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NATO Bombing of Yugoslavia

and the Lessons of the 20th Century

by Sanderson Beck

The air war of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) of 19 nations led by the United States on Serbians in Yugoslavia has been carried out under the rationale that it will prevent a humanitarian disaster similar to Nazi atrocities in the second world war. This article attempts to answer the following questions: Is this justified? What are the likely results? What are the pertinent lessons of World War II? What other lessons can we learn from the disastrous wars of the 20th century? What else can we learn from the experiences of this century? What are better ways of responding to Serbian crimes against the ethnic Albanians of Kosovo?

Is this justified?

The NATO air campaign in Yugoslavia is clearly a violation of international law. Since Kosovo is a province of the nation Yugoslavia, and the United Nations charter prohibits aggression against a sovereign nation, NATO has no right to interfere in their internal affairs. Article 2 Section 4 states, "All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state." NATO's intervention is also a crime against peace according to the Nuremberg Principles. The rationale of stopping Serbian genocide against the Albanian people of Kosovo has been proven false, since those atrocities have actually increased as a result of the air war. The war crimes of the Serbians in Kosovo do not justify NATO in committing crimes against the Serbians; rather this policy only multiplies the war crimes. Now thanks to the European Greens it has come out that the press failed to report Appendix B of the Rambouillet agreement in which Yugoslavia had to accept occupation of all Yugoslavia by NATO troops with NATO press censorship to avoid being bombed. Yet the Serbian parliament was willing to accept the political settlement with autonomy for Kosovo if implementation would be by United Nations authority. Not being willing to yield its national sovereignty to occupation by a hostile military alliance while willing to accept a UN-implemented agreement is hardly the resolution of a nation "asking to be bombed."

What are the likely results?

The short-term results seem to be that the Serbians have escalated their purge (a term preferable to the outrageous euphemism "ethnic cleansing") of the Albanians, resulting in hundreds of thousands being driven from their homes, many of which are burned, and the killing of thousands. This negative purge is especially harmful as it aims to exterminate the most intelligent, capable, active, and freedom-loving of the Kosovars, while leaving in place only those who submit and cooperate with such atrocities. Attempts by NATO to reduce Yugoslavia's military capabilities by bombing appear to be too late, crude, and inadequate to solving the problems on the ground. The hundreds of thousands of Kosovar refugees pose humanitarian problems in Kosovo and for their neighbors Albania, Montenegro, Macedonia, and others. Serbians may also be using Kosovar men as shields, hostages, and decoys against NATO attacks.

The long-term consequences are also likely to be very harmful. The example of NATO disregarding the United Nations charter and processes by taking matters into their own hands (arms) portends the arrogance of a new empire with no organized entity capable of stopping them. This could mean a new imperial world order under the control of the wealthy western nations imposed by military force. Kosovo and Yugoslavia are likely to be devastated and filled with hatred and resentment for decades to come.

What are the pertinent lessons of World War II?

To compare the current situation of Yugoslavia to Nazi Germany is an insult to most people's intelligence. The military capabilities of Yugoslavia are a tiny fraction of those of the United States alone even without its 18 NATO allies. If we are afraid of a great military power trying to take over the world, everyone knows in what direction to look. Certainly there is a similarity between the racist crimes of Nazis and Serbian attempts to eliminate Muslim Albanians, and the same poor policies used against Germany could result in another, though smaller, holocaust in the Balkans.

Germany, Italy, and Japan never should have been allowed to re-arm in violation of international law. If the League of Nations had been effectively supported by the United States and other countries, the second world war could have been prevented. If world laws protecting human rights had been enforced by a democratic world authority, Jews, Slavs, and other minorities would have been defended by nonviolent officers of the world government. Yet the United States because of Republican political ambitions refused to join the League of Nations. Isolationist policies allowed fascist nations to build up their militaries, violate treaties, and invade other countries. Even after the war developed, President Franklin Roosevelt pleaded with Hitler not to bomb cities; but by the end of the war allies known as the United Nations had been reduced by the fascists to their own tactics of bombing major cities to rubble, culminating in the two atomic bombs in Japan. Yet in Denmark and Norway creative nonviolent methods were used to resist and disobey Nazi occupation.

What other lessons can we learn from the disastrous wars of the 20th century?

