May 1, 2000
Although it has been over a year now since NATO started its bombing campaign in Kosovo, I believe the air war still deserves to be examined. As the popular saying goes, "those who fail to learn the lessons of history are bound to repeat them." I believe the media interpretations of the U.S. led air strikes was misleading, and unless the record is set straight the wrong lessons will be drawn. Washington and the mainstream media seek to spin the events as an example of a humanitarian victory, not the reality.
I consider myself a Christian pacifist, and believe strongly that the use of military force is never justified. I find myself in agreement with Gandhi when he says, "It is blasphemy to say that non-violence can be practiced by individuals and never by nations which are composed of individuals"1. I also agree with Martin Luther King Junior, who said, "World peace though nonviolent means is neither absurd nor unattainable. All other methods have failed. We must begin anew"2. The problem with the Yugoslavian air strikes is that they are often portrayed as a positive example of military intervention. This view is not only wrong, but believing it will lead to support of further military activities in the future. That is why it is important to see that NATO’s actions demonstrate all too well that "aggression and militarism go hand in hand"3.4
United States Hypocrisy
To begin with, the whole concept of the United States intervening in Yugoslavia for humanitarian reasons is sickening in its hypocrisy. As David McReynolds, War Resisters League Emeritus and current Presidential Candidate of the Socialist Party, said, "While I am not clear why the US is doing this, I am very clear why it is NOT doing it. It is not doing it because of the slightest humanitarian concerns.5" This is all too evident by examining the United States track record internationally. Two thousand people had died in Kosovo prior to NATO intervention, but 80,000 were killed in Algeria, 820,000 were killed in Rwanda, and 1,500,000 were killed in the Sudan. The United States did nothing6. The United States have never threatened to intervene to stop the Russian led massacres in Cheneya, despite the fact that the situation there is very similar to Kosovo (a renegade province)7. In Laos the death toll is also very similar to that of Kosovo, only it is more concentrated among children8.
The United States supported Saddam Hussien during his bloody war with Iran in the 1980s9. We supported the Shah in Iran when his secret police conducted tortures at least as bad as anything occurring in Kosovo10. The list goes on and on. The United States supported the Contras in Nicaragua, and mined Nicaragua’s harbors in 198411. The U.S. colluded in the Indonesian slaughters in East Timor12. Through covert aid, financial and military help, and training at the school of Americas in Fort Benning, we have been actively involved in Massacres in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. United States aggression in Vietnam is not even ancient history13.
But the hypocrisy does not stop there. Currently Colombia is the leading recipient of U.S. arms and training, despite the fact that "the annual level of political killing by the government and its paramilitary associates is about at the level of Kosovo, and refugee flight is well over a million." The Clinton administration has praised President Gaviria even though human rights abuses during his time in office have even surpassed that of his predecessors14.
Turkey, itself a member of NATO, has been involved in a horrific repression of the Kurds which "by very conservative estimate … falls in the category of Kosovo15." Events in Turkey have been called some of the most extreme examples of ethnic cleaning in the mid 90s. Tens of thousands have been killed, and 3,500 villages have been destroyed (seven times the number in Kosovo). Some 2.5 to 3 million refugees have been created. However because Turkey is an ally of the United States not only do these atrocities not get picked up by the media but Turkey carries out its genocide with massive military support from the United States, increasing under Clinton16. When human rights groups made public how US jets were bombing villages in Turkey, the Clinton administration simply found ways around laws requiring the suspension of arms deliveries17. Several of these atrocities occurred in 1998, but no one seemed to notice them during the celebration of 50 years of NATO18.
Both Turkey and Colombia will defend their US supported atrocities on the grounds that they are fighting terrorists. Milosevic has made the same defense for his activities in Kosovo19.
In Iraq, half a million children were killed in five years as the result of United States weaponry. Madeleine Albright commented that it was "a very hard choice …[but] we think the price is worth it.20" At the time of the Air strikes, 5000 Iraqi Children were killed a month from United States policies concerning Iraq21.
So, I think it is firmly established that the United States could not care less about humanitarian concerns. Why then the bombing campaign? Much has already been made how this occurred shortly after the impeachment proceedings, and so causing many critics to wonder about a "Wag the Dog" type scenario.
