Second thoughts about Kosovo

by John Q on August 18, 2006

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.



Salih Shala 08.18.06 at 7:36 am

The bombing of Serbia was actually a mistake in the sense of time, it came WAY to late. However, better late than never.

Serbia was THE nation that destabilized the Balkans due to it’s extremist xenophobic government who openly supported a Greater Serbia.

Let’s not forget that Serbia was the only state involved in each and every war on the Balkans during the 90’s.

If we wouldn’t have bombed Serbia, the results would have been the extermination of the Kosovar people leaving the Yugoslav army in fightings with the KLA in eternity until KLA would have turned from war to terrorism and attacked civilian targets in Belgrade.

Also, the bombing of the TV station was nothing but a success. Let’s not forget that the Serbian people was living in a dream where every nation in the world was against them in a world complot against the Serbs and that the Serbs fought for “the survival of the Serbian nation”. All this due to propaganda spread by Slobodan Milosevic for over a decade which not only radicalized the Serbian population to an extreme level but also caused extreme hatred between the ethnic sides.

Destroying the propaganda source of the enemy is a significant target in modern warfare and it’s a natural target. Let’s not forget that Serbia also had military bases around Belgrade which they used to supply the existing occupational forces in Kosovo. Not to mention the cremetery where the Serbian authorities was hiding thousands of civilian Kosovars that were massacred by Serbian forces, they even cremeted the bodies to hide the evidence. There are even satellite pictures of this cremation..


Louis Proyect 08.18.06 at 7:50 am

As the psychotherapists say, “We are now making progress.”


Matt 08.18.06 at 8:31 am

I’ve always had some mixed feelings about Kosovo, for the reasons you mention but also because it, quite predictably, lead to ethnic cleansing by the Kosovars and the the creation of a mafia-ruled unviable statelet. But, beyond that, I wonder what it would have taken to get the Russians to go along- not just because of their traditional loyalty to the Serbs. That was important but I suppose it could be overcome. Pan-Slavism generally has meant supporting Russia’s interests more than anything else, after all. But rather, I think their worry was that any action that justified Kosovo would almost certaily justify action in Chechnya, and Russia is, frankly, paranoid about that in the extreme. (I say paranoid since it’s so massively unlikely that any outside aid is actually ever going to come to the Chechens.) I don’t see how that could have been over-come.


dearieme 08.18.06 at 9:03 am

My memory is that, in spite of the piffle from Clinton and Blair, there was no “genocidal ethnic cleansing”. If there was, where are the 100,000 bodies? (100,000 was the figure bruited about.) In fact even the drive-the-buggers-out ethnic cleansing really only started after the bombing started, didn’t it? Nasty piece of work, Milosevic, but in this case – as distinct from Bosnia – you could argue that the nazi-lite performance came from his opponents.


Jim Henley 08.18.06 at 9:03 am

Surely the commuter train bombing at least competes with the attack on the TV station on the outrage list. Maybe the justifications offered for the TV station bombing – “it was putting out a different story than our version and therefore was a legitimate military target” – gives it the edge.


Cryptic Ned 08.18.06 at 9:29 am

“terrorisation” is the word for terrorism by a state actor?


Patrick S. O'Donnell 08.18.06 at 9:30 am

Actually, the precedent for the bombing of Lebanon was set much earlier, with aerial bombing as such. See, for instance, Tom Engelhardt’s post at his blog,, on ‘air war, barbarity and the Middle East,’ part of which appeared as well in the Los Angeles Times on Aug. 6, 2006:

For a nice analysis of the problems associated with NATO’s bombing of Serbia, see Henry Shue’s article, ‘Bombing to Rescue?: NATO’s 1999 bombing of Serbia.’ In Shue’s words, ‘the majority of NATO’s bombs and missles struck Serbia proper and its infrastructure, not the Serbian military, paramilitary, and police in Kosovo. The bombing, then, physically fits the geographic pattern for bombing for punishment purposes in that the targets are outside the military theatre, taking the theatre to have been Kosovo.’*

Marko Milanovic discusses a ‘textbook case’ for international law in a comment not long ago at the Opinio Juris blog (on international law and politics) that arose in a discussion of ‘proportionality’ as explained by Professor Mary Ellen O’Connell at JURIST:

‘I agree that the ICTY [International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia] Prosecutor’s report on NATO and the Kosovo conflict is a good example of how external review of the proportionality of military actions is both possible and necessary, even if the report, in my opinion, has serious flaws – though I am not exactly objective on the matter.

The example raised by Professor O’Connell, the attack on the Grdelica gorge bridge, is truly a textbook one: the pilot could quite lawfully target the bridge while the train was out of sight. Unfortunately, the train came quickly and the bomb hit it by mistake. Tragic, but not unlawful. But then, when the pilot realized that he had inadvertedly hit the train and the bridge was still standing, he launched a SECOND bomb which destroyed the bridge and further damaged the train, killing even more people. The Office of the Prosecutor unfortunately found that this incident is not even worth investigating, as they did with the bombing of the (ghastly) Belgrade TV station, with the NGO I work for, the Belgrade Centre for Human Rights, later unsuccessfully representing the victims’ families before the European Court of Human Rights in the Bankovic case.

While I do think military commanders in the field are entitled to some deference, I don’t see at all why the limits of that deference should only be in the most extreme cases. One view of IHL [International Humanitarian Law] is that the military is regulating itself, with soldier ethics and honour providing the impetus for respecting the laws of war. The other is, however, that we, as ordinary people, who do not have to fight in wars, still can pass moral and rational judgments on the people who do. The current Middle East conflict is a case in point.’
[Markovic is now associated with the University of Michigan Law School: if you google his name in quotes, you can find a page that gives his background and credentials; he frequently comments at Opinio Juris, and I’ve found his analyses to be quite reliable if not uncommonly insightful.]

Now, for books absolutely germane to this discussion, I trust it won’t be impertinent of me to suggest the following:

Buchanan, Allen. Justice, Legitimacy, and Self-Determination: Moral Foundations for International Law (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004).

*Chatterjee, Deen K. and Don E. Scheid, eds. Ethics and Foreign Intervention (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003). [Shue’s article is Chapter 6, pp. 97-117]

Holzgrefe, J.L. and Robert O. Keohane, eds. Humanitarian Intervention: Ethical, Legal, and Political Dilemmas (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003).

Jokic, Aleksandar, ed. Humanitarian Intervention: Moral and Philosophical Issues (Orchard Park, NY: Broadview Press, 2003).


joshb 08.18.06 at 9:51 am

john’s review of the kosovo intervention, both intent and execution, is welcome and smart.

stupid and unwelcome is dearieme’s characterization of what was happening in kosovo before the intervention began.

i find arguments that 10,000 confirmed dead (and widespread recognition that the FRY actively tried and probably succeeded in destroying and hiding many of their murders) is a “piffling” genocide and lies that ethnic cleansing only began after the bombing to be dismayingly common these days.

there’s ample room to criticize the kosovo intervention without spreading misinformation about the actual situation on the ground there pre-intervention.



Jim Henley 08.18.06 at 10:07 am

joshb, “10,000 confirmed dead” from prewar Serbian government violence still sounds high by an order of magnitude or two. Could you please point me to a reference for that? I recall the number of Kosovar victims of government violence prior to the start of the bombing campaign being in the high three to low four figures.

