Although the NATO bombings in Yugoslavia are a year in the past, questions about the effectiveness are far from over. Even during the NATO air strikes a vocal element of the American population claimed that they were doing more harm then good. Now, evidence is coming out that the military figures were vastly inflated. The subject seems to be still controversial.
To begin with, NATO’s actions violated 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 aggressor1. 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 refused2. NATO also ignored calls for larger input, including one from Russia that recommended the Group of seven be involved3.
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 Serbia4.
Perhaps more troubling is the fact that diplomatic alternatives were ignored. At the Rambouillet talks, the Serbs were willing to agree to some sort of international presence in Kosovo, as well as allow the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the United Nations (UN) to negotiate a peaceful settlement. The Serbs even indicated they would be willing to enter negotiations for increased autonomy for Kosovo. What the Serbs were not willing to agree to was Appendix B: the status of Multi-National Military Implementation Force.
The appendix outlined that tens of thousands of NATO forces would enjoy free reign throughout Yugoslavia and would not be subjected to Yugoslavian laws. This is not so much a peacekeeping force at it is an occupation. It is difficult to imagine any country agreeing to this.
However the peace accord on June 3 was a compromise, allowing an international peacekeeping force instead of a purely NATO one. Other demands the Serbs had objected to were withdrawn. This suggests that the tragedy of the air strikes could have been avoided.5
And the air strikes were a tragedy. Ever since January 1999, Atrocities in Kosovo had been preceding at a rather steady level. Once the bombing began, the atrocities sky rocketed upwards. The number of refugees went off the charts as well. According to NATO estimates, the number of refugees in Kosovo the year before had between 200,000 and 300,000. The days after the bombing alone the United Nations Commissioner for Refugees reported that 4000 refugees were registered outside of Kosovo. By June 4, that toll had increased to 670,000 refugees in Albania and Macedonia, 70,000 in Montenegro, and 75,000 who had fled to other countries. Most non-Albanian ethnic peoples in the region fled, including Serbs, Gipsies, Slavs, Muslims, Jews, Turks and Croats. The huge amount of refugees created has threatened stability in the region even more.6
NATO also openly targeted civilian targets, including factories that produced consumer goods and Serbian radio or television.7 In fact the casualties among the Serbs in the first three weeks of the air war were higher then the casualties on both sides in the three months that proceeded it.
Even less defendable is the environmental damage done to Kosovo. NATO has confirmed that it did in fact use depleted uranium (DU) weapons in its campaign. These weapons are convenient from a military standpoint because they are able to penetrate armored vehicles or underground bunkers. However, many groups fear that they present a health risk.
NATO has admitted to having used 31,000 rounds of DU in its missions in Southern Kosovo last spring. Questions are now arising as to whether they were used in Serbia or Montenegro. The United States pentagon claims that the 31,000 rounds do not present a significant health risk, but the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is not so sure. Members of the UNEP along with other scientists are concerned that the DU will result in the contamination of land and water. There are also concerns that it will enter the food chain and remain there for a long period.
However, DU is not the only environmental problem. During the air strikes "dozens of oil refineries, petrochemical complexes and factories were destroyed." One hundred twenty one industrial plants with hazardous chemicals were also bombed. Thousands of tons of dangerous chemicals were released into the environment.
Because of all this, it is feared that cancers in the area will rise in the coming years. Many local gynecologists recommended that pregnant women choose abortion due to health risks.8
In addition, information is now coming out that the NATO air strikes were not near as effective as the Pentagon claimed.
The number of targets verifiably destroyed was a tiny fraction of
those claimed: 14 tanks, not 120; 18 armored personnel carriers, not 220; 20 artillery pieces, not 450. Out of the 774 ‘confirmed’ strikes by NATO pilots during the war, the Air Force investigators ... found evidence of just 58.9
These new reports indicated that Yugoslavian army was only slightly smaller after the air strikes then what it had been before. Because of a zero casualty tolerance, NATO did not want its pilots flying low to the ground, despite the fact that this is the only sure way to destroy mobile ground targets.10
And the situation in Kosovo is still volatile. The NATO bombing provided no long term plans for peace. Violence is still regularly reported, and there have even been some reports of human rights abuses by the "peacekeepers", including rape. The air strikes actions have also caused all of Serbia to become united against NATO, undermining any possibility of true democratic change from opposition parties.11 We can only hope the situation does not further deteriorate.
1. Mark Mattison (member of the Michigan Peace Team) in E-mail to the author. 13 Mar. 2000
2. Noam Chomsky. "The Current Bombings: Behind the Rhetoric."
3. Oliver Corten, et al. "Kosovo Must not be Forgotten: Brussels Appeal."
4. Oliver Corten et al.
5. Noam Chomsky. "Kosovo Peace Accord." (Z-Magazine. July 2000: http://www.zmag.org/crisecurevts/peace_accord.htm) 4-5
6. Noam Chomsky. "Kosovo Peace Accord." 3
7. Oliver Corten , et al. 1
8. 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
9. John Barry and Evan Thomas. "The Kosovo Cover-Up." (Newsweek. 15 May 2000.) 23
10. John Barry and Evan Thomas. "The Kosovo Cover-Up." (Newsweek. 15 May 2000.) 23-26
Barry, John and Evan Thomas. "The Kosovo Cover-up." Newsweek. 15 May 2000. pp: 23-26
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
Mostert, Mary. "The Problem Forgotten by our Presidential Candidates: No Peace in Kosovo." http://www.originalsources.com
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
Professor's Comments: A solid indictment of the bombing. I tend to agree with much of what you write, but I don't know if the Serbs actually intended to implement ethnic cleansing in Kosovo. If they did plan to do so, then some of these concerns are of less weight.