President Obama’s speech in Brussels this week was a shocking mélange of ignorance and arrogance masquerading as foreign policy.
Attempting to justify placing the US on war footing with Russia over the recent referendum in Crimea, the president stated:
Kosovo only left Serbia after a referendum was organized not outside the boundaries of international law, but in careful cooperation with the United Nations and with Kosovo’s neighbors. None of that even came close to happening in Crimea.
Of course anyone who followed the Kosovo fiasco knows that never happened. There was no such thing. Made up. The Kosovo parliament declared independence unilaterally backed up by US/NATO military power to ensure the change of borders.
The US press? Silent on this monumental display of ignorance by the US commander in chief.
Speaking of changing borders, Obama said:
…in the 21st century, the borders of Europe cannot be redrawn with force, that international law matters, that people and nations can make their own decisions about their future.
But that is just what the United States did 15 years ago this week via the 78 day bombing of Serbia to change the borders and extract Kosovo as an independent (though profoundly dysfunctional) state. The US bombing of Serbia was of course outside international law, as was US invasion and occupation of Iraq, attack and invasion of Afghanistan, invasion of Libya, bombing of Pakistan, Yemen, etc.
The president celebrated…
…the belief that through conscience and free will, each of us has the right to live as we choose, the belief that power is derived from the consent of the governed and that laws and institutions should be established to protect that understanding.
But in the modern world he champions — as opposed to his bad old system of using force to establish legitimacy — that consent of the governed is determined at the ballot box, rather than in burned-out buildings occupied by gangs of molotov cocktail throwing “activists.”
Indeed, as David Hendrickson recently wrote in the National Interest :
Americans have previously acknowledged a right of revolution in a circumstance where there has been no previous instance of an election and no possibility of one. But in a regime that has a constitution and that has prescribed rules for the transfer of power? Revolution in those circumstances has been generally seen as deeply illegitimate, and for the simple reason that once you depart from that rule you are in no man’s land.
So where Obama may see…
…the young people of Ukraine, who were determined to take back their future from a government rotted by corruption…
…the modern world he touts — free of the oppression where “order and progress can only come when individuals surrender their rights to an all-powerful sovereign” — can only be brought about by his own terms through the rule of law and respect of the sovereignty of all the people through a free and fair vote. Otherwise, logic is clear, we are precisely back in those bad old days where might makes right.
How can two contradictory concepts both be true at the same time?
The president claims to…
…believe in democracy, with elections that are free and fair, and independent judiciaries and opposition parties, civil society and uncensored information so that individuals can make their own choices.
All the while he champions a regime that came to power in Ukraine in the opposite manner from that which he recognizes as legitimate. Recognizing this fact depends not on whether one agrees with the political persuasion of the ancien or nouveau régime in Kiev.
The president displays another astonishing disconnect with historical reality when he claims that “even in Iraq, America sought to work within the international system.”
It is not apocryphal that the United States precisely violated international law in its attack on Iraq, as it ignored the United Nations Security Council and instead made its own ad hoc “coalition of the willing” which through sheer will of the US was supposedly granted some manner of legitimacy. As if from some magic fairy dust.
Or could it have been through the very notion condemned in Obama’s speech “that bigger nations can bully smaller ones to get their way – that recycled maxim that might makes right.”
What is perhaps most troubling is the president (and his advisors) have demostrated that the policies that may well determine whether we all will perish in a World War III are being made by people without even a passing familiarity with recent history. Those who would rather Tweet “selfies” like self-obsessed adolescents rather than open a history book.
Or, sadly perhaps, it is cynicism in the extreme: perhaps they do know better but count on the ignorance of the rest of us. Is that a safe bet?
Exactly 15 years ago, on March 24, NATO began its 78-day bombing of Yugoslavia. The alliance bypassed the UN under a “humanitarian” pretext, launching aggression that claimed hundreds of civilian lives and caused a much larger catastrophe than it averted.
Years on, Serbia still bears deep scars of the NATO bombings which, as the alliance put it, were aimed at “preventing instability spreading” in Kosovo.
Codenamed ‘Operation Allied Force,’ it was the largest attack ever undertaken by the alliance. It was also the first time that NATO used military force without the approval of the UN Security Council and against a sovereign nation that did not pose a real threat to any member of the alliance.
NATO demonstrated in 1999 that it can do whatever it wants under the guise of “humanitarian intervention,” “war on terror,” or “preventive war” — something that everyone has witnessed in subsequent years in different parts of the globe.
Nineteen NATO member states participated to some degree in the military campaign against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro), which lasted for 11 weeks until June 10, 1999.
In the course of the campaign, NATO launched 2,300 missiles at 990 targets and dropped 14,000 bombs, including depleted uranium bombs and cluster munitions (unexploded cluster bombs continued to pose a threat to people long after the campaign was over.) Over 2,000 civilians were killed, including 88 children, and thousands more were injured. Over 200,000 ethnic Serbs were forced to leave their homeland in Kosovo.