Note: I’m not going to go off on a “Racak was staged” rant. It’s clear to me that Racak was a genuine massacre. But I am concerned about nailing the scale of the prewar violence.


Chris Bertram 08.18.06 at 10:22 am

There’s a lot to be regretted about the way in which the Kosovo campaign was undertaken. But thanks to it, the period that began with Milosevic’s notorious speech in Kosovo in 89 and took us through the various Yugoslav wars and accompanying genocide was brought to an end. Many of the guilty have been put on trial and most of the states in the region are something approximating to liberal democracies.

The real problem with the Kosovo intervention is that it would not have been necessary had Europe and the US acted properly and intervened earier in Bosnia.

Precedent? Sure. But Blair and Bush were merely looking for a fig leaf to cover themselves in Iraq. I doubt that the Kosovo campaign really made any difference. They’d have invaded Iraq anyway.

Afghanistan? It was always going to be hard to establish stable institutions in one of the world’s most damaged societies. You say the situation is deteriorating, and I’m sure that’s true. One mark of whether things have improved would be to look at the flow of refugees. Has it been back home and away from the camps in Pakistan and Iran? I believe it has (does anyone have accurate figures?).


Ray 08.18.06 at 10:27 am

Steve – Your argument would be taken much more seriously if you didn’t make up such stupid figures. (Actually, to be honest, it may be too late for you to be taken seriously. But it couldn’t hurt)


bi 08.18.06 at 10:37 am

Steve: Except, if your argument depends on “100K per month” dying, doesn’t tell us what to do if the status quo doesn’t kill off 100K people every month — such as in Israel. And we also have to factor in the people that’ll be killed by the military intervention itself, a figure which our Democratic Overlords always like to forget about.

And we must not forget the cost of preparing all those PowerPoint slides… :)


roger 08.18.06 at 10:52 am

Wasn’t the precedent for attacking the tv station set in the El Salvador conflict? As I remember, one of the prime directives of the death squandrons advised by the U.S. was to destroy the rebel radio station, which kept popping back on again after being destroyed. However, as I remember, it was only destroyed in order to defend freedom of speech in El Salvador. Forging the rhetoric of democracy in support of wars against democracy is a very important part of spreading democracy across the planet.


Patrick S. O'Donnell 08.18.06 at 10:54 am


The latest info. I could find (given time constraints on my search):

Kabul press briefing: 27 June 2004

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR at the UNAMA press briefing in Kabul, attributable to Mohammad Nader Farhad, UN refugee agency spokesperson.

Refugee return figures

The number of assisted returns of refugees to Afghanistan this year stands at more than 320,000. More than 172,000 refugees have repatriated from Pakistan and approximately 150,000 from Iran. The Iran figure includes 50,000 individuals who have returned on their own.

This year’s return figure is significantly higher than last year’s – between 1 January and the end of June 2003 there were 232,000 returns. Returning refugees have told UNHCR staff that even more Afghan families would return if the security situation improves, particularly in the southern provinces. Returning refugees also express hope that for more job opportunities and reconstruction projects inside Afghanistan.

The rate of refugee returns from Iran has nearly doubled since May, with more than 38,000 people returning last month through border crossings at Islam Qala and Zaranj.

Since 1 May 2004 the daily rate of return from all countries stands at nearly 3,400. We expect an increase of the number of returns in the coming months when the school year ends in Pakistan.

Over the past two years, the total number of Afghans, who were either refugees or internally displaced, who have returned to their homes in Afghanistan has reached 3.6 million, including at least half a million internally displaced Afghans.

Since the facilitated repatriation operation began in 2002, more than 2,045,1000 Afghan refugees have repatriated from Pakistan, while the returns from Iran recently surpassed 800,000 including some 340,000 that returned spontaneously.


Louis Proyect 08.18.06 at 11:03 am

Milosevic’s “notorious speech in Kosovo in 89” can be read online at:

Judge for yourself whether it is notorious. Here’s a snippet:

“Equal and harmonious relations among Yugoslav peoples are a necessary condition for the existence of Yugoslavia and for it to find its way out of the crisis and, in particular, they are a necessary condition for its economic and social prosperity. In this respect Yugoslavia does not stand out from the social milieu of the contemporary, particularly the developed, world. This world is more and more marked by national tolerance, national cooperation, and even national equality. The modern economic and technological, as well as political and cultural development, has guided various peoples toward each other, has made them interdependent and increasingly has made them equal as well [medjusobno ravnopravni]. Equal and united people can above all become a part of the civilization toward which mankind is moving. If we cannot be at the head of the column leading to such a civilization, there is certainly no need for us to be at its tail.”

Meanwhile, here is what the liberal media watchdog FAIR says about the origins of ethnic cleansing in Yugoslavia:

New York Times correspondent David Binder filed a report in 1982 (11/28/82): “In violence growing out of the Pristina University riots of March 1981, a score of people have been killed and hundreds injured. There have been almost weekly incidents of rape, arson, pillage and industrial sabotage, most seemingly designed to drive Kosovo’s remaining indigenous Slavs–Serbs and Montenegrins–out of the province.”

Describing an attempt to set fire to a 12-year-old Serbian boy, Binder reported (11/9/82): “Such incidents have prompted many of Kosovo’s Slavic inhabitants to flee the province, thereby helping to fulfill a nationalist demand for an ethnically ‘pure’ Albanian Kosovo. The latest Belgrade estimate is that 20,000 Serbs and Montenegrins have left Kosovo for good since the 1981 riots.”

“Ethnically pure,” of course, is another way to translate the phrase “ethnically clean”–as in “ethnic cleansing.” The first use of this concept to appear in Nexis was in relation to the Albanian nationalists’ program for Kosovo: “The nationalists have a two-point platform,” the Times’ Marvine Howe quotes a Communist (and ethnically Albanian) official in Kosovo (7/12/82), “first to establish what they call an ethnically clean Albanian republic and then the merger with Albania to form a greater Albania.” All of the half-dozen references in Nexis to “ethnically clean” or “ethnic cleansing” over the next seven years attribute the phrase to Albanian nationalists.



Chris Bertram 08.18.06 at 11:38 am

Same old same old from Louis. A google for the words

binder proyect mladic

will reveal how Louis has circulated the same links and quotes before and that people have responded (including on CT).

Louis’s own views on Milosevic (and indeed on Saddam Hussein) are eloquently set out by him here

The concluding para:

To the credit of the late Slobodan Milosevic and to Saddam Hussein, who now is on trial for his life in another kangaroo court, they never bowed down. In life and in death, these imperfect men will always remind us of the need to resist the injustice perpetrated by states acting out of perfect evil.


Marc 08.18.06 at 11:40 am

I really hope that the folks here will do intellectual grabage pickup on the postings of the Milosevic defenders. His apologists love to selectively quote his speeched, naturally translated by them, to claim that he never unleashed a violent catastrophe in the Balkans. The number of victims was overestimated, the Serbs were provoked, other ethnic groups did “bad things” too. Anything but the willingness to accept his moral culpability for the carnage.

What you’re encountering here is the problem with a pacifist approach. There really are monsters who butcher groups within their countries that they don’t like, and a policy of refusing to ever intervene is a license for mass murder. The bar should be high, but my only regret in Yugoslavia is that the West didn’t intervene before hundreds of thousands died in Croatia and Bosnia.


