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[casi] A pattern of aggression

A pattern of aggression,9115,1018402,00.html

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

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

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

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.

”PKate 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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