t r u t h o u t | 04.08
The War on
Monday 06 April 2009
by: Stephen Zunes | Visit article original @ Foreign Policy in Focus
It has been 10 years since the U.S.-led war on
Unless there's a willingness to critically re-examine the war, the threat of another war in the name of liberal internationalism looms large.
Crisis Could Have Been Prevented
Throughout most of the 1990s, the oppressed ethnic Albanian majority in Kosovo waged their struggle almost exclusively nonviolently, using strikes, boycotts, peaceful demonstrations, and alternative institutions. The Kosovar Albanians even set up a democratically elected parallel government to provide schooling and social services, and to press their cause to the outside world. Indeed, it was one of the most widespread, comprehensive, and sustained nonviolent campaigns since Gandhi's struggle for Indian independence. This was the time for Western powers to have engaged in preventative diplomacy. However, the world chose to ignore the Kosovars' nonviolent movement and resisted consistent pleas by the moderate Kosovar Albanian leadership to take action. It was only after a shadowy armed group known as the Kosovo Liberation Army emerged in 1998 that the international media, the
By waiting for the emergence of guerrilla warfare before seeking a solution, the West gave
It's a tragedy that the West squandered a full eight years when preventative diplomacy could have worked. The
When Western powers finally began to take decisive action on the long-simmering crisis in the fall of 1998, a ceasefire was arranged where the OSCE sent in unarmed monitors. While the ceasefire didn't hold, violence did decrease dramatically in areas where they were stationed. Indeed, the OSCE monitors could have done a lot more, but they were given little support. They were largely untrained, they were too few in number and NATO refused to supply them with helicopters, night-vision binoculars or other basic equipment that could have made them more effective.
Ceasefire violations by the Yugoslav army, Serbian militias, and KLA guerrillas increased in the early months of 1999, including a number of atrocities against ethnic Albanians by Serbian units, with apparent acquiescence of government forces. Western diplomatic efforts accelerated, producing the proposal put forward at the Chateau Rambouillet in France, which called for the withdrawal of Serbian forces and the restoration of Kosovo's autonomous status within a greater
Smarter and earlier diplomacy could have prevented the war.
The Bombing Campaign
Many liberals who had opposed
The bombing campaign, which began March 24, 1999, clearly made things worse for the Kosovar Albanians. Not only were scores of ethnic Albanians accidentally killed by NATO bombing raids, but the Serbs - unable to respond to NATO air attacks - turned their wrath against the most vulnerable segments of the population: the very Kosovar Albanians NATO claimed it would be defending. While the Serbs may have indeed been planning some sort of large-scale forced removal of the population in areas of KLA infiltration, both the scale and savagery of the Serbian repression that resulted was undoubtedly a direct consequence of NATO actions. Subsequent
By forcing the evacuation of the OSCE monitors, which - despite their limitations - were playing something of a deterrent role against the worst Serbian atrocities, NATO gave the Serbs the opportunity to increase their repression. By bombing
As the bombing continued, the numbers of Serbian troops in Kosovo increased and the repression of Kosovar Albanians dramatically escalated. Those doing the killing in Kosovo were primarily small paramilitary groups, death squads, and police units that couldn't have effectively been challenged by high-altitude bombing, and weren't affected by the destruction of bridges or factories hundreds of miles to the north. If protecting the lives of Kosovar Albanians was really the motivation for the U.S.-led war, President Bill Clinton would have sent in Marine and Special Forces units to battle the Serbian militias directly instead of relying exclusively on air power.
The war against
The war was also illegal under
The 11-week bombing campaign resulted in the widespread destruction of Yugoslavia's civilian infrastructure, the killing of many hundreds of civilians, and - as a result of bombing chemical factories, the use of depleted uranium ammunition and more - caused serious environmental damage. Far more Yugoslav civilians died from NATO bombing than did Kosovar Albanian civilians from Serb forces prior to the onset of the bombing. A number of human rights groups that condemned Serbian actions in Kosovo also criticized NATO attacks that, in addition to the more immediate civilian casualties, endangered the health and safety of millions of people by disrupting water supplies, sewage treatment, and medical services.
There are serious questions regarding what actually prompted the
As today, there was civil strife in a number of African countries during this period, resulting in far more deaths and refugees than
But a more salient question is why the
While Clinton tried to justify the war by declaring that repression and ethnic cleansing must not be allowed to happen "on NATO's doorstep," he was not only quite willing to allow for comparable repression to take place within NATO itself, but actively supported it: During the 1990s, Turkey's denial of the Kurds' linguistic and cultural rights, rejection of their demands of autonomy, destruction of thousands of villages, killing of thousands of civilians and forced removal of hundreds of thousands bore striking resemblance to Serbia's repression in Kosovo. Yet the
Such questions necessarily raise uncharitable speculation about what might have actually motivated the
For example, the war created a raison d'être for the continued existence of NATO in a post-Cold War world, as it desperately tried to justify its continued existence and desire for expansion (This resulted in a kind of circular logic however: NATO was still needed to fight in wars like Yugoslavia, yet the war needed to be continued in order to preserve NATO's credibility.).
The war also benefitted influential weapons manufacturers, leading to an increase in
Whatever its actual motivations, why would the
Even after the bombing began and Finnish and Russian mediators began working on a ceasefire agreement, greater
This effectively would have forced the nationalistic Serbs into accepting demands that a part of their country effectively be placed under occupation by the same military alliance that attacked them. As a result, despite suffering ongoing death and destruction, the Serbs continued fighting. The Clinton administration, meanwhile, seemed more intent on dominating the postwar order politically and militarily than agreeing to a ceasefire which could have prevented further bloodshed and allowed refugees to return sooner.
Eventually, a compromise was reached whereby the peacekeeping troops sent into Kosovo following a Serb withdrawal would primarily consist of NATO forces, but under UN command.
Perhaps the greatest myth of the war was that the Serbs surrendered and NATO won. In reality, not only was there a compromise on the makeup of postwar peacekeeping forces, but the final peace agreement also omitted the most objectionable sections of the Rambouillet proposal and more closely resembled the counter-proposal put forward by the Serbian parliament prior to the bombing. In other words, rather than being a NATO victory as it has been repeatedly portrayed by Washington and much of the American media, it was at best a draw.
Ramifications of the War
The war had serious consequences besides death and destruction in
At the NATO summit in April 1999, the member states approved a structure for "non-Article 5 crisis response," essentially a euphemism for war (Article 5 of the NATO charter provides for collective self-defense; non-Article 5 refers to an offensive military action like
Furthermore, the U.S.-led NATO war on
The occupation by NATO troops of Serbia's autonomous Kosovo region, and the subsequent recognition of Kosovar independence by the United States and a number of Western European powers, helped provide Russia with an excuse to maintain its large military presence in Georgia's autonomous South Ossetia and Abkhazia regions, and to recognize their unilateral declarations of independence. This, in turn, led to last summer's war between
Indeed, much of the tense relations between the
The war also had political repercussions here in the
The presence of large-scale human rights abuses, as was occurring in Kosovo under Serb rule, shouldn't force concerned citizens in the
Stephen Zunes, a Foreign Policy in Focus senior analyst, is a professor of politics at the
Editor: Emily Schwartz Greco.
Click to SUBSCRIBE -> http://www.truthout.org/content/subscribe