In what the alliance described as “collateral damage,” its airstrikes destroyed more than 300 schools, libraries, and over 20 hospitals. At least 40,000 homes were either completely eliminated or damaged and about 90 historic and architectural monuments were ruined. That is not to mention the long-term harm caused to the region’s ecology and, therefore, people’s health.
News correspondents Anissa Naouai and Jelena Milincic, the authors of RT’s documentary ‘Zashto?’ — which means “Why?” in English –traveled through former Yugoslavia to Belgrade, Kosovo, and Montenegro and spoke to people who endured the atrocities and horrors of the war and lost their friends and relatives. … http://rt.com/news/yugoslavia-kosovo-…
Crimea’s secession from Ukraine was just like Kosovo’s secession from Serbia, and any arguments otherwise are just attempts to bend the West-advocated rules that were applied to the Kosovo case, Russian President Vladimir Putin said.
The statements came as Putin was addressing the Russian parliament to convince lawmakers to ratify a treaty, which would make Crimea part of the Russian Federation.
In the speech he challenged Washington’s position, which says that Kosovo was a unique case and could not justify any other move towards independence in the world.
“Our western partners created the Kosovo precedent with their own hands. In a situation absolutely the same as the one in Crimea they recognized Kosovo’s secession from Serbia legitimate while arguing that no permission from a country’s central authority for a unilateral declaration of independence is necessary,” Putin reminded, adding that the UN International Court of Justice agreed to those arguments.
“That’s what they wrote, what they trumpeted all over the world, coerced everyone into it – and now they are complaining. Why is that?” he asked.
Putin dismissed the argument that Kosovo was unique due to the large number of victims during the Balkan wars and the dissolution of Yugoslavia.
“It’s beyond double standards,” Putin said. “It’s a kind of baffling, primitive and blatant cynicism. One can’t just twist things to fit his interests, to call something white on one day and black on the next one.”
The president dismissed the allegations that Russia is violating international law with its actions in Ukraine.
“Well’ it’s good that they at least recalled that there is international law. Thank you very much. Better late than never,” Putin said adding that in fact nothing of this kind happened.
‘In Ukraine the West crossed the red line’
In fact, it was Russia that defended international law and its institutions, while western countries have been diminishing them. The situation in Crimea is just a reflection of this broader process, which has been happening for decades now.
“In the practical application of policies, our western partners – the United States first and foremost – prefer to be guided not by international law, but by the right of strength. They believe in their exceptionalism, that they are allowed to decide on the fate of the world, that they are always right,” Putin charged.
This disregard to rule of law was evident in Yugoslavia in 1999, when NATO bombed the country without a UN Security Council mandate, the Russian president said. There was Afghanistan, Iraq and the perversion of the UNSC resolution on Libya, when instead of imposing a no-fly zone NATO bombed the country into submission.
There were also orchestrated “colored revolutions” in Europe and the Arab World, which cynically used the feelings of people tired with corruption and poverty. The latest Ukrainian events are just the latest of such actions, and Russia’s willingness to seek dialogue and compromise was stonewalled again, Putin said.
“They were cheating us once more, took decisions behind our back, presented us with a fait accompli,” he said, adding that the patter is identical to that which accompanied NATO’s expansion to the east, the deployment of an anti-ballistic missile system, visa restrictions and numerous other issues.
“They are constantly trying to corner us in retaliation for our having an independent position, for defending it, for calling things by their names and not being hypocritical,” Putin accused. “Everything has its limits, and in Ukraine our western partners crossed the red line. They acted brutally, irresponsibly and unprofessionally.”
Putin said the West must stop being hysterical, restrain from the Cold War rhetoric and admit the obvious: “Russia is an independent and active participant of international relations. Just like any nation it has national interests that must be taken into consideration and respected.”
As for the Ukrainian red line, the coup-imposed authorities in Kiev voiced their desire to join NATO, and such a move would pose an imminent threat to Russia, Putin said.
“We stand against having a military organization meddling in our backyard, next to our homeland or in the territories that are historically ours. I just cannot imagine visiting NATO sailors in Sevastopol,” he stressed. “Most of them are fine lads, by the way. But rather let them visit us in Sevastopol than the other way around.”
At the end of his speech, Putin announced the submission to parliament of a draft federal law which would incorporate Crimea and the City of Sevastopol into Russian territory, as well as a request to ratify an international treaty with the government of Crimea to make this happen. He said he was sure of the legislature’s support for both documents.
Of course, it is illegal and, of course, it will be rigged, that referendum in Crimea today. And, of course, it is a ploy and comes only in the wake of Russia’s (read Putin’s) unprovoked aggression, used as a pretext to build a new Greater Russia.
That is, if you browse the mainstream Western media the last week and on this Sunday morning.
Referendum means referring an issue back to the people. It is – or should be – an important instrument in democracies. And it’s a much better instrument than war and other violence to settle complex conflicts.
Generally, citizens-decided conflict-resolution is likely to last longer and help healing wounds of the past than any type of solution imposed by outside actors.
In Switzerland citizens go and vote on all kinds of issues on many a Sunday throughout the year. Sweden has used it to decide about nuclear energy, Denmark about EU membership and – in 1920 – to solve the conflicts in Schleswig-Holstein and define the future border between Germany and Denmark. Referendums, binding as well as non-binding, are an accepted instrument in many countries.