The major lesson of the first world war is that a strongly supported League of Nations could have prevented the second world war. The first world war also should have taught humanity the futility and brutality of trying to solve human conflicts by force of arms. The victorious nations of the second world war hoped to prevent future wars by establishing the United Nations Organization; but once again it is proving inadequate. The UN is more oligarchic than democratic, as its enforcement agency, the Security Council, can be blocked by any one of the original nations that won the second world war (USA, Britain, France, Russia, and China), which also happened to be the first nations to gain nuclear weapons.

The United States should have learned from the Vietnam War the folly of interfering in a civil war. The USA spent 140 billion dollars destroying that country, an amount greater than the total domestic national product of Vietnam during the entire war. Suppose instead the US had contributed funds for education and other humanitarian projects instead. Would not there had been a better chance of making those people our friends? The Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) has suggested providing scholarships to universities for Kosovars. With what is currently being blown up (using cruise missiles at a million dollars a pop) probably half the country could be given a university education.

President Clinton has recently developed a dangerous case of "ultimatumitis." How many ultimatums have been given to Saddam Hussein in Iraq? Many parents have learned the hard way that to give a child an ultimatum can result in alienation and loss of respect, perhaps even permanently. Is the United States only learning from these wars how to improve its ability to destroy targets?

What else can we learn from the experiences of this century?

Perhaps the greatest political lesson of the 20th century will be how to bring about social change by nonviolent methods as demonstrated by Mahatma Gandhi in India and by others elsewhere. By applying Jesus' teaching in the sermon on the mount Gandhi showed that oppressed people can gain their freedom with self-respect by peaceful and democratic methods if they are willing actively to make sacrifices for their just causes.

Have we learned nothing from the development of genocidal nuclear weapons? When will we realize that organized mass murder is a very serious crime the people of the world should not tolerate. Since almost every nation claims now to believe in democracy, why are we not practicing it on a world level? Has not the collapse of the Soviet Union taught us that an arms race can bankrupt a country? Don't people in the United States realize how much more prosperous they could be if they did not throw away over $300 billion a year on organized destruction?

What are better ways of responding to Serbian crimes against the ethnic Albanians of Kosovo?

Certainly the atrocious crimes of the Serbs against Kosovars should not be tolerated, but any child knows two wrongs do not make a right. The rule of law also needs to be made universal by democratic processes. Individuals must be held accountable for actions that violate the rights of others. But to use the blunt instruments of war to punish whole nations and peoples for the crimes of their leaders and supporters tends to escalate the violence and the crimes.

We must begin from where we are. In relation to international law, that means with the United Nations. It is outrageous that the United States currently owes about 1.6 billion dollars in dues to this organization while it is increasing its military budget to an amount greater than all military expenditures of the rest of the world combined! The US must pay its dues. Individuals most responsible for the worst war crimes and violations should be indicted by the International Law Tribunal and brought to trial. We could begin with Saddam Hussein and Slobodan Milosevic and work our way down to lesser offenders from there. If Clinton, Blair, and others are not careful, they may get themselves on the list too. They should be arrested by nonviolent means. If they refuse to submit or resist with violence, then whatever means is necessary should be used to bring them to justice. However, the authorities used for this process should be those who represent the world as a whole by democratic processes, not those appointed by the most powerful nations. Major league baseball in America shows an analogous situation to the world. The teams with wealthy owners buy the best players. So instead of a competitive sport, professional baseball has become a competitive business in which the rich have an overwhelming and unfair advantage.

Ultimately we need either to revise the United Nations or call a world constitutional convention to draw up a truly democratic world government that will protect the human rights of all, oversee the process of universal disarmament, and resolve all conflicts between nations and peoples by the most peaceful means possible. A carefully designed federal constitution can distribute powers fairly in ways that will be responsive to the needs of all people, while allowing local states to be autonomous in most areas of their lives.

Copyright © 1999 by Sanderson Beck

This has been published in the book PEACE OR BUST. For ordering information, please click here.

