24 Sept. 1998


by Undersecretary of Defense, Walter Slocombe
and Ambassador Vershbow

U/S Slocombe: As you know the focus of the discussion this morning was Kosovo and Bosnia. Just before the Ministers met the PermReps took the very important decision to approve the force generation process to complete NATO planning for possible air operations in connection with Kosovo, strictly speaking what they did was to authorize SACEUR to issue a ACTWARN which calls on nations to indicate their willingness to provide the necessary forces for an operation.

The focus of the discussion this morning was on the importance of Milosevic understanding that the international community has run out of patience with his activities in Kosovo. This NATO action coupled with the UN Security Council action yesterday sent a clear message that Milosevic has got to stop the offensive against the civilian population of Kosovo, has got to withdraw the forces that have been sent in to carry out this campaign of repression, has got to take the actions necessary to allow internally displaced persons and refugees to return to their homes and allow non-governmental organizations to operate and to provide the necessary relief and to begin serious political engagement toward negotiations for an interim settlement that will provide a basis for autonomy for Kosovo within the framework of Yugoslavia.

What the action by the Alliance does this morning is to position NATO to be ready to act very quickly. It is not a decision to use force, but it is a sign of recognition by the Alliance and all of its members of the increasing seriousness and urgency of the situation because as winter approaches we risk a very serious humanitarian crisis in Kosovo. It will allow the Alliance to move within a matter of days from a situation of being ready to execute to execute. Of course as I say, no decision has been taken. This is not a decision to issue an ultimatum, much less to launch an attack.

At the meeting this morning there was very broad agreement on the need for quick action, because of a recognition that the problems in Kosovo are not merely an impending humanitarian disaster but they also were a threat, as the UN Security Council said yesterday, to peace and security in the region more broadly.

The Ministers broadly agreed that NATO must be willing to apply effective force if it does act. They recognize that any action has to be not only a NATO action in form but a NATO action in the sense that it would involve forces from a very broad range of countries. A number of countries said explicitly that they would be willing to participate and of those that have military forces none said that they would not.

So the meeting this morning is a further and very important step in reinforcing the strong message to Milosevic. I think there was also a broad recognition that how NATO responds to this problem is a test of NATO itself and a recognition of both the urgency of the security situation and the humanitarian problem and the challenge to the Alliance -- a willingness to step up to that responsibility.

The discussion of Bosnia took place second. There was a report by the Chairman of the Military Committee General Naumann and by the SACEUR, General Wes Clark, who reviewed the situation and laid out some of the successes and some of the challenges which still remain. The security situation, which is the principle focus of SFOR's activity, remains stable. Indeed the best evidence of that is the successful conduct of the elections. Whatever one thinks of the results, the elections were conducted in a free and fair manner and with a stable security situation and with a great deal less of requirement for special security measures than in the elections a couple of years ago. In that sense the election is a measure of the very important progress made on the security picture.

The results were mixed. Clearly in many respects they were a disappointment for the parties that had been most active in supporting progress and in some sense they were an affirmation of the continued strength of strongly nationalist views within Bosnia. The position of the Alliance and also the position of the United States however is that we are prepared to work with the elected government. Of course we expect and indeed require, as we have since the Dayton Peace Agreement was signed, that any officials in Bosnia-Herzegovina respect and abide by the provisions of the Dayton Peace Agreement.

The Alliance is working toward its first six month review of this phase of SFOR's effort. The Ministers will address this when they meet in December. The process will be reviewed and the Ministers will then consider the report of what the continued force level will be required, whether the missions can be adjusted. Secretary Cohen made clear that while everybody would like to see force reductions, force protection has to continue to be the highest priority and that the force levels have to be consistent with the mission. So to some degree the review will address the detailed missions that are assigned as well as the force levels required to carry out the existing missions.

There was universal agreement that it is important to continue to press for civil implementation and in particular, that progress on minority refugee returns is no where near the targets that had been set.

On the whole I think the tone of the discussion of Bosnia was that there has been considerable success particularly on the security front, there's a lot more to be done on civil implementation and the Ministers will be looking at force level adjustments in December. With that, subject to whatever Ambassador Vershbow wants to say, I'll take questions.

Q: NATO has been sending these kinds of messages in one form or another since at least since last May...why is Milosevic......

U/S Slocombe I think what has happened in the last, literally the last two days, there's been a message both from the UN Security Council importantly including the Russians and a message from NATO and a recognition that unless there is prompt action by Milosevic, the Alliance stands ready to follow up and to consider the issuance of an ultimatum. It's not a decision to issue an ultimatum but I think the tone in the meeting this morning was that within a short time we the Alliance will need to be addressing that issue if there isn't a change in the situation on the ground.

