Rambouillet: the myths

How, in the name of history, does one stop a myth entering the record books?

The myth of the Rambouillet accords as a cause of the Balkans conflict (Letters, 4 October) is one of those instantaneous myths produced by sheer intellectual and media laziness.

Myth one is that Rambouillet was a secret document. It was published in full in Le Monde and on the Foreign Office website, but London papers simply published glosses on it written by parti pris journalists.

Myth two is that it meant the humiliation of Slobodan Milosevic. In fact, Belgrade would have been left in charge of all external trade, monetary, commercial and foreign affairs aspects of Kosovo. Had he signed it, he would be in a much stronger position today and there would have been no war.

Myth three is that Nato would have occupied all of Yugoslavia. The references to full access to Kosovo for international peacekeeping troops were standard language from UN peacekeeping agreements.

Myth four is that Rambouillet gratuitously introduced references to "free market economies". Yet in the one interview that Milosevic gave in English during the conflict (to a US professor) he insisted that Yugoslavia supported the "market economic system". Rambouillet also contained clauses about free media being allowed in Kosovo. This reference (inserted at Robin Cook's insistence) was more likely to upset Milosevic, but this is never mentioned by Rambouillet critics.

Myth five is that there was a secret annex. In fact, it was at the request of Yugoslav negotiators that an annexe was put in the main text.

Myth six is that Rambouillet was unacceptable to the Yugoslavs. In fact, it was the Kosovan delegation that initially refused to endorse it, because in their view it left Belgrade with too much say via a joint council on which Milosevic's representatives would sit to oversee the accord's implementation.

The myth of the Rambouillet accords as a casus belli is on a par with the Zinoviev letter or the new official drivel that the people who edited Tribune or ran the National Council of Civil Liberties 20 years ago were KGB agents. Rambouillet was a chance for peace, not the cause of war.

Denis MacShane
MP for Rotherham

This article first appeared in the 11 October 1999 issue of the New Statesman, A world without children