The U.S. and the Kosovo Crisis

By Achin Vanaik

THE HINDU, Chennai, India, April 22, 1999

THREE QUESTIONS dominate the analysis and assessment of the NATO air- 
strikes against Mr. Slobodan Milosevic's Yugoslavia. How wrong or right are
these? Why has the United States carried out these strikes? What are the 

The first issue goes to the heart of the tension between the claims of 
national sovereignty and its inviolability as laid down in the U.N. Charter
and those of universal human rights as embodied in the U.N. Declaration of 
Human Rights. Doesn't humanitarian intervention (in the name of which the 
U.S. is justifying its actions) override principles of national self- 
determination and non-interference from outside? Insofar as nations and 
nation-states are historically contingent phenomena, the collective rights 
associated with them, e.g., the principle of non- interference and national
sovereignty, cannot take precedence over the universal human rights of 

Countries and peoples are entitled to intervene to prevent and mitigate 
human rights violations in other countries. Universal abhorrence of 
apartheid, colonialism and massacres should lead to just such interference.
However, it does not follow that the current U.S. and NATO intervention in 
Serbia is justified. Humanitarian intervention is a general principle but 
its actualisation must proceed within properly defined limits and 
possibilities. It is one thing to sanction non-military intervention (
economic or cultural sanctions, diplomatic condemnation and pressure, 
relief aid, etc.) and quite another to try and justify external military 
intervention. As a general rule this is unacceptable.

The rare exceptions would be when the existence of a people is itself 
threatened by mass slaughter, e.g., the millions killed by the Pol Pot 
regime justifying the Vietnamese invasion (which also had other motives).

Terrible as the tragedy of ethnic cleansing by the Serbian Government 
against the Kosovan Albanians is, it clearly does not fall into this 
category. Here we are talking of hundreds of thousands of refugees. 
Moreover, even if the principle of external military intervention is 
applicable in a certain case, there is the crucial question who is entitled
to carry out the intervention. There is a world of difference between an 
internationally-accepted body doing so (and that too within explicitly 
defined limits) and any country or group of countries acting on its own. In
short, there is the matter of "good faith," which is established by the 
historical record of the intervening body and not simply by its professed 
declarations. Here the international record of the U.S. is nothing short of
disgraceful. It has been the rogue state par excellence repeatedly defying 
international rulings whether by the World Court or by U.N. resolutions 
when these have not suited its interests. In short, there is no serious or 
genuine legal, moral, political justification for the U.S.-led NATO's 
actions in Serbia.

To understand why NATO on U.S. dictates has carried out these strikes we 
need to understand the U.S. policy perspectives after the end of the Cold 
War. The collapse of the former Soviet bloc, of the USSR itself and former 
Yugoslavia, provided a new ambition and opportunity, which the U.S. was 
quick to seize. It has since 1991 sought to extend its influence to Eastern
Europe, to the independent former Soviet republics and to the region once 
constituted by Tito's united Yugoslavia. This was in keeping with the U.S. 
ambitions to become the dominant global force. At the same time, this was 
to be achieved without provoking serious resistance notably from Russia and
China or from ambitious players such as Japan, Germany and France. What were
the most favourable conditions that could allow the realisation of this goal
? What were to be the favoured instruments for its pursuit?

The Eastern Bloc countries had to be rapidly incorporated into the world 
capitalist system economically and into the American sphere of influence 
politically. The same applied to the Balkans. To this end, it was vital 
that a class of capitalists firmly committed (because it would benefit most
quickly and strongly) to the rapidest path of systemic transition to 
capitalism be created. A shock therapy or the IMF/WB-sponsored neo-liberal 
economic restructuring was the favoured instrument. The issue was never 
whether the mass of ordinary citizens in Eastern Europe, Russia and the 
Balkans should suffer the least from the transition but that the social 
conditions for securing the irreversibility of the transition - a powerful 
capitalist class - should be established as quickly as possible. This is a 
matter of great importance because much of the tragedy in the Balkans, 
whether of Bosnia or of Kosovo, has to do with the great economic and 
social hardship imposed on ordinary people throughout the Nineties by such 
neo-liberal policies - the largely untold story about this region.

As for U.S. political influence, it had to be enhanced through NATO. This 
was especially important because the end of the Cold War raised both the 
legitimacy and the prospect of new forms of organising the security of 
Europe, particularly through the search for new cooperative arrangements 
with Russia. This would have ended the political separation of Russia from 
Europe which, along with the American determination to keep German power 
down, was the rationale for having a U.S.-led NATO regime. It was summed up
in the old saw about NATO's purpose being "to keep the Russians out, the 
Germans down and the Americans in."

Once it was decided to strengthen NATO, then this imposed its own logic. 
NATO had to be enlarged despite the alienating effect on Russia. Its 
credibility as the principal military security force in Europe had to be 
reinforced and sustained. The problem with Mr. Milosevic has not been his 
ruthless "ethnic cleansing". The U.S.-brokered Dayton Accords (which 
symbolised the West European inability to "stabilise" the region without a 
crucial U.S. input) were actually more favourable to Serbian and Croatian 
desires to cantonise Bosnia permanently than to maintain a truly 
independent and multi-ethnic Bosnian political entity. The problem with 
Mr.Milosevic is that despite the lesson provided by Dayton, he had the 
temerity to directly challenge American and NATO credibility, not accepting
the U.S.-determined conditions for regional stability as in the Rambouillet 
(France) agreement, which incidentally gives Kosovo less autonomy than it 
enjoyed in the old Yugoslav Federation. He needed to be taught a lesson.

The actual effects of the air-strikes are contradictory. NATO has asserted 
its status as the European security-military structure to the exclusion of 
all structural rivals, actual or potential. This has been highlighted by 
the obsequious acceptance of its acts by the most powerful governments in 
Europe. However, the military punitive measures do not weaken Mr. 
Milosevic's domestic political position; they actually promote his effort 
to reduce and destabilise Kosovo's Albanian population.

There is yet another contradiction. If these strikes set a further 
precedent (after the earlier strikes against Iraq, Afghanistan and Sudan) 
for the U.S. to act when and where it wishes as a global policeman, it does
not follow that it can actually do so with impunity or with easy endorsement
by public opinion either internationally or within the Western countries 

Also at play here is a distinctive post-Cold War dilemma. Though the U.S. 
military might has in comparative terms become great, the payoff in terms 
of political influence and control (whether in Iraq, Iran and the Middle 
East generally or in the Balkans) from the exercise of such might has 
become more problematic! Finally, such acts are counter-productive, 
alienating other major non-Western countries, especially Russia, and 
encouraging it and others to seek countervailing alignments.


"In short, there is no serious or genuine legal, moral, political 
justification for the U.S.-led NATO's actions in Serbia."