Second thoughts about Kosovo

The discussion of this post brought up a question I’ve been worrying about for quite a while. Given the catastrophe in Iraq (and the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan) should those of us who supported intervention in Kosovo revise our position?

While I still think the likelihood of another round of genocidal ethnic cleansing justified action in Kosovo (and makes a bigger effort in Darfur morally obligatory at present), I think some aspects of the Kosovo action were mistakes that sowed the seeds of future disaster.

My view at the time was that the failure to get UNSC approval wasn’t that important, since there was a clear consensus in favour of intervention and the only problem was that the Russians didn’t want to be forced to state a public position.

Now I think that was wrong and the effort should have been made to secure a UNSC resolution, making whatever concessions were needed to get Russia not to veto it. The problem wasn’t so much the breach of legality in this case, as the precedent it set, which was expanded beyond all recognition by Bush and Blair in Iraq.

I also think (and thought at the time) that the bombing of Belgrade crossed the line from striking military targets to terrorisation, most obviously with the bombing of the TV station. This precedent was used recently in Lebanon. I plan more on this general issue soon.

20 thoughts on “Second thoughts about Kosovo

  1. Kosovo was ,as events have shown a kind of “rehersal” for the horrors of unrestricted air warfare against civilians ,waged by the US and more recently,in Lebanon by its local contractor/surrogate/The jewish Homeland,In Kosovo and Serbia we saw all the now familiar features,which characterized the “Shock and Awe”operation in Iraq.
    As in Lebanon, there were the merciless assaults on civilian targets. I recall the US bombing a train,loaded with passenger. As with the recent Israeli bombing there were the usual lies and coverups,and promises of inquiries. As if such could raise the dead!
    We saw attempts to silence the media. So who was shocled when it was revealed that in 2003, Bush his murderous associaties wanted to bomb “Al Jazerra”

  2. Perhaps we could institute a “Hermann Goering Memorial Award “. The head of Hitler’s Luftwaffe was an early exponent of mass bombing of civilian targets.. Perhaps the award could take the form of of a Swastika adorned butcher’s -apron
    Clinton and Albright would have won one,as would Rumsfelt too and Dan Hulutz of the Israel Air Force,would get one to. The Firsts “Goering” to go Israel.!

  3. “While I still think the likelihood of another round of genocidal ethnic cleansing justified action in Kosovo…”

    Despite that there wasn’t a skerrick of evidence of “genocide” or anything approaching it in Kosovo, nor any evidence that any such “genocide” was planned, that the NATO-claimed body counts were well over the actual total by a factor of 30+, and that certain participants in NATO’s “humanitarian” air war were themselves guilty of genocide by NATO’s own official standards (I’m looking at Turkey) you might have a point.

    “My view at the time was that the failure to get UNSC approval wasn’t that important, since there was a clear consensus in favour of intervention and the only problem was that the Russians didn’t want to be forced to state a public position.”

    The Russians, along with the Chinese, most certainly did have a public position which, incidentally, was the right one: there was no case for intervention whatsoever. So much for “consensus”.

    “The problem wasn’t so much the breach of legality in this case…”

    Oh really? Take a look at a look at Appendix B of the Rambouillet “Agreement” – the one which demands the military occupation of Yugoslavia as a whole, with legal impunity (!) for all NATO troops – the precedent set was actually much, much worse than you say.

  4. Personally I think John’s overarching dilemma here is caused by too much belief in some higher legal/moral authority, although that can be justified if the authority he seeks isn’t crooked and is an august bodyy of some standing and expertise. At a local level we can largely trust our democratic legal/judicial system but it is buttressed with a fair and open jury system, albeit the odd judgement we can all be morally uncomfortable with from time to time.