Why did the West not use referendums?
The West likes to pride itself of its type of democracy whenever and wherever it can. But it doesn’t use the referendum instrument that often.
About 25 years ago it decided that it was good conflict-resolution to divide Yugoslavia into six republics; foolishly it used the old administrative borders and elevated them to international borders (the purpose behind that: you could then define the Yugoslav People’s Army’s presence in Croatia and Slovenia as ”international aggression by Serbia”) instead of asking people to which republic they preferred to belong.
In a few days it is 15 years ago NATO bombed Kosovo and Serbia to ”liberate” Kosovo and make it an independent – predictably failed – state. Fifteen years later, one wonders what better situation a negotiated solution ending with a referendum could have produced. No referendum there either.
Or take the Dayton Accords from 1995 for Bosnia-Hercegovina. No one in the democratic West bothered to ask the 4.3 million people living there (around 33% Serbs, 45% Muslims/Bosniaks and 17% Croats) whether they would like to live under those Accords.
Further, Dayton was signed in the US, the Bosnian constitution written by US lawyers and the agreement signed by three presidents none of whom were representing anybody in Bosnia at the time of signing. Not exactly a democratic peace. And it should be clear today that it is not going to work in the future either.
Or take the issue of nuclear weapons. No nuclear weapon state has ever asked its citizens whether they want their country to possess nuclear weapons which, logically, also make them potential targets of somebody else’s nukes. All opinion surveys in the nuclear powers tell us that there is no majority anywhere for the nuclear weapon status.
And how few of the new Eastern members of NATO and the EU have had a referendum on membership?
So, even in democracies the belief that ”we know what is best for you” often stands in the way of more intelligent, democratic conflict-resolution; i.e. better and more sustainable solutions to complex conflicts.
This is dangerous: How did it come to this?
Crimea is an extremely sensitive conflict spot and has been for centuries. In my view, there is more than a 50% risk that the situation we see today in Ukraine may lead to something like Yugoslavia in the 1990s.
Conflicts and violence – even the threat of it – as well as sanctions have their own dynamics and there is always a risk that they spin out of control – if people don’t stop and think but continue tit-for-tat escalation.
Why has it come to this? There are many reasons but let me mention these:
► The US and the EU have meddled in Ukraine’s internal affairs in a way that they would never accept Russian neo-cons, finance institutions and NGOs would in their own countries and are, thus, significantly co-responsible for the mess.
► The US and the EU lack politicians and they lack advisers who understand the larger scheme of things. They invest in spin doctors and PR companies instead of in knowledge-based expertise. It should have been obvious to a historically minded Western security and foreign policy elite that Ukraine is not a place to fish in extremely troubled waters and not expect a harsh reaction.
► Putin sees a golden opportunity to play tough in the light of the history of the end of the Cold War, the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact saying in effect: This far and no longer! To be or act surprised at that speaks volumes of ignorance, propaganda, or both.
The triumphalist US/NATO/EU expansion policies since 1989 would boomerang at some point – and that point is Ukraine, Ukraine meaning ”border” (like Krijina in Croatia).
Wiser politicians of the past: Common security
Whether we like it or not, the US and the EU have handed Russia and Putin a point or two on a silver plate.
Wiser politicians like Willy Brandt, Olof Palme, Urho Kekkonen, or Nelson Mandela knew that we need peace first and then a policy to secure it (not the other way around) and that that again means moderation, prudence and search for common interests rather than provocatively promoting yourself.
The reduction in intellectualism and moderation of foreign and security policy elites worries me at least as much as Russia’s response to US/NATO/EU the-winner-takes-it-all policies.
Hopefully the referendum may defuse tension
And, so, let’s rather hope that the referendum in Crimea could be a means to diffuse the tension. The rest of Ukraine has its own deeply worrying conflict — and violence-prone factors looming.
But they don’t have to blow up like Pakrac, Western Slavonia in Yugoslavia where the first shot was fired in what became a terrible war. And remember that war was preceded by a similar fishing in troubled waters as we have seen in Ukraine.
Are political decision-makers and media able to learn from contemporary history this time or will Yugoslavia be repeated?
Perhaps a Christian West should remind itself – and take serious – of the Gospel of Matthew 1-5:
And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?
The mutual blaming in Moscow, Brussels and Washington of ”the other” should be seen as little but psychological projections of their own dark sides (beams) of which they must be subconsciously aware.
We will get nowhere but to hell with tit-for-tat, judgmentalism and self-righteousness. Both Russia and the West should, instead, take steps in the direction of democratic peace-making: refer issues back to people themselves but – and that is important beyond words – stop influencing or buying them on the way to the ballot box.
Jan Oberg is a peace researcher, art photographer, and Director of Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research (TFF).
The only surprising thing about the news that the US is sabotaging peace moves in Afghanistan and Pakistan is that anyone should find the news surprising.
As reported on RT, Pakistan has accused the US of sabotaging peace talks between the authorities in Islamabad and the Taliban following last Friday’s drone assassination of the Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud.