Doug M. 08.18.06 at 11:43 am


Your position is understandable, but not, I think, correct.

Yes, Iraq is making Kosovo look bad in retrospect. But Kosovo was Kosovo and Iraq is Iraq.

One think that gets underplayed in discussion of Kosovo is how brutal, stupid and mean the Serb occupation was. No, there weren’t “100,000 dead”. But there was — for nine years — an explicitly racist apartheid regime whose whole raison d’etre was to impoverish, immiserate and humiliate the Albanians. The Albanians responded for the first six years with nonviolent resistance before the KLA took up arms.

I’ve spent some time in Kosovo. One thing that’s absolutely universal among the Albanians: they are all deeply and profoundly grateful to NATO and, especially, America.

There were a number of squicky things about that conflict, sure. The Chinese Embassy bombing. The flood of lies from the governments, and the fatuous eagerness with whic the media gobbled them up. But while you can argue the issues of _jus in bello_, for _jus ad bello_ that was about as good as a war gets.

Doug M.


abb1 08.18.06 at 11:53 am

Here’s Clenis interviewed by Rather on March 31, 1999. He’d just decided to start targeting Belgrade and he’s explaining why it’s a good idea: “to raise the price of aggression to an unacceptably high level so that we can get back to talking peace and security“.


franck 08.18.06 at 12:00 pm

Something like 3-4000 bodies have been dug up in Kosovo proper. An unknown number of bodies were either melted down in lye or transported to mass graves in Serbia to conceal their deaths. There are still something like 3000 people missing (2400 of them Kosovar Albanian), and Serbia is not cooperating in resolving those cases. Some of them may be in Serbian jails, but the large majority are probably dead. The current estimates are that about 10,000 people died in Kosovo during that period, and only about 500 were killed by NATO. So the claim of 10,000 is the current best estimate.

People like Noam Chomsky and others made much of the fact that 10,000 corpses weren’t found in mass graves in Kosovo, but now that there is overwhelming evidence that the Serbs went to a lot of trouble to destroy or move corpses to conceal the scale of killing, you don’t hear an much from them anymore.


Doug M. 08.18.06 at 12:00 pm

Jim Henley wrote:

“10,000 confirmed dead” from prewar Serbian government violence still sounds high by an order of magnitude or two. Could you please point me to a reference for that? I recall the number of Kosovar victims of government violence prior to the start of the bombing campaign being in the high three to low four figures.

Jim, you’re right. The numbers dead were on-the-order-of a thousand or so.

However, the autumn of 1998 had seen massive displacement of refugees, with over 50,000 people on the roads at one point. (In retrospect, it now appears that this was a warmup exercise for the full-blown cleansing six months later.) And the drastic ramping-up of KLA activity after the Drenica massacre in March 1998 meant that the province was certain to undergo waves of violence with no end in sight.

After Drenica, support for Rugova and nonviolence collapsed; the Albanian population switched to supporting the KLA, giving them the “sea in which to swim”. The Serbs were then faced with a West Bank of their own making. (The other key event was the opening of the arsenals after the collapse of the Albanian economy in 1997. This put tens of thousands of rifles and AK-47s on the Balkan market cheap, converting the Albanians overnight from a relatively unarmed populace to one where almost every family had a buried gun.)

The shootings, bombings and kidnappings were set to continue endlessly, with a long-term ratchet upwards until either the Albanians were expelled or some outside power stepped in. After Drenica there were no good options. The NATO intervention was the least bad choice, though. If it hadn’t been done then, it would have been done later, after much more blood had been spilled.

This is where the Iraq analogy really breaks down. Baghdad today is what Pristina would have looked like in a year or two *without* the NATO intervention.

Doug M.


franck 08.18.06 at 12:02 pm

Here’s a more comprehensive one:


Sebastian holsclaw 08.18.06 at 12:08 pm

“The real problem with the Kosovo intervention is that it would not have been necessary had Europe and the US acted properly and intervened earier in Bosnia.”

This is the interesting question. What kind of earlier interventions are we talking about?


Doug M. 08.18.06 at 12:10 pm

Franck, point of clarification: most of those you’re talking about were killed by the Serbs after the bombing started.

The disposal of the bodies did help confuse things considerably in the immediate postwar period, yes. (Well, that and the fact that the NATO governments lied their asses off during the war.) So you had an understandable reaction: when no mass graves turned up, a lot of people said, hey, we were bamboozled.

Except that the reason no mass graves turned up is that the Serbs learned their lessons in Bosnia. They incinerated the bodies (in a steel foundry in southern Serbia) or put them in freezer trucks, drove them north to the Danube, and dumped them.

Doug M.


abb1 08.18.06 at 12:16 pm

The NATO intervention was the least bad choice, though.

But what about the claim that a poison pill was inserted into the “Rambouillet accord” at the last moment in order to provoke a confrontation? See here.


Doug M. 08.18.06 at 12:27 pm

Abb1, the evidence is that this was a wish-list, not a poison pill.

Consider: if the Serbs had said “We’ll take it, except for the part about NATO troops moving through Serbia proper”… do you think there would have been a campaign? Remember, this was a coalition war, so there had to be a fairly broad consensus.

Further: everyone who was actually at Rambouillet agrees that the Serbs were not negotiating in good faith. Unlike the Albanians — who were a fractious lot, spending more time arguing with each other at first — the Serbs were a team hand-picked by Milosevic, and they called back to Belgrade for their marching orders. It was a negotiation with Slobo; and Slobo, it’s clear, thought he could ride out a modest bombing campaign just fine.

Doug M.


Louis Proyect 08.18.06 at 12:27 pm

You’ll note that Chris Bertram failed to identify a single word in Milosevic’s speech that deserved condemnation. The only thing that can be described as “notorious” was the liberal group-think that lined up to liken it to a Hitler speech at Nuremberg. David Rieff, one member of this conformist claque, eventually woke up:

“At the time of the Kosovo war, I had written that, if I had to make the choice, I would choose imperialism over barbarism,” he explains. “In
retrospect, though, I did not realize the extent to which imperialism is or at least can always become barbarism.” This admission alone makes At the Point of the Gun worth reading.



Louis Proyect 08.18.06 at 12:29 pm

They incinerated the bodies (in a steel foundry in southern Serbia) or put them in freezer trucks, drove them north to the Danube, and dumped them.

Doug M.

No, this is inaccurate. I have heard from Atilla the Hoare that they actually ate the Kosovars.


hilzoy 08.18.06 at 12:38 pm

Hmm. I think that a lot about this sort of question depends on what you assume to be true about the background conditions in which you’re deciding — which assumptions you take for granted and which you take to be up for question.

I think that a lot of the people involved in the Kosovo decision assumed, wrongly as it turns out, that foreign policy in the US and Europe would be made by people who were flawed, at times very short-sighted, maybe even stupid, but nonetheless basically reasonable adults who would not, for instance, seize the precedent of an action without UN sanction and say: see? We can do whatever we want! I also think that at the time that was a reasonable assumption to make: after all, even if someone was inclined to be a flaming and complete idiot who thought of foreign policy as if it were exactly like second grade, surely that person, on taking power, would have to think seriously about things, and moderate that view, at least a bit? Right?

Wrong. As we now know.

