THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release July 26, 1999
As Prepared for Delivery
REMARKS BY SAMUEL R. BERGER
ASSISTANT TO THE PRESIDENT FOR NATIONAL SECURITY AFFAIRS
THE COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS
JULY 26, 1999
"Winning the Peace in Kosovo"
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak with you today about the
challenges America has faced in Kosovo -- and the important tasks still
ahead. To look back, and to look forward.
All across Kosovo, we see reminders that America and our allies did the
right thing in taking a stand against ethnic cleansing. We see it in
the heart-rending returns of the living -- and in the stark and silent
testimony of the dead.
The Serb forces responsible for the violence are gone. Already, more
than 720,000 of the roughly 1 million refugees have returned. But there
is also tremendous sadness -- from the pain of remembering and the
devastation left behind by Milosevic's campaign of hate. And in many
victims there is rage, a desire for justice, and sometimes revenge.
As we face these challenges, we cannot forget why we acted.
In Bella Crkva, where Serb forces murdered scores of villagers, a man
who survived by pretending to be dead returned and helped bury the
victims. "All of my best friends were killed," he said. "They killed
12 children. I had two buses. They burned them. I had a home. They
Returning residents of Mitrovica say that beginning last September the
smell of burning flesh rose from the chimneys at the Trepca mine. NATO
soldiers found around the mine piles of clothing, shoes, and identity
cards belonging to Kosovars.
In the town of Orahovac, a family returned to find unmistakable evidence
that their house had been turned into a center for sexual assault --
pornography, torn and blood-stained clothing, restraints.
In the city of Pec, those returning came across an elderly Kosovar woman
whom Serb forces had ordered to remain in her home. It was the same
home where Serb paramilitaries cut her son's throat. His blood still
stained her carpet. They had stolen her television and washing machine.
They had taken her wedding ring from her finger.
In a landscape dotted with mass graves, NATO troops found, near the
village of Ljubenic, the largest mass grave site discovered so far from
this conflict, with as many as 350 bodies. Returning Kosovars recalled
how Serb forces lined up villagers and fired with machine guns,
continuing to shoot long after every victim had fallen to the ground.
In the hills outside of Lubizhde, a man in his sixties stood by a pile
of rocks and dirt, under which was visible a black jacket and the
remains of a young man. "This is my son," he said.
We cannot forget the atrocities, the assault on humanity that prompted
America and our allies to act in Kosovo. During the conflict, Elie
Wiesel, at the request of the President, visited refugees in the camps.
He reported back: "What I saw and heard there was often unbearable to
the survivor that still lives in my memory. I never thought that I
would hear such tales of cruelty again."
I am proud that our country did the right thing in Kosovo.
It was not happenstance that NATO prevailed. Our cause was just. Our
goals were clear. Our strategy was right. And our military forces
performed with enormous skill.
Could Milosevic have won? I believe the answer is yes - not by
defeating NATO militarily, but by splitting the alliance politically.
That was his strategy for success; as he put it when the conflict began,
"I am ready to walk on corpses and the west is not -- that is why I
shall win." That is why it was not enough for us simply to concentrate
on winning a military victory. At the heart of our strategy had to be
building and sustaining the unity of our alliance.
More than once, Milosevic made conciliatory gestures, even as his forces
continued their brutality. He offered a phony cease-fire. He released
prisoners. He purported to accept the G-8's general principles -- but
not the crucial details -- for ending the conflict. Through it all,
NATO, which in its 50 years had never been tested by protracted
conflict, did not crack.
Even during the bad moments that Milosevic sought to exploit -- strikes
against military targets that resulted in collateral civilians
casualties, and, of course, the mistaken bombing of China's embassy in
Belgrade -- NATO stood together. From Germany, engaged in its first
post-war military action, to Greece and Italy, with historic or economic
ties to Serbia, to our three new NATO allies finding themselves at arms
just 12 days after joining NATO, our 19 democracies stayed on course --
until it became clear that Milosevic could not undermine our unity and
Undeniably, there were costs to operating as an alliance. In the
beginning, our military leaders did not have all the authority, for
example in terms of targeting, that we would have had if we were acting
alone. But day by day we worked to raise the level of allied consensus.
The critical moment came, I believe, at the 50th anniversary NATO summit
in Washington, four weeks into the air campaign. The leaders arrived
each having made their own choice to go forward in Kosovo. They left
with a firm collective will.
Maintaining that essential unity required carefully handling the issue
of ground forces, much discussed here during the conflict. NATO did
develop and update ground force options. And, if necessary, the
President was prepared to seek allied and congressional support for a
ground operation, because he was determined that NATO prevail. But a
premature debate over a ground invasion would have been divisive and
counterproductive, weakening, not strengthening, our essential
solidarity against Milosevic, perhaps even giving him an opportunity to
achieve a dishonorable compromise.
