Paul Wellstone's Reply

I received the following letter from Senator Wellstone on 12. April, 1999 in response to my Letter to my representatives about Kosovo.

Dear Friend,

Thank you for contacting me with your comments regarding U.S. intervention in the conflict in Kosovo. I appreciate having the benefit of your views on this matter.

As a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, I have been following events in Kosovo for years. In fact, I have been very focused on the Balkans since the breakup of the former Yugoslavia. I traveled there about 5 years ago, and have seen for myself the conditions under which millions of ethnic Albanians have struggled under increasing Serb repression.

Kosovo is a small province of Serbia, the dominant unit of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Ethnically, Kosovo is approximately 90% Albanian, though it is also of great historical importance to the Serbian people. For decades, Kosovo, while a province of Yugoslavia, enjoyed a limited autonomy and local control of many governmental functions. This autonomy was revoked by Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic in 1989 when he unilaterally amended the constitution of Yugoslavia without consulting the people of Kosovo. During the last year Serbia dramatically increased the presence of troops and security police in Kosovo, ostensibly to counter secessionist activity on the part of some members of the ethnic Albanian community, including the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA). Since that time, the conflict between ethnic Albanian rebels of the KLA and Serb security forces, and a brutal, methodical "ethnic cleansing" effort by Serb army and police units against Kosovar civilians, has resulted in thousands of deaths, with the greatest numbers of casualties being concentrated among ethnic Albanians -- both rebels and civilians.

In reaction to these events of the past year, in particular the horrifying massacres of women, elderly men, and young children perpetrated by Serbian military forces, the U.S. and its partners in the International Contact Group (made up of the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Russia), called for imposition of a U.N. arms embargo against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, which was approved by the Security Council in March, 1998. On October 13, 1998, U.S. Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke and Slobodan Milosevic concluded an agreement to provide a framework for a settlement and to allow independent monitoring of the situation in Kosovo. Many hoped that this would help to pave the way toward a peaceful resolution of the crisis there.

By January of this year, that agreement was shattered by sporadic fighting and evidence that Serb forces were being deployed in Kosovo in gross violation of the October accord. On January 15th, approximately 40 ethnic Albanians, including women and children, were massacred in the town of Racak by Serb security forces. This renewed violence led the International Contact Group to accelerate their work on a peace plan and invite representatives of the ethnic Albanians and the Serbian government to Rambouillet, France, to peace talks based on the proposal. The Contact Group draft plan called for a 3-year interim settlement that would provide greater autonomy for Kosovo while postponing final resolution of its political status. The plan would also have required the disarmament of the KLA, a withdrawal of most Serb forces from Kosovo, and the implementation of a large Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) monitoring group and a NATO-led verification force to ensure that all parties adhered to the agreement.

Unfortunately, a final agreement was never reached. While the ethnic Albanians eventually signed the agreement, on March 19th the talks broke up after the Serbian representatives refused to do so. This failure of the Serbs to sign the agreement, coupled with accelerating Serb violence in Kosovo, led NATO members to threaten the use of air strikes to halt the growing violence against innocent civilian Kosovars by degrading the Serbs' ability to prosecute their campaign of ethnic cleansing.

On March 23rd, President Clinton ordered U.S. aircraft to participate in NATO air strikes against Serb military targets in Yugoslavia. With a heavy heart at the need to resort to the use of military force, I supported the air strikes because I believe they offer the last best hope to limit the humanitarian crisis in Kosovo prompted by Serb attacks on innocent non-combatants, to deter further Serb aggression, and, if necessary, to degrade the Serb security forces ability to prosecute their ethnic cleansing campaign.

In the days prior to the air strikes, President Milosevic made his intentions clear by significantly increasing his forces in Kosovo, forces which ejected thousands of Kosovar civilians from their homes, and left villages smoldering and in ruins behind them after brutal offensives. Atrocities of various kinds have become the signature of Serb military forces in Kosovo, just as they were for years in parts of Bosnia.

Since the commencement of NATO air strikes, Serb forces have stepped up their attacks on civilians. Hundreds of thousands of ethnic Albanians have now been driven from their homes, and many have been killed or injured. Others have been jammed onto train cars, shipped to border areas, and left there without food, medicine or shelter. Most recently, Serb forces have closed the borders with Albania and Macedonia to refugee traffic - for unknown purposes.

I believe that a very high threshold must be met before the use of military force by the U.S. can be justified. It must be truly a last resort, used only after all reasonable diplomatic and other non-violent alternatives have been exhausted. Our goals must be clear, the means proportionate, the prospects for success strong, and Congress must be consulted thoroughly and in advance on its use. I believe these criteria have been met in Kosovo, and that the effort to deter further ethnic cleansing by the Serbs justified its use. In our system of checks and balances, military action of this kind should also have prior Congressional authorization, as required by the Constitution; I do not believe that the President should be given a blank check by Congress in Kosovo. For example, I opposed the expansion of the bombing campaign to targets within Belgrade, the capital of Yugoslavia. In this case, I do not believe the limited military utility of such strikes outweighs the potential for Serb civilian casualties.

As of the date of this letter, the NATO bombing campaign continues in Kosovo. In addition, the United States and the international community have marshaled a huge humanitarian relief effort to ease the suffering of the hundreds of thousands of Kosovar refugees who have flooded into Albania, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Kosovo's other nearby neighbors. It is critical that the urgent needs of refugees be met and that support be given to those nations who have accepted large numbers of displaced persons.

It seems likely that the NATO military intervention in Kosovo will continue until the government of Serbia agrees, at a minimum, to halt its ethnic cleansing campaign and allow ethnic Albanians to return to their homes in an environment that is secure -- a security guaranteed and verified by an international military presence.

I offer my unqualified support for U.S. troops participating in the NATO bombing campaign there and for their families back home. I have been hoping and praying for a prompt end to the violence and for their safe return home. I will continue to follow events in the Balkans very carefully and will keep your comments on this matter in mind.

Again, thank you for contacting me. Please stay in touch.

Sincerely,

Paul David Wellstone
United States Senator

Last built on Sun, Apr 25, 1999 at 10:27:03 AM CDT by Dave Polaschek

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