On the one hand, this does mean that the failure to get Security Council approval was a lot more important than it seemed. On the other, I’m not sure how foreseeable that was at the time. It requires: a President with a truly shocking level of irresponsibility, advisors who are not capable of introducing sanity into the proceedings, a party apparatus (in this case, the GOP) who is willing to allow this person to be nominated despite the irresponsibility and incapacity; a quiescent media, and a public willing to be led to war for no good reason. Or, in short: every imaginable check failing.

Who would have thought?


abb1 08.18.06 at 12:38 pm

Well, Doug, read the piece I linked. I don’t want to post a long quote, start from here:

The Annex was kept from journalists covering the Rambouillet and Paris talks, Robert Fisk reports. “The Serbs say they denounced it at their last Paris press conference—an ill-attended gathering at the Yugoslav Embassy at 11 PM on 18 March.” Serb dissidents who took part in the negotiations allege that they were given these conditions on the last day of the Paris talks, and that the Russians did not know about them. These provisions were not made available to the British House of Commons until April 1, the first day of the Parliamentary recess, a week after the bombing started.


Gar Lipow 08.18.06 at 1:03 pm

I have a question on this. How many of those killed in Kosovo were killed after Rambouillet? In short, did our bombing stop the worst atrocities or precipitate the worst atrocities.


yave begnet 08.18.06 at 1:15 pm

Question for John: Would you condone bombing radio/tv stations under any circumstances? I take Rwanda to be the strongest case for this, where much of the killing was coordinated via radio which could have been disrupted at fairly low cost to Western countries (according to Samantha Power).

I don’t think it’s generally a good idea, but it seems like it could improve bad situations in some cases, assuming good faith on the part of the government carrying out the bombing/disruption (not a safe assumption at present).


aaron 08.18.06 at 1:44 pm

First off, although Kosovo was used as justification for both Iraq and Lebanon, it was used differently in each case. In the case of Iraq, the rhetoric was twofold: 1) that the UN could not be relied on to pass resolutions supporting war, especially when veto members (France, Russia, China) had an interest in preventing it, and 2) that the UN could not be relied on to supporting intervention in humanitarian cases either. Most people will concede that Kosovo lends credence to the above arguments.
In the case of Lebanon, Kosovo was referenced by Olmert to justify his strategy of using air strikes in Lebanon. His claim was that his strategy was similar to the one used in Kosovo, and that 10,000 had been killed in Kosovo, so Europe had no right to complain about Israel’s actions. Of course, this is a blatant misrepresentation, and his numbers are a little high.
Basically, I don’t think that Olmert’s comments are anything but a blatant distortion of the facts, and that (irregardless of what one thinks of the war) references to Kosovo before the Iraq war did point out some flaws that the UN will need to resolve.


james 08.18.06 at 1:47 pm

There seems to be a desire to use military intervention and yet treat it like a law enforcement mater. What ever the bar (prevention of genocide, stopping slavery, self defense etc.) for justifiable war, it needs to be recognized that it is war. The standards suggested for military behavior are so off the mark that it gives the impression that the military is another law enforcement agency.


Salih Shala 08.18.06 at 2:21 pm

I, as a Kosovar can make this very very clear to you. Before NATO intervention, there was a few thousand civilians listed as killed by Serb forces. What many of you seem to forget though was that the Serbian regime put Kosovo in their hands already in 1989, from 1989 to 1998 they installed an apartheid society where Albanians slowly but surely were forced out of Kosovo. Due to wars in Croatia, Bosnia etc the situation of the Kosovars remained unknown to the rest of Europe.

– During this time, Albanian boys forced to military duty were sent back home, shot dead. Their families were told they “died in training”.
– Albanian was removed as the official language
– Albanians were forbidden to buy land in Kosovo
– Albanian was forbidden in school
– The university of Prishtina become a 100% Serbian university
– Almost each and every police officer in Kosovo of Albanian origin was fired
– Almost each and every Albanian working in the education or health sector was fired.
– Albanian media was closed, the Albanians weren’t allowed to run their own newspapers or TV channels.

To describe the situation of the Kosovars during this time it’s impossible to write down on a small message, therefore I recommend you all to read “Kosovo – A short history” by Noel Malcom. Which not only shows how the Serbian state has organized and engaged state terror against the Albanians in Kosovo during the 90’s but also before.

Let’s not forget that the Serbian “final solution for the Albanians” came already in 1937 (2 years before Adolf himself started expanding his “final solution” in Europe). You can find it all here:

If NATO wouldn’t have interviened, then surely sooner or later the ethnic composition of Kosovo would have turned to a Serbian favour by putting the Kosovar majority under poverty, by forcing them away, not giving them jobs, forbidding them to express their political will and not respecting the political, human or civil rights of the Kosovars.

It is indeed true that NATO strikes made the Serbs furious and they SPEEDED UP their plans to ethnically cleanse Kosovo (there is no doubt that this was their plan, Vojislav Seselj himself said it during a speech in Belgrad two days prior to the strikes, “If American aggression hits Serbia, there will not remain a single Albanian in Kosovo”).

Let’s also not forget that all of these massacres took place BEFORE NATO started it’s war:

Massacre in Rogove Village. January 1999
Massacre in Reçak, Nerodime. January 1999
Massacre in Abri e Epërme, Drenicë. October, 1998
Massacre in Lybeniq, Drenicë. Summer, 1998.
Massacre in Prekaz, Drenicë. February, 1998.

As I said I am a Kosovar myself, two of my close relatives were fleeing the terror from Gjakova, a major town in Kosovo. Their refugee truck was hit by a NATO bomb accidentally. The Serbs whined and said that NATO was targeting civilians, what is ironic is that these refugees were fleeing the same Serbian forces that complained about their death. Over 20 people died in that attack, but each and every one of their relatives said it openly that “NATO made a mistake, they are forgiven”. My cousin who died that day was only 21, his father still today doesn’t blame NATO.

The most important thing here which you all seem to have forgot is that not a single time during the 78 days of bombing did the Kosovars ask NATO NOT to bomb even though the situation of the Kosovar people became a living hell directly after the bombings. Some of you obviously are trying to make it look like life in Kosovo was a paradise before NATO came, it wasn’t. It was a hell, a slow hell though. NATO speeded the terror up, but it was also NATO who stopped it! Thank’s God for that, hadn’t NATO interviened then today we would have some tens of thousands of Kosovars living outspread through Europe without a homeland..


otto 08.18.06 at 4:04 pm

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 really doubt that Bush or Blair would have acted any differently without this precedent. There would have been a few pro-war commentators who would not have been able to throw a little sand in the eye during the pre-war UN discussions without this precedent, but that’s the only change as far as I can see.


abb1 08.18.06 at 4:18 pm

NATO speeded the terror up, but it was also NATO who stopped it!

The question is: was speeding the terror up and creating terror in Serbia by bombings necessary? Because, obviously, it would’ve been much better to achieve the end of hostilities without a war, bombings and speeding up the terror.

So, did American and European politicians really carried it out the way they did because of their concern for the Kosovo Albanians, or did they do it mostly for other reasons: to make an example, to teach a lesson, to boost NATO’s credibility and status and so on. The answer seems obvious.