There were, moreover, good reasons to be cautious about deploying ground
forces. In addition to testing allied unity, it risked our support from
Serbia's neighbors and our chances for working with Russia to end the
conflict. And prevailing on the ground would have come at substantial
cost, military and civilian.
I profoundly disagree with those who said that not putting forces on the
ground, and instead relying on our own overwhelming air advantage,
somehow undermined America's moral position. Morality in a military
conflict, I would submit, derives fundamentally from the justness of the
cause and the care taken to minimize civilian casualties. In combat, it
is a good thing to achieve your objectives with minimum loss to your
side. We gain no moral elevation from needless loss of lives.
>From the beginning and until the end, we strongly believed NATO could
prevail with an air campaign. As we expected, we achieved essential
domination from the air once we neutralized Serbia's air defenses. We
took advantage of precision munitions, stealth bombers and other
advances that allow military operations with an accuracy and
effectiveness far beyond what was possible just a few years ago. Our
strong airlift and tanker capabilities, and staging support from nations
in the region, allowed us to sustain the campaign virtually 24 hours a
day, with debilitating effect on Serbia's leadership.
Above all, we had the skill, training and courage of our men and women
in uniform, and those of our allies. NATO flew more than 37,000 strike
and support sorties over 78 days. Our air crews faced many dangers,
including hundreds of surface-to-air missile attacks. In the end, NATO
lost only two aircraft and not a single crew member, a remarkable
We will never know exactly why Milosevic ultimately capitulated. But I
believe there were several reasons. As I noted, he failed to split our
alliance as he thought he could. Particularly in the final weeks of the
campaign, our strikes were doing severe damage to Serbia's ground forces
in Kosovo and other assets supporting its military machine. And
Serbia's assault on Kosovo, far from eliminating the Kosovo Liberation
Army, had energized and strengthened it.
We knew the power to change Serbia's course was concentrated in
Milosevic's hands. And we knew he was not immune to pressure from
within. By raising the alliance consensus, we were able to strike
harder and wider at Serbia's military-related assets.
And we employed other means -- enforcing tough economic sanctions;
tightening travel restrictions; freezing financial holdings; making it
difficult for Serbia's privileged class to go abroad, move money around,
or plan their exits. In one case, a Milosevic crony, with family in tow
and suitcases bulging, found himself denied entry to a nearby country.
Such developments raised the level of anxiety and discontent within
Belgrade's power circles.
The reverberations from NATO's action spread, from the military, where
defections and dissent mounted, to Milosevic's economic patrons, whose
losses were growing. The initial public mood in Serbia -- defiant
support for Milosevic's stance -- turned sour as the impact of our
efforts came home.
Many around Milosevic came to see the futility -- and the risks -- of
his intransigence. And I believe his indictment by the international
war crimes tribunal also helped persuade his most powerful supporters
that he was a falling star.
Last but not least, there was our continuous effort to engage Russia in
diplomacy. Russia, of course, strongly opposed our air campaign. But
it was prepared to work with us in an effort to end the conflict. The
Russians agreed that the refugees should return, that Serb forces should
leave, and that some form of international security force was needed to
protect the people. When Finnish President Ahtisaari and Russian
Special Envoy Chernomyrdin sat down with Milosevic in Belgrade and spoke
with one voice, he had no place to go. He accepted our conditions the
I want to make one more point about NATO's military campaign. I believe
we acted not only in the right way, but at the right time -- when
intensive peace efforts had failed and Milosevic's intent was
unmistakable. Having gone through the agonizing experience of Bosnia,
where it took far too long to refocus on stopping that war rather than
simply aiding the victims, we were determined to gain an alliance
decision to act swiftly.
Some have claimed that NATO's air campaign caused the Serb campaign of
ethnic cleansing in the first place. That is plainly wrong. When NATO
strikes began, Serb forces already were implementing a carefully-planned
campaign to rid Kosovo of its ethnic Albanian population, dead or alive,
in short order. We hoped that initiating military action would stop
them. But we knew that it was equally possible that it would not and
that a sustained campaign might be necessary. We were determined to do
the best we could to halt and, if necessary, reverse a massive ethnic
Sadly, we could not prevent the tragedy that occurred. But had America
and our allies done nothing, an entire people would have been erased, an
entire region would have been dangerously destabilized. And, at the end
of this bloodiest of centuries, we would have faced history's judgment
that the world's most powerful alliance was unwilling to act when
confronted with crimes against humanity on its own doorstep.
