|U.S. TO SUPPORT KFOR|
June 2, 1999
During his commencement address at the Air Force Academy in Colorado, the president announced his intention to include 7,000 troops in a Kosovo peace mission and vowed to continue the strikes against Yugoslavia.
Ladies and gentlemen, the class of 1999 represents -- and today you rededicate yourselves -- to the same remarkable combination of accomplishment, grit and self-sacrifice our servicemen and women have embodied for more than two centuries now. You can be reminded by that just by looking over at Sijan Hall, named for a Medal of Honor winner tortured and killed in Vietnam, to be reminded of the finest example of courage and honor in terrible and terrifying circumstances.
Those qualities are on display today when Air Force men and women serve at home and abroad, from Iraq to Korea, to helping hurricane victims in Central America, and now in the historic effort to reverse the ethnic cleansing in Kosovo and restore the people of that shattered land to their homes.
A month ago I went to our airbases at Spangdahlem and Ramstein, Germany, to visit the pilots and support crews who are flying our missions over Kosovo, and the young people in uniform bringing aid to the refugees there. I wish every American could have been with me to see the courage, the intensity, the skill it takes for our pilots to fly these aircraft at high speeds through enemy defenses, putting ordinance on target, putting their own lives in greater danger to avoid civilian casualties on the ground, coordinating with air crews from more than a dozen other countries, then coming home to debrief, rest and do it all over again.
These young Americans know they're doing the right thing. They're
determined to prevail. It is impossible to see them and talk to them
and come away with the slightest iota of cynicism about our nation and
our role and responsibilities in the world.
There are also differences, however, between this conflict and those we have waged in the past. Kosovo is a communications age conflict, as General Oelstrom and I were just discussing. It is waged at a time when footage of air strikes is beamed to homes across the world even before our pilots have returned to their bases; a time when every accidental civilian casualty is highlighted, but also when the victims of terrible war crimes can give testimony to the whole world within days of those crimes being committed. In World War II, Americans knew they were fighting to end a great horror. But what news we had then about Nazi atrocities came to us delayed and piecemeal -- from the few refugees and couriers who managed to escape occupied Europe. It was only in victory, when our soldiers liberated the concentration camps, that Americans truly saw the face of the evil we had defeated.
Today, our pilots over Kosovo see the smoke of burning villages beneath them, the tanks and artillery that set them ablaze. When they turn to base, they watch the news, they see the faces of the fleeing refugees marching so many miles over mountains with only the belongings they can carry on their backs, pushing their elderly along in wheelbarrows. They hear the voices of victims telling stories of young men singled out and shot along the road, young women raped and children torn from their parents. They also hear the voices of those who say all is not lost because the nations of NATO are with us and will not let us down.
Our servicemen and women can see today what we are fighting against
and what we are fighting for. So can the American people and the entire
There are still some who assert that our bombing is somehow responsible for the atrocities his forces have committed against the Kosovar people. That reminds me of the old story of the young boy who came running home to his mother with a bloody nose. When his mother asked him what happened, he replied, it all started when the other kid hit me back.
We know that by the time our air strikes began the Serb campaign of executions and expulsions had already started. In fact, Mr. Milosevic has been indicted in part for a massacre that took place in January. Tens of thousands of refugees already had been pushed from their homes in carefully pre-planned attacks. Serbian forces were already positioned for the offensive we have seen unfold.
Mr. Milosevic already had unleashed in Kosovo the same paramilitary warlords who spent four years ethnically cleansing Bosnia and Croatia, where 2.5 million people were driven from their homes and a quarter million were killed before NATO bombing and the resistance of Bosnians and Croatians brought us to the Dayton peace agreement.
Ethnic cleansing in Kosovo was not a response to bombing. It is the
10-year method of Mr. Milosevic's madness. Had we done nothing, the
tragedy would have been permanent, accepted and, in effect, condoned
by the world community.
This time the world did not wait, as we did in Bosnia, for four more years of fruitless appeals to reason in the face of evil. We have acted quickly to end this horror, and that is exactly what we will do.
Let me be clear about why we have done this and how we intend to meet
our goals. As members of the United States Air Force, the members of
this class especially are entitled to know.
What is going on in Kosovo is something much worse and, thankfully,
more rare -- an effort by a political leader to systematically destroy
or displace an entire people because of their ethnicity and their religious
faith; an effort to erase the culture and history and presence of a
people from their land. Where we have the ability to do so, we as a
nation and our democratic allies must take a stand against this. We
do have the ability to do so at NATO's doorstep in Europe.
But there is also a clear strategic imperative. Since I took office, I've worked hard to build for you and your future a Europe that, for the first time in history, is undivided, democratic and at peace. Because if there is anything we have learned from the bloody 20th century with its two world wars, it is that peace and stability in Europe is vital to our own security and freedom.
Now, think what the United States has helped to accomplish in the
last few years. Many thought the NATO Alliance would wither and die
after the Cold War. But it is strong and vital, with new partnerships
with 25 nations, stretching all the way from the Baltic Sea to Central
Asia. Three new democracies -- Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic
-- which spent the last half century struggling for their own freedom
in the Cold War, are now our NATO allies defending the freedom of Europeans.
