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Post Was the NATO Campaign in Kosovo a Success?
Created by John Eipper on 01/03/19 3:56 AM

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Was the NATO Campaign in Kosovo a Success? (Robert Gard, USA, 01/03/19 3:56 am)

Brian Blodgett's essay (January 2nd) on Kosovo is excellent. A few additions:

The Kosovo Liberation Army's attacks on government officials and police were excessive and designed to trigger an over-reaction from Milosevic that would promote NATO outrage and action.

The NATO bombing campaign was initiated on the assumption that Milosevic would fold in three days or sooner. Unable to locate Serbian military targets in Kosovo, the bombing shifted to civilian targets in Serbia in obvious violation of the laws of war.

Desperate to end the bombing that lasted 78 days, NATO accepted the brokered terms that eliminated the major provisions of the Rambouillet Agreement that had caused Milosevic to reject it.

Previously, our position had been no border changes in resolving disputes in Europe. Russia objected and later capitalized on our switch to justify its own actions in Georgia.

And we now call the NATO campaign a success!

JE comments: It's been a year or so since we last heard from Gen. Robert Gard.  So glad you've written, and best wishes for 2019. 

Robert, do you believe that NATO's actions in the Kosovo conflict emboldened Putin to move into Crimea?

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  • Did Putin Use Kosovo to "Justify" Crimea? (Robert Gard, USA 01/04/19 4:15 AM)
    John E asked me if Putin was emboldened to occupy Crimea because of NATO's earlier actions in Kosovo.

    It's hard to probe Putin's motivations, but I do believe he has taken license from our switch.

    JE comments:  Armchair historians could posit volumes of Putin "what ifs."  The biggest:  if NATO hadn't expanded into the former Soviet Bloc, would Putin have played nice with the West?  Robert Gard has phrased it perfectly--probing Putin's motivations is more art than science, as was the Kremlinology of yore.

    Gary Moore (next) takes issue with Brian Blodgett's and Robert Gard's criticisms of the Kosovo campaign.

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  • Was NATO's Kosovo Campaign a Success? From Gary Moore (John Eipper, USA 01/04/19 4:35 AM)

    Gary Moore writes:

    I don't understand why Robert Gard (Jan 3) adds to Brian Blodgett (Jan 2)
    the points he does in support of his skepticism on Kosovo being a successful
    NATO mission. There are endless other such points he could have brought up, too,
    and they have been brought up, by many who wished to leave Kosovo where
    the Serbs had put it in 1912, under their rule.

    I'm surprised General Gard didn't
    bring up the atrocity argument, since an initial excited report said NATO was
    responding to 100,000 Kosovo Albanians killed by Serbs in secret massacres--and this had to be quickly scaled down to around 10,000. Moreover, in my
    quizzical position as investigator for international judges I could look at the
    individual cases, and I concluded finally that the number was even lower, maybe
    around 5,000. Kosovo was not Bosnia. And General Gard is right about the provocations
    made by ethnic Albanian guerrillas, if one needs that tangential argument as well.
    And he missed the favored argument that the majority of the Serb atrocities occurred
    only after NATO had started bombing--and so were not a cause of the bombing but
    a proxy response to it.  (Why do I have to do all this heavy lifting for the skeptics?)
    And we haven't even gotten to the disastrous pratfall on the Chinese Embassy.

    Before the bombing an article by a prominent military man was showcased in the media
    scoffing that everyone knew you could never win in Kosovo with an air war. Oops. Maybe
    the writer meant a tidy, textbook air war. The NATO campaign did not make Kosovo a paradise
    or the Albanians angels, but to say it didn't achieve its goal, and set them free (plus putting
    a 7,000-strong US base, Bondsteel, into a Muslim cultural redoubt where America will
    always be loved) is perplexing.

    JE comments:  Gary Moore inspires a thought:  Might Kosovo be the one--the only?--Muslim society where the United States is wildly popular?

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  • NATO Nation-Wrecking in Yugoslavia, and Russia's Response (Cameron Sawyer, USA 01/04/19 7:14 AM)
    I was living in Russia at the time of the Serbian war.

    What I can say about the Russian reaction to that is that it was the last nail in the coffin of Russia's desire to be integrated into the democratic, capitalist, European world. Up until the Serbian war, most people supported Yeltsin's idea that the Cold War was over and that there was no more fundamental conflict between Russia and the West. Most people hoped that, despite the betrayal of Bush's promise to Gorbachev not to move NATO East, Russia would be welcomed into the fold of civilized nations, and there was even still some discussion about Russia possibly joining NATO herself. A small number of hawks warned that the West did not respect Russia's interests and continued to be, fundamentally, Russia's enemy.

