Nato’s deadly legacy from Kosovo
Robert Skidelsky
Financial Times | Tuesday, December 14, 1999

With the west's humanitarian concern now focused on Russia's assault on Grozny, it is a good moment to look back on Kosovo, not least because the renewal of the Chechen war is a direct consequence of the Kosovan operation. It showed Russia the "western, civilised" way of waging this type of war, and it tilted the balance of power in Russian politics towards the military.
 
The publication last week of "Human Rights in Kosovo", a report by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, is another reason to revisit Kosovo, because it so clearly exposes the lies spun by Nato's war machine.
 
By now, it should be clear that Nato's military intervention in Yugoslavia was illegal under international law. The UN Charter limits members' external use of force to self-defence and actions authorised by the Security Council. Protection of human rights is not a ground in international law for military intervention in the domestic affairs of sovereign states.
 
As the OSCE report makes clear, Nato's military intervention caused the humanitarian catastrophe it was ostensibly designed to avert. Based on the evidence of monitors on the ground and refugees during the bombing period, the report establishes that it was only after OSCE observers left Kosovo on March 20, four days before bombing started, that general and systematic violation of human rights began to occur.
 
"Summary and arbitrary killing became a generalised phenomenon throughout Kosovo with the beginning of the Nato air campaign against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia on the night of March 24-25."
 
The report provides no evidence to back Nato's claim that genocide and mass expulsion of Kosovo Albanians was the deliberate aim of Slobodan Milosevic, the Yugoslav leader, and that it was only Nato's intervention that averted this "humanitarian catastrophe". On the contrary, it makes it clear that the human rights situation in Kosovo had improved after the installation of the monitors in November 1998, and that the flight or expulsion of 863,000 Kosovo Albanians took place after the air raids began.
 
Under no circumstances can the Yugoslav response to Nato's action be justified. But it has to be remembered that Yugoslavia was expecting a ground invasion in addition to the hostilities of the Kosovo Liberation Army.
 
The main aim of any sensible diplomacy should have been to ensure that an expanded force of monitors was kept in place in Kosovo. This was inconsistent with Nato's determination to use the threat of force to bring Mr Milosevic to heel.
 
Nato's actions have made the world a much more dangerous place. Almost all of the non-Nato, non-Islamic world was deeply hostile to the war. Alexander Lukin, director of Moscow's Institute for Political and Legal Studies, sees Nato's "new strategic doctrine" as a project that "implies an unlimited enlargement of Nato's membership, extending its writ to a vaguely defined Euro-Atlantic area and eventually the whole world".
 
Mr Lukin laments the fact that "all the Nato countries followed the US in a deliberate effort to destroy the post-second world war international system".
 
The damage to the post-war system can already be seen in the start of global rearmament, and the new strategic doctrines of Russia, India and China. The "cold peace" predicted by Boris Yeltsin, the Russian president, has already arrived.
 
If truth is the first casualty of war, then acknowledgment of that truth should be the first step towards reconciliation. The truths embodied in the propositions above are not the whole truth. As the OSCE report says, violation of human rights was "both cause and consequence of the conflict in Kosovo".
 
Mr Milosevic and the Serbs who supported him bear a heavy responsibility for the suffering. But Nato has not acknowledged its own contribution to the disaster.
 
If admission of error is an essential ingredient of reconciliation, another should be restitution for damage over the Balkan area. The IMF estimates that the six countries most directly affected by the war (excluding Serbia) lost 2 per cent of their national output as a result of the conflict. Serbia's loss is estimated at 45 per cent.
 
A Nato "Marshall Aid" package would not only be justified, but prudent, for economic impoverishment is the seedbed of virulent nationalism.
 
Finally, we should learn from the experience of eastern Europe's "velvet revolution" of 1989-90, and drop indictments for war crimes against Mr Milosevic.
 
This will enable him to give up power without being handed over for trial at the Hague Tribunal. His own rule should not be perpetuated by those who also have blood on their hands.
 
Unless we are willing to come clean on Kosovo, Russia will not listen to us on Chechnya - or anything much else.