However, the United States record in Yugoslavia goes back much further. The structural adjustment policies of the U.S. dominated International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the World Bank have bankrupted Yugoslavia’s industrial sector (causing large amounts of the labor force to be laid off), and restructured the economy to divert money from social programs to paying off debt. These debts were passed onto the newly independent republics of the former Yugoslavia. For these reason many accuse the IMF and the World Bank of being primarily responsible for the destabilization of the Balkans22.
The Dayton Agreement for a peace Accord in Bosnia seems to be more concerned with protecting Western economic rights in the Former Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) than human rights. Bosnia is not allowed self-determination, but its government and economy are put under the control of a European Union (E.U.) governor and the IMF23.
Did the United States engineer the break up of Yugoslavia to gain access to Bosnian oil and oil pipelines connecting the Caspian and the Black Sea across the Balkans? Was the air war to protect economic interests? Many people think so. Many also think that the air strikes were designed to strengthen NATO, undermine the United Nations Security Consul, and further suppress Russia24. As Noam Chomsky pointed out, now that the cold war is gone, suppressing Communism is no longer a convenient cover for United States Imperialism. Humanitarian concerns must replace it instead25.
Failure to Seek Non-violent Alternatives
Although it has been called one of the most censored news stories of the year, Yugoslavia was virtually forced into a war with the United States. On March 23, there were two potential peace plans on the table. One of which was the Rambouillet agreement proposed by NATO, the other was the Serbian National Assembly Resolutions.
Diplomatic options appeared to be open, until last minute conditions were added to the Rambouillet agreement, in the form of Appendix B: the Status of Multi-National Military Implementation force. This appendix outlined that a NATO’s forces would be stationed in the former Yugoslavia. Tens of thousands of NATO soldiers can not legitimately be called a peace-keeping force. An occupation force is perhaps more accurate. The very wording of the Appendix is so harsh that it is speculated that this Appendix was designed to be rejected. Either way, "It is hard to imagine any country would consider such terms except in the form of unconditional surrender26."
The Serbian proposal called instead for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the UN to facilitate peaceful settlement. The Serbians were ready to enter negotiations leading to "wide ranging autonomy for Kosovo," and even to review the size and character of the international presence in Kosovo. However, NATO refused to budge.27
And what happened on the Kosovo peace accord of June 3? It was a compromise between the two peace agreements, and NATO abandoned its major demands that the Serbs had objected to. Instead NATO agreed to an international peace keeping force, among other concessions28. This outcome suggests diplomatic initiatives could well have been successful, and the whole tragedy of the air strikes could have been avoided.
Even if one assumes that diplomatic relations would not have been successful, violence is never the only solution. NATO instead could have sent unarmed peacekeepers trained in the principles of non-violence and non-violent resistance. Unarmed observers would have accompanied them from the OSCE. Non violent tactics have worked in South Africa, in the Philippines, and even before in the Balkans. In fact up until 1996 there was a non-violent resistance movement in Kosovo, which received no United States support and consequently died out. The terrorist group KLA (Kosovo Liberation Army) emerged instead29.
Do No Harm Principle
Suppose one makes another false assumption and pretends that non-violent alternatives would not work. Is war then justified? By no means. Noam Chomsky describes it eloquently. "One choice, always, is to follow the Hippocratic principle: "First, do no harm." If you can think of no way to adhere to that elementary principle, then do nothing30." Chomsky reiterates himself in another article. "Suppose you see a crime in the streets, and feel that you can’t just stand by silently, so you pick up an assault rifle and kill everyone involved: criminal, victim, bystanders31." Surely this is a ridiculous approach to dealing with a crisis. David McReynolds also expressed the same sentiment. "If I hear one more sweet soul say ‘yes, but do you mean you won’t do anything for the poor people there’ I may bloody well scream. There are people being butchered and murdered and raped all over the world and I live in horror of it. There is almost nothing I can do about these actions in Sudan, Congo, Indonesia, etc. But where my country is involved … then I have to give priority to stopping my country from making a very nasty world much worse32."
Milosevic and his crew are not nice figures. However this fact does not justify NATO’s actions. What’s more, Clinton and NATO have offered no long-term solutions to the problem in Yugoslavia, other then just dropping a few bombs.