    But the NATO nation-wrecking in Yugoslavia, so well described by Robert Gard (January 3rd), showed the Russians forcefully that the West did not care about their opinions or interests, and that was the end of the idea that Russia should try to form closer ties with the West and integrate herself into the community of "civilized" nations. The special historical relationship between Russia and Serbia made our actions just that much more shocking to Russians, who felt suddenly powerless and isolated. This indeed is the proximate cause of the massive Russian rearmament which started in the 2000s.

    So certainly in the bigger sense, the bombing of Serbia did encourage Russia to partially dismember Ukraine, after we obliterated Yugoslavia over their objections. But we are so drunk on our own propaganda that few in the West see the parallels. The precedents we have set with our practice of nation-wrecking, started in Yugoslavia, and continuing in the Middle East up to the present day, are going to haunt us for decades to come. As well as other precedents like "targeted killing" of foreigners we don't like, on foreign soil, using drones, just because we can. It is not written in stone, that we will always be the only ones who are able to ignore the laws of warfare, and the rules of civilized behaviour with regard to sovereign nations, "just because we can."

    This ties back into our discussion of Syria, the most boneheaded nation-wrecking campaign we have yet undertaken, arming various insurgents, some of them our own enemies, others the enemies of our legal NATO allies, against the legal government of the country.

    JE comments:  At least Syria wasn't intentionally started by the US/NATO, unlike Iraq.  Or do I oversimplify?

    Has there been a "nation-building" campaign in the last half-century that succeeded?  Probably none since Germany, Japan, and finally South Korea.  The big question mark:  the successor states of Yugoslavia itself, which are currently at peace.

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    • NATO Nation-Wrecking in Yugoslavia? What About Serbia's Ethnic Cleansing? (Istvan Simon, USA 01/05/19 3:41 PM)
      I do not agree with Robert Gard and Cameron Sawyer's take on the Kosovo intervention.  One cannot forget the years of ethnic cleansing, massacres, and outrageous behavior by Serbian war criminals during the disintegration of Yugoslavia. None of this had anything to do with NATO. It happened under the eyes of UN peacekeepers who were unable to keep the peace, prevent the shelling and sniping of civilians in Sarajevo, Serbrencia, and so on, in case after case of deliberate genocide not seen in Europe since the Nazi atrocities.


      A similar history occurred in Kosovo, no matter what the small KLA may have done.

      My son had a colleague since elementary school whose family happened to be from Kosovo. This boy had Leukemia, possibly the result of exposure to escaped radiation as a toddler from the nuclear disaster in Chernobyl. He was successfully treated and cured in the United States.

      Anyway, we knew this boy and his family as a result of my son and their boy being classmates in school. The horrified stories that they told us had little to do with the KLA, and much to do with Serbian abuse of civilians in Kosovo which had occurred for many years. This was also years before NATO belatedly intervened, and in my opinion rightly so. The arms of the brother of the mother of my son's schoolmate had been broken by the Serbian police, for example. As far as I know he had done absolutely nothing to justify such abuse, not that such abuse could be justified anyway, even if he had. So, to answer General Gard, yes the intervention of NATO was a success. It put an end to these intolerable abuses, and liberated Kosovo from the choke of their abusive oppressors.

      This does not justify nor condone in any way the following abuses of the Kosovars against Serbian minorities residing in Kosovo, which regrettably also happened.

      Yugoslavia did not disintegrate as a result of Western policies. Neither did the Soviet Union. The collapse of communism in Eastern Europe and in the Soviet Union was not predicted in the West, and came as a surprise to those of us who desired the collapse of this rotten system. But at the time, it was unimaginable to those of us who had witnessed the Soviet military interventions to preserve communism in Hungary in 1956, Czechoslovakia in 1968, East Germany, and the Berlin wall.

      Andrei Amalrik wrote an essay in 1970 that predicted the disintegration of the Soviet Union by 1984. He was off by a few years before his prediction came true, but he had identified many of the causes and their corrosive effects with uncanny accuracy. History did not confirm all of Amalrik's predictions of how the collapse would eventually occur. But he understood the centrifugal internal forces within the Soviet Union which turned out to be correct. His predictions were discounted by Western Soviet scholars and the Soviet authorities as well. Natan Scharansky, another Soviet dissident, who later emigrated to Israel, recounted how the KGB had come to his prison cell in 1984 to mock Amalrik's prediction. But laughs best who laughs last.

