Speech: Tony Blair – “A New Generation Draws the Line” (1999)

A New Generation Draws The Line

The British Prime Minister Makes Nato’s Case Against Milosevic–And Pledges That The Allies Will ‘See It Through.’

By Tony Blair | NEWSWEEK
From the magazine issue dated Apr 19, 1999

We have learnt by bitter experience not to appease dictators. We tried it 60 years ago. It didn’t work then and it shouldn’t be tried now. Milosevic’s actions in Kosovo have given rise to scenes of suffering and cruelty people thought were banished from Europe forever.

Europe and the United States must stand firm together. Milosevic’s policy of ethnic cleansing must be defeated and reversed. President Clinton has shown exactly the right resolve and determination. Once again, our thanks go to him and to the American people for their support in the cause of what is right.

Of course, we will be subject to the usual barrage of criticism, sometimes from people who, I think, find it hard to come to terms with the fact that there is a new generation of leaders in the United States and in Europe, who were born after World War II, who hail from the progressive side of politics, but who are prepared to be as firm as any of our predecessors right or left in seeing this thing through. See it through, we will.

Some argue we waited too long to act. To them I say it was right to give the negotiations every chance. Others argue we should not have acted at all. Of them I ask, what was the alternative? To do nothing would have been to acquiesce in Milosevic’s brutality. It was clear that unless he was stopped, Kosovo would share Bosnia’s fate.

The evidence is sobering. The Serbian offensive last year forced over 300,000 people from their homes. Villages were burned, people massacred. Despite all the efforts of the international community, including Russia, Milosevic rejected diplomacy in Paris this year. Within hours, he had let his forces off the leash in Kosovo. Within days, tens of thousands of people had fled their homes.

Milosevic was preparing for ethnic cleansing long before a single NATO bomb ever fell. What has happened was part of a plan to drive hundreds of thousands of ethnic Albanians out of their homes, execute many of their menfolk and torch their villages.

In Bosnia we waited four years before acting decisively. As a result of that conflict, over 200,000 people lost their lives, and 2 million people were made homeless. The duration of the conflict meant that a million of them were never able to return to their homes. NATO has not made the same mistake in Kosovo. Anyone who has seen the pictures of the hundreds of thousands of refugees leaving Kosovo, or who has heard the piteous stories of suffering imposed by the Serbian special police and the paramilitary thugs who work with them, knows why we had to act. Now they want to know that we are going to succeed.

Just as I believe there was no alternative to taking action, I am convinced there is no alternative to continuing until we succeed. On its 50th birthday NATO must prevail. We are fighting for a world where dictators are no longer able to visit horrific punishments on their own peoples in order to stay in power. It is important the people of Serbia know our quarrel is not with them. It is with the architects of Kosovo’s ethnic cleansing. Just as after World War II, a war-crimes tribunal will bring those responsible to justice.

Our policy in Kosovo is taking its toll on Milosevic’s killing machine. We should not be fooled by his state-controlled television. If he was so confident of his position, why did he suppress the independent media in Serbia? But we need to be patient. As I said, as President Clinton said, as other world leaders said at the outset of this action, he will not be defeated overnight.

We are also right to be cautious of the notion of a ground intervention force. Of course ground forces will be necessary in Kosovo to give the refugees the confidence to return to their homes in safety. But that is very different from fighting our way in. While we keep all options under review at all times, that is not our plan. A land invasion would be a massive undertaking and would take time to assemble. The casualties would potentially be large. And the civilian population would be at Milosevic’s mercy. That is why airstrikes remain the sensible option in the present crisis, intensifying them and adding to their impact.

Milosevic knows what he has to do to end NATO’s air campaign: a verifiable cessation of all combat activities and killings; the withdrawal of military, police and paramilitary forces from Kosovo; an international security force; the return of all refugees and unimpeded access for humanitarian aid, and a political framework for Kosovo based on Rambouillet.

We will not stop until he agrees to all of these conditions. The world knows too much of Milosevic to fall for any of his ploys. The succession of offers from Belgrade show that he is now looking for a way out. He wants to hang on to the results of his ethnic cleansing while protecting his killing machine. But anything short of what I’ve listed, and there’s nothing doing. The airstrikes go on.

We should start now planning for the longer term, building on the agreement that was reached at Rambouillet, accepted by the KLA, but rejected by Milosevic. After all their suffering, it is clear that the Kosovar Albanians will never trust Milosevic to rule Kosovo again. Any political solution must recognize that fact. Russia has a unique and leading role to play in these efforts.

We need to enter a new millennium where dictators know that they cannot get away with ethnic cleansing or repress their peoples with impunity. In this conflict we are fighting not for territory but for values. For a new internationalism where the brutal repression of whole ethnic groups will no longer be tolerated. For a world where those responsible for such crimes have nowhere to hide.

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About Maximilian C. Forte

I am a professor of anthropology at Concordia University in Montreal, Canada. My areas of research and teaching interest are centered in Political Anthropology, with a focus on imperialism, neoliberalism and globalization, nationalism, democracy, and the international political economy of knowledge production. My long-standing research area involves the ethnohistory of Indigenous Peoples in the Lesser Antilles, and a focus on Indigenous resurgence in Trinidad & Tobago and neighbouring nations of the Caribbean.
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