A friend of a friend sent me the following STATEMENT ON KOSOVO:

Date: Thursday, April 8, 1999 8:00 PM PST
From: (David Hartsough)
From: "International Peace Bureau (IPB)" <>


April 8, 1999. The International Peace Bureau - representing 186 citizens' peace organisations worldwide - is appalled and sickened by the recent events in Kosovo/a. We utterly condemn the Serbian policies of discrimination, ethnic "cleansing", massacre and terror against the Kosovars. At the same time we believe NATO's air-strikes have so far done nothing but accelerate the repression, unite the Serbian nation around Milosevic, and alienate the Russians and others in the region. Belgrade's cease-fire offer, no matter how cynical, did present an opportunity to de-escalate the crisis. NATO's abrupt refusal slams shut the door to a early resolution.

We are saddened that the West refused the challenge of creating a partnership with Russia at Rambouillet and turned its back on patient, non-violent strategies. This is in stark contrast to the negotiations on N. Ireland, for example, where Tony Blair repeatedly argues that "You can't bomb your way to the conference table." If for the past 8 years the West had supported effectively the nonviolent response of the Kosovo Albanians led by Ibrahim Rogova; if Milosevic had been indicted at the Hague Tribunal as a war criminal; if Kosovo had been included in the Dayton peace agreement; if serious attempts had been made to counter the Serb media propaganda machine; if more skilled mediators with different negotiation styles had been used; if full support and financing had been offered to the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE); then there might not have been an armed struggle, and we might not be facing today's horrendous mess.

Few outside NATO HQ dispute that there is no UN endorsement for its unlicensed attacks against a sovereign state. NATO has usurped the authority both of the UN and of the OSCE, violated Article 2.4 of the UN Charter, as well as NATO's own Charter, and contravened both the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties and the Helsinki Final Act. The intervention of a supposedly defensive regional organisation sets a new and dangerous precedent for other military groupings to take lawless action anywhere in the world. This is a major challenge for the UN, its Secretariat and agencies, and its supporters. Civil society must defend the one global organisation capable of addressing global problems. It may be true that there is a new, evolving legal/moral norm implying a duty of humanitarian intervention to protect vulnerable civilians. It is clear that many around the world feel that there was 'no choice' but to resort to military force in order to avoid another Srebrenica-style massacre. However, given its highly controversial nature, we believe this option should have been tested in UN forums rather than unilaterally. The use of German forces in the attacks is particularly insensitive, given the suffering the Serbs endured at the hands of both Nazis and Ustashe.

US commentators point out that the bombing and its aftermath could have grave consequences in terms of reinforcement of the US military buildup and 'proof' of the two simultaneous regional wars doctrine. Furthermore, it will re-militarize the American people, many of whom see unilateral force as the only way to deal with internal and international disputes or humanitarian crises. US policy towards the Balkans has been contradictory at best - supporting democracy and negotiation and then abandoning such methods. In particular, the military action has effectively 'pulled the rug' from under the democratic representatives of the Kosovo Albanians and instead given support to the unconstitutional Kosovo Liberation Army, with the effect that NATO is now acting as its air force.

IPB has campaigned against the expansion of NATO on the grounds that it is both unnecessary and destabilising, given the fierce opposition in Russia. We have long urged that support and financing be transferred to the pan-European OSCE. It was a tragic mistake not to have invested in - and mobilised - a far larger OSCE monitoring team in Kosovo; and we doubt the wisdom of withdrawing those that were present just at the crucial moment. As in Rwanda, the withdrawal of the international community' representatives may come to be seen as the fatal signal for all-out assault on civilians. Can it be a coincidence that this latest NATO action almost coincides with the 50th anniversary review of NATO's Strategic Concept? For months NATO spokespersons have been advocating a new approach, including taking action across state borders for "humanitarian" reasons. The way this action has been taken raises serious questions of accountability and legality. It must not be seen as a precedent for future NATO policies. The long term structure for resolving such problems in the future is surely the 'Charter for a cooperative security structure in Europe' to be adopted by the OSCE Summit in November 1999 in Istanbul.

We utterly condemn the hypocrisy of the most powerful NATO states, which have opted for military strikes over Kosovo and yet have failed to muster an equivalent UN-led response to situations of even greater suffering and oppression, e.g. Kurdistan, Sri Lanka, or Ethiopia-Eritrea, where so far over 45,000 have died and no end to the killing is in sight.

The military mobilization has brought the US arms industry a sudden boost in orders, and is likely to strengthen their hand in arguing for additional Pentagon subsidies. The Clinton administration has already increased military spending this year and the conflict of course provides an ideal environment for testing the latest hi-tech equipment. Such developments are extremely negative from the perspective of reducing arms production, sales and exports, since they reinforce the militarisation of Western economies which should have been reversed at the end of the Cold War.