      Tragically, Amalrik died at age 42 in a car accident in 1980 in Spain, so he missed the historical events that vindicated his predictions.

      JE comments: Amalrik's essay "Will the Soviet Union Survive until 1984?" can be read here:


      All the best to Istvan Simon for the New Year!

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      • Life on the Ground as a UN Peacekeeper, Balkans (Brian Blodgett, USA 01/07/19 3:57 AM)
        A recent posting by Ivan Simon (January 5th) had a comment about the UN Peacekeepers not being able to protect the individuals in the country where they were deployed. The statement that caught my attention was "it happened under the eyes of UN peacekeepers who were unable to keep the peace, prevent the shelling and sniping of civilians." I immediately recollected information from the Balkans and decided to do a bit of research to supplement my memory.

        During the Bosnia-Herzegovina mission, the UN troops were from Bangladesh, Britain, France, Spain, Malaysia, the Netherlands, Turkey, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Egypt, Russia, Ukraine, Norway, Pakistan, and Jordan. Note that a significant number of countries supporting the mission were non-European and likely did not have as good as equipment as they needed and this, and the Memorandum of Understanding between that allowed the UN to enter Bosnia-Herzegovina, had serious flaws.

        As an example, the deployment of Bangladesh forces into the area known as the Bihac pocket (in north-west Bosnia-Herzegovina). From what I recall over 20 years later, the Bangladeshi troops arrived in the Balkans without proper equipment; lacking both firearms and survival gear. From I recall, the troops only had one firearm for every four soldiers and limited ammunition, as well as no winter gear (they arrived in the fall) and instead had their typical summer uniforms. I checked the temperature of Bihac, and in October the high is between 55 and 65 degrees Fahrenheit with a low of between 40 and 48 degrees. By December, the high ranges between 29 and 35 with the lows in the 25 to 30 degree area. Meanwhile, in Dhaka, Bangladesh, the average daily temperature for October is 80 degrees and by December it is in the low 70s. I seriously doubt that the average Bangladeshi troop had cold weather gear, nor did the military itself have much on stock.

        I also recall hearing that the troops that we serving in the UN were often from countries that basically used the troop deployment as a source of income to their nation, rather than for pure humanitarian reasons--a review of the countries listed earlier may indicate this to be true, but I hope this is not true and perhaps someone can correct what I heard in the 1990s.

        However, the UN does pay nations for sending troops on UN missions, to the rate of $1,332 per person per month (in 2016)--a significant amount for the nations that contribute the troops. For India, who paid its entry-level troops in 2016 around $366 per month, that extra $1,000 is a nice contribution.  And that is India; consider the other top 25 countries: the most recent report from 2016 showed the top 25 countries as Ethiopia, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Rwanda, Nepal, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Egypt, Indonesia, China (a surprise), Tanzania, Nigeria, Niger, Togo, Morocco, Chad, Uruguay, South Africa, Brazil, Kenya, Benin, Cameroon, and Italy. Ethiopia at the top provided over 8,000 troops, about 6% of its active military. China is in a unique position as it votes to send troops, deploys peacekeepers, and funds the missions (KFC, 2017).

        So when we consider the deployment of UN troops, we must also consider the Memorandum of Understanding that the nation receiving the troops and the UN agree to, and it often has severe limitations on exactly what the UN forces can do. From my recollection, there was a MOU for Bosnia but I am not sure if they are required for all UN deployment of forces--not sure how they could be when in some cases there is no real government in place.

        Back to Bihac, we knew that the Muslim forces in the area that was surrounded by Serbian forces to the south and Croatia to the other sides were receiving supplies, but at NATO we could not figure out how. It was only after I was in Zagreb talking to the UN headquarters staff that I found out that the UN forces (Bangladeshi) were not allowed outside of their compound at night per the agreement and that they could only report on activities they saw. So, it was of no surprise that aircraft were landing at night at the local airport keeping the forces well supplied (whose airplanes they were, is something I never looked into), but the UN could not report any of this during the three-year siege of Bihac.

