Inconvenient Facts

Inconvenient Facts

The New Military Humanism: Lessons from Kosovo
by Noam Chomsky
Common Courage Press, 1999, 199 pp $15.95


Early in Noam Chomsky’s diatribe against NATO’s military intervention in Kosovo, he cites George Orwell’s preface to Animal Farm. Orwell discussed the way that “unpopular ideas can be silenced, and inconvenient facts kept dark, without any need for any official ban” by a “general tacit agreement that it wouldn’t do to mention that particular fact.” Chomsky is intent on challenging the claim that NATO acted in Kosovo to protect human rights by bringing to light inconvenient facts.

According to Chomsky, the real reasons for the twelve-week, spring 1999 bombing campaign in Kosovo and Serbia proper were conventional. First and foremost, he argues, the purpose was to sustain NATO’s status in the post-cold war era. Secondarily, the bombing was undertaken to complete Washington’s “substantial takeover of Europe” and to stimulate defense spending.

Whatever one thinks of Chomsky’s analysis of the rationale for the war, he does call attention to some inconvenient facts. The most significant, I believe, is a provision of the Rambouillet Peace Agreement that, he says, was unreported by the American media either in advance of March 24 when the bombing began or, indeed, while the war was underway. This was paragraph 8 of Annex B, which provided that

NATO personnel shall enjoy, together with their vehicles, vessels, aircraft, and equipment, free and unrestricted passage and unimpeded access throughout the FRY [Federal Republic of Yugoslavia] including associated airspace and territorial waters. This shall include, but not be limited to, the right of bivouac, maneuver, billet, and utilization of any area or facilities as required for support, training and operations.

Chomsky says that in “the massive US coverage of the war” he found “no report of those terms that was near accurate….” I think he is right. Though I did no search of the literature, I did pay close attention to accounts of the Rambouillet negotiations in three daily newspapers and recall no discussion of this passage. In fact, when I learned about it from some of the materials emanating from Belgrade during the war, I was skeptical, imagining that this was misinformation disseminated by the Milosevic regime. The omission was probably not as crucial as Chomsky believes. Milosevic’s spokespersons were interviewed frequently in that period on CNN and on other broadcast media. I don’t recall any of them saying that the reason they would not sign at Rambouillet was that the proposed agreement gave NATO free access to all of Yugoslavia. It was NATO’s occupation of Kosovo and the prospect that this would lead to the separation of the territory from Serbia that concerned them. Yet that doesn...