Review Notes re Collision Course

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by Neil Godfrey

There are two ways of reading John Norris’s ‘Collision Course: one can read it as a student of diplomacy and perhaps be soberly impressed with its contents; or one can read it as a complete outsider, as an Outsider in Albert Camus’ sense, as simply a fellow human who identifies with not only Americans but also Russians and Serbs, be totally depressed by the stark bullying of the stronger power that poses as “diplomacy”. Not only the bullying, but the willingness of the stronger power to quite knowingly risk full scale great power war and treat the slaughter of civilians as a “pressuring bargaining chip”. I suspect many Americans would be shocked to read a US diplomat having no discomfort with identifying openly with Chairman Mao’s dictum of “fight, fight, talk, talk”.

I have been wanting to finish a review of this book for weeks now and still have not had the chance to structure, cut down and complete my notes, especially the brief chapter by chapter contents. It shouldn’t be that hard. Maybe I want to achieve too much with it. But for anyone interested in the meantime here are my raw notes and quotations from the book:

Collision course: NATO, Russia, and Kosovo, by John Norris, Forward by Strobe Talbott. 2005

Despite the title this book is not ancient history. The Kosovo setting is essentially a case study how US and European leaders make wars. As such it is most relevant for how the Iraq war happened as any other war the US will think fit. It is written (both the main text and the foreward) by men who were in the bowels of the State power that was responsible for the initiation and conduct of the 1999 war on Serbia. Consequently the book is an open window for outsiders to see exactly how people who have the power decide to go to war and how they choose to prosecute that war to its end. If you want to know what goes on behind the spin of mainstream news media reporting of “breakdown of negotiations” and attempts to “minimize collatoral damage” (Haiti 1994, Serbia 1999, Afghanistan 2001, Iraq 2003 ……) then few accounts can be more authoritative than one written by an eyewitness and participant in the diplomatic action, a Special Advisor to the President of the International Crisis Group, author John Norris; and a Deputy Secretary of State 1993-2001, the foreward author Strobe Talbott.

Against all the spin that “the world changed after 9/11” Talbott writes: “The cases of Afghanistan and Iraq were complicated by the Bush administration’s reluctance to cast its own policies in terms of continuity with its predecessors, especially its immediate predecessor, the Clinton administration” (p.xi). This spin failure is put down to Bush and his colleagues having campaigned against the Clinton wars as foolish attempts at nation-building, obliging them to sell their own wars as something totally different. With the approach of 2007 can anyone doubt that if those post 9/11 wars were sold with the same spin and competent planning as the Clinton wars that they may well have had more universal support, that Afghanistan and Iraq would be better off, and that US influence would inevitably be stronger than now? Talbott continues: “… now that they are engaged in precisely that activity [nation-building] in Afghanistan and Iraq, Kosovo looks more like a model for what they may end up putting in place in thoseother states that American-led armies liberated from heinous regimes.” (p.xi) In other words, all that changed post 9/11 was the spin and the competence. “All the more reason, therefore, to study Kosovo for the lessons it offers for future such exertions of force.” (p.xii)

What the book analyzes as rationalizations for the waging and conduct of the Kosovo war (and hence the book’s relevance for Iraq and future wars we can expect from the US and regular allies UK and Australia – and should one add Israel here?) are (from page xii):
– how it is decided that peaceful means are exhausted leaving no alternative but violence;
– the extent to which legitimacy is sought through maximum use of international institutions, treaties and law;
– the extent to which international participation in the war is sought for the purpose of maximizing the sharing of the burden of subsequent reconstruction;
– the extent to which technology is most effectively used to kill enemy leaders and soldiers while not killing civilians;
– whether it is is conducted in a way calculated to reduce the risk of the conflict spreading;
– whether the fighting is synchronized with diplomatic efforts to end same;
– whether the surrender terms imposed are conducive to a sustainable peace;
– whether the war-makers are prepared to remain in occupation as “peacekeepers” “for what will, almost always, be a very long time.”

Okay, so much for the relevance of this book for today and tomorrow. Let’s compare the pre 9/11 Kosovo war with any US led war since:

How many of us who were news-savvy in 1999 recall all that talk about the need for a moral crusade against a neo-Hitler in the form of Milosevic, for the peacenik 60’s generation of political leaders (pot-not-inhaling Clinton and Caribbearn rebirthing-Blair) to be the first to wage a truly “humanitarian war”? Such was the spin spun via a compliant (read “complicit”) media. Here is insider I-was-one-of-the-bit-actors-doing-this-thing John Norris’s take: “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.” (p.xxiii). And again, same page, “NATO went to war in Kosovo because its political and diplomatic leaders had enough of Milosevic and saw his actions as disrupting plans to bring a wider stable of nations into the transatlantic community.” But wait (as the ad says), there’s more. “If NATO could bomb Kosovo, it might signal a future willingness by the Alliance to involve itself in Russia’s internal affairs without a UN mandate.” (p.xxiv). And all the time we pleb-like media targets were being fed the sop that our duly elected leaders were, in our name, doing their bit for humanity!