“The murder of Hakimullah is the murder of all efforts at peace,” Pakistani Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisa said. “Brick by brick, in the last seven weeks, we tried to evolve a process by which we could bring peace to Pakistan and what have you [the US] done?”
The killing of Hakimullah Mehsud comes less than a month after the US effectively wrecked the Afghan government’s efforts to engage with the Taliban by capturing Latif Mehsud, Hakimullah’s lieutenant. Latif Mehsud was the man that the Afghan government hoped would be a go-between for peace talks with the Taliban. Afghan President Hamid Karzai was reported to have been furious about the US operation. Karzai has also said that the drone strike against Hakimullah Mehsud “took place at an unsuitable time.”
The fact is that on several important occasions in the last 30 years or so, the US has wrecked peace efforts and used its power to provoke or prolong conflicts which could have been avoided or solved without further bloodshed.
1. Iraq 1990-1991
From August 1990 to January 1991, there were plenty of chances to achieve a diplomatic solution in relation to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait and which would have resulted in an Iraqi withdrawal, but Washington was determined to go to war. When the war started, they rejected diplomatic moves, such as the plan put forward by the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, to end the conflict before ground troops were deployed in Kuwait.
Saddam Hussein’s forces could have been removed from Kuwait without a war in which many thousands were killed, but Washington didn’t want it.
That was at the start of the ’90s. Now let‘s fast forward to the end of that decade. In order to complete the destruction of Federal Yugoslavia, Washington aggressively championed the cause of a hardcore terrorist group, the Kosovo Liberation Army, in the late 1990s. The US marginalized Kosovar leaders who wanted to pursue a peaceful path towards independence, such as the politician Ibrahim Rugova, who urged passive resistance. Instead they pushed for a violent solution to the problem of Kosovo’s status: their strategy being to provoke a retaliation from the government in Belgrade, which would then provide the pretext for the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia.
The Rambouillet Conference of March 1999 was ostensibly about trying to broker a peace deal between the Kosovar Albanian delegates and the Yugoslav authorities. But the terms were deliberately made so onerous – Appendix B allowed NATO forces freedom of movement throughout the whole of Yugoslavia – so as to guarantee its rejection by Belgrade.
“I think certain people were spoiling for a fight in NATO at that time,” revealed Lord Gilbert, a UK minister of state for defense procurement, in 2000. “If you ask my personal view, I think the terms put to Milosevic at Rambouillet were absolutely intolerable. How could he possibly accept them? It was quite deliberate.”
Even Henry Kissinger, the former US secretary of state and a man who can hardly be labeled a ‘peacenik‘, admitted: “The Rambouillet text, which called on Serbia to admit NATO troops throughout Yugoslavia, was a provocation, an excuse to start bombing.”
Again, Washington had sabotaged a peaceful solution to a dispute and war ensued, with all its horrors.
3. Iraq 2002-2003
In 2002/3 we had the contrived WMD ’crisis’ with Iraq.
If Washington had genuinely been concerned about the possibility of Iraq being in possession of WMDs, they would simply have waited for Hans Blix and his team of UN weapons inspectors to finish their job. However, as we all know, the WMDs issue was merely a pretext for war, with the US knowing full well that the country was disarmed. The Iraqis were desperate to avert an attack on their country, but diplomatic offers from Baghdad in the lead-up to the illegal invasion were dismissed.
The result of the US opting for war and not peace in Iraq has been the deaths of at least 500,000 people since 2003.
In 2011, a UN resolution ostensibly about protecting civilians was used by the US and its NATO allies as a pretext for forcibly removing from power the government of Libya. During this ‘humanitarian’ intervention, which led to a sharp spike in the death toll, Washington and its allies frequently rejected calls for a ceasefire and a diplomatic solution. Today, Libya is – like Iraq – a wrecked country. But it all could have been very different, if Washington, instead of opting for war, had worked to bring warring factions to the negotiating table.
In Syria too, the US has set out since 2011 to prevent a peaceful solution to the country’s internal divisions. While an outright NATO attack on Syria has, at least for the time being, been avoided, it’s been public opinion in Western countries and adroit Russian diplomacy which has prevented World War III from breaking out in the Middle East this year, rather than America’s leaders suddenly turning over a new leaf.
If the US genuinely wanted an end to the terrible bloodshed in Syria they’d be encouraging the so-called ‘rebels’ to halt their campaign of violence and sign up to the political process and contest elections.
The Baathists have made significant reforms in Syria in the past two years, not least ending the party’s near five-decade long political monopoly, but Washington hasn’t been interested in peaceful democratic change, only in the violent overthrow of President Assad and his replacement by someone who will do its bidding. The result of this policy has been catastrophic for the people of Syria who, like the people of Iraq and Libya, watch as their country is destroyed before their very eyes.
While promoting itself as the great ‘peacemaker’, it’s the sober truth that no country has done more to stoke up conflicts and sabotage peaceful solutions to them in recent years than the US, with the killing of Hakimullah Mehsud being only the latest example.
