The Yugoslavian Presidential Election
With Gen. Wesley Clark
Former Supreme Allied Commander, Europe
Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2000; 1 p.m. EDT
General Wesley K. Clark, the former NATO Supreme Allied Commander, Europe, was online to talk about Yugoslavia's disputed presidential election on Tuesday, Sept. 26. Clark was Supreme Allied Commander from July 1997-May 2000, commanding NATO’s military forces in Europe. In 1999, he led Operation Allied Force, the response to the Kosovo crisis that was NATO’s first major combat action and the largest European air operation since World War II. Clark received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States' highest civilian honor, on Aug. 9, 2000.
As SACEUR, Clark commanded approximately 75,000 troops from 37 NATO and other nations, which participated in operations in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo. He was responsible for safeguarding an area extending from the northern tip of Norway to the eastern border of Turkey and keeping the peace, security and territorial integrity of the NATO member nations. Previously, Clark served as commander in chief of the U.S. Southern Command, Panama, heading all American forces and directing most U.S. military activities in Latin America and the Caribbean (June 1996-July 1997). He directed strategic plans and policy (April 1994-June 1996), and led the military negotiations for the Bosnian Peace Accords at Dayton, Ohio, in 1995.
Clark graduated first in his class from the United States Military Academy of West Point, N.Y., in 1966. He earned a master’s degree in philosophy, politics and economics from Oxford University, where he studied as a Rhodes Scholar (1966-68). He graduated from the National War College, Command and General Staff College, armor officer advanced and basic courses, and Ranger and Airborne schools. His military decorations include: the Defense Distinguished Service Medal (five awards), Distinguished Service Medal (two awards), Silver Star, Legion of Merit (four awards), Bronze Star Medal (two awards), Purple Heart, Meritorious Service Medal (two awards) and the Army Commendation Medal (two awards), NATO Medal for Service with NATO on Operations in Relation to Kosovo, NATO Medal for Service with NATO on Operations in Relation to the Former Republic of Yugoslavia.
Currently, Clark is associated with Stephens Group, Inc., working with high technology venture capital. He serves pro bono as a distinguished senior adviser for the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS), a director of the Atlantic Council and a member of the board of the International Crisis Group.
The transcript follows.
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Our guest today is General Wesley K. Clark, former NATO commander who oversaw the 1999 air war in Kosovo. He will answer questions about the Yugoslavia's disputed presidential elections and the response of the international community.
Due to the large volume of questions, Gen. Clark may not be able to respond to all queries
What is your view on how the West should respond to the elections in Yugoslavia? Are we overstating our support right now? Will Milosevic be emboldened to stay in power in direct proportion to the West stated support for his opponent? The electorate should have seen that it can vote against him with impunity - and be encouraged to vote against him again in any runoff election.
Gen. Wesley Clark: We should be offering to welcome Yugoslavia back into the family of nations, once the regime has changed and appropriate adjustments in policies have been made. But this outcome of the election is really a matter for the people of Yugoslavia, so we have to watch right now as the situation unfolds. In any event Milosevic won't get much support from his people by railing against NATO. I believe they understand that it is he Milosevic who is the source of the collapse of Yugoslavia and of their economy.
In case of Milosevic not wanting to peacefully step aside and let the democratically elected candidates (presidential and parliamentary) take over, what is the extent of a possible US military intervention in (again) Serbia? How far would US go this time or would they "tactically" restrain from finishing off the villain like they have in the past (Saddam '91, Milosevic '99)?
Gen. Wesley Clark: NATO will be watching the situation closely to ensure the safety of its missions in Bosnia and Kosovo. However, I would not expect any direct intervention inside Serbia to effect Milosevic's surrender of authority. What NATO is concerned about is the stability of the region and the success of its own missions. If Milosevic were to "try something" to create an international crisis, well, then that's a different situation. he should know very well what NATO's capabilities are, and should also recognize some NATO ships in the Adriatic. How far we would go if military action began is impossible to predict, even for Milosevic. But he should recognize that people all over the world have seen enough trouble from his maneuvers. Patience is gone.