        Regarding the shelling, I also recall the ridiculous aspect that the Serbs had to store their mortars and such in UN Collection Points but were able to enter the points at any time and withdraw the weapons for cleaning, which often also involved "test firing" them and using them to shell areas before returning them to the UN-controlled collection points.


        Murphy, D. (1994). "Peacekeeper wounded in Bosnia dies: Balkans: Bangladeshi was one of five injured in Serbian attack. U.N. officials denounce it as most serious strike against their mission since war began". Retrieved from http://articles.latimes.com/1994-12-14/news/mn-8905_1_bangladeshi-peacekeeper

        KFC. (2017) "Countries provide the most troops and funding?"  Retrieved from https://bestdelegate.com/united-nations-peacekeepers-which-countries-provide-the-most-troops-and-funding/

        United Nations (2018). "Deployment and Reimbursement."  Retrieved from https://peacekeeping.un.org/en/deployment-and-reimbursement

        Weather Spark. (2019). "Average weather in Bihac."  Retrieved from https://weatherspark.com/y/148343/Average-Weather-at-Bihac-Croatia-Year-Round

        Weather Spark. (2019). "Average weather in Dhaka."  Retrieved from https://weatherspark.com/y/111858/Average-Weather-in-Dhaka-Bangladesh-Year-Round

        JE comments:  Fascinating, Brian.  I was completely unaware of the economics of UN peacekeeping.  Naïvely, I assumed the countries of origin paid for their supply and upkeep.

        Our late colleague Bob Gibbs was also in the Balkans as a peacekeeper.  In our phone conversations, he often lamented that the ROE (rules of engagement) hamstrung his unit at every turn, even preventing it from stopping specific acts of violence.

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        • Witnessing the UN Peacekeepers, Balkans (from Gary Moore) (John Eipper, USA 01/07/19 2:33 PM)

          Gary Moore writes:

          Seconding Brian Blodgett's (January 7) enlightening run-down on UN peacekeeping economics
          in the Balkans, I remember marveling, in my year at the UN Mission in Kosovo, that every
          single day seemed to bring some magnificently loony new UN absurdity, which people
          back home might be hard-pressed to believe.

          On the other hand, writing the area manual
          I got to take one of those spiffy white minivans (or occasionally a pickup) all over the
          country, and in one provincial boondock I found myself facing the UN administrator
          for that town--who seemed a veritable super-robot of efficiency. He was from the Philippines,
          and seemed to have every answer, know every nuance, and always with a cheerfully
          diplomatic smile, while doing several things at once.

          The UN does not prove there is
          no hope for the human race; it just points up the mystery.

          JE comments:  Does the UN show the best and the worst of humanity?  Or at least it's a testament to the best and worst of behemoth institutions.  

          (Gary, this is the first time I've seen "boondock" in the singular.  But it fits.  Next up--the singular "smithereen"...)

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        • In the Balkans, UN and NATO Did the Best They Could (Istvan Simon, USA 01/08/19 3:58 AM)

          I am grateful to Brian Blodgett for his comprehensive contributions (January 2 and January 7) on the events in Yugoslavia. I am in complete agreement with Brian. I had made the same points, without his thoroughly researched details and deep insights.

          I would like to add a few explanations to my post of January 5th:

          First, Brian's January 2 post was so complete that I probably would not even have written mine had I read his, because Brian's post made it unnecessary. But I had not yet read Brian's when I wrote mine, which was in reaction to posts by Robert Gard and Cameron Sawyer I disagreed with. I wrote it entirely from memory, personal recollection of the events, gained mostly from newspaper accounts and through the Kosovo family I wrote about.

          The second point I want to add is that I was not being critical of the UN peacekeepers when I mentioned that they were unable to keep the peace. They tried their best, and also provided much of the valuable, accurate and fair neutral information about the conflict in their reports. Their mission was not to fight either side in the conflict, but to separate and stop their fighting by their presence. They did not have the proper equipment for fighting either side, nor the proper rules of engagement. They had barely enough firepower to defend themselves when they came under attack in outrageous provocations by the Serbs.

          It is intolerable that any party would have the audacity to attack UN peacekeeping troops, yet the Serbs did just that. I think that these provocations were additional strong reasons for NATO to belatedly intervene and put an end to it through overwhelming firepower and force.

          No armed intervention is ever perfect, and NATO's was not either, as Gary Moore observed in his excellent comments of January 4. Nonetheless, to concentrate on the imperfections while ignoring the overall picture is a grave mistake. This is a point I tried to make and I think that this was also the main point made by Gary.