    Internationally that is clearly not the case at present and I suggest that’s the cause of John’s dilemma. Ultimately our higher international authority must have agreed higher moral legitimacy, but the search for that authority in the democratic votes of undemocratic, murderous gangsters is laughable and leads many of us discount it. Israel makes the obvious point here,10117,20179861-401,00.html?from=public_rss
    and its obscenity is most obvious with the nations that have stood on the UN Human Rights Commission. John, like many of us might like a UN to rely upon as a check to hegemonic power and to reign in the worst of the world’s atrocities, but he won’t find it in the votes of a gaggle of gangsters or some power of veto from yesteryear. He needs a United Liberal Democratic Nations, with one country one vote value and no power of veto, with its constituonal majority (eg 75%)Security decrees binding on all, with the power and will to curtail the thugs. The current UN is a pathetic shadow of such a moral authority and don’t the gangsters know it.

  5. The other problem is that Quiggin has stated flat out there is some vague “moral obligation” to intervene in Darfur, without detailing why, how, or to what extent. He also hasn’t said anything about the brutal terrorisation and expulsion of a quarter of a million Serbs and other ethnic minorities from Kosovo since 1999, which could only have occured as a direct result of his “humanitarian” war.

  6. I haven’t read enough to speak with conviction or any form of authority, however for the last few years I have been inclined towards the view expressed by Steve.

    It seems to me that in Yugoslavian we intervened to subvert the democratic will and hasten the disintigration of a nation state. Abe Lincoln in his day might have resented such external interference. However in our day he would probably end up in the Hague.

  7. Majorajam and I exchanged barbs a while back on this blog about Kosovo. Whatever else that intervention was, it was most certainly a rehearsal for what has become the favoured war-fighting strategy of the US and its satellites – massive aerial bombardment in lieu of fighting on the ground. The strengths and weaknesses of the strategy can be seen in the Kosovo affair. The strengths are low casualties for the air-power possessor, and some damn fine spots for the nightly news showing targets being blown to pieces. The weaknesses are that it kills, injures and renders homeless lots of non-combatants and knocks the stuffing out of the civilian economy of the country being bombed. As the campaign continues, legitimate military targets become more and more scarce, so the target bar gets lower and lower. It helps mitigate qualms if the bombing recipient nation is populated by untermenschen, as seen by the bombing nation – as has been the case in Iraq and Lebanon. But even in the bombing of Serbia lots of infrastructure unrelated to the Serb military was destroyed as the stock of undestroyed targets diminished.

    The logic of aerial bombing is identical to the logic of terrorists – to so terrify the population as to effect a desired political result. Some terrorists are actually a little more subtle, since they wish to provoke governments to do their dirty work for them by establishing a secret police state that its citizens will find ever more onerous. Ever since the Battle of Britain it has been clear that strategic bombing usually results in the hardening of resistance and a determination to get back at the side inflicting such suffering. The collapse of the Milosevic regime is the exception that proves the rule. The regime was already tottering, as Serbs saw the other former Yugoslav republics flourish while they continued to languish in a political anachronism increasingly ruled by gangsters.

    Serbia was also unprepared for bombardment from the air, making it much more vulnerable to such an attack. Where the opposing force anticipates aerial warfare, the bombardment is militarily impotent, as has recently been seen in Lebanon, where despite weeks of extraordinary bombing, Israel was unable to diminish Hezbollah’s military capabilities or even to capture a single town defended by Hezbollah.

    Generals it is said are forever fighting the last war, and apparent victory confirms them in their self-belief, while defeat may lead to reflection and re-thinking. The collapse of the Milosevic regime following the Kosovo intervention thus presaged the barbarity and bankruptcy of military strategy in Iraq and Lebanon.

    Last, on Observa’s remarks about the UN being chockers with ‘undemocratic, murderous gangsters’, I’d respond that in fact more countries are functioning democracies today than ever before. It’s just that democracies, unlike say military dictatorships, are less reliable in following orders from Washington. Check the voting records of Venezuela, Argentina and Chile. The murderous dictatorships of Pakistan and Egypt on the other hand can usually be relied upon at least for an abstention. The US embrace of unilateralism stems more from its diminished stash of gangsters than their proliferation.

