What lessons have emerged from NATO'S self-proclaimed victory in Kosovo? Bombing supporters chanted "stop ethnic cleansing." Indeed, ethnic cleansing demanded a strong response. But those who shunned the flawed law and the UN backed a campaign to pulverize Kosovo and Serbia from the air. Now they face some embarrassing facts.
Secretary of State Madeline Albright had insisted at Rambouillet that Yugoslav President Milosevic accept all the points in the NATO proposal, or face NATO bombers. Milosevic accepted all but two conditions - that NATO troops could patrol all of Serbia not just Kosovo, and that Kosovars would be able to vote for independence within three years.
Milosevic refused and NATO then bombed Yugoslavia to force acceptance of peace accords that, surprisingly, contain neither of those two provisions. If these terms meant so much, why did NATO delete them after setting a new, world record for number of bombs dropped in two and a half months?
Second, if going to war to stop Milosevic's ethnic cleansing involved "basic principles," the NATO leaders will have to explain their new morality: defense of "basic principles" does not include risking the lives of NATO soldiers. Is this the famous Bill Clinton-Tony Blair "third way," which will redefine the words "basic" and "principles."
A preliminary death inventory shows western nations lost no soldiers. NATO estimates that its bombs killed some 6,000 Serb soldiers and 2,500 Serb civilians. 200,000 Kosovars remain unaccounted for. Add to the dead count, those who can or will never return to their homes. Is this what Clinton and the other NATO leaders mean by victory and defense of basic principles? Not to mention the incredible mess left on the ground in Kosovo and the damage done to Yugoslav infrastructure.
Humanitarians - left, liberal and conservative -- who supported the bombing to stop ethnic cleansing may want to reevaluate the air war strategy in light of these figures.
Did the bombing actually lead to more killing? Or if NATO hadn't struck would Milosevic's para-military squads have done even more damage? An iffy question.
Los Angeles Times correspondent Paul Watson, who observed inside Kosovo throughout the bombing, reports that NATO strategy only intensified the Kosovo bloodshed. The hatred that existed before the hurricane of bombs fell, has been multiplied because of the bombing.
New York Times reporter Steven Erlanger likewise reports that Serb forces responded to NATO bombing by unleashing "a five day orgy of rage and psychosis" - against ethnic Albanians. Other reporters have already observed KLA guerrillas retaliating by committing atrocities against Serb civilians.
Before the bombing KLA guerrillas and Serb forces both terrorized parts of Kosovo. Can anyone argue that bombing has set an example for peaceful relations? Will NATO members appropriate funds to maintain peacekeepers in Kosovo for twenty years?
A sloppy peace has emerged from a dubious war. Will those who care about ethnic cleansing, refugees, and the long mess that ensues after a war, re-examine law and the United Nations, however flawed, as better alternatives than bombing?
Saul Landau is the Hugh O. LaBounty Chair of Interdisciplinary Applied Knowledge at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, 3801 W. Temple Ave. Pomona, CA 91768 tel - 909-869-3115 fax - 909-869-4751