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Bombing Serbia is Dangerously Counterproductive



March 24, 1999

LONDON- The only rational reason for western air attacks on Yugoslavia is that Washington and London have to maintain their credibility. Young men's lives will be sacrificed for older men's face. They said they would do it. So they do it. This is both irresponsible and stupid.

At the most basic it will be done at a most severe military cost. This is not going to be a repeat of the recent bombings of Iraq. The Serbs do have the capacity to hit back and NATO's targets are many. Not just the off-shore flotilla of warships but NATO troops in Bosnia and Macedonia.

Second, the West is justifying the operation as necessary to avoid a humanitarian disaster. We are now going to witness the paradox of aerial bombing. While it consolidates the support of the nation being bombed behind their leader, (the lesson of its short history), it will also create a new humanitarian disaster, of far bigger proportions than the one it is supposed to stop. Not only is it likely to cause social chaos in Serbia, it will create waves of refugees streaming out of Kosovo in far greater numbers than we presently see. This is simply because once Serbia is under attack its army will ratchet up as fast as possible its campaign to vanquish Kosovo.

Which explains why bombing without the intervening, directing hand of ground troops is militarily inadequate. The only way to stop the Serbian blitzkreig of Kosovo now under way is to put tanks and troops in their way. "If you carry out an act of war you have to be prepared to go the whole distance," said General Michael Rose, former commander of UN forces in Bosnia, yesterday. There are at present 12,000 NATO troops in neighbouring Macedonia waiting to enter Kosovo to enforce the peace deal if it were successfully negociated. Most are European troops; there are only a handful of Americans. This is less than one seventh the number of soldiers NATO estimates as necessary for a fighting mission and, numbers apart, they are not sufficiently armed for it.

There is a powerful political myth that airstrikes in Bosnia in the summer of 1995 were a great success and that little bit of history can be repeated. There is no comparison. Five years ago the Serbs had already lost to the Croats on the battlefield. Today's situation is the reverse of that. The Kosovo liberation forces are in the process of being routed.

NATO is taking an almighty gamble. President Bill Clinton and Prime Minister Tony Blair have persuaded themselves that a quick sharp bombing will be enough to persuade Serbia's President Slobodan Milosevic to accept the peace deal. But that it will be not enough to encourage the ethnic Albanians in Kosovo to seek complete independence.

This is to play roulette. There is a school of thought, which Clinton and Blair appear party to--which says that Milosevic is just looking for an excuse to make a deal. He needs to be able to say to his Serbian nationalist supporters that he pushed it as far as he reasonably could. If this is right, all well and good. But it is an enormous gamble.

But if it's wrong then NATO will have no choice but to introduce ground forces, for which it is inadequately prepared. Where will that lead?

If the military arguments for bombing are weak, the political ones are non-existent. The U.S. and Britain are acting in the name of NATO. But NATO, even if it were united on this decision, which it is not, has no legal footing to take such action. Article 53 of the UN Charter, which the West wrote says, "No enforcement action shall be taken by regional agencies without the authorization of the Security Council".

The trouble with flying in the face of the Charter is that when the West bends it out of shape it does not, like a rubber band, simply spring back to where it was, ready for use the next time. It is damaged, perhaps unuseable. Why should other countries pay it heed? Why should China not use force to win back Taiwan or finesse the Law of the Sea?

Clinton talks about Kosovo being part of Europe as if it were analogous to Czechoslovakia and Poland in Hitler's time. It is not. It is not the heart of Europe. It is a part of the world--especially the Albanian part--that has been ruled since the Second World War by leaders who wanted to be apart from democratic Europe.

The West is not defending essential Europe under attack--in which case it could justify its case under Article 51 of the UN Charter. It is intervening in a peripheral war, of which there are many around the world. Is it as important as, say Rwanda, five years ago, when half a million people were massacred?

Why didn't the West intervene then? Why did Clinton then choose to undermine the UN peacekeeping operation? If he hadn't then--and in Somalia before--the UN might be prepared and organized to do some useful intervening in Kosovo today. In "Saving Kosovo" Clinton and Blair are destroying a lot.


Copyright © 1999 By JONATHAN POWER


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