  8. I couldn’t believe at the time and still can’t believe how many liberals seriously swallowed the line that the intervention in Kosovo in 1999 was somehow driven by humanitarian concerns.

    The war was about getting rid of a government bad for business – Milosevic, and replacing it with one that was good for business, which is what now has happened.

    At the time, NATO was supporting (literally) much worse ethnic cleansing in Turkey, it had lent its support to the equally repressive regime in Croatia (which was good for business).

    Its interesting how the KLA started out as a terrorist outfit, became ‘freedom fighters’ when fighting Milosevic, then became terrorists again when Milosevic was gone, and the pretence of Kosovo human rights had evaporated. Compare the US’s position now on human rights in the Balkans to the Milosevic period.

  9. People weren`t flooding out of kosovo until after the NATO bombing started — which gave the undesirables among the serbs a chance to do some real killing.

    The KLA was a terrorist organisation with links to all the usual suspects, involved in a `civil war` and they did not deserve the western protection that they got several times.

    After the KLA was given their victory by the west, they have effectively clensed their areas of serbs (except for a few all-serb and well-protected cities)… without too much media interest. Now the area is fucked.

  10. PS – on that matter of “clear consensus” over “humanitarian intervention” in Yugoslavia, one might bear in mind that, along with two permanent members of the UN Security Council, the South Summit (otherwise known as the G77, comprising most of the non-aligned countries including India and China) in 2000 specifically declared:

    “We reject the so-called “rightâ€? of humanitarian intervention, which has no legal basis in the United Nations Charter or in the general principles of international law.”

    Some “consensus”! I wonder if there are any other fatuous generalisations I forgot to eviscerate?

  11. “The war was about getting rid of a government bad for business – Milosevic, and replacing it with one that was good for business, which is what now has happened.”

    Yes, even a fervent economic liberal can admit the truth of this – the simple fact is, NATO’s murderous takeover was accompanied by a coercive plan to privatise the assets of Yugoslavia and turn it into a World Bank satrapy. This, in itself, should give John Quiggin pause for thought.

  12. Hal9000, where air power really works best is as part of a combination of arms. That can mean air resupply of flying columns, substituting bombs for artillery bombardment alongside other ground activities, or most importantly of all, by making local movement impossible – thus giving your own ground forces freedom of action against forces that are pinned down and not resupplied. But on its own, air power can’t do much in most situations. Even in Serbia surrender only came when the Russians were about to move in on the ground.

  13. The more I learn about the Kosovo war the more I come to think it was morally bankrupt.

  14. PML – agreed. Air power is a powerful tactical tool. Compare and contrast the effectiveness of Bomber Command in preventing reinforcement of the Normandy defences after D-day with its incapacity to put much of a dent in German war production. Note also that Bomber Harris fought tooth and nail to prevent his air fleet being diverted to mere tactical support. Air force generals are forever justifying the vast expenditures required to maintain their bailiwicks with fanciful stories about their capacity to win wars without bloodshed on the part of the side wielding the air power. Goering twice successfully spun the yarn that his air fleet could pull off victory – at the Battle of Britain and at Stalingrad. Wrong. Stuff to do with spiffy looking aircraft also attracts politicians because, let’s face it, an air ace is a lot sexier than a grimy infantryman. The romance of air power carries across to parachute battalions, with normally sane commanders prepared to take absurd risks on the say-so of parachute generals. The near-catastrophe of Crete and the Arnhem disaster come to mind.

    The Kosovo campaign is I am sure responsible for air forces around the planet gaining treasure and status at the expense of ground forces. General Halutz was, I believe, the first air force general to achieve the status of chief of the ludicrously named Israeli Defence Force. Now he’s the first to lead the mighty IDF to defeat. I’m sure Kosovo did his career no harm.

  15. Definite tricky minefield stuff this. It does, to me, lead to the larger question of reform of the UN and the make up of the Security Council.