Martin Bento 08.18.06 at 4:30 pm

doug, abb1, John

“Consider: if the Serbs had said “We’ll take it, except for the part about NATO troops moving through Serbia proper”… do you think there would have been a campaign? ”

Well, yes, I do. According to AFP, it was NATO, not the Serbs, who called off the negotiations. And Albright made it clear that NATO’s position was not negotiable:

“Agence France Presse reported the same day that the Serb delegation “showed signs that it might accept international peacekeepers on condition that they not be placed under NATO command” and added that the head of the Serb delegation “insisted that the peacekeepers answer to a non-military body such as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe…or the United Nations.” A U.S. official confirmed this to AFP: “The discussions are on whether it should be a UN or OSCE force,” the official said.

The next day, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright declared: “We accept nothing less than a complete agreement, including a NATO-led force.” Asked on CNN the same day: “Does it have to be [a] NATO-led force, or as some have suggested, perhaps a UN-led force or an OSCE…force? Does it specifically have to be NATO-run?” she replied, “The United States position is that it has to be a NATO-led force. That is the basis of our participation in it.”

Two days later, Albright repeated this position at a press conference: “It was asked earlier, when we were all together whether the force could be anything different than a NATO-led force. I can just tell you point blank from the perspective of the United States, absolutely not, it must be a NATO-led force.”

Over the next month, this position was repeated countless times with increasing vehemence by State Department officials. Furthermore, the U.S. refused to allow the Serbs to sign the political agreement until they first agreed to a NATO-led force to implement it.

This makes pretty clear that the US was adamant that the Serbs must consent to the NATO occupation of their country and that this, and substantially only this, was what killed the agreement. NATO is a military force, not an international humanitarian or peace-keeping organization. Serbia was the only country in the region uninterested in signing up, and they were being given no choice.

The notion “from those who were there” that the Serbs were not negotiating in good faith obviously comes from people not on the Serb side. This is a problem with the Western view: accounts by Americans or their allies are accepted as objective even when a vested interest is evident. This also played a role in the justification of Iraq.

John wrote in the previous thread that the proof that Bush was wrong about WMDs was there for those who would look. This is false. Bush was claiming to have non-public information that proved his claims. The US obviously does obtain such info, so this was always possible and not intrinsically incredible. I think anyone who believed Bush would have had to support the war. The crux, then, was the willingness to believe that the US was lying.

It was obvious, though, that Bush was manipulating his way into war. And Rambouillet looks much the same.

In part, I think the West was motivated by shame over Bosnia. Indeed, people here have said we should have intervened sooner. I thought and still think that we (US and Europeans) should have intervened in the Balkans earlier, more decisively, and more evenhandedly. However, by the time of Kosovo, the Bosnian situation had stabilized and the atrocities were in the past. To the extent that Bosnia is considered part of the justification of Kosovo, Kosovo was a war of revenge. For superpowers to involve themselves in wars of revenge is madness. This, too, was precedent for the decents: “we stood by while Saddam gassed the Kurds!” and “we stood by while Saddam slaughtered the Shia!” echoed “We did not save Sarajevo!” Well, I’m sorry, but you cannot have a humanitarian intervention after the fact.


John Quiggin 08.18.06 at 4:31 pm

Louis, I think your defence of Milosevic has been put forward at sufficient length. I;ve deleted your last comment and anything further from you on this thread will be deleted.

To everyone else, please don’t feed the trolls by responding further to pro-Milosevic apologists – the answers already given are adequate. On the same topic, don’t bother responding to “Steve” either. Anything from him will be deleted.


abb1 08.18.06 at 4:42 pm

I don’t know if the West was motivated by shame, but weren’t the guys in charge motivated (at least in part) by desire to find a raison d’etre for NATO? And for that they needed some action.


Martin Bento 08.18.06 at 5:42 pm

Another thing I think my quote demonstrates is that Kosovo was a strong precedent for US unilateralism a la Iraq. The US would not accept a UN-led force, and it is difficult to see how the UN could authorize a resolution that denied its own jurisdiction. That is why, I think, there wasn’t pressure from the European allies to go to the UN. How could the UN possibly tell the Serbs they had to accept a NATO not a UN force? England and France did not want to face the chagrin of having to advocate such a thing.


Salih Shala 08.18.06 at 6:02 pm

There has been claims that the real reasons were other than humane ones.

1) Kosovos wealth in natural minerals – It is true that Kosovo is very rich in minerals, it’s also true that major investment from the US in the energy field has already come (IIRC it was over €30 million being invested in one single investment).

But I doubt this was the reason the US intervened. Yes, Kosovo can give you billions but comparing them to the $ spent in the war and the rebuilding period, it’s not a huge win you make.

2) Getting “ground” on the Balkans – Indeed this is what the US has done. Today there are thousands of US soldiers placed in Kosovo. Many of these will probably leave together with the rest of KFOR some day. But let’s not forget that the US has built it largest military base in Europe in Kosovo. Camp Bondsteel in Ferizaj is enormous and military experts doubt that the US has built this for millions and then to abandon it. Mark my words, the US will be in Kosovo for a very very long time, still today there are Americans in Germany IIRC, but in Kosovo they’ve got much more support and area to do what they want.

According to a new survey, 99% of the Kosovans asked about their opinion of America were positive to the US foreign policy and the US. Followed by 95% (Albania) and 80%+ (Israel).

The US has found it’s greatest ally in the Balkans in Albania and Kosovo. Let’s not forget Albania was the only nation ready to accept five Guantanamo prisoners of over 100 asked countries. Albania was one of few countries sending ADDITIONAL troops to Iraq when the war escalated there.

The Kosovars will most surely allow the US to act however they want on Kosovan soil and air.

Considering a majority of the Kosovans are secular muslims this only is a plus for the US. Already we’ve seen the US use the Kosovo intervention as a propaganda tool for the muslim world telling them that “we fought to defend muslims from getting killed by Serbs in 99”.

There are also lots of other aspects which you should take into consideration when you think about Kosovo as a strategic place for the US. Let’s not forget Bosnia is very close. A country where the majority of the population is muslim and where many terrorists recently have been arrested in a pre-planning session of a terrorist attack. Having a stronghold in Kosovo means you can have surveillance over potential terrorists in Southeastern Europe. Al Qaida has actually already had bank accounts and it’s people in Albania for example, something that with American and Albanian co-operation was stopped. The bank fund were frozen and the men captured.

To make a long history short. There is probably more reasons than just the moral one for attacking Yugoslavia and Serbia. But facts remain, by attacking Serbian forces, the US saved the Kosovans from extinction.


Uncle Kvetch 08.18.06 at 6:15 pm

On the same topic, don’t bother responding to “Steve” either. Anything from him will be deleted.

That’s too bad; I was kind of hoping to see what kind of contribution “Steve” was going to make to this thread (beyond “You liberals are stupid and evil and you make me sick,” of course). He brings pretty much a picture-perfect replication of whatever’s being said in the more noxious corners of the far right, without having to actually read LGF or listen to Hannity or Limbaugh or Coulter. Given that the level of denial about Iraq in that corner of the universe has evolved from merely ridiculous to truly awe-inspiring, I can’t help but be intrigued.


T. Scrivener 08.18.06 at 8:45 pm

“Or, in short: every imaginable check failing.”

Why? Why did the check’s all fail at the same time?


