Q-and-A with Daniel Ellsberg: Connecting Students to the World; Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley Daniel Ellsberg

High School Students'
E-Mail Exchange with
Daniel Ellsberg

May, 1999


How do you feel about Kosovo? Do you see it as similar to the Vietnam War?

Doug Woodbrown's American History Class, Marin Academy High School, San Rafael

As we enter the fiftieth day of bombing of Serbia and Kosovo, I feel that I am actually reliving the early months of 1965 when we were bombing North Vietnam. Well before fifty days had passed then, many of us in the Pentagon believed that the bombing would never achieve our objectives, and we faced the question of whether to modify those objectives -- which was hardly given any consideration -- or to double our bet and send in ground forces. We made the wrong choice then and I think that could happen again. I don't think there is any more chance of achieving NATO's currently declared goals by means of bombing alone then there was in Vietnam. I believe that if again we send in ground forces, a consequence would be the annihilation of the Kosovars still in Kosovo. If the president does not modify his stated goals to some extent, I think that bombing could go on indefinitely. We bombed Vietnam continuously with no useful effect at all for seven and half years.

Given the savage violations of human rights of the Kosovars by the Serbs, I think it is essential that there be a well-armed international force in Kosovo to protect the surviving Kosovars and to allow refugees to return, but I believe that can be achieved only by negotiation under the auspices of the UN and with the help of Russia. The international protective forces in the northern parts of Kosovo most important to Serbian history and identity would probably have to be predominantly from non-NATO countries such as Russia to be acceptable to the Serbs in a negotiated settlement, with NATO forces predominating in the rest of Kosovo. That arrangement -- which would amount to a de facto partition of Kosovo -- would represent major concessions by both sides from their current positions. I think the only alternative is indefinitely continued war, with the worst costs being borne by the Kosovars.

Should the U.S. send ground troops to Kosovo?

Terri Rayburn's American History Class, Wallenberg Academic High School, San Francisco

No. The main reason, to my mind, is the effect that invasion preparations and invasion itself would likely have on the million or so Kosovar civilians still in Kosovo under Serb control. In the face of invasion, I believe that Milosevic would use the several weeks to several months necessary to deploy the force to massacre the Kosovar males of military age, broadly from 15 - 60, to prevent them from being recruited by the KLA or aiding the invasion forces. This might involve more than a 100,000 males now in Kosovo.

Next, I believe, that hundreds of thousands of the remaining civilians would be exploited as human shields against the invasion. NATO troops fighting in built-up areas would be fired at from strong points in buildings crammed with Albanian women and children. Unless the NATO forces eschewed -- at great cost in effectiveness and NATO casualties -- the traditional means of destroying these strong points with explosives, artillery, and bombing, the invading troops would become the executioners of hundreds of thousands of the civilian population they were hoping to protect. I believe this prospect should rule out ground invasion as a strategy, despite the fact that bombing alone has no prospect whatever of achieving current NATO objectives.

I believe that the Kosovars still in Kosovo can be protected, and refugees enabled to return safely, only by negotiations that will lead to the agreed upon, unopposed introduction of well-armed international protective forces. Such negotiations need the authority and good offices of the UN and the active participation of Russia, and they can succeed only if both sides are willing to make significant concessions from their present positions. Milosevic would have to give up his present rejection of any international armed forces in Kosovo and the U.S., and NATO would have to give up their demand that the international force be NATO - led and predominately NATO manned in every section of Kosovo, including the northern sectors to which Serbian sense of identity and demand for sovereignty is most attached. The protection force in the northern areas could be predominately Russian and other non-NATO troops. This would imply a de facto partition of Kosovo, with the southern parts controlled by NATO effectively independent. The result would totally satisfy no one, but I believe the alternative is indefinitely prolonged war in which the greatest costs will be felt by the Kosovars now in Kosovo.

Leaking the Pentagon Papers | Vietnam | The Cold War | Foreign Policy in a Democracy | Kosovo

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