But standing against such evil is only half the battle. Now we have the
opportunity -- the responsibility -- to stand for a positive vision and
work to bring it about. We won the war, but it will be a hollow victory
if we lose the peace. That is why the President and other allied
leaders have articulated a vision for Kosovo and for all of southeast
Europe: nations coming together to build stronger democracies and
economies as they join the mainstream of Europe.
Despite 10 years of turmoil in the Balkans, many of southeast Europe's
nations are already on a path of political and economic reform and
regional cooperation. But there is far to go. Our victory is not
complete when hundreds of thousands of Kosovars are returning to
shattered lives. Our work is not done when Serbia is still ruled by the
same leaders who have caused such suffering for their people and the
region. Our job is not finished when the people of this promising but
troubled region are still threatened by dangerous instability. So we
will work with our allies and partners to rebuild Kosovo, to promote
democracy in Serbia, and to advance freedom, tolerance, prosperity and
integration all across Southeast Europe.
In Kosovo, there are tremendous challenges ahead in creating a future
from the total devastation left by the Serb assault.
First, we must create a secure environment, where people of all groups
are safe and rebuilding can go forward. Already, some 35,250 troops,
mostly from NATO nations but joined by forces from Russia and other
countries, have deployed to Kosovo to constitute the international
security force, or KFOR. The total force will be 50,000, with about
7000 American troops.
For obvious reasons, there a great deal of anger in Kosovo right now.
Last month, I could hear it in the voices of the refugees I met with the
President in Macedonia. Since the conflict ended, we have seen it in
burning of houses, scapegoating of gypsies, and most chilling of all, in
the murder last week of 14 Serb civilians in the village of Gracko. To
be sure, this act of violence is not the same as the massive, systematic
campaign that was unleashed by Milosevic. But it is profoundly wrong
and unacceptable. We will work against it. And those in the region who
wish to be our partners must work actively against it as well.
Over the weekend, Kosovar leader Thaqi strongly condemned the killings
in Gracko. NATO, the UN and the War Crimes Tribunal are investigating
them. We must be clear: America did not fight in Kosovo for one ethnic
group over another. We fought for a stable, peaceful Europe -- and for
the principle that no people should be singled out for destruction
because of their ethnicity or faith. Unfortunately, most Serbs have
left Kosovo, at least for now. But we must work to create an
environment where those Serbs who want to return and remain can do so in
Second, we must help meet the humanitarian needs of Kosovo's people. In
parts of Kosovo, entire neighborhoods and villages have been completely
destroyed. Forty percent of the water supply in villages is of poor
quality; in many places, polluted by corpses. Serb forces destroyed
schools and clinics, stores and bakeries, farms and livestock. Already,
more than 90 relief agencies and organizations from around the world,
including our own USAID, are on the ground distributing food, water,
tents, building materials and health care supplies.
This Wednesday in Brussels, nations and international institutions will
hold a donors conference, focused on financing immediate humanitarian
needs in Kosovo. The European Union and its member states will be the
principal contributors for humanitarian aid and for reconstruction in
Kosovo. But fair burden sharing cannot be an excuse for us to abdicate
our responsibilities. So I am pleased to announce today that at the
conference the United States -- through AID -- will be prepared to
commit up to $500 million in additional humanitarian aid for Kosovo,
subject to a clear assessment of needs and confirmation that other
donors will also do their part. In the fall, after a more comprehensive
damage assessment is completed, another conference will mobilize aid for
Third, to bring closure, to bring accountability, to ensure
reconciliation triumphs over revenge, justice must be done. KFOR has
identified more than 200 sites of atrocities. Scores of FBI personnel
have been working with investigators from six other countries. Their
tasks have included, of course, obtaining evidence related to the
indictment of Slobodan Milosevic.
Fourth, an effective international administration must be established,
to pave the way for self-government down the road. The United Nations
is moving to get this done. The newly-appointed Special UN
representative for Kosovo is Bernard Kouchner, founder of the
highly-regarded humanitarian group Doctors Without Borders and until
recently the French Health minister. His deputy is American Jock Covey,
a seasoned Balkans veteran and a superb organizer and diplomat who,
until recently, was a Special Assistant to the President at the NSC.
Over 700 UN and other international personnel already are in Kosovo.
The UN Mission so far has appointed 19 judicial officials and is working
to establish an effective court system. 18 nations have committed
officers for the projected 3100-officer UN civil police force; 160 are
now on the ground, with hundreds more expected in the next few weeks.
Fourth, we must help build local institutions of self-government that
are responsive, effective, and will further ethnic and religious
tolerance. UN officials are already working to build a local police
force, with officer training to begin next month. They are addressing
difficult questions regarding the selection of mayors and the
apportionment of jobs among ethnic groups. They are working with
officials of Pristina University to create mixed ethnic classes where
there had been segregation. They are supporting efforts to revive and
bolster local television and radio services and other independent media.