IPB is especially concerned at reports that NATO has been using depleted uranium in its attacks on Serbian targets, both with its A10 attack aircraft and Tomahawk Cruise missiles. DU is pyrophoric, bursting into an intensified flame-up that releases micron-sized aerosol particles that can be ingested by military personnel or civilians. NATO is risking prolonged contamination of the environment, putting at risk innocent civilians, especially children, now in the Balkans as well as Iraq. DU has been condemned by the UN Commission on Human Rights, at its Sub-Commission on the Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities. The Commission requested that the Secretary-General prepare a written report on DU and certain other weapons of mass destruction (Resolution 1997/36). We believe this weaponry is being tested with complete lack of concern for its effects.

The massive flows of refugees fleeing Kosovo threaten the stability of the whole region. It is extraordinary that NATO planners - who condemned Milosevic as capable of almost any evil - failed to predict or prepare for the exodus of hundreds of thousands into Macedonia, Albania and Montenegro. None of these countries can in the short term cope with such numbers, and before long could suffer severe social and political consequences. Macedonia especially is likely to experience an upsurge in nationalist sentiment which could bring war to another region. We urge Western governments to accelerate their relief programs and to provide similar levels of funding to those which are being lavished on the war effort. It is shameful that the US, UK and France, most willing to bomb, seem least willing to accept large numbers of refugees on their soil. We believe a worldwide UN appeal should also be launched for financial contributions, materials and volunteers, both short and long-term.

IPB demands that the focus of attempts to resolve the crisis must shift back to the UN. Given the impasse in the Security Council, the Secretary-General should ask the Security Council to request an immediate emergency session of the General Assembly (UN Charter Articles 12 and 14). We urge that such a session should pass a resolution calling for: 1) an immediate cease-fire by ALL parties to the conflict, and the de-militarisation of Kosovo; 2) the mediation of a new Kosovo peace settlement package, with full backing given to the U.N. Secretary-General, and with the full participation of other governments in the region; 3) the dispatch, as soon as conditions allow, of a multinational (non-NATO) protection force of U.N. peacekeepers and civilian volunteers to Kosovo to enable the return of the ethnic Albanians to their villages, the rebuilding of their homes, and their future safety; 4) allocation of major financial and human resources to both Kosovo and Serbia to assist with the reconstruction; 5) a special report from the Security Council on its actions to resolve this conflict (Article 15). This would: a) offer a face-saving way for all sides in the conflict to de-escalate the war; b) restore the U.N. to its proper role in resolving conflict; c) provide an opportunity for Milosevic to return to the negotiating table; d) give Russia and other disgruntled nations a role in peacekeeping and in the peace settlement.

IPB believes this crisis is a profound and complex challenge for all those who wish both to see human rights respected and peaceful ways found to resolve bitter conflicts. The immediate challenge is how to ensure that the Kosovar refugees can return in safety to their homes. The use of NATO ground troops at this stage would likely lead to terrible bloodshed. Possibly the intervention of Kofi Annan or Nobel laureates such as Nelson Mandela or Shimon Peres could provide a new opportunity. But more pressure will be needed to persuade all the governments involved to change tack before further killing and mass evictions take place. The first casualty of this war, as in so many others, has been objective reporting, and the circulation of information not controlled by either the propaganda machine of Milosevic or the news-packaging of NATO is essential for clear assessment of the situation. Meanwhile, peace, human rights and other humanitarian movements need to engage in an intensive process of creative thinking to explore all the dimensions and options for a peaceful and lasting transformation of the crisis. These will include global measures such as the rapid establishment of the International Criminal Court and the prosecution of those guilty of war crimes; a Global Code of Conduct on arms transfers and other measures to restrict the availability of weapons, both large and small; strengthening the resources and prestige of the OSCE and other regional structures; substantial investment in peace education and conflict resolution training; and much more besides. It is a long road ahead.

From: (Mr.) Colin Archer, Secretary-General International Peace Bureau, 41 rue de Zurich, 1201 Geneva, Switzerland. Tel: +41-22-731-6429, Fax: 738-9419, Email: Web: also:


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