Using Force in Kosovo

The US led the liberation of Kuwait from Iraq in 1990-91, largely in conformity with the UN Charter. In the decade that followed, international law advanced, absent the pressures of the Cold War rivalry. New tribunals for the law of the sea, for trade disputes, and criminal law opened. Then Kosovo happened and NATO members participated in an act of American hegemony that helped pave the road to Iraq.
This brief essay can only provide a few facts revealing how that using force in Kosovo was as much about advancing US hegemony as anything else. It was also a choice for personal power by the leaders of a powerful state, Germany, leaders that could have been expected to resist hegemony in support of the community's law.
For some years before NATO's 1999 bombing campaign in Yugoslavia, US leaders asserted that NATO, which they saw as a US creature, was not subject to the authority of the UN Security Council. In the summer of 1998, US Secretary of Defense William Cohen was taking this position with respect to Kosovo. Speaking in Europe, Cohen said NATO could intervene in Kosovo without Security Council authorization. Germany's Defense Minister, Volker Ruhe, agreed with him. However, Chancellor Helmut Kohl and Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel were adamant that NATO would need Security Council authorization for any use of force not in self-defense. Kohl lost the autumn election in Germany. The SDP's leader, Gerhard Schroeder, would become chancellor, partnering with the Green Party. The Green Party's Joschka Fisher was the coalition's foreign minister designate. When NATO took its first decision to use force against Yugoslavia in October 1998, the German government looked to Fischer for a decision on how to vote. The Security Council had made it clear it was pursuing sanctions against Yugoslavia but would not be authorizing force. The pressures on Fischer were clear-the Green Party had long held a pacifist and anti- NATO policy. Fischer needed to show that neither he nor his party would be obstructionist and, therefore, unfit to govern, as was feared by some. He agreed that NATO should activate to bomb Yugoslavia.
Shortly after the vote, Richard Holbrooke was able to negotiate with Yugoslavia's Milosevic to get human rights monitors into Kosovo. They agreed to 2000 monitors, though only 1400 ever arrived. Still, by all accounts the monitors were succeeding even in the face of a plan by the Kosovo Liberation Army to "draw NATO into its fight for independence by provoking Serbian forces into further atrocities."
Fischer and his French counter-part Hubert Vedrine tried to characterize NATO's October decision to activate as only part of the strategy to pressure Milosevic. For US leaders, however, the precedent was clear. Madeline Albright, US Secretary of State, emphasized in Brussels in December 1998 her view that NATO could use force without Security Counsel authorization. In January 1999, just a few weeks after the monitors arrived, 45 Kosovo Albanians were killed in the village of Racak. At the time, US envoy Christopher Hill announced that the dead were women, children and elderly. (At the trial of Slobodan Milosevic, it was later revealed that the dead were mostly young men.)
Following Racak, however, the monitors were pulled out. Negotiations occurred in Rambouillet, France. Dr. Albright presented Milosevic with an ultimatum to pull out of Kosovo entirely or face bombing. He refused and NATO began bombing on 24 March 1999 without Security Council authorization. US military and intelligence sources informed Dr. Albright that bombing would not accomplish the publicly-stated goals of the military campaign-protecting human rights and removing Milosevic from power. And in fact bombing continued for more than 70 days, triggering a massive exodus of refugees, widespread killing of civilians by Yugoslav regular forces and militias. Human rights groups charge that NATO killed approximately 500 civilians in violation of the laws of war. The bombing only ended when the Russians intervened with Milosevic to persuade him to pull his forces from Kosovo. He himself was in office for another year. Even his strongest opponents rallied around him when their country was attacked. As Serb forces left Kosovo, Kosovo Albanians began the systematic killing of the Serbs who remained. Today the province is still part of Serbia but only a small number of Serbs still live there.
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