The 1999 Kosovo war was illegal


This is a piece I have written in 1999 after a back and forth emails with an acquaintance who was trying to show how the Clinton administration was altruistic when it militarily intervened to help the Kosovars.



In your e-mail of June 29, 1999, you referred to what has now been labeled as the Clinton doctrine. By mentioning that "going t war for humanitarian reasons" has its origin in the American abolitionists and President Wilson you purported to refute my "historical inaccuracy of claiming that Clinton invented humanitarian wars." But the fact is that I have never claimed that Clinton "invented" humanitarian wars. Clinton did not invent humanitarian wars just as Gore did not invent the Internet. the fact remains, however, that he invoked this principle. This is what he said: "There is an important principle here that I hope will be upheld in the future... While there may well be a great deal of ethnic and religious conflict in the world... whether within or beyond the borders of a country, if the world community has the power to stop it, we ought to stop genocide and ethnic cleansing." ... "if somebody comes after innocent civilians and tries to kill them en masse because of their race, their ethnic background or their religion, and it is within our power to stop it, we will stop it."


I have no way of knowing if Clinton was sincere when he said that. As far as I am concerned, I can only pass a judgment on his deeds. By intervening in Kosovo he created a mess. He did not stop the ethnic cleansing; he made is worse. He did not put an end to the atrocities; he aggravated a situation that was already bad. And now after the entry of KFOR (Kosovo Force) into Kosovo, the cleansing and the atrocities have changed sides. In a previous communication you seemed to minimize what the KLA (Kosovo Liberation Army) is doing because it is not a legitimate government. I disagree with you. First a crime is a crime. Second, KLA is an organized militia or a guerilla force, pretty well structured, whose aim is to achieve independence for Kosovo.


This mess, however, was not created by the KLA but by the way Clinton prosecuted the war. His priority was to avoid casualties at all costs, i.e., casualties among NATO forces, not the Kosovars. If Clinton decides to go to war for humanitarian reasons, his priorities should be, as he puts it, "to stop genocide and ethnic cleansing" not casualty-free war, which leads to more, not less, ethnic cleansing. It is the job of the military to minimize their casualties while achieving the objectives assigned to them. But the Clinton doctrine of warfare based on no risk for the military and casualty to the civilian population, who are supposed to be helped, is a travesty. That is why I don't believe that Clinton went to war for humanitarian reasons even though this is what he wants us to believe.


In fact, neither this war, nor any war in history was fought for humanitarian reasons. I have to disagree with you when you said in a previous email that "No nation in history....has ever acted for the cause of world peace as selflessly and high-mindedly as the United States of America." I respect your patriotism, but I have to tell you, and this is not cynicism on my part, I just don't expect the United States, and for that matter any country, to act selflessly. The norm is that States will only do what is in their interests. Even the billion of dollars that the United States gives in foreign aid are given to promote its interests abroad and I see nothing wrong with that.


Answering the question I put to you: Why didn't the United States intervene in Sri Lanka in favor of the Tamils, you finally gave me a rational answer: "they had no loud constituency in the US (like the Jews, Cubans, etc.), and they are too poor to buy Congressmen." You have just confirmed my point. In politics, there is no such thing as benevolence. Unless there is an interest at stake politicians will not lift a finger. The same is true at the international level. The US will intervene militarily only if its interests are at stake. But like the Tamils, Kosovo doesn't have any constituency. So, why did the United States commit itself militarily in this case? The short answer is this: the issue is not Kosovo; the issue is Russia. Had the issue really been "to prevent more human suffering and more repression and violence against the civilian population of Kosovo" as the Secretary-General of NATO put it, NATO would not have let thousands of people being brutally murdered and more than a million people driven from their homes by the Serbs. It would have intervened on the ground to stop it. It didn't because the humanitarian was not the goal but the pretext.


I used the Tamils as an example because their situation is similar to that of the Kosovars. But I can cite more than a half a dozen of cases where the United States didn't lift a finger. Rwanda, Sierra Leone, East Timor, Sudan, Russia (in Chechneya), China (in Tibet), Israel (in the Occupied Territories), the Palestinian Authority( in the territories under its control) and Turkey (in the Kurdish areas and Northern Cyprus). The excuse that is always given is that the United States cannot intervene everywhere but it will intervene where it can make a difference. This is a lame excuse, and the reason I do not buy it is that if there is on case where the United States can make a difference, it is Turkey. Here we have a NATO ally on which the US has enormous leverage but does nothing for the 12 million Kurds living in Turkey whose language and culture are being suppressed by the Turkish authorities while it champions the rights of 3 million Kurds living in Iraq. Furthermore, it didn't impose any sanctions on Turkey when it invaded Northern Cyprus and occupied one third of the island. And what about Somalia? the US preferred to cut its losses when the "humanitarian show" turned sour.


Finally, the UN. You referred more than once to the UN and characterized it as "pathetic" and "inept" and I agree with you. But you have to understand that the UN is not a super- or a world government. The UN can only do what its member states will allow it to do. If the UN is "pathetic" and "inept" it is because its member states are "pathetic" and "inept" or because its members want it to be that way. And I might add that the member states that are responsible for this state of affairs are the ones that are the most influential. The United Sates, by the way, is the most influential member states of the United Naitons.


You mentioned that "the UN was the organization that waged the Koeran war." Let me explain. First, the UN doesn't have an army to wage a war. Second, the UN doesn't decide to wage a war. The member states represented in the Security Council make such a decision and they and others have to provide the necessary force. Third, it is the United States that fought the Korean war. Fourth, when the United States failed to get the Security Council to approve the Korean war, where the Soviet Union and China have veto power, it referred the matter to the General Assembly where it was able to twist enough arms to get the necessary vote. By doing so, it violated the Charter of the United Nations which specifies that only the Security Council can authorize the use of force. These are the facts. In the case of Kosovo, however, the United States didn't even bother to present the matter to the Security Council or to the General Assembly. It is just ignore the UN.


I am not surprised that the United States violates the UN Charter since it violates its own laws. It violated it constitution that gives the poser to declare war to the Congress. It violated the War Powers Act, which compels the President to bring the forces home after 60 days unless he gets an authorization from the Congress. It violated the NATO statute according to which NATO is a defensive alliance. The sad thing is that the United States will cry foul as soon as any State doesn't follow the rules of the game, imposing sanctions if necessary on the violators, but doesn't mind breaking those same rules with impunity. Madeleine Albright herself said something to the effect hat we will act collectively with other member States if this is possible but if we have to, we will cat unilaterally. This is very close to what you said: "I am in favor of US intervention under the guise of the UN." In other words, there is nothing wrong in the eyes to the US (and yours) that it uses the UN to achieve its political goal. this is unfortunate, but according to the might-is-right logic, it makes perfect sense. Going to war, however, for humanitarian reasons, under to so-called Clinton doctrine, doesn't make sense at all.