Why does the US act in this destructive way? It’s important to understand that the US government doesn’t act in the interests of the ordinary, decent Americans, who are sick and tired of war and military ‘interventions’, but in the interests of Wall Street and what President Eisenhower famously referred to as ‘the military-industrial complex’.
The very last thing that Wall Street and the military-industrial complex want is peace. They thrive on wars and conflicts. Wars and conflicts mean profits. Nice, big, juicy profits. As Charlie Chaplin‘s anti-hero Monsieur Verdoux put it, “Wars, conflicts – it’s all business.”
Last month a report by the Public Accountability Initiative revealed that many of the leading ‘commentators’ who went on US TV stations to call for military strikes against Syria had undisclosed ties to military contractors. The report “identifies 22 commentators who weighed in during the Syria debate in large media outlets, and who have current industry ties that may pose conflicts of interest. The commentators are linked to large defense and intelligence contractors like Raytheon, smaller defense and intelligence contractors like TASC, defense-focused investment firms like SCP Partners, and commercial diplomacy firms like the Cohen Group.”
Among the ‘commentators’ supporting strikes on Syria was Madeline Albright, the US secretary of state at the time of the phony ‘peace’ conference at Rambouillet in 1999.
Bombing Yugoslavia, bombing Syria. With the violent destruction of Iraq and Libya along the way, to say nothing of the turmoil US policies have brought to Afghanistan and Pakistan. John Lennon implored us to ‘give peace a chance’, but until the US radically changes its political system and power is returned to ordinary people and away from those with a vested interest in endless war, its stoking up of conflicts and sabotaging of peace initiatives will only continue.
The liberal warhawks are groping around for a pretext they can call “legal” for waging war against Syria, and have come up with the 1999 “Kosovo war”.
This is not surprising insofar as a primary purpose of that US/NATO 78-day bombing spree was always to set a precedent for more such wars. The pretext of “saving the Kosovars” from an imaginary “genocide” was as false as the “weapons of mass destruction” pretext for war against Iraq, but the fakery has been much more successful with the general public. Therefore Kosovo retains its usefulness in the propaganda arsenal.
On August 24, the New York Times reported that President Obama’s national security aides are “studying the NATO air war in Kosovo as a possible blueprint for acting without a mandate from the United Nations.” (By the way, the “air war” was not “in Kosovo”, but struck the whole of what was then Yugoslavia, mostly destroying Serbia’s civilian infrastructure and also spreading destruction in Montenegro.)
On Friday, Obama admitted that going in and attacking another country “without a U.N. mandate and without clear evidence” raised questions in terms of international law.
According to the New York Times, “Kosovo is an obvious precedent for Mr. Obama because, as in Syria, civilians were killed and Russia had longstanding ties to the government authorities accused of the abuses. In 1999, President Bill Clinton used the endorsement of NATO and the rationale of protecting a vulnerable population to justify 78 days of airstrikes.”
“It’s a step too far to say we’re drawing up legal justifications for an action, given that the president hasn’t made a decision,” said a senior administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the deliberations. “But Kosovo, of course, is a precedent of something that is perhaps similar.”
Ivo H. Daalder, a former United States ambassador to NATO, suggests that the administration could argue that the use of chemical weapons in Syria amounts to a grave humanitarian emergency, just as the Clinton administration argued in 1999 that “a grave humanitarian emergency” presented the “international community” with “the responsibility to act”.
This amounts to creative legality worthy of the planet’s number one Rogue State.
An Illegal War as Precedent for More War
The US/NATO war against Yugoslavia, which used unilateral force to break up a sovereign state, detaching the historic Serbian province of Kosovo and transforming it into a US satellite, was clearly in violation of international law.
In May 2000, the distinguished British authority on international law, Sir Ian Brownlie (1936-2010), presented a 16,000-word Memorandum, evaluating the war’s legal status for the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs of the British Parliament.
Brownlie recalled that key provisions of the United Nations Charter state quite clearly that “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, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.”
Brownlie added that the alleged right to use force for humanitarian purposes was not compatible with the UN Charter.
During the past decade, the Western powers have invented and promoted a theoretical “right to protect” (R2P) in an effort to get around the UN Charter in order to clear the way for wars whose final purpose is regime change. The use of R2P to overthrow Gaddafi in Libya gave the game away, ensuring Russian and Chinese opposition for any further such manoeuvre in the UN Security Council.
Concerning the Kosovo war, in his Memorandum Professor Brownlie reached the following major conclusions:
- The primary justification for the bombing of Yugoslavia was always the imposition of the NATO plans for the future of Kosovo. It was in this context that the bombing campaign was planned in August 1998.
- The threats of massive air strikes were made in the same context and were first made public in October 1998. Neither the purpose of the planned air strikes nor their implementation related to events on the ground in Kosovo in March 1999.
- The cause of the air strikes was quite simple: given that Yugoslavia had not given in to threats, the threats had to be carried out.
- The legal basis of the action, as presented by the United Kingdom and other NATO States, was at no stage adequately articulated.
- Humanitarian intervention, the justification belatedly advanced by the NATO States, has no place either in the United Nations Charter or in customary international law.
