Ethical Aspects on NATO's
Intervention in Kosovo
July 14, 1999
"Now is the time to begin to reflect on what actually
happened this spring in Kosovo and, thus, to the world. I
believe that historians will agree that from March 24, 1999
international politics and relations as well as the global
system has changed in a deep sense," says TFF director Jan
Oberg. "Many consider NATO's intervention a moral success, a
just war, a victory for democratic values.
But I believe we need to look at it from a variety of
angles to a) understand it more deeply and b) to work out
ideas, concepts and policies so that anything similar will
never happen again elsewhere. It is indeed peculiar that
this war - conducted from a moral high ground and with the
aim to promote the finest ideals of Western culture - has
hardly been evaluated in just such terms. I am not a
philosopher of ethics, but here are some points you may use
in your own thinking about contemporary history and - if it
exists - 'moral foreign policy.'
A high-ideals, low-risk war.
The West has man and noble ideals. But when it comes to
risking Western lives for them, they crumble. Both Albanians
and Serbs have proved themselves willing to pay a price for
what they believe in.
David and Goliath
World history's most powerful alliance attacks a small
state, devastates it with 1100 planes during 79 days. NATO
could do anything in Yugoslavia, but Yugoslavia had no
capacity to hurt any NATO country. Whatever propensity to
feel sympathy for David there may be in Christian values, it
didn't surface. Explanation? Ten years of demonization.
In addition, cruise missiles are low-cost and promise
destruction on the enemy's territory without human or
material costs on our side. Behind NATO's boasting of
success and determination hides a high-tech-based cowardice
second to none.
Predominantly a war against civilians.
Perhaps the biggest lie in all this was the statement
that 'we are not at war with the Yugoslav people.' But NATO
destroyed 300 factories and refineries, 190 educational
establishments, 20 hospitals, 30 clinics, 60 bridges, 5
airports; it killed at least 2,000 civilians and wounded
6,000 and many will die and suffer because of the health
infrastructure destruction. To this you may add the
sanctions since 1991 and the burden of more than 700.000
refugees from other republics and now from Kosovo. Only
12-15 tanks of 300 main battle tanks and some planes were
destroyed, the rest seem to have been dummies!
Selective justice - much worse conflicts and
humanitarian problems are ignored.
In terms of human rights violations, war-caused deaths
and degree of "dictatorship," Kosovo is a minor conflict.
Between November 1998 and March 1999 no evidence of
systematic ethnic cleansing in Kosovo. OSCE monitors have
confirmed this. Germany sent back 11,000 Kosovar refugees.
No humanitarian organization present in Kosovo reported a
grand plan, or signs of it, to cleanse Kosovo of its 1,5
million Albanians. Look at the 30+ conflicts and much more
serious human rights violations around the world and ask:
why this gigantic Western commitment here?
Collective punishment is generally accepted.
The magnitude of NATO's destruction of the economy and
infrastructure of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia with 11
million citizens - most of whom innocent - did not cause a
proportionate, widespread or intensive debate in the West in
general or in NATO countries in particular. There were mass
protests (few shown on television) but no momentum that
could have stopped the 'campaign'.
One side in a civil war was demonized, isolated,
presented with a fait accompli, threatened with destruction,
forced out of its sovereign territory, its people leaving
the province and, apart from some humanitarian aid, the West
does not intend to contribute to its reconstruction. These
gross human rights violations are tacitly accepted even by
many 'correct' human rights organizations and media.
Militarized rather than civilian
After the Kosovo crisis nobody can doubt that there is
ALWAYS unlimited supply of funds and personnel for military
affairs, whereas the much cheaper early violence-preventive
diplomacy, peaceful humanitarian intervention and postwar
civilian peacekeeping consistently lack resources. The UN,
OSCE and NGOs are marginalized in the process - a rapid
slide toward militarized conflict management and
interventionism. This is a deliberate, moral choice made by
the international 'community'.
Humanitarian concerns hardly credible.
NATO's action released a humanitarian catastrophe. The
international 'community' let Macedonia and Albania carry
98% of the burden, and relieved itself of the frightening
perspective of having the refugees flood EU Europe. The US -
generously - suggested that it could take 20.000 and store
them on its military base...in Cuba! Today the world is
struggling with finding the resources for aid and
reconstruction - and will be very tempted to take it from
funds earmarked for humanitarian relief where there are
fewer cameras. The average Albanian refugee in Macedonia and
Albania already got about 10 times more relief aid than the
African - or Serb - refugee.
It could be argued that NATO or the US would be morally
required to pay some compensation - if not for the overall
military destruction, then for the "collateral damage": to
the families of those innocent civilians who were killed and
wounded, to civil facilities hit by mistake etc.
Moral foreign policy without moral
Quite a few of us were brought up with the norm that 'I
am responsible for what I do.' Scores of NATO's
violations of international law, the laws of war, of human
rights etc. during its bombing campaign have been justified
with reference to there being a grand plan of ethnic
cleansing, to stopping the atrocities, to fighting a cruel
dictator, and with arguments that 'if we do not counter and
stop this now, it will be much worse later.' The general
discussion has not focussed on the crimes committed by NATO,
neither on the political legitimacy of ignoring this
predictable civil war for years and wait to do something
until this something 'has to be' NATO intervention.