Doug M. 08.18.06 at 11:23 pm

Abb1, the piece seems to be garbled and, in places, simply incorrect. Frex, no “Serb dissidents” participated at Rambouillet, and it is not true that “Serbia had expressed agreement with the main political proposals”

There are still questions about Rambouillet. But the idea that the poor Serbs had no choice but to accept a humiliating occupation of their whole country, or be bombed… no. It’s abundantly clear that the allies would have been satisfied with an occuption of Kosovo only; it’s just as clear that this was simply unacceptable to the Serbs. There was no point in the negotiations where the Serbs were even close to signing. (The Albanians came very close to not signing too, but that’s another story.)

Martin bento: of course Allbright was insisting on a NATO force. UN forces had been tried in Bosnia, and had accomplished exactly nothing. Srebrenica — the worst massacre in Europe since World War II — took place while UN peacekeepers stood idly by. The killing in Bosnia didn’t stop until large numbers of NATO troops were deployed.

Doug M.


Martin Bento 08.19.06 at 1:11 am

Doug, the US was also partly at fault for Srebenica. The Dutch forces were clearly not militarily adequate to defend Srebenica. Why not? Because the bulk of the West European military is NATO, and NATO as such refused to send ground forces into Bosnia. The US didn’t want to risk its own troops. So the job was left to the inadequate and underexperienced European forces, though theoretically with NATO air cover (which never arrived in Srebenica).

Now, the US is supposed to be part of the UN, has a permanent council seat, and a certain measure of clout. If a UN operation fails at least in part because the US refused to risk its own troops in support of it – though it strongly supports the underlying policy, with risk undertaken by others – I don’t think the US has any business later coming by and proclaiming that the UN are a bunch of screw-ups, and the US has the right and obligation to start any wars it wants without them. And that is what Albright was effectively demanding. And so the precedent for Iraq was established.

Even if you feel the US was justified in starting a war, rather than letting the UN try to achieve the goal of protection without it (remember the Serbs did not object to US troops, only to US utlimate control. NATO could have had just as strong a force, just not command), then you have to accept that you think Kosovo was also worth the decline in UN authority that it brought about. And while Bush may have ignored the UN and gone to Iraq anyway, it is unthinkable that Blair would have, which would have made it more difficult for Bush. And Israel, too, nows feels liberated by the event.

” It’s abundantly clear that the allies would have been satisfied with an occuption of Kosovo only”

So why didn’t they say that? You’re arguing based not on the facts, but on your own suppositions of what was in people’s heads. The way to evaluate this without claiming mystical mind-reading powers is to ask whether the document presented to Serbia was a reasonable one to expect them to accept. No, it was not. Therefore, it was reasonable for them to reject it. On the basis of said rejection, we declared war.


Martin Bento 08.19.06 at 1:47 am

Rereading the above post, I realize that I fell slightly into sarcasm. For this, I apologize. I think we are all better served by a polite and respectful discourse.


novakant 08.19.06 at 4:04 am

The UN mission in Bosnia failed not because of a lack of US troops or anything else, but solely because of a bad mandate. If a security council member is tacitly backing the aggressor, that’s all you’re going to get.


Martin Bento 08.19.06 at 4:09 am

I assume you mean Russia. But what did Russia do to affect the outcome?


abb1 08.19.06 at 4:41 am

OK, here’s another, shorter piece:

As a leaked 1992 Pentagon planning document asserted, “It is of fundamental importance to preserve NATO as the primary instrument of Western defense and security, as well as the channel for U.S. influence and participation in European security affairs.”
A senior NATO official recently told the New York Times: “Organizations seek out action. They need to do things. That’s why NATO needs the Balkans as such as the Balkans need NATO. The Balkans is one security issue that NATO can actually do something about. We talked about dealing with drugs, terrorism, proliferation and the mafia, but the truth is there is not much we can really do about them. The thing about the Balkans is that what NATO has to offer is exactly what they need.”

Why is it so difficult to imagine that politicians and generals are not in fact preoccupied with any humanitarian ideas, but serve interests of their own constituencies and organizations? Isn’t it the most natural assumption? The compassionate ones, those who care – they become nurses, not generals.


david 08.19.06 at 5:31 am

This is from an interview with Chomsky a few months back.

Last month marked the seventh anniversary of the beginning of the bombing of Yugoslavia. Why did NATO wage that war or I should say why did the United States wage that war?

Noam Chomsky: Actually, we have for the first time a very authoritative comment on that from the highest level of Clinton administration, which is something that one could have surmised before, but now it is asserted. This is from Strobe Talbott who was in charge of the… he ran the Pentagon/State Department intelligence Joint Committee on the diplomacy during the whole affair including the bombing, so that’s very top of Clinton administration; he just wrote the foreword to a book by his Director of Communications, John Norris, and in the foreword he says if you really want to understand what the thinking was of the top of Clinton administration this is the book you should read and take a look on John Norris’s book and what he says is that the real purpose of the war had nothing to do with concern for Kosovar Albanians. It was because Serbia was not carrying out the required social and economic reforms, meaning it was the last corner of Europe which had not subordinated itself to the US-run neoliberal programs, so therefore it had to be eliminated. That’s from the highest level.


dearieme 08.19.06 at 10:26 am

Your original question was “Given the catastrophe in Iraq .. should those of us who supported intervention in Kosovo revise our position?” Remarks from a supporter of the Kosovo intervention (“Jim, you’re right. The numbers dead were on-the-order-of a thousand or so.”) does rather back up my complaint that we were lied to, with piffle about 100,000 genocidal deaths before the bombing. But though I strongly suspect that our behaviour over Kosovo was unwise, I can’t see much of a link to Iraq: the attack on Iraq seems to me to have been SEPARATELY rash and foolish, and obviously so.


Doug M. 08.19.06 at 11:25 am

Remarks from a supporter of the Kosovo intervention (“Jim, you’re right. The numbers dead were on-the-order-of a thousand or so.”) does rather back up my complaint that we were lied to, with piffle about 100,000 genocidal deaths before the bombing.

It was piffle, sure enough.

But: the Serbs cheerfully killed several thousand more Kosovar civilians /after/ the bombs started falling. And the killing and ethnic cleansing was prepared long in advance.

Kosovo was a bunch of Srebrenicas waiting to happen. The fact that various governments lied their asses off doesn’t affect this.

Anyway, we’re in agreement on the essential point: the attack on Iraq was separately rash and foolish, and drew little inspiration from Kosovo. None of the key players (except Blair) was the same; in fact, the commander of NATO during Kosovo, Wes Clark, was an early and vocal critic of Iraq.

Abb1: I have no problem with a military organization that wants to do military things. That’s natural. The question is whether the civilian leadership controls it and/or points it in the right direction.

Was NATO motivated in part by finding a raison d’etre? Quite possibly. Did this affect the essential justice of the war? No. The surgeon who removes my tumor may be doing it to make a payment on his new Humvee rather than out of an abstract love of humanity. As long as my tumor is removed, I don’t care. NATO may have been looking for a war; the war they found was one that needed waging.

Martin Bento: the document presented to Serbia initially /was/ a reasonable one for them to sign. Remember, Rambouillet was a process. The controversial appendix wasn’t added until quite late.

As to whether NATO would accept a settlement that didn’t involve occupation of all Serbia, I hardly have to read minds. I said it was abundantly clear that the allies would have been satisfied with an occuption of Kosovo only. That’s exactly what they /did/ accept — after bombing hell out of Serbia and winning the war. How much clearer could it be?