- If the view had been held that the Permanent Members of the Security Council would recognise the need for humanitarian action, then no doubt a resolution would have been sought.
- The intentions of the United States and the United Kingdom included the removal of the Government of Yugoslavia. It is impossible to reconcile such purposes with humanitarian intervention.
- The claim to be acting on humanitarian grounds appears difficult to reconcile with the disproportionate amount of violence involved in the use of heavy ordnance and missiles. The weapons had extensive blast effects and the missiles had an incendiary element. A high proportion of targets were in towns and cities. Many of the victims were women and children. After seven weeks of the bombing at least 1,200 civilians had been killed and 4,500 injured.
- In spite of the references to the need for a peaceful solution to be found in Security Council Resolutions, the public statements of Mrs Albright, Mr Cook, Mr Holbrooke, and others, and the reiterated threats of massive air strikes, make it very clear that no ordinary diplomacy was envisaged.
The “Kosovo treatment”
As a final synopsis, Brownlie wrote a prophetic note on future use of “the Kosovo treatment”:
“The writer has contacts with a great number of diplomats and lawyers of different nationalities. The reaction to the NATO bombing campaign outside Europe and North America has been generally hostile. Most States have problems of separatism and could, on a selective basis, be the objects of Western ‘crisis management’. The selection of crises for the ‘Kosovo’ treatment will depend upon the geopolitical and collateral agenda. It is on this basis, and not a humanitarian agenda, that Yugoslavia is marked out for fragmentation on a racial basis, whilst Russia and Indonesia are not.”
He added: “Forcible intervention to serve humanitarian objectives is a claim which is only open to powerful States to make against the less powerful. The fate of Yugoslavia will have caused considerable damage to the cause of non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.”
The Brownlie Memorandum to the British Parliament is the most thorough assessment of the legal status of the Kosovo War. It is quite remarkable that the liberal warhawks around Obama talk of using that war as a “legal precedent” for a new war against Syria.
This amounts to saying that a crime committed once becomes a “precedent” to justify the crime being committed the next time.
How Many Times Can You Fool Most of the People?
If understood correctly, the Kosovo war was indeed a precedent that should act as a warning signal.
How many times can the United States use a false alarm to start an aggressive war? Non-existent “genocide” in Kosovo and Libya, non-existent weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and now what looks to much of the world like a “false flag” chemical weapons attack in Syria.
The United States habitually announces the presence of a desired casus belli, dismissing demands for concrete evidence.
In Kosovo, the United States obtained withdrawal of international observers who could have testified whether or not there was evidence of “genocide” of Kosovars. The accusations escalated during the war, and when, afterwards, no evidence of such mass murder was found, the matter was forgotten.
In Iraq, there was never any proof of WMD, but the US went ahead and invaded.
In Libya, the pretext for war was a misquoted statement of Gaddafi threatening a “massacre of civilians” in Benghazi. This was exposed as a fake, but again, NATO bombed, the regime was toppled, and the pretext falls into oblivion.
Sunday, just as the Syrian government announced readiness to allow international inspectors to investigate allegations of chemical weapons use, the White House responded, “too late!”
A senior Obama administration official demanding anonymity (one can reasonably guess the official was Obama’s hawkish National Security Advisor Susan Rice) issued a statement claiming that there was “very little doubt” that President Bashar al-Assad’s military forces had used chemical weapons against civilians and that a promise to allow United Nations inspectors access to the site was “too late to be credible.”
In the world beyond the beltway, there is a great deal of doubt – especially about the credibility of the United States government when it comes to finding pretexts to go to war. Moreover, setting “chemical weapons” as a “red line” obliging the US to go to war is totally arbitrary. There are many ways of killing people in a civil war. Selecting one as a trigger for US intervention serves primarily to give rebels an excellent reason to carry out a “false flag” operation that will bring NATO into the war they are losing.
Who really wants or needs US intervention? The American people? What good will it do them to get involved in yet another endless Middle East war?
But who has influence on Obama? The American people? Or is it rather “our staunchest ally”, who is most concerned about rearranging the Middle East neighborhood?
“This situation must not be allowed to continue,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, expressing remarkable concern for Syrian civilians “who were so brutally attacked by weapons of mass destruction.”
“The most dangerous regimes in the world must not be allowed to possess the most dangerous weapons in the world,” Netanyahu added.
Incidentally, polls have been taken showing that for much of the world, the most dangerous regime in the world is Israel, which is allowed to possess the most dangerous weapons – nuclear weapons. But there is no chance that Israel will ever get “the Kosovo treatment”.
