Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright and
UK Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs Robin Cook

Op-ed for The Washington Post
Washington, D.C., May 16, 1999
U.S. Department of State

Fifty-three days ago, we and our NATO allies initiated a campaign in response to ethnic cleansing in Kosovo because it was the right thing to do. Continuing that campaign is still the right thing to do. The brutality of Serb President Milosevic has made us even more determined than when we started. We will not stop until we have prevailed -- until we have created the conditions under which the ethnic cleansing of Kosovo can be reversed. On that simple point there is total unity between us.

It is easy to see why some people might get so caught up in the details of both conflict and diplomacy that they forget why we are fighting. It is time for a reminder of what this is all about.

We are fighting to get the refugees home, safe under our protection. Their homes have been destroyed, their villages burnt, their lives ruined by a regime determined to achieve ethnic purity and prepared to use cruel and violent means to achieve it. More than a million Albanian Kosovars have lost their homes, hundred of thousands have become refugees, and tens of thousands have disappeared.

It is hard to believe that in a corner of Europe so important to our interests, near the turn of the 21st century, we can be seeing the same scenes that so scarred us half a century ago. The systematic rapes, the mass graves, the large-scale deportations by train -- these were sights we were meant to have banished for good. Yet we have heard too many accounts from the refugees who have made it across the border to be in any doubt about what is going on.

The refugees must go home to a Kosovo made safe by an international security presence, with NATO at its core. On that point, there is no room for negotiation. We will carry on attacking Milosevic's military machine until he yields. We have already destroyed a brigade's worth of his tanks, heavy armor and military infrastructure in Kosovo. We have cut his supply routes into Kosovo, taken out his communications, disabled his air defenses and choked his fuel supplies. Thanks to the onset of better weather, we are now attacking his fielded forces in Kosovo 24 hours a day from all directions. As a result, those forces are now spending less and less time inflicting violence on others, and more and more looking after their own survival.

Many in Serbia have already gotten the message as to where this campaign is leading. Milosevic's own soldiers are deserting at the rate of hundreds a week. His people are ignoring his call to fight in a conflict that they do not want and know they cannot win. Some of his colleagues in government are urging him to accept the principles we agreed with Russia as the basis for a settlement. His neighbors are uniting in condemnation. Milosevic is thoroughly isolated from the international community, and is beginning to find himself isolated at home.

For all his desperate bravado and state media propaganda, our military campaign is working. We are doing his killing machine more damage than he dares let the world see on TV -- he wants the damage out of sight and out of mind.

We have the shared resolve to see it through. That does not just mean keeping our nerve when things go well. It also means standing firm when our will is tested.

Some people argue as if Milosevic can be opposed militarily through a campaign of "immaculate coercion" in which no mistakes are made and no innocent casualties occur. But that is not the nature of conflict. NATO has gone to extreme lengths to avoid civilians, and to target military targets. But with thousands of missions being flown every week perfection is unattainable. There have been perhaps hundreds of innocent casualties as a result of NATO action, including the victims of the mistaken bombing of the Chinese Embassy. We deeply regret that. We have been open about our mistakes, and at each stage we reviewed our procedures to try to eliminate the possibility that we might repeat them. But in a conflict as intense as this, it is impossible to eliminate such casualties.

The contrast with Milosevic could not be clearer. Far from being a source of regret, the hundreds of thousands of civilian victims of his ethnic cleansing are the very outcome that his bloody and brutal program was designed to achieve. He has shown that he will not stop until he is forced to do so.

To put pressure on Milosevic to reverse course, our military campaign is backed by vigorous diplomacy. Already, we have reached broad agreement in the G-8 forum with Russia on the principles for a peaceful settlement, and our diplomats are hard at work narrowing the remaining gaps and fleshing out the details of an agreement and its implementation. We are pursuing a settlement under which Milosevic would withdraw his forces and allow the deployment of an international security force, with NATO at its core, thus enabling the refugees to return in safety. We remain supportive of the political framework negotiated at Rambouillet under which the Kosovars would enjoy genuine self-government and the territorial integrity of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia would be preserved.

These are the terms of a fair settlement; if Milosevic accepted and began to implement them immediately, the NATO air campaign could end immediately. Certainly the alternative for him looks grim -- a future in which his military has been destroyed and his repressive police apparatus crippled, in which he has more and more to answer for to his people.

For our part, the United States and the United Kingdom, together with our NATO allies, are determined to persist in our efforts until Milosevic reverses course and the people of Kosovo are able to return, re-unite and begin, with our help, to rebuild.