Some Ethical Aspects on NATO's
Intervention in Kosovo
Part A

TFF PressInfo 73

 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 conflict-management.
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 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 responsibility.
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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