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Mediterranean Quarterly 12.1 (2001) 39-50

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NATO's Balkan Blunder

James Bissett

The military intervention in Yugoslavia by North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces in spring 1999 raises disturbing and unresolved international security issues that have long-range implications for world peace. Despite strident claims by NATO leaders that the air strikes were successful and that the undeclared war was a major victory, close analysis reveals the intervention to have been an unmitigated disaster. It failed to achieve any of its claimed objectives, it caused a humanitarian disaster in both Yugoslavia and Kosovo, and it destabilized the Balkans and paved the way for further bloodshed and violence. Even more seriously, by resorting to the use of force without United Nations authority, NATO has dismantled the traditional framework of global peace and security that had existed since the end of the Second World War. The illegal action on the part of the Western democracies has also served as an ominous signal to Russia and China that NATO is prepared to wage war in violation of and without regard for the precepts of international law. Indeed, NATO's Kosovo war may yet be seen as a miscalculation of historic proportions.

NATO was established in 1949 as a mutual defense system and was based on the principles of the UN Charter. Article 1 of the founding agreement declares unequivocally that its members would "settle any international disputes in which they may be involved by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security and justice are not endangered, and to refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of [End Page 39] force in any manner inconsistent with the purpose of the United Nations." NATO leaders were prepared to ignore the principal article of this historic alliance in waging an aggressive, if undeclared, war against Yugoslavia.

During the long years of the Cold War, NATO was more than just a powerful military force defending the free world from the realities of communist tyranny. It was an organization that stood for the rule of law, for democratic institutions, and for all those things that distinguished the Western democracies from the communist and Nazi dictatorships. NATO was a commanding moral force that acted as a symbol of hope for the civilized world--a symbol of hope not only for those living in the West but also for the millions caught behind the Iron Curtain and for many people in other parts of the world.

That symbol was cynically destroyed by the seventy-eight-day bombing campaign against Yugoslavia. By choosing violence over diplomacy and resorting to the illegal use of force, NATO broke all the ground rules. As a result, our Western democracies have lost the moral high ground. It will not be easy to get it back. The new set of political leaders, the Clintons, the Blairs, the Schroeders, and the Chretiens, have proven themselves to have about as much respect for the rule of law and the truth as the former Communist Party bosses of the old Soviet Empire. This is the real tragedy of Kosovo.

It is now clear that these political leaders--all of them from Western democratic countries--lied about Kosovo. We were told that mass murders were taking place in Kosovo. The United States secretary of defense, William Cohen, stated that one hundred thousand Albanian Kosovars had perished. The British prime minister, Tony Blair, spoke of genocide. President Bill Clinton repeated this charge by asserting that the bombing was to stop "deliberate, systematic efforts at . . . genocide." We were led to believe that Milosevic, even before the bombing, had plans to ethnically cleanse Kosovo of its Albanian population. The German defense minister, Rudolph Scharping, claimed that this devilish plan, code named Operation Horseshoe, had been disclosed through intelligence sources and subsequently presented it to the German public as justification for NATO's intervention. It has now been revealed through the disclosures of the German general Heinz Loquai that the so-called Operation Horseshoe was a complete falsehood. It [End Page 40] was fabricated by Scharping to rally a faltering German public behind...


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