DIANA JOHNSTONE is the author of Fools Crusade: Yugoslavia, NATO and Western Delusions. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
By JEAN BRICMONT | December 4, 2012
Ever since the 1990s, and especially since the Kosovo war in 1999, anyone who opposes armed interventions by Western powers and NATO has to confront what may be called an anti-anti-war left (including its far left segment). In Europe, and notably in France, this anti-anti-war left is made up of the mainstream of social democracy, the Green parties and most of the radical left. The anti-anti-war left does not come out openly in favor of Western military interventions and even criticizes them at times (but usually only for their tactics or alleged motivations – the West is supporting a just cause, but clumsily and for oil or for geo-strategic reasons). But most of its energy is spent issuing “warnings” against the supposed dangerous drift of that part of the left that remains firmly opposed to such interventions. It calls upon us to show solidarity with the “victims” against “dictators who kill their own people”, and not to give in to knee-jerk anti-imperialism, anti-Americanism, or anti-Zionism, and above all not to end up on the same side as the far right. After the Kosovo Albanians in 1999, we have been told that “we” must protect Afghan women, Iraqi Kurds and more recently the people of Libya and of Syria.
It cannot be denied that the anti-anti-war left has been extremely effective. The Iraq war, which was sold to the public as a fight against an imaginary threat, did indeed arouse a fleeting opposition, but there has been very little opposition on the left to interventions presented as “humanitarian”, such as the bombing of Yugoslavia to detach the province of Kosovo, the bombing of Libya to get rid of Gaddafi, or the current intervention in Syria. Any objections to the revival of imperialism or in favor of peaceful means of dealing with such conflicts have simply been brushed aside by invocations of “R2P”, the right or responsibility to protect, or the duty to come to the aid of a people in danger.
The fundamental ambiguity of the anti-anti-war left lies in the question as to who are the “we” who are supposed to intervene and protect. One might ask the Western left, social movements or human rights organizations the same question Stalin addressed to the Vatican, “How many divisions do you have?” As a matter of fact, all the conflicts in which “we” are supposed to intervene are armed conflicts. Intervening means intervening militarily and for that, one needs the appropriate military means. It is perfectly obvious that the Western left does not possess those means. It could call on European armies to intervene, instead of the United States, but they have never done so without massive support from the United States. So in reality the actual message of the anti-anti-war left is: “Please, oh Americans, make war not love!” Better still, inasmuch as since their debacle in Afghanistan and in Iraq, the Americans are leery of sending in ground troops, the message amounts to nothing other than asking the U.S. Air Force to go bomb countries where human rights violations are reported to be taking place.
Of course, anyone is free to claim that human rights should henceforth be entrusted to the good will of the U.S. government, its bombers, its missile launchers and its drones. But it is important to realize that that is the concrete meaning of all those appeals for “solidarity” and “support” to rebel or secessionist movements involved in armed struggles. Those movements have no need of slogans shouted during “demonstrations of solidarity” in Brussels or in Paris, and that is not what they are asking for. They want to get heavy weapons and see their enemies bombed.
The anti-anti-war left, if it were honest, should be frank about this choice, and openly call on the United States to go bomb wherever human rights are violated; but then it should accept the consequences. In fact, the political and military class that is supposed to save the populations “massacred by their dictators” is the same one that waged the Vietnam war, that imposed sanctions and wars on Iraq, that imposes arbitrary sanctions on Cuba, Iran and any other country that meets with their disfavor, that provides massive unquestioning support to Israel, which uses every means including coups d’état to oppose social reformers in Latin America, from Arbenz to Chavez by way of Allende, Goulart and others, and which shamelessly exploits workers and resources the world over. One must be quite starry-eyed to see in that political and military class the instrument of salvation of “victims”, but that is in practice exactly what the anti-anti-war left is advocating, because, given the relationship of forces in the world, there is no other military force able to impose its will.
Of course, the U.S. government is scarcely aware of the existence of the anti-anti-war left. The United States decides whether or not to wage war according to the chances of succeeding and to their own assessment of their strategic, political and economic interests. And once a war is begun, they want to win at all costs. It makes no sense to ask them to carry out only good interventions, against genuine villains, using gentle methods that spare civilians and innocent bystanders.
For example, those who call for “saving Afghan women” are in fact calling on the United States to intervene and, among other things, bomb Afghan civilians and shoot drones at Pakistan. It makes no sense to ask them to protect but not to bomb, because armies function by shooting and bombing.
A favorite theme of the anti-anti-war left is to accuse those who reject military intervention of “supporting the dictator”, meaning the leader of the currently targeted country. The problem is that every war is justified by a massive propaganda effort which is based on demonizing the enemy, especially the enemy leader. Effectively opposing that propaganda requires contextualizing the crimes attributed to the enemy and comparing them to those of the side we are supposed to support. That task is necessary but risky; the slightest mistake will be endlessly used against us, whereas all the lies of the pro-war propaganda are soon forgotten.
Already, during the First World War, Bertrand Russell and British pacifists were accused of “supporting the enemy”. But if they denounced Allied propaganda, it was not out of love for the German Kaiser, but in the cause of peace. The anti-anti-war left loves to denounce the “double standards” of coherent pacifists who criticize the crimes of their own side more sharply than those attributed to the enemy of the moment (Milosevic, Gaddafi, Assad, and so on), but this is only the necessary result of a deliberate and legitimate choice: to counter the war propaganda of our own media and political leaders (in the West), propaganda which is based on constant demonization of the enemy under attack accompanied by idealization of the attacker.
