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[casi] A pattern of aggression




http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,3604,1018258,00.html

Comment

A pattern of aggression

Iraq was not the first illegal US-led attack on a
sovereign state in recent times. The precedent was set
in 1999 in Yugoslavia writes Kate Hudson

Thursday August 14, 2003
The Guardian (London)

The legality of the war against Iraq remains the focus
of intense debate - as is the challenge it poses to
the post-second-world-war order, based on the
inviolability of sovereign states. That challenge,
however, is not a new one. The precursor is without
doubt Nato's 1999 attack on Yugoslavia, also carried
out without UN support. Look again at how the US and
its allies behaved then, and the pattern is
unmistakable.
Yugoslavia was a sovereign state with internationally
recognised borders; an unsolicited intervention in its
internal affairs was excluded by international law.
The US-led onslaught was therefore justified as a
humanitarian war - a concept that most international
lawyers regarded as having no legal standing (the
Commons foreign affairs select committee described it
as of "dubious legality"). The attack was also outside
Nato's own remit as a defensive organisation - its
mission statement was later rewritten to allow for
such actions.

In Yugoslavia, as in Iraq, the ultimate goal of the
aggressor nations was regime change. In Iraq, the
justification for aggression was the possession of
weapons of mass destruction; in Yugoslavia, it was the
prevention of a humanitarian crisis and genocide in
Kosovo. In both cases, the evidence for such
accusations has been lacking: but while this is now
widely accepted in relation to Iraq, the same is not
true of Yugoslavia.

In retrospect, it has become ever clearer that the
justification for war was the result of a calculated
provocation - and manipulation of the legitimate
grievances of the Kosovan Albanians - in an already
tense situation within the Yugoslav republic of
Serbia. The constitutional status of Kosovo had been
long contested and the case for greater Kosovan
Albanian self-government had been peacefully
championed by the Kosovan politician, Ibrahim Rugova.

In 1996, however, the marginal secessionist group, the
Kosovo Liberation Army, stepped up its violent
campaign for Kosovan independence and launched a
series of assassinations of policemen and civilians in
Kosovo, targeting not only Serbs, but also Albanians
who did not support the KLA. The Yugoslav government
branded the KLA a terrorist organisation - a
description also used by US officials. As late as the
beginning of 1998, Robert Gelbard, US special envoy to
Bosnia, declared: "The UCK (KLA) is without any
question a terrorist group."

KLA attacks drew an increasingly heavy military
response from Yugoslav government forces and in the
summer of 1998 a concerted offensive against KLA
strongholds began. In contrast to its earlier
position, the US administration now threatened to bomb
Yugoslavia unless the government withdrew its forces
from the province, verified by the Organisation for
Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). The US was
now clearly determined to remove Milosevic, who was
obstructing Yugoslavia's integration into the western
institutional and economic framework.

Agreement was reached in October 1998 and 1,000 OSCE
observers went to Kosovo to oversee the withdrawal of
government troops. But the KLA used the pullback to
renew armed attacks. In January 1999 an alleged
massacre of 45 Kosovan Albanians by Yugoslav
government forces took place at Racak. Both at the
time and subsequently, evidence has been contradictory
and fiercely contested as to whether the Racak victims
were civilians or KLA fighters and whether they died
in a firefight or close-range shootings.

Nevertheless, Racak was seized on by the US to justify
acceleration towards war. In early 1999, the OSCE
reported that "the current security environment in
Kosovo is characterised by the disproportionate use of
force by the Yugoslav authorities in response to
persistent attacks and provocations by the Kosovan
Albanian paramilitaries." But when the Rambouillet
talks convened in February 1999, the KLA was accorded
the status of national leader. The Rambouillet text,
proposed by the then US secretary of state, Madeleine
Albright, included a wide range of freedoms and
immunities for Nato forces within Yugoslavia that
amounted to an effective occupation. Even the former
US secretary of state, Henry Kissinger, described it
as "a provocation, an excuse to start bombing". The
Yugoslavs refused to sign, so bombing began on March
24 1999.

Despite claims by western leaders that Yugoslav forces
were conducting "genocide" against the Kosovan
Albanians, reports of mass killings and atrocities -
such as the supposed concealment of 700 murdered
Kosovan Albanians in the Trepca mines - were often
later admitted to be wrong. Atrocities certainly were
carried out by both Serb and KLA forces. But
investigative teams did not find evidence of the scale
of dead or missing claimed at the time, responsibility
for which was attributed to the Yugoslavs. The damage
inflicted by US and British bombing, meanwhile, was
considerable, including civilian casualties estimated
at between 1,000 and 5,000 deaths. Nato forces also
used depleted uranium weapons - linked to cancers and
birth defects - while Nato bombers destroyed swathes
of Serbia's economic and social infrastructure.

Far from solving a humanitarian crisis, the 79-day
bombardment triggered the flight of hundreds of
thousands of Kosovans. Half a million Kosovan
Albanians who had supposedly been internally displaced
turned out not to have been, and of the 800,000 who
had sought refuge or been forced into neighbouring
countries, the UNHCR estimated that 765,000 had
already returned to Kosovo by August of the same year.
A more long-lasting result, however, was that half the
Kosovan Serb population - approximately 100,000 - left
Kosovo or was driven out.

So was the war worth it? Notwithstanding the Nato-UN
protectorate established in Kosovo, the territorial
integrity of Yugoslavia was no longer under threat -
the Kosovans did not achieve their independence. Nor
has western support for the KLA been mirrored in
Kosovan voting patterns: the party of Rugova, who
never backed the violent path, received a convincing
majority in the elections in 2001.

Meanwhile, violence dogs the surviving minority
communities, and in spite of the presence of 40,000
K-For troops and a UN police force, the Serb and other
minorities (such as Roma) have continued to be forced
out. More than 200,000 are now estimated to have left.
In the short term, support for Milosevic actually
increased as a result of the war, and the regime was
only changed through a combination of economic
sanctions, elections and heavy western intervention.
Such interference in a country's internal politics
does not generally lead to a stable and peaceful
society, as evidenced by the recent assassination of
Serbian prime minister Zoran Djindjic, the most
pro-western politician in the country.

As in Yugoslavia, so in Iraq: illegal aggression
justified by spin and fabrication enables might to
prevail and deals a terrible blow to the framework of
international law. As in Yugoslavia, so in Iraq,
people's wellbeing comes a poor second-best to the
interests of the world's self-appointed moral and
economic arbiters.

ĚKate Hudson is principal lecturer in Russian and East
European politics at South Bank University, London and
author of Breaking the South Slav Dream: the Rise and
Fall of Yugoslavia






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