In wine, truth

Ironically for the purposes of the author, throughout the book I found myself finding more humanity in the oft-besotted Yeltsin protesting the US-led mind-set on going to war: “We can’t let hundreds of thousands of people die to control the words and actions of one man.” (p.4-5) and “To unleash a war on a sovereign state. Without Security Council. Without United Nations. It could only be possible in a time of barbarism.” (p.91) Norris suggests each time that such Yeltsin tirades were blathered by a drunkard. Against these inebriated ramblings we hear French President Chirac calling on NATO to show “moral backbone” by continuing the killing and destruction until NATO got its way. It was not enough that Milosevic was clearly offering to accept a peace deal that would see neutral forces supervise the peace. NATO insisted that armed NATO forces be the occupiers.

Much spin at the time was made of the inhuman extent of the waves of refugees yet Norris is clear about the precise sequence of events. Intelligence from multiple sources forwarded to the US administration clearly warned that IF NATO declared war then upwards of 800,000 Kosovar Albanian refugees would be the direct and immediate consequence. Conservative Republican Senator Nickles reportedly advised Clinton face-to-face that “it might be better to ‘wait until after the massacres had started before we do anything.'” (pp.7-8). Waiting for the massacres to start?? Wasn’t our compliant media megaphoning that our democratic leaders were supporting war to stop the massacres? Norris’s account is consistent: “Foreign Minister Ivanov lashed into NATO, . . . referring to a refugee problem that ‘did not exist before . . . the day the air campaign began.” Brushing all this aside the US-led NATO went ahead with the bombing with the foretold results proving all too accurate. And our media continued to feed us the spin about our new-age humanitarian war!

So much since 9/11 has been made of the descent of neo-Con politics into a two-dimensional Manichaean good-versus-evil view of the world. So it is perhaps noteworthy to read Norris report: “Albright had a visceral antipathy to Milosevic and had been one of the most vocal advocates of using force against him. She described the war in stark terms . . . calling it a ‘fight between good and evil,’ akin to ‘defending the Holy Grail’.” (p.13). And they say the world changed after 9/11? Maybe all that really changed after 9/11 was the public disguise, the spin.

Curioser and curioser grow the synchs with Iraq, that is, with the continuity of US repetitive war-making foreign policy: Russia’s Foreign Minister Ivanov even warned the United States that by continuing her bombing she risked facing ‘a “worldwide terrorist problem.”‘

Some conspiracy-theorist commentators at the time sought arcane US economic or military interests in Kosovo. Although there may well have been some subsequent economic and militarily advantageous spinoffs from this war for American interests, it is more to the point that at the time Kissinger himself “insisted there was no clear national interest in Kosovo but maintained that since NATO had placed its credibility on the line, it had to prevail.” (p.26). Why try to be over-smart by looking for subtly concealed corporate interests influencing policy when the main actors know all too well how it really works: Credibility! Mafia style! Does this deeply anger you? Am I letting my bias go too far here? Well let Norris himself give the answer: “Clinton administration officials had been deeply angered by a statement Annan had released . . . in which he expressed distress with ‘the humanitarian tragedy taking place in Kosovo . . . ‘. Administration officials viewed the secretary-general ‘s statement as disturbingly equivocal on who was to blame for the refugee crisis.” (p.40). Followed by: ” we cannot lose, no matter what this takes. We have invested NATO’s credibility. We have invested U.S. credibility . . . and we will do whatever it takes.” (p.58).

To sum up the 9/11 continuities so far: Norris cites Time Magazine reporting “foreign policy driven by moral impulses and mushy sentiments, one that hectors and scolds other nations to obey our sanctimonious dictates and ineffectively bombs or sanctions them if they don’t.” (p.26).

Outrage upon outrage, Norris continues by narrating Security Advisor Berger’s “concern” that Milosevic would dare to launch a “peace offensive” (p.28) by declaring a cease-fire and partial withdrawal of his forces. The real offence in this, of course, is that it would make it harder to justify ongoing bombing of Serbia. Solution? Simplicity itself. Get the media to put out the spin that this offer was “‘absurd’ propaganda”. (p.29).