Q: When you say prompt action what are we talking about, a matter of days, weeks?

U/S Slocombe One of the Ministers put it very well. He said winter may be the ultimatum. As to the situation-these numbers are in dispute. There is something like a quarter of a million people, a tenth of the population of Kosovo and of course a much higher percentage of the population outside the cities in the area where repression has been most active, are either refugees or so-called internally displaced persons inside the country. Some substantial percentage of them -- maybe twenty-five percent, maybe forty percent -- are living essentially in the open. As the weather deteriorates that is simply not an acceptable humanitarian situation. The situation is aggravated by the fact that the repression continues.

As a result, first of all people are unwilling to move back to their villages, back to their towns, for fear that they will be attacked again. Second the non-governmental organizations which would otherwise come in and set up a relief operation which would be sufficiently complicated in itself, these non-governmental organizations lack security to move their people in. So we face in some sense an important external deadline. Now as to whether that means that these issues will be addressed on any particular date, I can't give you a date. But I think the sense was it was in a period of time which is quite short unless there is a drastic change in Milosevic's activities, the Alliance will have to take up that issue.

Q: If I could just follow up, since the air strikes can't provide for displaced people to go back into their homes what effect would air strikes have in accomplishing the goals of the cease fire........?

U/S Slocombe I don't want to go into any of the details of the planning, some important parts of which remain of course to be addressed. We would expect that any air campaign would be a phased campaign. There is no desire to start out at any greater level of effectiveness than is necessary to send a very very strong message. The targets will be military targets from the very beginning and with increasing intensity as the campaign was carried forward. Very, very effectively and very strong blows would be aimed at the very instruments that Milosevic is using to carry out this repression. It would be distinctly military targets against what is a distinctive military operation. It involves both police and military forces. It is not some kind of abstract political operation.

Ambassador Vershbow: The real problem preventing a solution to the humanitarian problem and the return of displaced persons is the security risk that they face from the continued offensive action by Serb forces. So any NATO action would be aimed at compelling Milosevic to pull back those forces, withdraw those that don't belong in Kosovo and enable a secure environment to be reestablished in which humanitarian operations could function and people could return without fear. Even those that have returned in recent weeks are often fleeing again because they face arbitrary arrest, intimidation etc.

Q: Do you see any signs yet that Milosevic is responding with the momentum of the last few days and when you spoke about time is quite short is this the time that you expect a response or is it the time before you consider your next step or exactly do you mean time frame...?

U/S Slocombe I think all the time frames are short. I'm told it snowed in Kosovo two days ago. If we are to avert a humanitarian disaster there has to be action within the next few weeks. If Milosevic is smart the answer to your question is he will do what is necessary--in some sense what he has repeatedly promised to do in the past. He must actually do it, if he does not do that in a very short period of time I think NATO will have to consider further decisions.

Q: Was there anything approaching unanimity among the other allies to do or don't touch the ....................?

U/S Slocombe I think that is certainly an issue. Other countries will have to state their own positions. My sense from listening to the discussion was first of all that in this connection the UN Security Council Resolution passed yesterday is extremely important. It is in the context of Chapter Seven. It talks about the situation in Kosovo as being a threat to peace and stability or peace and security in the region. It lays out a set of requirements to meet that. Now it doesn't in so many words authorize use of force but I think for those countries which were looking to a measure of UN legitimacy, UN authority, I think it's a very important step.

There certainly are countries, many of them, who would prefer a more explicit authorization but I believe the Alliance will solve this problem. There's also a recognition right across the board that it is unsatisfactory to have a situation in which there could be an acknowledged threat to peace and security in Europe and NATO would be subject to a requirement of Security Council action and subject to a veto before it could take action. The problem is not resolved but I think important progress is being made and the UN Security Council Resolution is extremely important in that connection.

Q: .......US

U/S Slocombe In deference to Mr. Whitney's question I didn't say what the US position was. The US position is that a Resolution is not necessary--no resolution is necessary. The Resolution passed yesterday should be sufficient.


U/S Slocombe I would rather leave the issue of other countries contributions to be announced by the countries that make them.


U/S Slocombe There were several who said they would contribute forces. I would just rather have them announce it.

Amb Vershbow: There are expressions of readiness to contribute including I would add on the part of the three invitees who were attending this meeting as observers.

