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Mediterranean Quarterly 11.4 (2000) 140-160
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Militarism and Ecology:
NATO Ecocide in Serbia
In the Kosovo war conducted by the United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization from 24 March to 10 June 1999, as in any major conflict, the truth became the first casualty. The British journalist and author of The First Casualty, Philip Knightley, argues, "Every government wants to control the media in wartime to ensure public support for its war aims. If necessary it will lie in order to achieve this control. The media will usually go along with these lies, because it is in its best commercial interests in wartime to support the government of the day." 1
Fortunately, the truth has a way of asserting itself despite formidable man-made barriers. According to Newsweek, NATO is reexamining its version of the truth. The magazine quotes General Dieter Stockmann, chief of staff to new NATO commander General Joseph Ralston, as saying, "We haven't told the truth, it's time to tell the truth." 2
In an attempt to discover the truth, I have written a book that presents a non-NATO version of the conflict. 3 I am a Serbian survivor of the German bombing raid in World War II and have experienced the totalitarian regimes of Hitler, Stalin, and Tito. In fact, I am a refugee from Tito's brand of communism. In this essay, however, I want to draw on my professional background [End Page 140] as a nuclear safety engineer and also as an industrial safety specialist to discuss an aspect of the war with which the public is little familiar, namely, the huge environmental catastrophe that was wrought by NATO.
As a part of my professional career, I have studied the anatomy of catastrophic nuclear and nonnuclear industrial accidents such as Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, Bhopal, Challenger, Piper Alpha, and others. As a member of the National Academy of Sciences committee formed in the aftermath of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, I have also studied prominent spills such as those from the Amoco Cadiz, Torrey Canyon, Atlantic Empress, and many others. These catastrophic accidents were caused either by individual human mistakes, management negligence, incompetence, or even societal failures.
In history we see many instances of incidental damage to the environment caused by war. The dropping of the atomic bombs on Japan to terminate World War II is the most obvious example. As a matter of fact, wartime environmental damage is as old as the Bible. Deuteronomy (20:19-20) reads, "The trees in the battlefield are not men that you should besiege them," and in the Tabari exegesis of the Koran, men are advised "not to cut down trees and not to kill animals in the enemy territory."
One of the most troubling aspects of the Kosovo war is the destruction and damage it caused to the Yugoslav infrastructure, estimated at between $30 billion and $100 billion. The following is a summary of destruction beyond the Kosovo province of Serbia: 78 industrial plants, 42 energy plants, 64 telecommunication stations, 66 bridges, 32 agricultural complexes, 23 railway tracks, 8 airports, 147 health care facilities, and more than 200 schools and educational facilities. 4 The Serbian environment was also devastated, although it does not show up in damage reports.
For those with an environmental background, ecocide is a familiar concept, but it may be new for students of war. Webster's dictionary defines it as deliberate, willful, or avoidable destruction of the natural environment by [End Page 141] pollutants. I mean by ecocide in a military context the deliberate and conscious causation of environmental damage to achieve war aims.
According to a NATO spokesman, targeting encompasses an environmental assessment. Hence, the consequences of bombing Serbia should have been known. Chris Hedges, reporting in the New York Times, interviewed NATO officials in Belgium who told him that the environmental damage caused by the war was taken into consideration. "When targeting is done we take into account all possible 'collateral damage,' be it environmental, human, or to civilian infrastructure," they told him...