In your opinion, how loyal is the Yugoslav
military to Milosevic at this time? What will
be the determining factor for the military to
lose loyalty to Milosevic and join the
Gen. Wesley Clark: The top rank of the military is probably loyal. The commander, General Pavkovic, is related by marriage to Milosevic's wife, Mira Markovic. On the other hand, the Armed Forces have been the last institution to fall under the corruption and intimidation of Milosevic. There will be many in the middle ranks of the officer corps who have reservations about him. The Army will be influenced by the popular sentiment. They will not use force against the majority. And the top leaders will be afraid to order it. This means that as the movement for change intensifies, its power will extend even into the armed forces, and perhaps even some of the police.
General, Haven't we painted ourselves into a corner with Milosevic? He knows if he gives up power he faces at best a life sentence in The Hague so he cannot give up. And even if he does we will be stuck supporting his successor who is determined to keep Kosovo. What has been our foreign policy scheme of maneuver here?
Gen. Wesley Clark: I think that in foreign affairs like this you have to have a policy based on integrity. His indictment as a war criminal reflected due process of a legally constituted international court. This was a function of the evidence collected against him. By the way, his indictment also stiffened the will of some in the West who, at the end of the conflict last year, might have been looking to seek some compromise solution. Milosevic would fight to hang onto power whether he was indicted or not. It's his life, and his wife's passion. They will not go easily. That's why it's important to keep the strategic view foremost as we move ahead here. We have to encourage the people of Yugoslavia to get rid of him. I'm convinced that he will eventually end up in The Hague, if he survives the removal from office.
In your opinion, how should the U.S. and it's NATO allies respond in the event that Milosevic decides to divert domestic attention from the current elections by launching a military offensive against the democratic Montenegrin government? Should NATO respond with the use of force, and if so, how? What are NATO's contingency plans?
Gen. Wesley Clark: Well, I do know some of these plans, at least as they were when I departed the command, so it would be inappropriate to comment on that. But you can be sure that NATO is watching closely. Even though NATO governments aren't today making a lot of specific threats, their policies can "turn on a dime." Milosevic has been surprised before by how fast democratic governments can respond when their interests are threatened. And it's been made clear that regional stability and the survival of the democratic government in Montenegro are important Western interests.
Will Vojislav Kostunica be any more
friendly to the NATO efforts in Bosnia and
Gen. Wesley Clark: Good question. He says he opposes NATO and is posturing as a Serb nationalist. But we'll see after he takes office. It's likely that he'll be much more reasonable to deal with than Milosevic. You see, Milosevic always had a hidden agenda of a greater Serbia, no matter what he did or said. Under Kostunica, Serbia has a much better chance of learning to live in peace and with tolerance of its neighbors. So I expect Kostunica to grow and his views to evolve if he takes office, but he will still, and for a long time, reelect the nationalist sentiments of many in Serbia.
Given that his entire career has been about consolidating and retaining power, why does anyone in the west think Milosevic will cede control, even in the face of election results against him? And what are the options for the west if he doesn't?
Gen. Wesley Clark: I think it's going to be tough to get him, to cede control, but he will if he thinks that his life is in danger because his control over the police and his personal security is breaking down. And that will happen if the popular outcry against him is great enough. If the opposition fails to organize and present enough of a challenge to Milosevic's control, then we will be on the sidelines, working to intensify the pressures against brought by the international community. But I don't foresee any direct effort to impose the results of the election if Milosevic blocks it. This has to be resolved by the people of Serbia. We can't impose a solution here.
New York, NY:
I've heard from a friend who was stationed in Kosovo that there is still a strong level of hatred between Serbs and Albanians in the region. Even if Milosevic concedes defeat, is there any real chance that a change in government will alleviate ethnic tensions in Kosovo?
Gen. Wesley Clark: A change in government might help, but in Kososvo there is real distrust and even in some cases hatred between the sides. This has been a bitterly contested land. And it will take years of work for people to accept each other again. Importantly, though that acceptance has to begin with a sense of justice having been done. There are still unaccounted for Albanians from last year's air campaign. And, all the Kosovars understand that Milosevic built his power by encouraging ethnic hatred, especially directed against the Albanians. So, don't give up. This place is part of Europe and part of our part of the world. It will eventually modernize its attitudes. And there are no good alternatives.
