The bombing of then-Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, begun March 24, 1999, was in essence a demonstration of power by which the Atlantic Empire chose to reveal itself to the world. Until then, NATO was considered a defensive alliance; in the words of its first Secretary-General, Lord Ismay, its purpose was to "keep the Russians, out, the Americans in, and the Germans down." During the conflicts in Croatia and Bosnia (1991-1995), the Alliance gradually claimed more and more authority, until it was driving the UN, and not the other way around. But on March 24, 1999, NATO - and Washington - would bypass the UN entirely.
It is said today that the war ("intervention") was fought to protect the innocent ethnic Albanians, who were being "oppressed" by a vicious Serbian regime. But insiders have admitted the purpose of the bombing had little to do with Serbs or the Albanians, and much to do with power politics, especially the U.S. relations with Russia.
As Madeleine Albright once famously asked Colin Powell, "What’s the point of... this superb military... if we can't use it?" That was in 1991, and the outcome of this argument was "Desert Storm": a four-day operation in which the overwhelming and technologically superior forces of the U.S.-led coalition obliterated Iraqi troops in open field. As a result, Americans - and their European allies - came to believe in their military invincibility. However, "Desert Storm" was not the first battle of the future, but the last battle of the past. This was shown by the conflict over Kosovo in 1999, which was conceived as a re-run of "Desert Storm," and ended up being anything but.
Washington's show of force was deliberately and carefully designed. The target was Yugoslavia (Serbia-Montenegro), the only country in the Balkans, perhaps even Europe, without a client regime. President Milosevic may have helped the U.S. impose peace in Croatia and Bosnia (at the expense of some 2 million Serbs), but he insisted on being a free agent. That could not be allowed.
Much of the groundwork had been done already. During the early 1990s, the Serbs had been demonized as aggressors and genocidal murderers, based on propaganda from the conflicts in Croatia and Bosnia. A proxy force was already in place: the "Kosovo Liberation Army," a terrorist organization seeking independence of the Kosovo province (as the first step in pan-Albanian "unification" sought by some since 1878 or so). Though Albanians have sought separation from Serbia since the early 1980s, the KLA represented an escalation of terrorism that Serbia could not ignore. From mid-1997, Serbian police and Yugoslav military tangled with the KLA, mostly to the KLA's detriment.
In October 1998, the U.S. demanded that Belgrade allow OSCE observers into Kosovo, and stop actions against the KLA (the KLA was under no such constraints). Milosevic agreed, hoping to avoid a war with NATO. But the mission was led by William Walker, veteran of black ops in Central America, who helped the KLA stage a "massacre" in January 1999 and prepare the ground for a war. Walker quickly declared the events in Racak an atrocity, which was then used to issue an insulting ultimatum to Serbia: "Let NATO occupy Kosovo and have free access to the rest of Serbia, and after 3 years give the Albanians independence. Or else."
It was meant to be rejected. And so it was. Everything was in place for a short, victorious war.
As usual, the Serbs proved difficult. They did not surrender on the first day. Or the second. Or the seventy-seventh. They shot down NATO missiles and drones in droves, and (at least) two aircraft, one of them the famous "stealth" F-117A. There is even a story of how Serbian pilots, flying 1970s bombers, demolished the base set up for U.S. Apache helicopters in Albania. Whether there is any truth in it or not, the Apaches never flew a single combat mission in Kosovo, and several were said to have been lost to mysterious "accidents" and "mechanical failures." Clever camouflage and ingenious use of decoys also fooled most NATO bombers. Yugoslav military losses were very low, even after 78 days of the war.
The civilians were not so lucky. NATO went after bridges, railroads, buses, hospitals, marketplaces, water and power supply, and industry nodes. Even the Albanians - whom NATO was supposedly protecting - found themselves targeted, as at least two columns of refugees were struck. One of them was moving back from the Albanian border, defying KLA calls for a mass exodus from the province.
The exodus, by the way, came at just the right time for NATO. Its excuse of trying to impose the Rambouillet ultimatum was wearing thin as the war went on, so it was changed to stopping "ethnic cleansing." The media went into overdrive, looking for stories of Serb atrocities that the KLA was all too eager to furnish. Genocide! Secret plans for ethnic cleansing (fabricated)! Mass murders! Hundreds of thousands dead! All were shown to be ephemeral after the war. Only a handful of journalists admitted being duped; the rest went on repeating the fiction about "10,000 Albanian dead."
The longer the war went on, the more "mistakes" resulted in gruesome civilian deaths, the worse things became for NATO. It was now a "test of credibility," a battle not to crush Serbia but to save NATO's own hide. Exasperated, the Alliance bluffed, threatening total war and ground invasion (which was not feasible in the least) unless Belgrade agreed to yield. The terms they offered were actually better than Rambouillet: the UN would guarantee that Kosovo would remain a part of Serbia. It looked good on paper. Moscow urged Belgrade to accept. So Milosevic did.
In June 1999, the Yugoslav Army pulled out of Kosovo in good order. NATO drove in. With it came the KLA. What followed was an orgy of murder, rape, robbery, arson and wanton destruction. Some 200,000 or more Serbs, Roma, Turks, Jews, and even other Albanians who would not support the KLA fled the occupied province. Hundreds of Serbian Orthodox churches, monasteries, chapels and cemeteries were demolished and desecrated. NATO "peacekeepers" stood by and watched.
The terror - dismissed by the cheerleader media as "revenge attacks" - continued for months, then years, reaching a frenzied peak in 2004. So much for "humanitarian" motives of the war.
Eventually, the Empire pushed to violate the armistice, and worked with the provisional Albanian government to create an "independent" Kosovo (February 2008). By that time, they'd already conquered Serbia. Milosevic was deposed in October 2000, by a coalition of opposition parties brought together by U.S. diplomats and spies, funded with "suitcases of cash." The new regime arrested Milosevic - and the rest of the military and civilian leadership - and shipped them off to the Hague Inquisition. Milosevic died there in 2006, under mysterious circumstances. Shortly thereafter, Montenegro seceded, and Yugoslavia was no more. And the Army that successfully survived the bombing? Gutted by the new regime, in the name of "peace and cooperation."
No wonder the Empire continues to believe Kosovo was a triumph. Sure, it didn't go as smoothly as planned, but in the end Serbia was conquered, Albanians had Kosovo, and the UN was once again shoved aside as irrelevant. Except that pummeling Serbia achieved an effect opposite of the one the Empire desired.
The Chinese never forgave the bombing of their Belgrade embassy. In Russia, the war was a turning point; within months, American client Boris Yeltsin was out of power, replaced by Vladimir Putin.
As for the Americans themselves, their leaders learned all the wrong lessons of Kosovo, using the precedent of this evil little war to launch the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The protracted occupation and insurgency have bled the American military and treasury over the past six years, and the troops are still stuck there.
Nor was Kosovo a triumph for NATO; the Alliance was exposed as a paper tiger, as European nations demonstrated complete inability to conduct their own operations, and had to rely on Americans for almost everything.
Just a decade after its supposed moment of triumph (which, appropriately, owed more to media spin than reality) the Empire is failing. Whatever happens to it eventually, the days when it could assert the "right" to bomb anyone, anywhere, for any reason are most likely gone. And the seeds of that destruction were sown in Kosovo. We should remember that.
As for the Serbs and the Albanians, and the fate of Kosovo, Montenegro, and Macedonia... that remains very much an unfinished tale.