was the last corner of Europe which had not subordinated itself to the US-run neo-liberal programs, so therefore it had to be eliminated. That's from the highest level...

Here's the passage from John Norris (2005), Collision Course: NATO, Russia, and Kosovo (New York: Praeger), that Chomsky is mis-citing, p. xxii ff.:

For Western powers, the Kosovo crisis was fueled by frustration with Milosevic and the legitimate fear that instability and conflict might spread further in the region. The evolving political aims of the Alliance and the changing nature of the transatlantic community also played a role. In that vein, it is useful to more broadly consider how NATO and Yugoslavia came to be locked in conflict....

NATO's large membership and consensus style may cause endless headaches for military planners, but it is also why joining NATO is appealing to nations across central and eastern Europe. Nations from Albania to Ukraine want in the western club. The gravitational pull of the community of western democracies highlights why Milosevic's Yugoslavia had become such an anachronism. As nations throughout the region sought to reform their economies, mitigate ethnic tensions, and broaden civil society, Belgrade seemed to delight in continually moving in the opposite direction. It is small wonder NATO and Yugoslavia ended up on a collision course. It was Yugoslavia's resistance to the broader trends of political and economic reform--not the plight of the Kosovar Albanians--that best explains NATO's war. Milosevic had been a burr in the side of the transatlantic community for so long that the United States felt that he would only respond to military pressure. Slobodan Milosevic's repeated transgressions ran directly counter to the vision of a Europe "whole and free," and challenged the very value of NATO's continued existence.

Many outsiders accuse western countries of selective intervention in Kosovo--fighting on a hair-trigger in the Balkans while avoiding the Sudans and Rwandas of the world. This was hardly the case. Only a decade of death, destruction, and Milosevic brinkmanship pushed NATO to act when the Rambouillet talks collapsed. Most of the leaders of NATO's major powers were proponents of "third way" politics and headed socially progressive, economically centrist governments. None of these men were particularly hawkish, and Milosevic did not allow them the political breathing room to look past his abuses.

Through predatory opportunism, Milosevic had repeatedly exploited the weakest instincts of European and North American powers alike. Time and again, he had preserved his political power because nations mightier than his own lacked the political resolve to bring him to heel. His record was ultimately one of ruin, particularly for the Serbs, as Yugoslavia dwindled into a smaller and smaller state verging on collapse. It was precisely because Milosevic had become so adroit at outmaneuvering the west that NATO came to view the ever-escalating use of force as its only option. Nobody should be surprised that Milosevic eventually goaded the sleeping giant out of repose. NATO went to war in Kosovo because its political and diplomatic leaders had enough of Milosevic and saw his actions disrupting plans to bring a wider stable of nations into the transatlantic community. Kosovo would only offer western leaders more humiliation and frustration if they did not forcefully respond. U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's view of Milosevic was probably best revealed when she said that, at a certain stage at Rambouillet, it was evident that Milosevic was "jerking us around." In early June of 1999, German Minister Joschka Fischer rather angrily responded to those who questioned NATO's motives. Fischer observed that he had originally resisted military action, but that his views had changed, "step by step, from mass murder to mass murder"...

John Norris simply does not say what Chomsky says Norris says. It's that simple.

From Brad DeLong's Weblog Archive


No, Prof. Chomsky, This Will Not Do
By Richard Whelan
March 2007

Richard Whelan sent the following communication to Strobe Talbott and John Norris on Wednesday 21 March 2007.

In a private capacity I am currently reviewing Perilous Power The Middle East & U.S. Foreign Policy by Noam Chomsky & Gilbert Ashcar.

On page 131 they say "Strobe Talbott, who was high up in the Clinton Administration, agreed that the main reason for the Kosovo war and the bombing of Serbia was, of course, not humanitarian, but that Serbia was the last outpost in Europe not accepting integration into the market system." In the footnote they refer to John Norris's book quoting him "it was Yugoslavia's resistance to the broader trends of political and economic reform - not the plight of Kosovar Albanians - that best explains NATO's war." They go on to quote you writing in the Foreword that "thanks to John Norris" anyone interested in the war in Kosovo "will know….. How events looked and felt at the time to those of us who are involved" in the war.