Letting Mr. Milosevic succeed would have sent a clear message to other
unscrupulous leaders: If you have ethnic or religious problems, just
kill the minorities or drive them out. No one will stop you, you won't
pay a significant price. In a way, the world will make your job easier
by feeding the refugees and finding them permanent homes without pressing
for their return.
Our strategy for reversing Mr. Milosevic's ethnic cleansing begins with clarity about the goals we are fighting to achieve. The refugees must be able to go home with security and self-government. For that to happen, Serbian forces must leave Kosovo. An international security force with NATO at its core must deploy to protect all the people of Kosovo, including the Serb minority there. Our diplomatic effort supports these goals. They will continue to make clear to Mr. Milosevic exactly what he must do to end the conflict. And our military campaign will continue until it does.
We cannot grow weary of this campaign because Mr. Milosevic didn't
capitulate when the first bombs fell. We cannot abandon a just cause
because an adversary holds out for more than a few news cycles. I reject
that. Our allies reject that. I know the vast majority of Americans
reject that. We must be willing to pay the price of time and effort
to reverse the course of ethnic cleansing. The benefits will be far
greater and last much longer than the costs.
Mr. Milosevic, in turn, has not eliminated the insurgent Kosovar Liberation Army. Their ranks are growing, and the longer he holds out, the more vulnerable he leaves his forces to the KLA's growing attacks.
Meanwhile, there are growing signs of disaffection in Serbia: soldiers abandoning their posts, civilians protesting, young men avoiding conscription, prominent citizens calling on Milosevic to accept NATO's conditions. There is a clear choice before the Serbian leader. He can cut his losses now and accept the basic requirements of a just peace, or he can continue to force military failure and economic ruin on his people. In the end, the outcome will be the same.
This week, we are deploying an additional 68 F-16s and F-15s to join the mission. We now have planes flying at all hours from every direction, from bases in Italy, Germany, Hungary, Turkey, the United States, and from carriers at sea. If we have the patience and determination to match the courage and skill of our men and women in uniform, we will achieve our goals. (Applause.)
A second reason we have pursued this strategy is that it enables us to pursue our goal in a way that preserves the unity of NATO's 19 democracies. We must maintain the solidarity between the United States, Canada and Europe that has been vital to our past and is vital to our future security. And I am confident we will.
A third important reason is to meet our goals in a way that strengthens,
not weakens, our fundamental interest in a long-term positive relationship
with Russia. Russia is now working with us on a solution that meets
our requirements. We hope Russian troops will participate in the force
that keeps the peace in Kosovo, just as they have done so well in our
joint efforts in Bosnia.
Today, I am announcing my decision to provide about 7,000 of these
troops for Kosovo, about 15 percent of the total force. The leading
elements and headquarters are already in Albania and Macedonia, ready
to deploy to Kosovo within a few hours to oversee the safe return of
the refugees. The additional NATO forces required are beginning to move
to the region.
Finally, this strategy will enable us to put in place a plan for lasting peace and stability in the Balkans, when Mr. Milosevic is stopped and the ethnic cleansing is reversed. For that to happen, the European Union and the United States must be far-sighted. We must do for Southeastern Europe what we did for Western Europe after World War II, for Central Europe, for Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and others after the Cold War. We must give them a positive path to a prosperous, shared future; a unifying magnet more powerful than the pull of hatred and destruction which threatens to tear them apart.
It is simply not true, as some have alleged, that the Balkan region has always been and always will be torn apart by ethnic and religious strife and violence; that they are somehow genetically predisposed to that. It isn't true. History does not support that conclusion. And today, the efforts of Romania, Hungary and Slovakia to resolve their minority problems peacefully show that if leaders are responsible, and if people have a positive future to work for, then they can live together and resolve their differences.
Europe and the United States can and should support efforts to increase economic growth, trade and investment, to strengthen democratic governments and institutions, to help the nations of the region join the European Union and NATO. We should also include Serbia in this effort if, but only if, it practices democracy, respects human rights, and has leaders who uphold the basic standards of human conduct.
So I say again, why are we Kosovo? Because we have a moral responsibility
to oppose crimes against humanity and mass ethnic and religious killing
and cleansing where we can. Because we have a security responsibility
to prevent a wider war in Europe, which we know from our two world wars
would eventually draw America in at far greater cost in lives, time
Why have we refused to close other doors and other options? Because we are determined to prevail. We are in Kosovo for the same reason you are here -- some things are worth fighting for: A future with a great alliance between the United States and Europe standing strong. A future not dominated by massive killing of innocent civilians because of the ethnic or
racial heritage they were born with, or the way they worship God. A
future in which leaders cannot keep, gain or increase their power by
teaching their young people to hate or kill others simply because of
their faith or heritage. A future in which young Americans who set out
from this academy to serve our country will not have to fight in yet
another major European conflict.