Pit Schultz on Sat, 27 Mar 1999 09:08:04 +0100

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Syndicate: Bombing Serbia is Dangerously Counterproductive - Jonathan Power

Bombing Serbia is Dangerously Counterproductive


March 24, 1999

LONDON- The only rational reason for western air attacks on Yugoslavia is
that Washington and London have to maintain their credibility. Young men's
lives will be sacrificed for older men's face. They said they would do it. So
they do it. This is both irresponsible and stupid.

At the most basic it will be done at a most severe military cost. This is not
going to be a repeat of the recent bombings of Iraq. The Serbs do have the
capacity to hit back and NATO's targets are many. Not just the off-shore
flotilla of warships but NATO troops in Bosnia and Macedonia.

Second, the West is justifying the operation as necessary to avoid a
humanitarian disaster. We are now going to witness the paradox of aerial
bombing. While it consolidates the support of the nation being bombed behind
their leader, (the lesson of its short history), it will also create a new
humanitarian disaster, of far bigger proportions than the one it is supposed
to stop. Not only is it likely to cause social chaos in Serbia, it will
create waves of refugees streaming out of Kosovo in far greater numbers than
we presently see. This is simply because once Serbia is under attack its army
will ratchet up as fast as possible its campaign to vanquish Kosovo.

Which explains why bombing without the intervening, directing hand of ground
troops is militarily inadequate. The only way to stop the Serbian blitzkreig
of Kosovo now under way is to put tanks and troops in their way. "If you
carry out an act of war you have to be prepared to go the whole distance,"
said General Michael Rose, former commander of UN forces in Bosnia,
yesterday. There are at present 12,000 NATO troops in neighbouring Macedonia
waiting to enter Kosovo to enforce the peace deal if it were successfully
negociated. Most are European troops; there are only a handful of Americans.
This is less than one seventh the number of soldiers NATO estimates as
necessary for a fighting mission and, numbers apart, they are not
sufficiently armed for it.

There is a powerful political myth that airstrikes in Bosnia in the summer of
1995 were a great success and that little bit of history can be repeated.
There is no comparison. Five years ago the Serbs had already lost to the
Croats on the battlefield. Today's situation is the reverse of that. The
Kosovo liberation forces are in the process of being routed.

NATO is taking an almighty gamble. President Bill Clinton and Prime Minister
Tony Blair have persuaded themselves that a quick sharp bombing will be
enough to persuade Serbia's President Slobodan Milosevic to accept the peace
deal. But that it will be not enough to encourage the ethnic Albanians in
Kosovo to seek complete independence.

This is to play roulette. There is a school of thought, which Clinton and
Blair appear party to--which says that Milosevic is just looking for an
excuse to make a deal. He needs to be able to say to his Serbian nationalist
supporters that he pushed it as far as he reasonably could. If this is right,
all well and good. But it is an enormous gamble.

But if it's wrong then NATO will have no choice but to introduce ground
forces, for which it is inadequately prepared. Where will that lead?

If the military arguments for bombing are weak, the political ones are
non-existent. The U.S. and Britain are acting in the name of NATO. But NATO,
even if it were united on this decision, which it is not, has no legal
footing to take such action. Article 53 of the UN Charter, which the West
wrote says, "No enforcement action shall be taken by regional agencies
without the authorization of the Security Council".

The trouble with flying in the face of the Charter is that when the West
bends it out of shape it does not, like a rubber band, simply spring back to
where it was, ready for use the next time. It is damaged, perhaps unuseable.
Why should other countries pay it heed? Why should China not use force to win
back Taiwan or finesse the Law of the Sea?

Clinton talks about Kosovo being part of Europe as if it were analogous to
Czechoslovakia and Poland in Hitler's time. It is not. It is not the heart of
Europe. It is a part of the world--especially the Albanian part--that has
been ruled since the Second World War by leaders who wanted to be apart from
democratic Europe.

The West is not defending essential Europe under attack--in which case it
could justify its case under Article 51 of the UN Charter. It is intervening
in a peripheral war, of which there are many around the world. Is it as
important as, say Rwanda, five years ago, when half a million people were

Why didn't the West intervene then? Why did Clinton then choose to undermine
the UN peacekeeping operation? If he hadn't then--and in Somalia before--the
UN might be prepared and organized to do some useful intervening in Kosovo
today. In "Saving Kosovo" Clinton and Blair are destroying a lot.

Copyright © 1999 By JONATHAN POWER