I would have my own clear views on this and would welcome your comments if possible. If so, may I quote you.

Sorry for troubling you but doing a review of this nature requires a lot of checking.

Richard Whelan

The two responses were as follows:

Dear Mr. Whelan: thank you for checking this with me. The view attributed to me is utter and total nonsense. There was no question in my mind, or that of anyone else involved in the policy, that the reason for using military force in Kosovo — after diplomacy had failed — was precisely because of the humanitarian catastrophe being inflicted on the Kosovars by Belgrade via repression and ethnic cleansing. I doubt I ever used the phrase “market system” in the context of Kosovo. What was at issue was that Serbia, along with Kosovo, was on the edge of — but not part of — the EU system, which is quite different (point being: the EU norms of democracy, respect for national minorities, etc., did not apply and therefore had to be defended by the int’l community). I might add that John Norris, who was a colleague of mine at the time and whose book I admire and wrote a foreword to (and whom I’m cc’ing on this exchange), would certainly endorse my categorical refutation of the Chomsky/Ashcar assertion. In my own book, The Russia Hand, I have a long chapter on the Kosovo conflict addressing all relevant questions here. Please let me know if I can be of further assistance.

Strobe Talbott


Mr. Whelan,

Having seen the repeated use, and frankly misuse, of this particular passage from by book by Noam Chomsky, I am happy to weigh in to set the record straight. I agree with Strobe that your authors have it just plain wrong. If one reads the analysis I present in my book, including the longer passage from which the quote is directly pulled, it is clear that I am in no way arguing that "market forces" drove the war. In making the case that Serbia was at odds with the broader trends in Europe, I argued that the western powers had gotten fed up with Milosevic for reasons that stretched back to the war in Bosnia, Srebrenica, the brutal treatment of political opposition and numerous other outrages. The broader trends sweeping Europe were increasing respect for the rule of law, fulfillment of basic standards of human rights and yes, economic integration, but the economic imperatives for any conflict with Kosovo were never raised by any senior official anywhere in the book or any of my research.

For whatever reasons, Mr. Chomsky seems simply unwilling to accept that there were justifiable humanitarian reasons for the conflict in Kosovo. That is certainly his prerogative, but I would greatly appreciate it if he no longer quoted my book both selectively and out of context to advance his polemic.

John Norris



John Norris, Collision Course: NATO, Russia, and Kosovo
Foreword by Strobe Talbott. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 2005

Reviewed by Emilian Kavalski (Loughborough University, UK) May 2005

The word "exceptional" is perhaps an understatement when used to describe John Norris' account of the various wars – diplomatic, military, institutional, etc. – fought over Kosovo during 1999. His narrative benefits from his personal "front seat" experience as assistant to US Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott and is complemented by access to primary resources and interviews with a number of the individuals involved in these developments. The book unmasks the (rather disturbing) inability of Moscow to project a coherent foreign policy during the final days of the presidency of Boris Yeltsin. Norris offers an astute analysis of the dynamic between the US and Russia, paying attention to the details of this relationship without losing sight of the larger picture of the 78 days of NATO bombing. Therefore, his book is not only a day-by-day testimony of the Kosovo campaign, but a detailed account of the intensive, behind-the-scenes negotiations among the Allies as well as between the US and Russia.

Like most authors Norris stresses that one of the main achievements of NATO bombing was maintaining the Alliance unity. Yet, in a novel twist he details the difficulty in upholding a "united" American position. The narrative points to the sharp inter-agency bickering between the intelligence services, the Pentagon and the State Department. Like most commentators Norris concurs that most of the inter-institutional turf fighting centered on the controversial figure of General Wesley Clark who was being forced to wage a "three-front war", simultaneously fighting the Serbs, the Allies and the Pentagon (49). Norris dents the myth not only of American unity of purpose during NATO's campaign, but also points the major divisions in the traditional Anglo-American special partnership. He argues that the British Prime Minister Tony Blair favored sending ground troops in Kosovo and consistently lobbied the American administration for this option. Consequently, although the White House thought that "the British were desperately wrong", it kept communicating that Washington heeds London's suggestions (278).

