at press conference in
Belgrade in Nov. 1994,
when he was setting up
an observation force in
Serbia and Montenego
along the border
Preventive War and the
Weathervane of Foreign Policy
In connection with the most recent war against Iraq, there has been much controversy surrounding the policy of preventive war by which the U.S. government of George W. Bush claims the unilateral right to attack other nations which are said to pose a threat to national security. The U.S. has also claimed the right to bypass the United Nations in the name of human rights, as in the case of the war against Serbia in 1999 which was led by the government of William J. Clinton. That war was approved by the Swedish government of Göran Persson which, however, has criticized (albeit in very cautious terms) the war against Iraq.
* * *
It is difficult for
an observer force
to maintain peace
in such an area
[as Kosovo] when
its leaders are
a military force.
|IN THE SHADOW of the most recent war against Iraq, it is appropriate to consider the question of how international law is interpreted when political winds change direction. The positions taken by our own government on NATOs bombing of Serbia and the U.S. war against Iraq have been completely different. The war against Serbia in 1999 was regarded by the Swedish government as acceptable, despite the fact that it was not authorized by a U.N. resolution. The onslaught against Iraq, on the other hand, was opposed by our government on the grounds that it was launched without a U.N. mandate.
In order to assess the validity of NATOs reasons for starting the war against Serbia, it is necessary to consider the events which preceded it. To begin with, it can be clearly stated that the offences committed by Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic were no greater than those of Saddam Hussein. In fact, despite Milosevic's war crimes and other serious offences, his burden of guilt is comparatively slight.
The prelude to the war probably took place in 1995, when Serb forces killed several thousand Muslims in the Bosnian city of Srebenica. It is possible that the United States had already then decided that Milosevic must be got rid of. The European Unions patience with the Serbs had also been exhausted. But, first, it was necessary to make use of Milosevic so that the Dayton Agreement on peace in Bosnia could be formalized. After that, he would be fair game.
convinced that, in
the autumn of 1998,
the U.S. was already
supporting the KLA.
The manner in
which the negotia-
tions were set up
made it almost
The hunt began in the autumn of 1998, when the United States forced him to accept the presence of an observer force from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in the province of Kosovo. It was led by William Walker, a U.S. ambassador who appears to have a past in the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The mission command also included representatives of France, Norway, Russia, Great Britain and Germany.
Thus, outwardly it was a typical peace mission. But it included a large intelligence unit with some 50-70 individuals attached to the OSCE headquarters. It is only possible to speculate on the nature of their activities in the field. But I am personally convinced that, in the autumn of 1998, the United States was already co-operating with and supporting the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), which was regarded as a potential future ally in the area. Obviously, it is difficult for an observer force to maintain peace in such an area when its leaders are actively supporting a military force.
In the next stage, the Serbs were compelled in February of 1999 to participate in negotiations at Rambouillet, near Paris. There, to general astonishment, the Kosovo Albanians refused to accept the proposed agreement on the future of Kosovo. Two weeks later, fresh negotiations took place. This time, the Kosovo Albanians signed immediately, having clearly learned their lesson. Both rounds of negotiations were led by the U.S. Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright. The Serbs were confronted with the choice of either accepting the text of the agreement unconditionally, or of being dragged into a war against NATO. The manner in which the negotiations were set up made it almost impossible to avoid the latter alternative.
The Clinton administrations determined effort to force a decision in the case of Kosovo is similar to the Bush administrations conduct in the case of Iraq. Milosevics almost arrogant refusal to approve the agreement suggests that he had so long surrounded himself with yes-men that he had lost contact with reality. Perhaps he trusted the Russians to prevent an assault on Serbia with a veto in the U.N. Security Council.
the bombing was
a consequence of
ethnic cleansing is
the media should
have seen through
|First the bombing, then the refugees
When the negotiations at Rambouillet collapsed, the OSCE observer force was compelled to leave Kosovo. Its departure can be seen as both a tightening of the screws on the Serbs, and as a signal that the U.S. and NATO were clearing the way for battle. The OSCE observers began their withdrawal on 20 March 1999, and all of them were out of Kosovo by March 21st. NATO commenced its bombing war on March 24th, without a mandate from the Security Council. The first, relatively few, refugees entered Macedonia on 26 March, and were followed by large waves on April 1st and 2nd.
The motive that is usually cited to justify the war against Serbia is that it was intended to prevent a humanitarian disaster, i.e. the ethnic cleansing of Kosovo Albanians. It is stated as beyond any doubt that the mass expulsion which did take place, but which began one whole week after the first bombs were dropped, was the factor that justified the attack and made it politically possible to continue bombing for 79 consecutive days.