The anti-anti-war left has no influence on American policy, but that doesn’t mean that it has no effect. Its insidious rhetoric has served to neutralize any peace or anti-war movement. It has also made it impossible for any European country to take such an independent position as France took under De Gaulle, or even Chirac, or as Sweden did with Olof Palme. Today such a position would be instantly attacked by the anti-anti-war left, which is echoed by European media, as “support to dictators”, another “Munich”, or “the crime of indifference”.
What the anti-anti-war left has managed to accomplish is to destroy the sovereignty of Europeans in regard to the United States and to eliminate any independent left position concerning war and imperialism. It has also led most of the European left to adopt positions in total contradiction with those of the Latin American left and to consider as adversaries countries such as China and Russia which seek to defend international law, as indeed they should.
When the media announce that a massacre is imminent, we hear at times that action is “urgent” to save the alleged future victims, and time cannot be lost making sure of the facts. This may be true when a building is on fire in one’s own neighborhood, but such urgency regarding other countries ignores the manipulation of information and just plain error and confusion that dominate foreign news coverage. Whatever the political crisis abroad, the instant “we must do something” reflex brushes aside serious reflection on the left as to what might be done instead of military intervention. What sort of independent investigation could be carried out to understand the causes of conflict and potential solutions? What can be the role of diplomacy? The prevailing images of immaculate rebels, dear to the left from its romanticizing of past conflicts, especially the Spanish Civil War, blocks reflection. It blocks realistic assessment of the relationship of forces as well as the causes of armed rebellion in the world today, very different from the 1930s, favorite source of the cherished legends of the Western left.
What is also remarkable is that most of the anti-anti-war left shares a general condemnation of the revolutions of the past, because they led to Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot etc. But now that the revolutionaries are (Western backed) Islamists, we are supposed to believe that everything will turn out fine. What about “drawing the lesson from the past” that violent revolutions are not necessarily the best or the only way to achieve social change?
An alternative policy would take a 180° turn away from the one currently advocated by the anti-anti-war left. Instead of calling for more and more interventions, we should demand of our governments the strict respect for international law, non-interference in the internal affairs of other States and cooperation instead of confrontation. Non-interference means not only military non-intervention. It applies also to diplomatic and economic actions: no unilateral sanctions, no threats during negotiations, and equal treatment of all States. Instead of constantly “denouncing” the leaders of countries such as Russia, China, Iran, Cuba for violating human rights, something the anti-anti-war left loves to do, we should listen to what they have to say, dialogue with them, and help our fellow citizens understand the different ways of thinking in the world, including the criticisms that other countries can make of our way of doing things. Cultivating such mutual understanding could in the long run be the best way to improve “human rights” everywhere.
This would not bring instant solutions to human rights abuses or political conflicts in countries such as Libya or Syria. But what does? The policy of interference increases tensions and militarization in the world. The countries that feel targeted by that policy, and they are numerous, defend themselves however they can. The demonization campaigns prevent peaceful relations between peoples, cultural exchanges between citizens and, indirectly, the flourishing of the very liberal ideas that the advocates of interference claim to be promoting. Once the anti-anti-war left abandoned any alternative program, it in fact gave up the possibility of having the slightest influence over world affairs. It does not in reality “help the victims” as it claims. Except for destroying all resistance here to imperialism and war, it does nothing. The only ones who are really doing anything are in fact the succeeding U.S. administrations. Counting on them to care for the well-being of the world’s peoples is an attitude of total hopelessness. This hopelessness is an aspect of the way most of the Left reacted to the “fall of communism”, by embracing the policies that were the exact opposite of those of the communists, particularly in international affairs, where opposition to imperialism and the defense of national sovereignty have increasingly been demonized as “leftovers from Stalinism”.
Interventionism and European construction are both right-wing policies. One of them is linked to the American drive for world hegemony. The other is the framework supporting neoliberal economic policies and destruction of social protection. Paradoxically, both have been largely justified by “left-wing” ideas : human rights, internationalism, anti-racism and anti-nationalism. In both cases, a left that lost its way after the fall of the Soviet bloc has grasped at salvation by clinging to a “generous, humanitarian” discourse, which totally lacks any realistic analysis of the relationship of forces in the world. With such a left, the right hardly needs any ideology of its own; it can make do with human rights.
Nevertheless, both those policies, interventionism and European construction, are today in a dead end. U.S. imperialism is faced with huge difficulties, both economic and diplomatic. Its intervention policy has managed to unite much of the world against the United States. Scarcely anyone believes any more in “another” Europe, a social Europe, and the real existing European Union (the only one possible) does not arouse much enthusiasm among working people. Of course, those failures currently benefit solely the right and the far right, only because most of the left has stopped defending peace, international law and national sovereignty, as the precondition of democracy.
 On the occasion of the recent NATO summit in Chicago, Amnesty International launched a campaign of posters calling on NATO to “keep up the progress” on behalf of women in Afghanistan, without explaining, or even raising the question as to how a military organization was supposed to accomplish such an objective.
- Noam Chomsky’s Savage UN Warmongering (economicpolicyjournal.com)