Please give us your overview of U.S. Military
today and your recommendations.
What is the name of your book coming out in
Gen. Wesley Clark: The military has been drawn down and is probably over-committed and under -resourced. The biggest problem, however, is that there is no national consensus as to what their missions should be. This makes every funding effort a monumental political battle. If we agree that the US has to stay engaged in the world, and that sometimes the military has to be called on as a last resort, even short of war, then we should be able to move ahead and get the funding increases and probably the increases in personnel strength that are necessary to operate as actively as were are today. My book should be out in April and will be entitle Waging Modern War, at least, that's the working title.
From my understanding, Milosevic can concede defeat this week; however, remain in office until next year. What is the possibility of this and, in turn, him waiting until the democratic "fire" and euphoria to lessen before striking the pro-democracy movement with his military and police?
Gen. Wesley Clark: This is one of many possibilities that Milosevic probably is investigating. As a superb manipulator of popular opinion, however, he has to recognize the impact of his concession. Even if he were to remain in office, he'll lose power rapidly. He might have increasing difficulty striking against the democracy movement so this may not be a good option as he sees it.
You have personally met with Milosevic on more than one occasion and probably have a better sense of his psyche than I have. In your opinion, to what degree is Milosevic influenced by his wife. My friends in Serbia claim that she is the one who is really in charge and that he makes no decision without consulting with her first. Your thoughts?
Gen. Wesley Clark: I agree with your friends in Serbia. I've never met his wife, but even in our discussions, it was clear she carried a lot of weight. And she is probably seeking outside help from countries like Russia or India, where she has visited in the past, to help her and her husband hold off the weight of the Serbian majority.
General--Might the emergence of a more moderate Serbian leadership make issues like ultimate sovereignty over Kosovo and the status of the Republika Srpska even more difficult to resolve? It seems that the nature of the Serbian leadership over the past decade has masked some genuinely difficult questions of sovereignty and autonomy.
Gen. Wesley Clark: Well, I would welcome a more moderate leadership. These questions could be resolved with a little give and take, and a keener appreciation of economics. In reality, these countries are all pretty closely bound through their economies and communications systems, road, rail, waterways, etc. More pragmatic leadership always helps in resolving issues like sovereignty. Yes, there are difficult questions, but they can be resolved.
New York, NY:
Is it really that unlikely for us to intervene in Serbia if the situation destabilizes? After all, we removed Manuel Noriega in 1989, and we arguably have more of an interest in Balkan stability today than we did in the Panamanian situation 11 years ago.
Gen. Wesley Clark: Well, we didn't intervene lightly in Panama. And we had substantial historical presence and obligations there. The topography and threat are also different. I just can't see a NATO intervention yet, but if the situation turns chaotic, then other calculations could be made.
It was almost usual during the NATO campaign, to hear that "...action is against Mr. Milosevic's forces..." but the problem was that those forces were filled with me and my friends (19 years. 40 years) and we were not Milosevic supporters. We had to be in uniforms and fight. Was it possible to do anything else but to bomb?
Gen. Wesley Clark: Unfortunately, it wasn't possible to do anything but bomb. But you should know that we resisted any idea of a surprise attack, which would have caught you and your friends asleep in the barracks. As Javier Solana said, this was never a war against the Serb people. Serbs and Americans always had a good relationship; even Milosevic admitted that to us at Dayton. And General Perisic always spoke of his dream that Yugoslavia would be aligned with the West and participating in PfP, and so forth. Some Yugoslav soldiers rebelled against their commanders and their units collapsed. Others stayed inside the Albanian homes in Kosovo and hoped that the war would end soon. Personally, I'm glad we didn't have to invade on the ground and inflict more casualties. We want to see Yugoslavia resume it historic place in the Western family of nations. I was always impressed when President Gligorov of Macedonia would reflect on his student at Belgrade University prior to World War II. He was fluent in French, and the University was culturally part of the West. It could return there quickly, if Milosevic and Mira Markokvic leave.