A norm has thus been used which in effect says that 'I am
not responsible for my own deeds because I am fighting
someone who is worse.' Paradoxically the same norm is used
by all warlords and architects of ethnic cleansing, in
ex-Yugoslavia and elsewhere!
Nonviolence punished, violence rewarded.
This has broad meaning. Dr. Rugova's pragmatic
nonviolent line was never given any political support,
legitimacy or concrete economic or other support comparable
with what KLA was given by the West. The UN principle of
'peace by peaceful means' was completely ignored - as was
violence-preventive diplomacy - for years by every single
NATO country; the UN played and will play a marginal role.
All NGOs and non-violent missions to the region, including
OSCE, had to leave because of NATOs all-dominating policies
in general and the bombings in particular. The West fought
Yugoslav/Serb violence in Kosovo - for good reason. It
actively supported Albanian hardliners' violence, atrocities
and violations of international laws, and continues to do so
now as 'peace'-keeper. In politics as well as mainstream
media, Serb/Yugoslav violence is the worst, then KLA, then
NATO - although NATO's has killed far more people. Violence
as such is never challenged.
The West supports illegal arms exports.
The arming of KLA can only have taken place by violating
the arms embargo against all parts of former Yugoslavia
decided by the UN Security Council in 1991. Which murky
organizations and intelligence agencies, which private and
semi-private arms dealers made it possible - and do you
think we will ever see them in the Hague?
The West supports 'terrorists'.
The US and the West has no qualms by being allied with
what the US envoy, Robert Gelbard, in early 1998 called a
terrorist organisation, namely the KLA or UCK. It has built
its military capacity on weapons, ammunition and training
supplied by various Western sources; it has been given
political legitimacy in Rambouillet through the embrace of
the US and UK; it has served as NATO's ally on the ground
during the bombardments. At the same time, the West has
refused to deal with the Yugoslav government as a legitimate
one which came to power through open elections - and with
moderate Albanian leader Dr. Ibrahim Rugova who was the only
politically legitimate representative and who dares not
return to Kosovo today.
The West cooperates with war criminals.
The West also happily works with a war criminal - until
it doesn't need him anymore. President Milosevic is now
indicted as a war criminal. But read the indictment
(available on TFF's website): it mentions only what he may
be responsible for since January 1 this year. I guess the
US/CIA and others have the files and documentation for
crimes he may be directly or indirectly responsible for
since 1991. But mentioning that would mean that he was a
criminal also when a partner with the West, such as in
Dayton in 1995. Also, indicting him for crimes committed
between 1991 and 1998 would make people ask: so why not also
indict presidents Izetbegovic and Tudjman?
In passing, it is interesting how much more the media has
dealt with this indictment than with the indictment of
NATO's leaders (see TFFs website).
No equal recognition of the rights and sufferings
of human beings.
A simple ethical principle in conflict resolution - and
other spheres of life - is this: recognise ALL parties'
human suffering and ALL parties' human rights. This has not
been practised by any of those who took the leadership in
what they themselves called a humanitarian intervention.
Telling the truth, well..
It is often stated that the West cannot rely on
Milosevic/the Serbs/Belgrade regime. True - but
remember! The West supports democracy but openly and
tacitly supported authoritarian regimes in Zagreb, Sarajevo
and Albania (including the KLA leadership). Before
Yugoslavia broke down, US foreign secretary James Baker
stated that Tito's Yugoslavia was a sovereign state - a few
months later the West recognized Croatia and Slovenia out of
it. The West supports multiethnic states but has, since
1991, helped the following units to appear with less
multiethnicity than before the crisis: Croatia, the two
parts of Bosnia and now Kosovo. Ambassador Gelbard stated in
early spring 1998 that KLA/UCK was a terrorist organization
- after which the US supported it. Remember when ambassador
Holbrooke negotiated a deal in October with Milosevic about
a civilian OSCE mission ? 70% of them had military
background, consistent rumors indicate that several were
intelligence people - and NATO established itself in
Macedonia. So, while the West may not have much reason to
trust Milosevic - does he, or Yugoslavia, have more reason
to trust the West?
Lack of proportion
President Clinton, in his speech of March 19, mentioned
the event in Racak where some forty bodies were found and
said about NATO's future airstrikes that "hesitance is a
licence to kill." It did not bother him that NATO later
killed 50 times more innocent people in Serbia in what was
called "collateral damage" - neither did it seem to bother
the media much.
"I don't think everything is morally OK with NATO. But we
did stop unspeakable atrocities? Well, today between 60.000
and 80.000 people die unnecessarily around the world because
the international community has still not provided clean
water, houses, medicare, and other basic means for basic
need satisfaction for all to just survive. Study the annual
UNDP Human Development Reports just out...It's rapidly
becoming a more and more inhuman world. When shall Western
leaders devote themselves as energetically to real
humanitarian problems as they do to NATO-constructed
crisis?" asks Jan Oberg.
© TFF 1999
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