    The veto needs to go, but won’t until the US suffers a major defeat of some kind, more likely economic than military. The neocons are probably unwittingly making this more likely each day with their pigheaded ignorance of international opinion.

    Is there a realistic trigger to collapse the US$ as the global benchmark? Is the petroeuro a genuine threat and how outrageous does US foreign policy have to get to make an eastAsia/Europe currency alliance a reality?

  16. I do wonder why the details of the Kosovo war are less well known to the average punter than the details of the Iraq war. I think perhaps it is because our side did not start it, and because our side did not suffer loses. Which is kind of telling in its own right. It demonstrates the low political cost of killing people by remote control.

  17. If the Security Council veto goes, the world will be far more dangerous than it already is – the idea of an absolute majority of diplomats deciding the “justice” of waging war on others with virtual impunity is a terrifying prospect.

  18. Hal9000, air power can be used at far more than the tactical level. That is, its operations can be well away from the ground activities it is supporting, in either time or space. The substitute for artillery, that’s tactical, but the stopping troop movements further off, or the moving troops with an air bridge or whatever, those are strategic. For instance, what Goering intended for Stalingrad was strategic – he just didn’t have the right Luftwaffe for it (the Luftwaffe had earlier been able to resupply another German pocket until relieved, but the quantitative need was smaller and the time and distance involved much less). The direct use of the Luftwaffe was in fact stopped by their Pyrrhic Victory in Crete – before the invasion of

  19. To Steve Edwards,

    obviously there have to be ground rules and “waging war” as you put it would have to be only available in very strictly defined cases. I’d be more inclined to make leaders criminally liable for actions against the rule of international law. At the moment we have one or two rogue states acting with impunity just because they can.

    Pie in the sky maybe, but it has to start somewhere. I’m not at all comfortable with a US empire, coming up to the energy crises that we will surely have. The yanks and the Israelis ae making a mockery of the UN and International Law as it stands. Nor have they any regard for bilateral treaties it seems. Where does that leave us?

  20. Hi justaguy,

    The “US Empire” is the security lynchpin for the entire edifice of “collective security” that has underwritten the global system. They are one and the same – and I agree that this could be dangerous. The fact that it applies international law in an entirely hypocritical manner (only the “Core” really gets to be secure) is not surprising – enquiring souls can trace this back to the hypocritical Nuremberg trials themselves (where Stalin should surely have been in the dock for aggressing against Poland, and murdering up to 15 million of his own people, while Roosevelt should have been on trial for their complicity with Stalin’s crimes – Operation Keelhaul for example).

    Basically, they take the “exceptionalist” view that the global cop must be allowed to adhere to a different rule set than its subordinates in order to “enforce” the law. As with any form of state (in this case, a world state), the law enforcer has a tendency to become corrupt. This “exceptionalism” might have to change if the world became a more balanced multilateral system – although it will more likely be the case that another hypocritical hegemon (China – and be careful what you wish for here) will simply replace the last one.

    Personally, I think collective security, whether balanced or not, can be an extremely dangerous concept because it generally precludes nations being allowed to assume “neutral” status if they don’t have a dog in a certain fight. By insisting that everyone “take sides” to uphold “collective security” I think we can actually increase the risk of widening a conflagration rather than containing it – such as WWI.

    For example, the Gulf War was the perfect test-case for the New World Order – a clearly defined aggressor being punished by a massive alliance consisting of the vast majority of “law-abiding” nations in the world. Yet that war didn’t bring peace. Rather, it only created a foothold and a precedent for yet more conflict and chaos – not only in the Middle East, but everywhere else the internationalists felt like intervening – the Balkans, Somalia, Central Asia, and so on.

    I’d like to see countries adopting a much more limited conception of their national interests and stay out of each others’ affairs – working together only where clear and undeniable threats to the security of all people can be identified. Climate change may be one example – although precisely how to address this issue without creating a corrupt global enforcement racket is not clear; the threat of nuclear annihilation is another.

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