Why NATO has failed
by Eqbal Ahmad
BILL CLINTON and other NATO leaders may well declare one day,
as they did in 1995 after the Dayton accord, yet another 'achievement'
in the Balkans. The media will surely join the chorus of praise.
In fact, NATO's air raids in Kosovo and their sequel underline
the abject failure of American and European policy. The event
exposes their pretensions to power as being devoid of the will
to power, and their claims to a moral motivation as being hollow.
Success entails the attainment of defined objectives. NATO's
objectives in starting the raids were two-fold: One was to induce
the Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic to sign on to the Rambouillet
Plan that would restore Kosovo's autonomy which was abolished
by Milosevic in 1989. The other objective was to save the civilians
of Kosovo from imminent 'ethnic cleansing', a recent euphemism
for genocide. Whatever it 'achieves' in the future, NATO has failed
to achieve its stated objectives.
Within a week of the air strikes Milosevic had rendered Rambouillet
a dead letter, and escalated his campaign of slaughter and expulsion.
As of April 1, nearly 25% of Kosovo's people had been dispossessed,
many of them were trekking into resource-poor Albania and Macedonia.
Entire villages and towns were destroyed or emptied of their inhabitants.
About 60,000 hapless civilians crossed into Albania on a single
day, March 29; their numbers have kept increasing since. At the
time of this writing Pristina, the capital city, was being "cleansed".
Given that the super-power and its cherished alliance were at
last locked in the tragedy, newspapers and television screens
were filled all last week with horrid images of the carnage.
Euro-American leaders acknowledge rather coyly that the plan
promoted from Rambouillet is past its prime. As for the assault
on the Kosovars, the NATO spokesman Jamie Shea says that "Even
we have been shocked by the sheer enormity of what is going on
in Kosovo...", his words betraying the extent to which NATO's
leaders had miscalculated Belgrade's will to defy them. The Clinton
White House spoke of "genocide" and "abhorrent,
criminal action on a massive scale." By a week's end NATO
had extended its bombing target beyond Kosovo to Serbia. "Political
will is building" General Wesley K. Clark, NATO's top commander
told reporters wistfully. But is it? "On the seventh day,
Serb resilience [sic] gives NATO leaders pause", reported
the New York Times, "they are struggling to figure out what
to do next if the bombing does not work."
The failure was predictable, and reveals once again the vulnerability
of the contemporary international system to manipulation, aggression
and genocide. Here we draw five conclusions from the tragedy of
The "humanitarian intervention" often signals diplomatic
negligence and a feeble structure of keeping the peace. Kosovo
offers a text book case. Slobodan Milosevic, by any definition
a fascist demagogue, began his climb to power by starting his
ethnic hate campaign in Kosovo. He suspended Kosovo's autonomous
status in 1989, sowing the seeds of the current carnage.
For a decade, diplomats, experts and observers had been pointing
at this international powder keg and urging a vigorous effort
at preventing the catastrophe that waited to happen. But the United
States and Europe, which alone control the reins of world power
and the working mechanisms of the United Nations, were too busy
promoting globalization, encircling Russia, controlling world
resources, and expanding the outreach of NATO to attend meaningfully
to the crisis in Kosovo. They came to it a bit too late to avert
Bombs cannot compensate for the absence of seriousness and
resolve. Since the cold war's end, the "sole super-power"
has tended to monopolize the role of the world's Field Marshal.
Fair enough, it is in the nature of power to seek dominance and
a leadership role. But these entail costs which the U.S. and the
Alliance it leads are unwilling to incur. During the three months
that they contemplated launching the air strikes most analysts
had pointed out that historically air raids have not significantly
changed enemy behaviour or capabilities unless the air force was
aiding ground forces. If NATO was not ready to send ground forces
to Kosovo, where 90% of the people could be presumed to be friendly,
then Serbia may not give in and will certainly escalate its inhumane
Among others Mary Kaldor, an influential British expert, had
warned that unless troops were placed in Kosovo, bombings will
"lead to ethnic cleansing on a large scale." Instead,
on March 23 the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe
(OSCE) withdrew from Kosovo leaving its people, as Kaldor wrote
in the Guardian, "without even the fig-leaf of international
protection." NATO wants to play policeman without risking
injury which, to paraphrase Lenin, is like wanting to make omelettes
without breaking eggs.