NATO actions also violate many international laws. For instance, both the United Nations charter and NATO’s charter state that every effort should be made to resolve conflicts peacefully. If the matter can not be resolved peacefully, the UN’s charter states that the UN Security Council must vote to act against an aggressor33. In the case of Serbia, the UN Security Council was completely by-passed. France’s call to refer the matter to the UN was flatly refused34. NATO also ignored calls for larger input, including one from Russia that recommended the Group of seven be involved35.
Without the authorization of the UN security consul, force can only be used in cases of legitimate self-defense, which the air strike was clearly not. Even threats to use force are prohibited under articles 2 and 4 of the UN charter, and yet threats to bomb Serbia were made as early as 1998. Also it is good to keep in mind that under international law Kosovo is legally part of Serbia36.
Harm Done by NATO
The harm done by NATO’s actions in the FRY will be hard to repair. For one thing it caused all of Serbia to become united against NATO, and destroyed the possibility of any true democratic change from opposition parties. It also enraged much of the rest of the world, hurting our relationships internationally37.
Worse, since January 1, 1999, the atrocities committed by the Serbs had been proceeding at a very steady level. Once the bombing campaign started, the atrocities sky rocketed38. As David McReynolds pointed out, the bombing campaign only made the Albanians more of a threat to the Serbs, causing more of a need to kill them39. What’s more, the casualties among Serb civilians in the first three weeks of the air war are higher then all the casualties on both sides of the Kosovo conflict in the three months preceding the NATO strikes, and yet these three months are considered the humanitarian crisis40.
A huge amount of refugees were created, which threaten stability with in the region. A group of international experts estimate that NATO bombings produced more refugees and victims then any other conceivable solution. Many non-Albanians fled the region, including Serbs, Gypsies, Slavs, Muslims, Jews, Turks and Croats41. In the year before the bombings, NATO estimates some 2-300,000 refugees were created within Kosovo. Three days after the bombing started the United Nations Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) registered 4000. The toll increased until by June 4 there were 670,000 refugees in the neighboring countries, Albania, and Macedonia. This does not count the 70,000 in Montenegro, and 75,000 in various other countries42.
NATO also deliberately hit civilian targets, including Serbian radio, television, and factories that produced consumer good43.
Perhaps most puzzling is the use of Depleted Uranium weapons in NATO’s air campaign. From a military standpoint these weapons are very nice. They are able to slice through the thick armor of military vehicles and underground bunkers very easily. However from a humanitarian standpoint they are not so nice. Its chemical and toxic effects are long standing. They enter the food chain and can poison it for a significant amount of time. Depleted Uranium weapons were also used in the campaign against Iraq, and have caused many fetuses to develop deformed. The United States showered the Southern region of Kosovo with depleted Uranium, firing 31,000 rounds of it during 100 missions. Concern is now developing over whether it was used in other regions as well. Many of the depleted uranium weapons were used in highly populated areas. NATO has effectively destroyed the environment of the very region it claimed it was going to save.
What is more, dozens of oil refineries, petrochemical complexes and factories were destroyed. Thousands of tons of toxic chemicals were released into the air, soil and water. Cancers are predicted to rise in the area over the years to come. Local gynecologists in the area recommended termination of early pregnancies after the air strike because of the health hazards to the unborn children. Some gynecologists recommend women wait two years before attempting to have children44.
And what are the results of NATO’s campaign? A sustainable peace has not returned to the region. In fact violence is regularly reported. Serbs and Albanians have now found it impossible to live side by side with each other. There have even been reports of human rights abuses, including rape, by the "Peacekeepers.45" The whole affair has only confirmed the futility of military means as a way to peace.
1. As quoted by Mark Mattison (member of the Michigan Peace Team) in an E-mail to the author. 13 Mar. 2000
2. As quoted by Mattison
4. Of course this paper is by no means meant to downplay the atrocities committed by either side prior to NATO’s involvement.
5. David McReynolds. "Nato and Kosovo/ Part two". (Nonviolence Web Upfront. 28 Mar. 1999: http://www.nonviolence.org/board/messages/6890.htm). 1.
