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April 15, 1999: Moral and Strategic Imperatives in Kosovo

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We are not going to just watch as hundreds of thousands of people are brutalized, forced from their homes, their lives shattered, their history erased...We do not want to have to explain to our children why we failed to do what we could. We will not be indifferent, passive, or resigned. We have chosen to act. We must prevail. And we will prevail.

President Bill Clinton
April 15, 1999

Today, in San Francisco, President Clinton spoke at the annual convention of the American Society of Newspaper Editors. His remarks were focused on the crisis in Kosovo. He discussed the focus of America's interests in this conflict, why NATO has chosen to act, what NATO is determined to achieve, and what we envision for the future stability of Southern Europe.

Taking a Stand Against an Aggressive Dictatorship. Milosevic represents the worst aspects of the past century - an aggressive dictator who exploits ancient impulses to orchestrate a meticulously planned, clearly premeditated attack on an entire people on the basis of their ethnicity and religion. Milosevic's ethnic cleansing campaign has led to the displacement of an estimated 1.2 million Kosovar Albanians and the slaughter of thousands. Serb security forces have looted homes, razed villages and evidence is mounting of fresh mass graves. Milosevic's intentions are clear - to crush, with massive force, all resistance to his rule in Kosovo, even if it means turning it into a lifeless wasteland.

The Moral Imperative. President Clinton and our NATO Allies have taken decisive military action in defense of our shared values and in opposition to Milosevic's immoral and indefensible ethnic cleansing campaign. To be indifferent to the plight of the Kosovar Albanians and resigned to Milosevic's designs would be morally irresponsible. A failure to act would have permitted the atrocities to continue and would have demoralized and destabilized neighboring democracies.

The Strategic Imperative. Kosovo lies on a cultural and religious fault line in the heart of Southern Europe, surrounded by multi-ethnic nations struggling to complete the transition from communist rule to democracy and prosperity. Stability in the Balkans is squarely in the U.S. national interest - conflict here could spread and threaten peace in Europe.

Hitting Hard and Taking a Toll. Three weeks of unrelenting NATO airstrikes have taken a devastating toll on Milosevic's machinery of repression and the infrastructure that supports it. NATO has weakened Serbia's air defenses; destroyed all of Serbia's fuel refineries; cut Serbia's capacity to produce ammunition in half; diminished Serbia's ability to supply, reinforce and control its forces in Kosovo by attacking bridges, rail lines and communications networks; destroyed half of Milosevic's advanced fighter aircraft; and directed attacks against Serbia's tanks, artillery, supply trucks, radar and missiles. NATO is united in its determination to achieve its objectives:

  • The withdrawal of Serb security forces from Kosovo;
  • The safe return of displaced Kosovars; and
  • The introduction of an international security force with NATO at its core that protects the Kosovars as they work toward self-government.

A Vision for an Integrated Europe. NATO's immediate fight is for the freedom and security of Kosovo's people. But over the long term, President Clinton is committed to restoring a multi-ethnic, tolerant, inclusive democracy to the Balkans and to fully integrating the region into Europe's mainstream. Over the past 50 years, Europe has transformed from a war-torn continent where borders defined battle lines, to a community of nations that reach across its borders to draw strength from its ethnic diversity. During the 20th century, the United States helped restore peace and prosperity to Western Europe after the Second World War and to Eastern Europe after the Cold War. As we enter the 21st Century, President Clinton is committed to completing Europe's transformation by restoring peace and prosperity to Southern Europe.

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