Norris then records another warning, again as if addressing today’s Iraq, from a side that to my mind emerges as America’s (unacknowledge) true best friend, Russia. Russia’s “highest ranking” foreign minister, Avdeyev is cited: “NATO should understand ‘the logic of entering war that you cannot get out of. Not everything will go as you predicted.’…. ; ‘This is a new Vietnam…. You’ve created exactly what you said you wanted to deter….'” (p.33-35).

I personally recall the new reports at the time of defiant Serb/Yugoslav rock-and-roll concerts in Belgrade in open defiance of the bombing campaign against them, and then British foreign secretary’s gloating over more targeted bombing putting a stop to such an attitude of defiance! All this, of course, after weeks of pollies massaging the media to assure the public that civilians were NOT the target, only Milosevic! Norris’s discussion of this event supports the my shock at the time when he states that other military and political leaders at the time felt that the destruction of such displays of Serb morale was a necessary condition to void the need for NATO ground troops having to risk their lives to finish off the war.(p.52).

In the meantime, we learn from Norris (NOT from our “fourth-estate” media at the time!) that Milosevic WAS prepared to accept a lightly armed peacekeeping force if it were uner a UN banner.” (p.59). But of course, for those of us dyslexicly inclined like myself from time to time, this war was not about the UN, but the US — a mere 5 key difference on your keyboard.

But enough. Let Norris continue without interruption:

“The quiet consensus with the U.S. delegation was that the negotiations were largely for show, designed simply to buy more time for bombing.” (p.60) “‘Put yourself in the place of the Yugoslav leaders,’ he said, ‘Would you allow the same people who destroyed your country to carry out the peacekeeping operation?'” (p.70)

And then there’s the finesse with which the occasional honest tv interview is quickly brought under control: “‘Wes, at the White House meeting today there was a lot of discussion about your press conference. The secretary of defence asked me to give you some verbatim guidance, so here it is: “Get your fucking face off the TV. No more briefings, period. That’s it.'”‘ (p.74).

What’s in it for the US?

If the Kosovo war was partly an opportunity to give a new rationale for the existence of NATO, one benefit of a US led NATO is suggested by Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Mamedov, who complained, “NATO is a small, petty organization which keeps Russia from having good relations with the other powers of Europe.” (p.75). Much of the politicking Norris describes involves US efforts to keep Russia in the diplomatic backwater by denying her opportunities to initiate workable peace deals. US was, in effect, refusing to budge in any of its ultimatums and was determined to override totally the will of not only Milosevic but also of Russia and the UN. US/NATO’s demands were high, nothing less than complete capitulation, which of course ensured the continuation of the war and denied any possibility of peace until NATO “credibility”, Mafia style, had been established. Milosevic expressed exactly the nature of US aims and methods, which are still all too familiar in the so-called ‘new world’ since 9/11: “‘America is a great country and Americans are great people. But your leaders are not strategic thinkers . . . They said let’s bomb Yugoslavia and then figure out what to do next. . . . We are not angels [but the NATO effort was part of a larger plot to] ‘reestablish U.S. leadership in NATO in the post-Cold War era.'”(p.80)

The Pretext

Rambouillet — p.80

Doing the utomost to avoid civilian casualties, adhering to the Geneva conventions?

Norris writes: “Strikes on power facilities and other infrastructure targets cast swaths of the country into darkness. This was part of a strategy to widen the bombing and bring the costs of the war home both to Milosevic’s inner circle and the people of Serbia. With a touch of swagger NATO officials proclaimed to now have a ‘finger on the light switch in Yugoslavia.'” (p.81) So the aim of the bombing was to directly hurt the civilian population. Norris elaborates further that the high altitude bombing (increasing the risk of direct civilian deaths) intentionally left the civilian population without power, water and other basic amenities and records that some were wondering allowed whether they were in violation of international law. NATO really suffered heavily, according to Norris, when they were “hit with a high-profile incident of collateral damage” by one of their bombs that killed 60 refugees. How the reader is left weeping for the suffering of the war-makers! When Norris describes the “spiraling cost” the civilian population was paying he makes it clear that it was not the bombing that was to blame but Milosevic’s refusal to accept armed occupation by NATO and de facto dismemberment of Yugoslavia. (p.115) Things were getting even worse for NATO as winter approached and they risked facing the embarrassment of 200,000 refugees dying on them. (p.116)

Bringing charges against Milosevic — p.130 — and consequences — p.137/8

war crimes — p.131

While wanting to set up protectorate over kosovo, not to make it independent for fear of inciting other independence movements througout balkans — teh very thing milos was trying to prevent himself…. p.135


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Neil Godfrey

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