But the claim that the bombing was a consequence of ethnic cleansing is propaganda which the media should have seen through and refuted. The war began on March 24th-- after the Serbs refused to sign the Rambouillet agreement-- quite independently of the situation on the ground in Kosovo. Then, Milosevics own wickedness, political blindness and inconceivable stupidity helped to confuse the situation and provide NATO with an ex post facto justification for the war.
into a decision
was not based on
but rather on the
position taken by the
|No genocide or ethnic cleansing
But let us be completely clear on one point: Even granting the massacre at Racak*, it cannot be stated that any ethnic cleansing or genocide was taking place in Kosovo before the war started. Such activities would hardly have gone unnoticed, given that there were 1200 OSCE observers on the scene at the time.
The Clinton administration had persevered, and manoeuvred itself into a decision for war, while maintaining nearly full agreement within NATO and the European Union. It was generally believed that a Security Council resolution to approve military action would be vetoed by Russia and, at this stage, the Western powers were not willing to allow Russia any influence over future developments in the Balkans.
In the course of the bombing, however, a split developed within NATO when France objected to the selection of certain bombing targets. That problem was circumvented by the United States with a solution based on two separate air wars -- one in which air-traffic control was conducted under NATOs command, and another conducted independently by the United States.
From the foregoing, two important conclusions can be drawn. One is that the Clinton administration was as determined as the Bush administration to force events toward the desired outcome, i.e. capitulation or war.
The other is that Swedens position was not based on international law, but rather on the position taken by the major EU powers. The level of agreement within the EU regarding the attack on Serbia in 1999 was as great as the level of disagreement on the U.S. assault against Iraq in 2003.
Kosovo in March 1999
did not justify starting
a war against Serbia--
not even with a U.N.
resolution, and much
less without one.
It would also appear that Swedish media have raised surprisingly few questions about all this. Their great willingness to accept and pass on U.S. (and, later, Swedish) government claims that the war against the Serbs was a response to the ethnic cleansing of Kosovo Albanians ought to be rather embarrassing for a number of Swedish editors.
The sequence of events, from the start of bombing to the expulsion of Kosovo Albanians, should have been very clear and unmistakable. Swedish criticism of the Bush and Clinton administrations has portrayed the latter in a more favourable light. But it seems appropriate to conclude that Superpower U.S.A. acts to satisfy its own interests, regardless of whether Democrats or Republicans occupy the White House. The tendency to manipulate reality with propaganda and influence the stances of other countries by applying pressure is something that the Clinton and Bush administrations appear to share in common.
In this context, it is worth a reminder that Wesley Clark, chief commander of the war against Serbia and until recently a Democratic presidential candidate, repeatedly conveyed flagrantly misleading information about the conduct of the war during his NATO press conferences in Brussels.
Slobodan Milosevic will probably be declared guilty of several war crimes. Apart from that, he has also been a sort of Mafia leader who has committed serious crimes against his own people. But the situation in Kosovo in March 1999 did not justify starting a war against Serbia-- not even with the support of a U.N. resolution, and much less without one.
Sweden, there is every
reason to hold fast to a
strict interpretation of
The Word from
the White House
For a small nation like Sweden, there is every reason to hold fast to a strict interpretation of international law. The position of former prime minister Ingvar Carlsson, that war against Serbia required a U.N. mandate, was therefore well-founded.
It may be argued that the bombing created a heavy psychological pressure on the people of Serbia, who themselves had not previously suffered directly from the Balkan wars, and therefore hastened the Serbian regime change. But there is equal, and perhaps greater, reason to argue that Milosevic would have been deposed even earlier if war had not come and strengthened his position for a lengthy period.
Although hypothetical historical arguments are of little significance, it is nevertheless tempting to contemplate what might have happened if Milosevic had been deposed without war, thus making it possible to replace the OSCE observer force in Kosovo with a military force led by NATO or the United Nations.
To the extent that the current situation in Kosovo and the rest of Serbia has been influenced by NATOs war, the results of that war are dismaying. In the most recent Serbian election, one of three voted for an ultra-nationalist party. Kosovos gradual transformation into the Colombia of Europe, despite all the efforts being made to prevent such a development, appears to be irreversible.
Note: The original version of this article was published on 8 February 2004 in the Swedish daily newspaper, Dagens Nyheter.