And ten days ago leaders of Kosovo's political groups, Serbs as well as
ethnic Albanians, held the first meeting of the Kosovo Transitional
Council, which will lay the groundwork for local autonomy.
There are, of course, unresolved questions about Kosovo's long-term
future. It is understandable that the people of Kosovo do not wish to
be governed by Slobodan Milosevic's Serbia any more. As a practical
matter, they will not be. In time, when the people of Kosovo and Serbia
have democracy, when, in all of southeast Europe, human rights are
respected, minorities have a voice, and national boundaries are less and
less important, a just future for Kosovo can be determined peacefully.
For now, the international community will protect Kosovo, and we will
encourage efforts by the people of Serbia to bring democratic change, so
the region can develop in peace. It is increasingly clear that Serbs
from all walks of life have had enough of the brutal and hateful
policies that have brought so much suffering to the Balkans. And let me
stress this point: We will not provide a penny for reconstruction -- and
we will not work to bring Serbia into Europe, as we will do with the
rest of the region -- so long as an indicted war criminal rules in
As we rebuild Kosovo, we must seize this historic opportunity to make
southeast Europe, at last, a vital and integral part of a peaceful,
We have traveled similar roads before. From the rubble of World War II,
the Marshall Plan, NATO, and other efforts helped build a prosperous,
democratic and united Western Europe that has been the cornerstone of
our security for 50 years. With the collapse of the Berlin Wall, we and
others helped the nations of Central Europe, and in a remarkable ten
years they have overcome the harsh legacy of communism to build
democracy and growing market economies, to become our security partners
and even our NATO allies. Now we must help put the last pieces of the
puzzle in place in southeast Europe -- and realize the vision the
President has pursued since early in his presidency: a Europe undivided,
democratic and at peace for the first time in history.
This Friday in Sarajevo, President Clinton and leaders from more than
35 other nations will gather to launch the Balkan Stability Pact, a
framework for promoting democracy, prosperity and security across the
region. As was the case with our earlier efforts for Europe, we will
look to the leaders of the region to define their own plans for
political and economic reform at home and cooperation across borders.
At Sarajevo, southeast Europe's leaders will reaffirm their intent to
improve the climate for trade and investment. We and our allies will
undertake to help with reforms, speed their integration into the world
trading system, and encourage our private sectors to play a strong role
in their development. The nations of the region will commit to deepen
cooperation among themselves, for economic growth and for greater
security. We will reaffirm our commitment to helping these nations, who
courageously bore a heavy burden in the Kosovo conflict, to strengthen
their ties to Europe. The conference participants will also endorse
democratic change in Serbia and reaffirm support for leaders who stand
up for democracy, like President Djukanovic of Montenegro and Bosnian
Serb Prime Minister Dodik.
And to hold this meeting in a peaceful Sarajevo, in a struggling but
slowly healing Bosnia is, itself, remarkable. Near the start of the
20th Century, violence in Sarajevo triggered the First World War. More
recently, Sarajevo was the site of some of the worst atrocities since
the Second World War. Now we have the chance to end this century in
Sarajevo, with a gathering of international leaders engaged in building
a future of tolerance, peace and progress in the region.
As in Kosovo, the European Union will provide most of the funding for
development across the region. But our participation is very much
needed. For many people in southeast Europe, as in so many other places
around the world, America is a symbol of hope and resolve. And helping
the region is strongly in our national interest. It will make it far
less likely that our troops will be called upon to risk their lives in
another, perhaps far costlier European conflict in the future. It will
help make the whole of Europe a stronger partner for advancing our
interests and values.
So we need a strong U.S. commitment, and that means a strong bipartisan
commitment. For that, we look to work with Members of Congress who
recognize that we cannot ensure our prosperity and security at home
unless we continue to engage and address critical problems abroad.
There was bipartisan support in the Congress for helping the Kosovar
refugees in their tents. I hope there will be bipartisan support for
helping them in their homes.
Let me end as I began, with a tale of return.
Fehmi Agani was a prominent Kosovar professor who led with courage and
dignity in the struggle to restore peace and human rights to Kosovo.
Last month, his wife and son returned to the family home near Pristina.
They found it ransacked. Serb forces had torn it apart on the same day
that they took Agani off a bus full of Kosovars. His body was found on
a roadside, three bullet holes in his head. After the conflict ended,
Agani's widow and son considered an offer to come to America. But, like
hundreds of thousands of others, they went home to Kosovo. They went
home to help realize Fehmi Agani's dream -- of a democratic Kosovo, in a
democratic southeast Europe where people build a peaceful and prosperous
In the name of Fehmi Agani and others who perished, for the sake of
their survivors, and in our own profound national interest, we must help
make that dream a reality.
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