When a required decision is evaded, the problem compounds.
The one period in modern memory when air strikes might have been
effective in discouraging cruel aggression - and prevented also
Mr. Milosevic's current outrage - started in April 1992 and lasted
for three and half murderous years. Kamal Kurspahic, then editor
of the daily Oslobodenje recalled last week how the Serb artillery
on the hills surrounding the city destroyed Sarajevo bit by systematic
bit, killing 10,600 inhabitants including 1800 children. The Serb
artillery emplacements were visible targets, easy to silence from
the air. Yet the big powers looked on year after year. George
Bush, then president of USA and the Commander-in-Chief who gave
us Desert Storm, would pretend not to understand. Every other
day or so he would ask Brent Scowcroft, his National Security
Advisor - "Tell me again what this is all about."
Appeasement nourishes evil ambition. Bill Clinton came to
the White House promising to "lift & strike", i.e.
he would lift the arms embargo on Bosnia and launch air strikes
on Serbia's artillery emplacements. He dithered, as months after
tragic months added up to years. It was twelve hundred and sixty
days, a quarter million lives and unaccounted sufferings later
- after a UN safe haven was run over, the blue helmets were chained
to their armour, and thousands of people were massacred in Srebrenica
- that NATO intervened, and the US claimed great kudos for forging
the Dayton Accord.
It legitimized ethnic cleansing by dividing Bosnia along unstable
ethnic boundaries. This dubious 'achievement' required an excessive
appeasement of Slobodan Milosevic who deserved then as he does
now to be tried as a war criminal. He remained an indulged criminal,
and like Nemesis, has returned to haunt his benefactors.
Evidence of "good faith" is essential to the credible
exercise of intervention. In a New York Times article Josef Joffe,
a German international relations expert who enjoys much popularity
in the American foreign policy establishment, asserts point blank
that this is "a war of conscience, not of interest. The attack
on Yugoslavia is aimed at saving lives, and for purely moral reasons."
Why it took the West's much vaunted conscience so long to arise,
he does not explain. After all, Milosevic suspended Kosovo's autonomy,
which NATO is now attempting to restore, in 1989, before starting
his war with Croatia, and committing systematic aggression and
crimes against humanity in Bosnia. Joffe's is just the kind of
unsubstantiated assertion that dailies like the New York Times
favour, and such unpublishable intellectuals as Noam Chomsky demolish
in obscure publications like the Z-Magazine.
In his latest article Chomsky discusses NATO's intervention
in Kosovo with the unsparing logic and empiricism that is his
hallmark. He notes a tension between "two pillars of world
order": the United Nations Charter prohibits the forceful
violation of state sovereignty while the Universal Declaration
of Human Rights guarantees the individuals' rights against state
oppression. The notion of 'humanitarian intervention' arises out
of this tension. Legal scholars differ as regards when such intervention
is permissible or necessary. A common and reasonable conclusion
is that its determination rests on the "good faith"
of those who intervene. "Good faith" is determined not
on one's rhetoric but on one's record of adherence to international
law. Thereupon follows Chomsky's devastating and totally accurate
listing of the United States' violations of international law
and the UN Charter. The evidence of 'good faith', he demonstrates
conclusively, is entirely absent in this case.
As Noam Chomsky recognizes, his indictment "leaves un-answered"
the question of "what to do in Kosovo?" Outside of the
UN framework, the legality of NATO's intervention is dubious.
The air strikes have provided an excuse for the Serb nationalists
to augment the enormous suffering of the Kosovars. Yet, it promises
the victim people at least "some protection from a predatory
state." So how does one react to the event? The dilemma cannot
be resolved by mere affirmations and negations, for and against
the intervention. What we are witnessing is another tragedy of
a world out of balance and without order, a world system so rigged
in favour of the rich and powerful that even such international
laws as the Convention on Genocide cannot be enforced unless the
enforcement serves the interests of a decisive power or group
of powers. It will take a world wide, militant and visionary anti-imperialist
movement to change this inhumane state of affairs.