I hate to pull rank, but I lived in Serbia for some years. And even the Serbs agree that Milosevic would not — could not — tamely accept a NATO occupation of Kosovo. So, Rambouillet was a non-starter from the beginning.

Martin, Abb1 and John Q. — I turn again to my first point: the Kosovar Albanians are deeply, unanimously, even embarrassingly grateful to us. Even Albanians who had their homes bombed flat are grateful to us. They had nine years of hell under Milosevic. (In retrospect, it’s quite startling how many thoughtful Europeans managed to ignore the existence of an explicitly racist apartheid regime inside Europe itself.)

I had doubts about the justice of the Kosovo war, too. Until I went to Kosovo.

Partly it was the endless drumbeat of horror stories from the dark days of the occupation. But maybe more than anything, it was the profound and universal gratitude. When people keep saying “Thank you. Thank you for saving us,” it’s just hard to keep mumbling, “oh, but we shouldn’t have.”

Doug M.


Martin Bento 08.19.06 at 1:21 pm

Doug, my thesis is not that NATO wanted to occupy Serbia. It is that NATO wanted a war and put that provision in to make sure they got it. The fact that having gotten their war, they didn’t feel the need to occupy proves, if anything, that their goals were not as stated. The people negotiating for NATO were not children; they had to know that they were demanding something no sovereign nation in the world would accept. Perhaps it would have failed anyway, but it was designed to fail, which shows NATO was not negotiating in good faith whether the Serbs were or not. And the fact that the appendix was slipped in late strengthens rather than weakens this point. If NATO had little chance of reaching a settlement, and actually wanted one, why were they slipping in additional and unreasonable demands that they didn’t actually care about?

I don’t see how being under UN or OCSE auspices would have killed us; neither of those organizations are going to seek operational command. On the other hand, if your goal is a long-term military base in Kosovo and some economic advantages, well, you better make sure you’re in charge. There is also the fact that genuine peace-keeping requires lots of boots on the ground, and the US wanted to stay safely in the air for the most part. What you can do from the air is bomb people and destroy infrastructure, so the US’s own political preferences meant it had to seek war rather than a genuine peace-keeping position.

It is rather like Iraq in that accepting the Iraq war means accepting this war as it was actually done. It is easy to support the idea of replacing Saddam with a democracy. But Kosovo was a war we were manipulated into by lies (100,000 dead Kosovars) and in which we deliberately sidelined the UN. Both of these are strong precedents for Iraq. And I think these are principles we have to stand on: if the United States is going into war, it has to be within international law and (more importantly) not based on misrepresentation and covert maniputlation. These are longstanding problems in American politics (the Contras were not legal either), but the time has come to refuse them, which has to include refusing when they have been used in the past.

And that’s what this thread’s about. Kosovo did severe damage to the international system that kept the world relatively stable since WW2, and that was America’s choice. Perhaps Clinton felt that the rightness of the cause justified this, but it has to be evaluated in terms of the consequences. Clinton himself said that a difference between him and Bush is that he acted multilaterally when he could and unilaterally when he had to, whereas Bush did the reverse. But Bush claims he “had to” act unilaterally in Iraq, and to achieve his particular goals, this is true. And Clinton’s “having to” act unilaterally in Kosovo is also only true accepting his goals as given, since there was no question of an existential threat to the US. So this distinction is not all it appears. What remains true, however, is that Clinton legitimated acting unilaterally.

The biggest difference between Kosovo and Iraq is that Kosovo worked or so it seems so far. If Iraq had gone swimmingly, Americans would not care about the WMD lies. They should, but they wouldn’t. As I say, Bush is not as different from the norm as portrayed; Americans are misled into war by their government all the time. But Iraq is a mess. Unfortunately, we have to decide on wars before they occur, and we have to define the international rules before the fact, even though the success of actions can only be judged after. So we cannot use a “judgement of history” standard (something that has also been much abused), we have to develop principles and laws. We had some pretty good ones, and Kosovo trashed them.

I’m glad the Kosovars have better lives now. They are grateful to us; well, we were on their side. They are also willing to uncritically take in prisoners from Gitmo, so we have created a bit of a pro-American monster. Nonetheless, I have trouble saying that this local conflict was worth the damage to the international system, and the latter was not simply a matter bringing Russia aboard since America clearly did not want the UN in charge.

I lived in Eastern Europe at the beginning of the 90’s. I’ve been to Serbia and Kosovo. There were lots of people at that time thanking me for Reagan. It did cause me to rethink my politics; in hindsight, a bit too much, as the pro-American sentiments there were not grounded in a broad perspective, but when you live there you get swept up. Because they saw clearly and experienced the evil of the Soviet Union, they tended to exaggerate the good of the United States, just as the Latin American left tended to do the reverse. It is good to take their feelings into account, but not to treat them as definitive.


abb1 08.19.06 at 1:34 pm

…it’s just hard to keep mumbling, “oh, but we shouldn’t have.”

Well, it’s not a question of “oh, but we shouldn’t have”, but a question of “oh, but was it done by the right means?”

You know this story about a guy who goes to a doctor and complains about headaches, insomnia, depression and irritability? The doctor examines him and says: your penis need to be amputated. The guy can’t take it any more, agrees to the surgery, and sure enough all problems disappear. The guy is very grateful (but sad).

Later he goes to a tailor to get a new suit and the tailor tells him that to fit the new pants he needs to know if the dick normally hangs on the right side or on the left. And the guy, of course, says: “oh, doesn’t matter, don’t worry about it.” And then the tailor says: “oh, no, this is extremely important; if the pant are fit for the dick on the wrong side, you may get headaches, insomnia, depression and irritability like you wouldn’t believe…”


James Wimberley 08.20.06 at 11:10 am

Nobody has made the obvious link between the case for the bombing of Belgrade and the political nature of the Milosevic régime: not a full-blown police state like Saddam’s Iraq but a corrupt quasi-Bonapartist plebiscitary autocracy, maintaining itself in power by continuous manipulation of the deep-seated Serb sense of victimisation through controlled TV. A régime of this type was peculiarly vulnerable to a spectacular limited bombing campaign, unlike say Ho Chi Minh’s North Vietnam. It’s very much a special case. You might be able to get your way with the Burmese generals or Robert Mugabe the same way, but not the Iranian ayatollahs. The ethics of strategic bombing do depend on the likely effects, as well as on the justice of the cause – open and shut in Kosovo IMHO.


Martin Bento 08.20.06 at 11:32 am

James, Saddam’s regime was also subject to overthrow; we had not much problem destroying it. The problem is that, unlike Serbia, we had to run the place afterwards, and chose to do one of our grand free-market experiments.

However, none of these practical matters have a place in international law, which has to be based on very general principles, not the specifics of each situation.

This discussion has made me look hard at Kosovo again. I stand by the position that the US rather dishonestly forced a war at Rambouillet. But I can see the political logic. Genuine peace-keeping would have meant a huge and indefinite commitment of US troops. Clinton was not strong enough politically to do this, nor would it serve US interests nearly as well as a good war. So he chose to kick Serbia’s ass once and for all. It’s hard to say the US should have ignored Kosovo.

On the other hand, Clinton and Clark lied copiously to garner support for that war. I don’t think those who condemn Bush’s WMD fibs can defend this. If the government is going to ask or potentially require me or my loved ones to risk our lives in war, I demand that it be up front about the reasons and the facts of the situation.

