P r e s s I n f o # 7 3
S O M E E T H I C A L A S P E C T S O N
N A T O ' S I N T E R V E N T I O N I N K O S O V O
July 15, 1999
"Now is the time to begin to reflect on what actually happened this
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 many 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
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
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 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 -
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
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
* 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 TFF's 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 rumours 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 live. Study the annual UNDP Human
Development Report, just out these days...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
You are welcome to reprint, copy, archive, quote or re-post this item, but
please retain the source.
Dr. Jan Oberg
Director, head of the TFF Conflict-Mitigation team
to the Balkans and Georgia
T F F
Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research
Vegagatan 25, S - 224 57 Lund, Sweden
Phone +46-46-145909 (0900-1100)