Empire’s Deal

Remembering a Trampled Armistice

When NATO launched Operation Allied Force in March 1999, everyone involved in the operation thought it would be a short, victorious war. How could a tiny country, devoid of allies, besieged from without and divided from within, possibly hope to resist the world’s greatest – nay, only – military alliance?

Yet for 78 days, Yugoslavia (later Serbia and Montenegro) resisted anyway. As May drew to a close and NATO showed no signs of winning, there were murmurs and rumors of ground troops and carpet-bombing of civilians, as the last resort. In the end, both air power and propaganda power failed NATO, and the war ended using one of the oldest subterfuges in history. Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari (representing NATO interests, but claiming neutrality) and Russian envoy Viktor Chernomyrdin persuaded Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic that he could stop the bloodshed by agreeing to a set of terms. Milosevic, persuaded by Chernomyrdin that no Russian help was forthcoming, agreed. On June 9, Yugoslav forces signed an armistice in the Macedonian town of Kumanovo, which took effect on June 11.

Within days, Chernomyrdin’s armistice was revealed as the Trojan horse it was, with the KLA pouring into Kosovo on the heals of NATO “peacekeepers” and launching a campaign of terror and violence that has continued to the present day.

A Paper Victory

The fact that NATO took 78 days to accomplish nothing at all was completely ignored by the cheerleader press, which nonetheless had to wonder how the supposedly obliterated Yugoslav army retreated in good order, with few casualties. Shaking off inconvenient facts, the Western media began reporting on the KLA atrocities as “revenge attacks” and claiming that Milosevic had  “caved” and “capitulated.”

At the time this seemed to be mere spin, an effort to make NATO look good after an embarrassing several months. Few analysts understood at the time that this was no mere posturing: the American Empire truly did consider the Kumanovo armistice to be an unconditional surrender.

Opposition parties in Serbia (Montenegro, the other partner in the Yugoslav federation, was already ruled by an Imperial client) mocked Milosevic for claiming victory. Yet on paper, Kumanovo was a victory. Its terms were much better for Belgrade than the disgraceful Rambouillet ultimatum, which NATO sought to impose at the beginning of the bombing. What was to be a purely NATO occupation became a UN mission (UNMIK), and Serbia’s territorial integrity was explicitly guaranteed by the UN Resolution 1244.

What Milosevic did not understand was the mentality of Empire. For the folks in Washington believing themselves to be the “indispensable nation” and a power without precedent, rules and treaties and laws were at best a necessary evil. After all, their war violated not only the UN Charter and the NATO charter, but also the U.S. Constitution. The Empire had demonstrated that its only law was that of force. Treaties and laws were something to be observed between equals; but the Empire recognized no equals. Like the Athenians of antiquity, the choices it offered the world were submission (or “compliance,” in modern parlance) or ruin.

From Troy to Munich

Over the years, the Kosovo war was forgotten, even as its pattern was repeated in Iraq and Afghanistan. Unable or unwilling to sever the province from Serbia outright, the Empire chose a gradual amputation. Over the years, the UN mission drafted a constitution, organized elections, created a “security force,” and ignored the ongoing campaign of violence against the remaining non-Albanians. For a moment, the March 2004 pogrom threatened to expose the horrors of the occupation. Within a year, however, Albanian violence was being used as the key argument for “independence”!

By 2006, the very same Martti Ahtisaari who helped Chernomyrdin deliver the proverbial horse to Milosevic in 1999 was appointed “mediator” of the status “talks.” His proposed solution was the pinnacle of hypocrisy: give Kosovo to the Albanians, as the Serbs had forfeited the province through “human rights violations.” Ahtisaari’s traveling circus, in which Serbs and Albanians never met and never talked, ultimately ran aground at the UN. But the Empire was not easily defeated. Having exhausted all subterfuge, it opted again for brute force, and in February 2008 endorsed a unilateral declaration of independence. The first country to recognize the “Republic of Kosovo” was the quisling regime of Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan.