Panama City, Panama:
Do you believe today that had your views (similar to those of British Prime Minister Tony Blair) prevailed on the use of ground troops would they have resulted in different short-term and long-term consequences? ...Granted, I know the political answers.
Gen. Wesley Clark: Possibly a ground action would have impacted the Serb military so heavily that it would have caused the disintegration of Milosevic's power base last year. In the long term, it may be just as well, or even better, if the Serbs are able to choose democracy themselves, without a NATO presence on the ground.
What are the Russians doing right now with regard to Slobodan Milosevic? What will they do?
Gen. Wesley Clark: Ruusia is probably trying to figure out how to support Milosevic without appearing to be anti-democratic. Russia doesn't want a pro-Western government in Belgrade, so if it becomes probable that Kostunica will take over, the expect Moscow to court him vigorously and attempt to establish its grip there.
Although no great fan of bloody-minded dictatorships, I watched with dismay as NATO and its allies bombed a sovereign country into changing its domestic policies. However, as an Indian, I find your recent comment about India's involvement in keeping Milosevic in power, far more troubling. How do you suppose a foreign government/power like India might help him (Milosevic) keep up the charade?
Gen. Wesley Clark: All I can tell you is that Milosevic, and especially his wife, see the world in Cold-War terms. Friends of hers have described to me how she feels comfortable only in Communist countries, but views India as a longtime associate of the Socialist camp and would probably try to build a relationship on that. By the way, this is no reflection of my views on India, which is a thriving and remarkable democracy and deserves a much higher profile in the West than it currently receives.
Let me also say, that sovereignty is not an absolute. Nations abridge their sovereignty all the time, and one of the key principles to emerge in Twentieth Century Europe is that nations don't have the right to disregard the human rights of their citizens. The war in Kosovo was about how a country can treat its own citizens, and also about regional stability. That is, a country doesn't have the right to destabilize a region just to address a domestic issue.
New York, NY:
According to the AP, the Yugoslavian election commission just published its "election results", claiming a 48% vote for Mr. Kostunica and a 40% vote for Mr. Milosevic. However, Mr. Kostunica's supporters say that they have won and will not participate in a runoff. Do you think this could allow Mr. Milosevic to paint a veneer of legality on any re-election runoff? Or do you think that the situation is such that the Yugoslav people will take matters into their own hands?
Gen. Wesley Clark: Tough to predict the outcome right now. The election commission wasn't supposed to report its results until tomorrow. But this might be Milosevic's best option, stall for time and call for a second round. This could get ugly, because there will be an increase of intimidation by Milosevic's supporters prior to the second round. I suspect that the opposition will take to the streets if they can and make the case more strongly that there is no need for a second round.
Now that you are retired, has either the Democratic or Republican presidential candidate shown interest in appointing you to a future cabinet post? Do you have any political aspirations?
Gen. Wesley Clark: I have talked with people in both camps, and have given some thoughts on the military and US foreign policy, especially in Europe. But I'm transitioning now to a career in the private sector. I haven't said no to opportunities for future public service. I believe in public service and there are a lot of interesting challenges in this country. Hopefully, I'll be able to continue my public service in some way in the future.
Seems like nearly every retired 4 star in the country has come out for Bush. You have not endorsed anyone and I'm wondering why?
Gen. Wesley Clark: I don't feel that retired generals ought to be using their titles for political endorsements. I'm happy to speak out on the issues, and would encourage others to do so.
One of the reasons that the military is highly respected in America is because people know that we're non-partisan. But partisan statements by groups of recently retired officers, however well-intentioned, and certainly within their legal rights, still cast a shadow back on the institution, raising concerns about the objectivity of military judgments, and eroding trust between ranks in the military. I would hope that we keep the military free of partisan politics, and that retired generals would give the public the benefits of their long careers by professional rather than partisan comment.
Our time is up. Our thanks to Gen. Clark and all the people who submitted questions.
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