          A final observation: I would like to oppose 20-20 hindsight in WAIS posts. This is not only unfair criticism but also a logical fallacy.

          20-20 hindsight attributes responsibility for future events that could not have been foreseen when the historical decisions were actually made. It is the false argument that everything else that happened after a historical event, (most often criticizing decisions made by the United States), is a consequence of that decision, as if no other actors had any responsibility for what happens in the world.

          JE comments:  Yes, coincidence does not prove causality.  This is the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy.  In the Balkans and the Middle East, the United States did get involved, and problems ensued.  Does this prove anything?  The Balkans were the proverbial "powder keg" (and "Balkanized" to boot) long before the US was an actor on the world stage.

          Iraq is a different story, and 20-20 hindsight suggests it would have been easier and more peaceful for nearly everyone if we had reached an understanding with Saddam Hussein, and turned him into "our bastard."

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          • Saddam Hussein as "Our Bastard" (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 01/09/19 3:50 AM)
            I may be wrong, but even our excellent-in-everything Moderator may have overlooked something.  To his credit we may say that it is something that any good American would forget. JE in fact, commenting on the post of Istvan Simon, 8 January, wrote, "It would have been easier and more peaceful for nearly everyone if we had reached an understanding with Saddam Hussein, and turned him into 'our bastard.'"

            Perfect, but Saddam was the "bastard" of the Empire until the lousy trick of April. Maybe he had to be punished because he was unsuccessful in destroying Iran, despite all the help received?

            Also, John's sentence "In the Balkans and in the Middle East, the United States did get involved" is correct, but who ordered the involvement? As far as I know the various US Presidents, very poor in geopolitics, did the ordering.

            Considering that in a certain way the Empire is also involved in Ukraine and considering that the Ukrainian government is bombing its own people, a retaliatory bombing of Kiev by NATO would be appropriate, just as it had been in Belgrade.

            It could be a good idea: in Kosovo the Empire was compensated with the huge military base of Bondsteel. It could ask the republics of Donetsk and Luhansk for another huge military base strategically placed at the same longitude as Moscow, only farther south.

            JE comments:  Eugenio, I presume you mean April Glaspie, the American diplomat who reportedly told Saddam that the US had "no opinion" on Iraq's claim to Kuwait.  Given the war(s) that followed, this sounds like a tragic April Fools joke, but the meeting occurred in July.

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    • Nation-Building, Nation-Wrecking...or Bald Conquest? (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 01/06/19 4:55 AM)
      Commenting on the excellent post from Cameron Sawyer (4 January), JE asked: "Has there been a 'nation-building' campaign in the last half century that succeeded?  Probably none since Germany, Japan and finally South Korea [and Italy--EB]. The big question mark: the successor states of Yugoslavia itself, which are currently at peace."

      Frankly for Germany, Japan, Italy and South Korea it was not nation-building but occupied colony-building. Lately, however, it seems that at least part of the peoples of said nations are sick and tired of the situation. Being an ally is one thing, while being a de facto occupied colony and supplier of cannon fodder without the real possibility of dialogue is another.

      The successor states of Yugoslavia, except Slovenia and Croatia, which nevertheless are still at odds for a small piece of land and sea (the ex-Italian Istria), are powder kegs ready to explode at any time, especially the impossible Bosnia-Herzegovina and Macedonia, plus of course Serbia and Kosovo plus a question mark on Montenegro.

      As I am speaking bluntly, here's an uncomfortable question: Should the defeated Axis nations thank the US for the help of the Marshall Plan or the USSR? Oh, by the way the Axis was only Italy and Germany to which other European nations, including Yugoslavia, adhered while Japan was an ally of Germany and Italy within the Tripartite Pact. Just remember the tragedy of the DEF (Disarmed Enemy Forces) of German soldiers, but also German civilians and some Italians, the Morgenthau Plan, etc.

      Only in July 1947, more than two years after the end of the war in Europe, did Truman change policy, but only in order (rightly) to fight Communism, not due to a generous sense of nation-building. Only former president Hoover and the average American citizens were moved by generosity.

      JE comments:  The threefold dynamic of conquering, wrecking, and building usually go as a package.  The trick is to get the order right.  Eugenio Battaglia forces us to ponder the question of whether nation-building is motivated by altruism or self-interest.  Invariably it's both--the dulce mixed with the utile?

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