Starting with the Balkans interventions, the Empire has consistently invoked the ghost of Neville Chamberlain to justify attacking one country or another. Its enemy du jour would always be likened to Hitler, and anyone who even suggested talks over bombs would be branded an “appeaser.” Yet when Czech officials criticized what was being done to Serbia as comparable to what happened to their own country at Munich, their voices remained alone in the wilderness.


One of the reasons the Empire was able to trample over a variety of treaties and even its own laws when it came to Kosovo was the absence of resistance by Serbia. After the occupation of Kosovo, Washington began a furious campaign to oust Milosevic from power through an NED-engineered “popular revolution” that would later become a model for other takeovers. Aided by “suitcases of cash,” a motley coalition of Serbian opposition parties (DOS) challenged Milosevic in a presidential election in September 2000. The actual result of the poll will never be known – the rioting “revolutionaries” destroyed their ballots while sacking the parliament building. Rather than start a civil war, Milosevic stepped down from power. In June 2001, he was betrayed by the quisling government of Zoran Djindjic and sent to the Hague Inquisition.

By 2003, Djindjic –  the leader of DOS – had established complete control over Serbia (Yugoslavia perished by his pen along the way). Yet he was unhappy with the way his Imperial masters continued to treat him and the country. In February 2003, Djindjic spoke to a reporter of a local Serbian TV network. In what would end up being his last interview, he told of his disappointment in the West and its broken promises, and he said he would soon initiate talks on the status of Kosovo. A few weeks later, he was shot under mysterious circumstances and replaced by a cabal of Imperial lickspittles.

Their rule did not last. By early 2004, DOS was gone, and Vojislav Kostunica – used by DOS as a figurehead to oust Milosevic, then rudely cast aside – became prime minister. At this point, Belgrade began resisting Imperial designs in Kosovo and Serbia itself, greatly frustrating Washington.

In the end, Kostunica succumbed to Empire’s pressure and made an alliance with Washington’s client, Serbian President Boris Tadic and his Democratic party. The Democrats then dutifully sabotaged the government’s resistance efforts. It was Tadic’s reelection that cleared the way for “Kosovo” to declare “independence.” Once again, when brute force failed, bribe and subterfuge produced results: in July 2008, Western diplomats helped Tadic establish a coalition government, which has ruled Serbia in near-absolute obedience to their demands ever since.

Life Imitating Art

Thirty years ago, George Lucas released the sequel to his 1977 hit Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back. Arguably the best of the “Star Wars” series, Empire established Darth Vader as the one of the most iconic movie villains.

In one particularly memorable scene, Vader demonstrates what happens to those who attempt to bargain with the Empire he serves. Obsessed with finding one of the rebel leaders (for reasons explained at the end), Vader had offered a bargain to Lando Calrissian, head of the mining colony of Bespin, to betray the rebels. Once in control of Bespin, however, Vader casually violates the bargain. When Calrissian protests, he is met with this reply: “I am altering the deal. Pray I don’t alter it any further.”

One doesn’t have to agree with the claim that art is the true measure of any culture to recognize a whiff of Vader in modern Imperial officials. Serbian leaders, from Milosevic to Djindjic, Kostunica to Tadic, have never realized the Empire’s true nature, as it repeatedly “altered” any deal that no longer served its needs. The Vance Plan, Dayton, Kumanovo – all became “dead letters” at Empire’s convenience. Yet people keep trying to make deals with it, lying to themselves that if they don’t hear the slow hissing breath or see the polished onyx mask, there’s nothing to fear.

Author: Nebojsa Malic

Nebojsa Malic left his home in Bosnia after the Dayton Accords and currently resides in the United States. During the Bosnian War he had exposure to diplomatic and media affairs in Sarajevo. As a historian who specializes in international relations and the Balkans, Malic has written numerous essays on the Kosovo War, Bosnia, and Serbian politics. His exclusive column for Antiwar.com debuted in November 2000.