|TERROR IN KOSOVO|
October 1, 1998
Despite condemnation from the United Nations and NATO, Serbian forces continue to attack Kosovo. Jim Lehrer talks with Senators John Warner and Joseph Lieberman regarding possible U.S. involvement in the Kosovo conflict.
CHARLES KRAUSE: The Serb offensive in Kosovo began last March and was originally aimed at defeating the Kosovo Liberation Army. A guerrilla force composed of ethnic Albanians, the KLA's goal is Kosovo's independence from the Serbs. Kosovo's population is 90 percent ethnic Albanian and at first, the KLA guerrillas seemed to have the upper hand. But by mid-summer, it was clear that the Yugoslav army and police units in Kosovo had essentially defeated the guerrillas militarily by disrupting their base of support.
A strategy of ethnic cleansing.
| Although never officially
acknowledged, the Serb strategy was to force hundreds of thousands of
ethnic Albanians from their homes -- disrupting supply lines and denying
the KLA guerrillas the civilian cover and support which
any insurgency needs to defeat a conventional army. The Serbs have also
used deliberate terror to intimidate the Albanian population; murdering
hundreds -- if not thousands -- of men, women and children to dissuade
Albanian civilians from supporting, or joining, the KLA rebels. From a
strictly military perspective, the Serbs' counter-insurgency campaign
appears to have succeeded. The guerrillas have been pushed back deep into
Kosovo's mountains, while the Serb army and police have regained control
over most of Kosovo's roads and most of its populated areas. But public
opinion in the West has been outraged by horrific pictures of the Albanian
civilians massacred by the Serbs, and by Kosovo's growing humanitarian
crisis. The U.N. estimates there are now several hundred thousand Albanian
refugees, most of them with little food and inadequate shelter to protect
them as the bitter cold of Kosovo's winter now approaches. Relief workers
say that if something is not done quickly, there could be massive starvation
within the next several months. Throughout the summer, U.S. diplomats
attempted to persuade Serbia's leader, Slobodan Milosevic, to stop attacking
the civilian population in Kosovo. But despite promises to end the offensive,
the fighting continued. In July, the U.S. Senate passed a resolution accusing
Milosevic of war crimes, while the administration ordered NATO to begin
preparing for military action.
JAMES RUBIN: The point of all this is to minimize the time between a decision by the political decision-makers and the time when NATO would be in a position to act. So these plans are being both finalized and operationalized so that NATO will be in a position to act quickly if a political decision to do so is made.
CHARLES KRAUSE: But Milosevic and the Serbs ignored the threats -- attacking more villages, creating more refugees, and continuing the use of terror against more and more civilians. Finally last week, the UN Security Council passed a resolution warning Milosevic that the slaughter could not continue, while NATO said it was closer to unleashing military force. Over the weekend, at least 18 more civilians were massacred -- elderly men, women and children from the Albanian village of Gornji Obrinje. Yesterday, the Serbs denied responsibility. But today, at the United Nations, Security Council was considering another condemnation of the continuing abuses in Kosovo, while NATO moved closer to air strikes that could come as early as next week.
U.S. military action?
|JIM LEHRER: Now, two members of the Senate Armed Services Committee who attended today’s Kosovo briefing by administration officials: John Warner, Republican of Virginia and Joseph Lieberman, Democratic of Connecticut. Sen. Warner, you agree that military action could be as – could come as early as next week?|
JOHN WARNER: Well, I think it’s unwise for those of us here in Congress
to make that prediction. We received what I regard as an excellent briefing
from the secretary of state and the secretary of defense, and we had a
number of questions posed to them, and they responded. We are, I think,
in support of negotiations, and the negotiations have proven throughout
history not to be successful in situations like this unless there is a
clear and credible military element to back those negotiations should
they fail. The president and other NATO nations with their leaders around
the world are putting together that force. As to its use, let us hope
that negotiations succeed.
JIM LEHRER: Senator Lieberman, is the threat real, the military threat based on the briefing that you attended, do you think the threat is real?
SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN: Yes. I think the threat is very real, and I was encouraged by the extent of bipartisan support for what is being contemplated here with our NATO allies. I don’t want to give you the impression it was unanimous, but I do think there’s a feeling among senators of both parties that the history of the last six months when we have threatened Milosevic and the Serbs to stop the massacre, to stop the aggression, and they’ve gone right ahead with it, and we haven’t fulfilled our threats, has jeopardized the credibility of the United States and NATO. And now the situation is serious enough with the winter coming on, with starvation, a real prospect with the kind of massacres that you’ve just shown, Jim, going on, that we’ve got to take quick action, and I hope we will do that.
JIM LEHRER: Sen. Lieberman, is it fair to say that you and the other senators in the briefing transmitted that message to the secretary, said, hey, look, this time, it’d better be real, or forget it?
SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN: Yes. Absolutely. I think we’re all – most of us are convinced of the seriousness of the situation. We believe that the United States has a national interest at stake here. In fact, although the massacre hasn’t thankfully gotten quite as numerous as it was in Bosnia before we took action, the potential for the conflict in Kosovo to spread throughout the Balkans and potentially to involve member nations of NATO, such as Greece and Turkey, is greater in Kosovo than it was in Bosnia. So I think we made our feelings quite clear, and I hope that in that sense we encourage our administration to encourage our NATO allies to – as one of our colleagues said – shoot or shut up.
SEN. JOHN WARNER: Jim –
JIM LEHRER: Yes. Go ahead.
SEN. JOHN WARNER: Let me say that I visited this region just weeks ago and saw the human suffering, and I agree with my friend and colleague that with the winter coming on, it’s going to be horrific, but I would not jump to the conclusion that this very good briefing today reflects adequate time for the Senate to express as a body its views. We talked specifically about possibly having a resolution of the United States Senate, which, indeed, would lend great credence and help to the administration and to NATO, which we are the leader in that military alliance. But my concern, based on my observations over there and a number of observations in years past Bosnia, is as follows: We’re talking about air, and I’m just speaking for myself. I don’t believe air alone can handle this situation, because what you’ve got is about 10 percent of the Serbs in this nation being backed up by the regular army of Serbia. If we cut off that regular army, then the 90 percent, who have been driven into the hills, are going to come back down and I think you’re going to have frightful conflict between the 10 percent and 90 percent because of the wrongs done to the 90 percent largely.
JIM LEHRER: You mean the ethnic – you mean the ethnic Albanians are going to come back?
SEN. JOHN WARNER: Correct.
JIM LEHRER: And destroy the 10 percent Serbs that are left.
SEN. JOHN WARNER: Are going to clash like this.
JIM LEHRER: And what would be wrong with that?
SEN. JOHN WARNER: I think we would have further carnage, what we’re trying to stop. And it would, as Joe said, begin to have instability throughout that region. Already you’ve got Albania in the state of revolution. It could spread into Montenegro and other areas in that area, and you’d have an all out civil war. So my point is, I think it’s important, as we look at the military option, which I hope we don’t have to use, if the U.S. does err, then it seems to me our allies have got to look at the very complex situation of putting some stability on the ground to prevent a total eruption of the civil war.
JIM LEHRER: You’re talking about troops and tanks and the whole nine yards.
SEN. JOHN WARNER: I’m talking about a very serious need to have a companion element of force with air to secure the ground so that the civil war just doesn’t suddenly spread all over the region.
JIM LEHRER: Sen. Lieberman, would you support that? Do you think that’s necessary?
SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN: Well, I do want to make clear – and I believe this is what Sen. Warner intends here – which is that the Secretary of Defense made it very clear as he said there’s not been one iota of thinking about putting American forces on the ground in Kosovo in a hostile situation. What’s being contemplated now clearly is the use of air power in various targets throughout the region and the aim there --
JIM LEHRER: Excuse me. Throughout the region meaning maybe in Serbia, itself –
SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN: Maybe.
JIM LEHRER: In addition to Kosovo, is – maybe?
SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN: That’s correct.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Excuse me.
SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN: No. No problem. And the aim of that would be to bring Milosevic to do a series of things that have been talked about publicly -- to have a cease-fire to, move the Serbian troops out of the country, and to begin to negotiate with the Kosovars about some form of self-determination or at least stopping the assault that’s gone on for nine years now on their human rights.
JIM LEHRER: But what about Sen. Warner’s point that air power alone, air strikes alone aren’t going to get it?
SEN. JOHN WARNER: Well, it brings about the situation where the deprived 90 percent who have been persecuted not only in the past year but for many years when their autonomy was taken away – although that is the degree of autonomy they had by Milosevic. And they’ll just fall on the Serbs. And the problem is this is an island, Kosovo, there’s no sea lanes to get supply routes in, the heavy equipment to get in there. It’s surrounded by Albania. You can’t go in through Albania. Do you want to come down through Bosnia and begin to destabilize what little stability our forces and other allies have brought thus far? I summarize by saying this is a very serious and a very complex situation, and my own judgment is it requires more than air to prevent the carnage and the spread that concerns us so greatly.
JIM LEHRER: And Senator Lieberman, do you think it requires more than air, whether it’s U.S. troops or not?
SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN: Right. First, let me try to clarify what I think was expressed at the briefing today, which is that there is broad support from both parties for some kind of air campaign. I think there’s a hope that the administration, if they’re going to commit forces to a peacekeeping effort in Kosovo, come back to the Congress and specifically outline the terms, the costs, and what the goals of that are.
JIM LEHRER: You mean, that would be in addition to air strikes?
SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN: That’s correct.
JIM LEHRER: Okay.
SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN: And I think that’s the way – we ought to take it one step at a time and hope that a sustained air campaign, if necessary, will at least stop the slaughter and bring the parties to the negotiating table, as it did in Bosnia.
JIM LEHRER: Sen. Lieberman, starting with you and then to Sen. Warner on this, make the case to the average American why this should be important to the United States and why American lives should be put at risk to put it right.
The need for early involvement.
SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN: Right. That’s the bottom line and most critical question here. This involves Europe. We have been involved in two world wars in this century, actually three, if you consider the cold war. Because we didn’t get involved early enough to stifle conflict – and I think this is the classic situation. We saw it in Bosnia, and we’re seeing it here again with a potential to draw NATO and the United States in NATO into a wider conflict, unless we stop it. So it’s a question of acting early to stop a broader war in the Balkans, but also it’s a question of acting out of our humanitarian values to prevent the kind of starvation of women and children and freezing to death of women and children and older people that will occur if this aggression by Serbia doesn’t stop.
JIM LEHRER: Sen. Warner, what would you add to that?
SEN. JOHN WARNER: I would add another element, and that is our country has already expended or will by the end of the fiscal year $9 billion in trying to secure Bosnia, not to say about the risk and the deprivation that our troops have endured in being an integral part of the NATO force. If we do not, I think properly, and underline properly, secure this situation over there, together with our allies, not just the U.S. alone, then it could well undermine everything we’ve achieved thus far in Bosnia, and we’d see this thing spread through Albania, Macedonia, Montenegro, and, indeed, I think be very disruptive of the modest gains we’ve made thus far in Bosnia and a very heavy sacrifice of our men and women of the armed forces and those of other nations.
JIM LEHRER: Sen. Warner, would you agree with those who say that nothing is going to happen if the United States doesn’t lead it?
SEN. JOHN WARNER: I agree with that assumption. History has shown that we are the dominant leader of NATO. And NATO is dependent on unity among its members. And we being the principal one, unless we get in there and assert that leadership once again, that’s the burden of a superpower, NATO could begin to unravel over this serious operation.
JIM LEHRER: And you’re nodding in agreement, Sen. Lieberman.
SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN: Absolutely. We are the leader of NATO. That’s in our interest. We should lead this effort, but we shouldn’t carry it alone. In fact, if we get to a point of a peacekeeping force, as in Bosnia, most of the troops should be from Europe, not from the United States.
SEN. JOHN WARNER: I agree a hundred percent.
JIM LEHRER: Okay. Gentlemen, thank you both very much.