NATO also chose to keep out the UN and the OCSE. In part, this may have also been for the purpose of avoiding peace-keeping, but it looks more like it had to do with NATO’s geostrategic objectives. The UN is not going to sanction a permament American base in Kosovo; Russia would veto, but they would be right. Extending the reach of NATO is not and should not be part of the UN mission.

I think, though, that this situation brings out a general problem with the whole idea of peace-keeping troops. Keeping a peace requires a lot of troops, and they must come from countries with substantially no dog in the fight. But such countries will seldom have sufficient motivation for an open-ended commitment of such troops. It may be that UN peace-keeping is something that will only work in rare circumstances. The Srebenica situation – a UN team whose mandate exceeds the capacity its backers are willing to provide – would seem to be much more common.


Dan Simon 08.20.06 at 4:26 pm

Deleted. I’ve previously advised Dan Simon that his comments add nothing of value, and will be deleted. His latest gives me no reason to change my view. As with other trolls, could I ask readers not to bother responding JQ


Martin Bento 08.20.06 at 4:48 pm

Dan, unlike John I did oppose Kosovo at the time, and in part because of the precedent it established. Law is based on precedent, so I think examination of events in relation to international law have to try to be cognizant of them. Part of the problem is that the way this has worked out is a “slippery slope”. It would have been hard to make that argument in advance because “slippery slope” in on the standard list of logical fallacies, though slippery slopes are indeed how things work often out in life. Slippery slope arguments are not rigorously logical, but are often (not always) realistic.


Walt 08.20.06 at 4:49 pm

Dan, why read so uncharitably? Most people would reassess their beliefs once they fully know the consequences. You don’t? You always forsee the consequences correctly?


Brownie 08.20.06 at 6:18 pm

Can someone provide a source for this “100,000 dead Kosovars lie”? I don’t remember being told that 100,000 Kosovars had been killed and this being used as justification for intervention. Who propagated this lie and when?


abb1 08.20.06 at 6:55 pm

Wiki has a paragraph for Criticism of the Case for War. The 100,000 quote is here:

“We’ve now seen about 100,000 military-aged men missing. . . . They may have been murdered,” Cohen said on the CBS news program “Face the Nation.”

But this is mid-May, in the middle of the war.

There’s also this: “500,000 Kosovar Albanians were missing and feared dead” – NYT quoting the State Department – and this is before the bombings started – but apparently the NYT retracted it later.


John Quiggin 08.20.06 at 7:37 pm

Martin, this is one of many problems in trying to apply formal logic outside its domain of validity. In many cases, ambiguity (inherent or deliberately created) is such that only a bright-line rule will serve. Experience has shown that UN authorisation is such a case – either you need it or you don’t.


Dan Simon 08.20.06 at 8:29 pm

Sorry, John–I mistakenly thought your ban was topic-specific. Won’t darken your door again….


james 08.21.06 at 12:21 am

UN peacekeeping has been a spectacular failure for any shooting war. The UN & EU reactionary force failed spectacularly in this particular war. Why would anyone call for putting the UN in charge of intervention?

The US no longer places troops under UN command. There are many reasons for this. The most recent reason is the ICC treaty. Since Europe demanded US involvement, this required NATO command. Marin’s conspiracy theory is incorrect.


ajay 08.21.06 at 5:04 am

Chomsky: “[Serbia] was the last corner of Europe which had not subordinated itself to the US-run neoliberal programs, so therefore it had to be eliminated.”

Which also explains, of course, the infamous Nato invasion and occupation of Belarus in 2002.

Oh, sorry. I was momentarily talking rubbish.


Doug M. 08.21.06 at 7:59 am

only a bright-line rule will serve. Experience has shown that UN authorisation is such a case – either you need it or you don’t.

John, what about the case “need it, but can’t possibly get it”?

Because there was no way Yeltsin’s Russia would ever approve of action against Serbia’s interests. Heck, Kosovo has been de facto independent for seven years now, and Russia is still balking. (Though Putin, much more pragmatic than his predecessor, has hinted he might go along… /if/ Kosovar independence is linked to approval of the Russian adventures in Abkhazia and elsewhere.)

A difference between Kosovo and Iraq: in 2002/3, a resolution for war could not get a majority on the Security Council. Hard as the US tried, no more than five or six of the fifteen members would vote for it.

In 1999, a clear majority of members were ready to at least implicitly approve force in Kosovo; only China, Greece and Russia objected. But Russia’s objections were non-negotiable, and Russia had a veto.

Second point: the Clinton administration did try in good faith to bring the UN into the process as much as possible, given the Russian veto power. Which is why Kosovo is a de facto UN Trust Territory today.

Not that bringing the UN into administration was necessarily such a great idea. But still.

Doug M.


Martin Bento 08.21.06 at 10:08 am

Doug, as the quotes from Albright I gave above indicated, the US clearly insisted that NATO not the UN had to be in charge. You earlier defended this position. Fine, you cannot both defend it and pretend NATO didn’t take it. And NATO also refused OSCE auspices, where Russia had no veto.

Clinton needed a huge ground force to do peace keeping and politically could not do that. His only way to intervene was with war.

On the question of neo-liberalism, this also seems to have been a factor. Another of NATO’s demands at Rambouillet was “privatization of all state industries”. The West had spent the 90’s strongly pushing radical economic reforms on the former Communist world to mixed results. If this was a humanitarian war, why was privatization an issue?

ajay, are you seriously trying to argue that NATO’S intervention in Kosovo could not have been motivated at least in part by its economic agenda because it did not make a similar move in Belarus? By the logic, it could not have been humanitarian either, since NATO failed to intervene in Rwanda.

And although Kosovo has a lot of UN involvement today, it is also the largest military base in Europe. To suppose that NATO is indifferent to this fact is absurd.


Martin Bento 08.21.06 at 10:19 am

Another thing, are we really going to adapt the standard that the UNSC can be disregarded if only one veto-holder strongly objects (though China also supported Serbia)? Where would Israel be if the world could say, well, we all think they should be forced from the occupied territories; the only problem is America. I think the security council needs to be restructured, and more power needs to pass to the General Assembly. But for now, the UNCS is what we have.


Doug M. 08.22.06 at 2:51 am


You’re talking about something else entirely. The Clinton administration wanted a UNSC resolution that would allow NATO to intervene. They were willing to accept some UNSC oversight in return for the legitimization that a resolution would provide.

OSCE: ah, I was wondering if you’d bite on that.

OSCE, in this context, was even more useless thatn the UN. They had — still have –very limited military capability. OSCE does observing missions, not peacekeeping. They don’t deploy large forces, and the forces they do deploy don’t shoot. Meaningless in terms of the end goal, which was providing security to the Albanians.

(N.B., OSCE does do good work in monitoring elections.)

On the one-veto-holder issue, I don’t have an answer; I’m just pointing out the problem. If you say “we absolutely must have a UNSC resolution”, you’re exposing yourself to a veto by a single interested power.

Kosovo has a lot of UN involvement today: no, Martin, the UN formally, officially, runs the place. They’ve gradually devolved administration to the Kosovars, but full sovereign power rests with the UN; every law passed by the local legislature can be vetoed or amended by the UN rep.

Doug M.

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