On the Kosovo War

It is tragic to witness Canada's participation in the merciless bombardment and destruction of Yugoslavia.

Of course everyone is outraged at the Serbian treatment of the ethnic Albanians - just as we are aghast at the persecution of the Kurds by Turkey, the assault on women by the Taliban in Afghanistan, the slaughters in Algeria, the military repression of democracy in Myanmar, the genocidal conflicts in Eritrea-Ethiopia, Somalia, Rwanda, Indonesia, the civil war in Columbia, and so on ad nauseam.

But some truths need to be faced which are perhaps hard to accept, but almost impossible to deny.

1) No matter how glorious and smart our weapons and technology are, using them cannot prevent atrocities from taking place - but it can, as in the case of Yugoslavia today, make them incomparably worse. While it is infinitely lamentable that crimes against humanity are being committed in scores of countries, military attacks usually jeopardize the victims of these crimes more than the perpetrators - a classic case of the remedy being worse than the disease.

2) In almost every instance since World War II in which the United States and some of its allies have used their sophisticated powers of destruction-purportedly to save some group or stop some aggression-the results have been catastrophic, both in terms of massive destruction, loss of life, political legacy and destabilization of world order. Forty years after the intervention, Korea remains a partitioned tinder box, its north engulfed by chronic famine. Thirty years ago, after Vietnam was bombed, poisoned, defoliated, and saturated with mines, it remains unlikely to recover in the foreseeable future. Laos and Cambodia are two other nearly forgotten countries in which U.S. bombing left behind nothing but misery, devastation, anguish - and unexploded bombs which continue to kill and maim tens of thousands every year. In Iraq, a whole generation of young soldiers was essentially exterminated, the country's infrastructure decimated, and hundreds of thousands, especially infants, are dying every year for lack of food and medicine caused by the sanctions. We can indeed destroy countries - although their regimes usually manage to survive - but bombs cannot end ethnic hatred and conflict, they can only exacerbate it.

3) The issues in civil conflicts are almost never 100% clear-cut and one-sided, and that is obviously true in Kosovo. An armed rebellion to divide the country was taking place, just as it has in so many other countries, including the United States.

Inevitably, strong motives and apparent justifications will always arise for individual countries or groups of countries to unleash violence on others. But condoning or participating in this trashes the slow search for an international framework of law and justice, without which our species and planet are unlikely to survive the coming century.

Not all crimes can be prevented or successfully prosecuted, even within western democracies like our own, which are fairly well served by long-established legal institutions. Soiling the respect for the law ultimately causes far more damage than letting an occasional perpetrator go unpunished. That is why our courts so vigilantly uphold the principle of due process.

Canada has in the past usually upheld this principle with our strong support for the United Nations and our peacekeeping missions. The fact that working through the United Nations is slow and difficult is no excuse for the vigilante-type action now taking place. It is simply unacceptable that Bill Clinton - or Lloyd Axworthy, for that matter - be allowed to decide in this nearly frivolous manner to unleash murderous weapons on another country. This precedent could theoretically be used by almost any country to justify attacking any other country.

Outside intervention must be limited to those rare situations in which the issues are so clear that the United Nations itself can agree to and implement action. Perhaps the difficulty of achieving such agreement is not a bad thing.

The only hope for mankind's long-term survival is to establish a world order based on law and respect for treaties and other agreements between nations. This NATO action shatters whatever progress has been made in this direction over the past several decades.

Anton Kuerti


Peace Magazine May-June 1999

Peace Magazine May-June 1999, page 5. Some rights reserved.

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