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 Kosovars:

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 the worse.

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 ethnic agenda.

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.

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