7. David McReynolds. "Quick Analysis of Kosovo." (Nonviolence Web Upfront. 23 Mar. 1999: http://www.nonviolence.orb/board/messages/6749.htm). 2
8. Noam Chomsky. "The Current Bombings: Behind the Rhetoric." (http://www.zmag.org/crisescurevts/current_bombings.htm) 3
9. McReynolds. "Quick Analysis of Kosovo." 1
10. McReynolds. "Quick Analysis of Kosovo." 1
11. McReynolds. "NATO and Kosovo/ Part Two." 1-2
12. McReynolds. "NATO and Kosovo/ Part two." 1
13. McReynolds. "NATO and Kosovo/ Part two." 2
14. Chomsky. "The Current Bombings: Behind the Rhetoric." 3
15. Chomsky. "The Current Bombings: Behind the Rhetoric." 3
16. Noam Chomsky. "Kosovo Peace Accord." (Z-Magazine. July 2000: http://www.zmag.org/crisecurevts/peace_accord.htm) 2
17. Chomsky. "The Current Bombings: Behind the Rhetoric." 3
18. Chomsky. "Kosovo Peace Accord." 3
19. Chomsky. "The Current Bombings: Behind the Rhetoric." 3
20. As quoted in Chomsky. "The Current Bombings: Behind the Rhetoric." 4
21. Chomsky. "The Current Bombings: Behind the Rhetoric." 4
25. Chomksy. "The Current Bombings: Behind the Rhetoric." 7
26. Chomsky. "Kosovo Peace Accord." 4
27. Chomsky. "Kosovo Peace Accord." 4-5
28. Chomsky. "Kosovo Peace Accord." 4
30. Chomsky. "The Current Bombings: Behind the Rhetoric." 7
31. Noam Chomksy. "World Order and its Rules." (Z-magazine. Oct. 1999: http://www.zmag.org/crisecurevts/current_bombings.htm) 10
32. McReynolds. "NATO and Kosovo/ Part two." 3-4
34. Chomsky. "The Current Bombings: Behind the Rhetoric." 5
35. Oliver Corten, et al. "Kosovo Must not be Forgotten: Brussels Appeal."
36. Oliver Corten et al. 1
38. Chomsky. "Kosovo Peace Accord." 2
39. McReynolds. "NATO and Kosovo/ Part 2." 2
40. Chomsky. "Kosovo Peace Accord." 2
41. Oliver Corten et al. 2
42. Chomsky. "Kosovo Peace Accord." 2
43. Oliver Corten et al. 2
44. Vesna Peric Zimonic. "Enviroment-Yugoslavia: NATO’s Chemical Warfare." (One World. Mar.2000: http://www.oneworld.org/ips2/mar00/10_22_031.html). 1-3
Chomsky, Noam. "Kosovo Peace Accord." Z-Magazine. July 2000. Available http://www.zmag.org/crisecurevts/peace_accord.htm
---. "The Current Bombings: Behind the Rhetoric." Available
---. "World Order and its Rules." Z-Magazine. Oct. 1999. Available http://www.zmag.org/Zmag/articles/oct1999chomsky.htm
Corten, Oliver, et al. "Kosovo Must not Be Forgotten: Brussels Appeal." http://zmag.org/brusappeal.htm
Mattison, Mark. E-mail to the author. 13 Mar. 2000.
McReynolds, David. "NATO and Kosovo/ Part two." Nonviolence Web Upfront. 28 Mar. 1999. Available http://www.nonviolence.org/board/messages/6890.htm
---. "Quick Analysis of Kosovo." Nonviolence Web Upfront. 23 Mar. 1999. Available http://www.nonviolence.org/board/messages/6749.htm
Zimonic, Vesna Peric. "Environment-Yugoslavia: NATO’s Chemical Warfare." One World. Mar. 2000 On line. Available http://www.oneworld.org/ips2/mar00/10_22_031.html
Professors Comments: Joel, in spite of my comments throughout [Ed. note--I have not duplicated the marginal comments] I share a number of your concerns and you make some good points. My problems with your paper in brief are these:
1). Too many sweeping generalizations and unqualified and unsupported positions are taken and
2). Your sources are questionable and I think too extreme (which helps explain #1). Chomsky, of course, is well known, but hardly the most credible or knowledgeable source on the Balkans. The others I have not heard of. You needed to have looked at some more scholarly sources--even those for the alert general public such as Foreign Affairs and the NY Review of books a vigorous debate took place.