However, Norris' main contribution is the repository of information on the trilateral talks between the US (represented by Strobe Talbott), Russia (represented by Viktor Chernomyrdin) and the Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari (who subsequently came to represent the EU's involvement). Part of the incentive for such talks was finding a way for convincing the Belgrade leadership to comply with the demands of the international community. At the same time, a major objective was to engage Russia in this process and obviate a relapse into a Cold-War-style confrontation, especially in the face of the waning authority of President Yeltsin. Furthermore, Washington perceived that even if Moscow does not deliver Belgrade, it could deliver the UN Security Council and a resolution embodying NATO's principles for settlement (30). Norris' argument is that the preparation for a US war under NATO did not allow sufficient time for engaging Russia prior the start of the bombing campaign. But once Washington initiated discussions with Moscow, it was increasingly difficult to maintain them as it was unclear who is in charge of the country.

The narrative deftly depicts the near disarray of the Russian political establishment in the twilight of Yeltsin's presidency. It details the division within and among the military and civilian authorities. Norris' account is bustling with instances of absence of coordination most poignantly encapsulated in the scene during which members of the Russian Foreign Ministry and the Russian Department for International Cooperation introduce themselves not only to the American and Finnish teams but also to each other (101). More alarmingly, however, this development was emphasized during the negotiations of the Military Technical Agreement between NATO and Yugoslavia, when the Russian Military Attaché to Belgrade actively encouraged Yugoslav representatives to desist from complying with "Western" demands (211). Norris emphasizes that Russia's launch of Operation Trojan Horse and the occupation of the Prishtina airport with a regiment sent from its SFOR troops in Bosnia was executed without the prior knowledge of the Russian Foreign Ministry. In particular, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov was as stunned as US Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott to hear the news (248). Such account demonstrates that the dysfunctional state of Russian governance at the time made Moscow's position in the negotiations increasingly volatile. Therefore, the trilateral negotiations between Washington, Helsinki and Moscow had more to do with Russia's domestic problems than with NATO's bombing of Yugoslavia. Furthermore, Norris highlights that Russian negotiators were primarily interested in Moscow's rather than in Milosevic's objectives (162). In effect, he argues that Russia and Yugoslavia were members of a "mutual disdain society" (133) since for Russia, Milosevic was an inconvenience for its strategic relationship with the West, while Belgrade could not perceive Moscow's benefit from such an association. Norris also zooms on the little known role of the then Russian National Security Advisor Vladimir Putin, and seems to implicate that he was (at least) privy to the military fiasco of capturing the Prishtina airport. However, the aspect of Putin's role is perhaps one of the least satisfactorily developed in the book.

At any rate, Norris' narrative would be of interest to scholars of the Balkans and the Kosovo conflict with the wealth of first-hand accounts of previously undocumented data. For instance, he details that the US was willing to agree on a "token" Yugoslav military presence ("between 500 and 1,500") in the province, if this was to be the price for securing the return of refugees (133). Also he bestows the authorship of the idea that the status of Kosovo should be decided at a later date on the US National Security Advisor Samuel Berger (28). Moreover, Norris notes that Viktor Chernomyrdin had specifically asked Strobe Talbott not to involve the US Vice-President Albert Gore in the negotiations as it could potentially jeopardize his upcoming presidential bid (71). At the same time, the book is full of character descriptions, individual faux pas and peccadilloes, as well as interesting details of particular meetings and the various "cultural" differences (136) among the negotiators. In this respect, Norris' book is an excellent companion-volume to a number of recent memoirs of people involved in the decision-making during the Balkan conflicts of the 1990s. Furthermore, it is going to be a lasting reference source as well as a main point of departure for further explorations on this issue.

From Balkan Academic News, May 2005


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