Q: What is the approximate level of extra police and military that they have in there and second I think I hear you saying that those particular forces would be the (inaudible) of air strikes if that became necessary?

U/S Slocombe As to the first part of the question I can't give you the exact numbers but there had been very substantial augmentations both on the police side and on the side of the VJ, the Serbian-Yugoslav Army and the Serbian-Yugoslav Army has been increasingly involved in these operations as they proceeded. The exact numbers I don't have in my head and in any event I'm not sure whether we've said the exact numbers. As to the targeting all I want to say is that the targets will be military targets and would encompass the full range of targets which would be relevant to what's going on in the country.

Q: Did you say that NATO Allies are divided on the issue of what constitutes legal grounds for (inaudible) Kosovo?

U/S Slocombe Well there's certainly not unanimity on the US position, but I think, as I said, that there is real recognition that the UN Security Council Resolution is at the very least recognition of the international character and the Chapter Seven character of what is at issue here, and I'm confident that this problem will be resolved.

Q: Does the air campaign include attacks outside of Kosovo and (inaudible)?

U/S Slocombe For reasons that I think you will understand I'm not going to discuss where the targets are. The time for that may come but it is not now.

Q: Was there discussion of doing this in a manner that would not help the UCK either and also the way you word your introductory -- this is a related question -- way you word your introductory statement U.S. position that this wasn't clear to me Kosovo might get some sort (inaudible)?

U/S Slocombe The second part is very much an issue. First of all it's not a question of independence, it's a question of autonomy. The United States and the Alliance both have made it clear we do not support independence in this sense a secsession from Yugoslavia. The question of the exact relationship between Kosovo and the other elements of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia is very much an issue in the negotiations. There are different models. One would be autonomy within Serbia, at the other extreme would be a status equivalent to Serbia and Montenegro within the Federation. What was the third question?


U/S Slocombe Oh the UCK. There was very broad recognition that any cease fire and any cessation of hostilities would have to be mutual. I think it is fair to say that people recognize that the blame for this war does not by any means rest entirely with the Serbian side and that there is the absolute expectation that the UCK and the various other Kosovar-Albanian forces would show restraint, would refrain from taking advantage of the situation.

Q: Will NATO insist on the withdrawal of those forces from Kosovo or is that (inaudible)?

U/S Slocombe Actually the UN Resolution speaks in some detail as to what the international community thinks ought to happen. There is no problem with the Yugoslav Army continuing to maintain border control which is what they've done historically. But there has been a very large augmentation both of police and military forces relative to what has historically been the case. The UN Resolution calls for those forces to be withdrawn or in the case of some of the military to go into garrison and resume their normal garrison activities.

Q: And of course strong action would not be enough to cease attacks (inaudible)?

U/S Slocombe That is an important point, a few days of quiescence is not enough. There would have to be some change in the situation on the ground more fundamental than that.

Q: Obviously the activation warning ......actually specifies the (inaudible). Can you give us any idea what size of force we're talking about (inaudible)?

U/S Slocombe There's no question that the air commitment would have to be substantial. The plans at the higher end encompass militarily effective strikes right throughout the range of options and they encompass a quite substantial air campaign at the high end of the options. So the numbers will be substantial. We'll have to wait until the process is complete to be able to give you the exact numbers and composition.

Q: Helicopters and (inaudible)?

U/S Slocombe I think it's better just to stick to what I said. Then next you'll be asking me if there'll be F-18s.

Q: The Germans said they were willing to contribute (inaudible)?

U/S Slocombe One reason I don't want to answer those questions is that it is certainly the case that the Germans have said they would contribute aircraft, but, that's now the third number I've heard as to how many they'll contribute.

Q: Going up or down?

U/S Slocombe I don't mean to be flip about it. It really is up to the country in question to say with some specificity what their contributions will be. Sometimes there is a question of whether you are counting combat planes only or support aircraft as well. We have said that we will make a contribution; I don't think we've said a number.

Q: (Inaudible)

U/S Slocombe Well NATO always acts by consensus. Some countries don't have air forces, and there are some countries for technical reasons might not be able to participate at least with combat aircraft. There will also be some issue of whether countries have the particular kinds of assets which are relevant particularly if the issue was who will participate actually in deploying over and dropping ordinance on targets. The Alliance will have to by definition have to proceed by consensus. It was very much the sense in the room this morning that there was a recognition that this is a challenge to the Alliance, it's important for the Alliance to act as the Alliance.

Thank you very much.

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