Secretary of State Madeleine Albright now reportedly endorses sending NATO troops into a “nonpermissive environment,” a chilly euphemism for wreaking new havoc on the Balkans and sending American teenagers home in body bags. This just days after NATO cluster-bombed a hospital, a prison and three diplomatic missions in the name of human rights. Tony Blair, NATO Supreme Commander Wesley Clark, military muscle-flexers in Congress and liberal interventionists are all pushing for a NATO ground force of 150,000.
Why the headlong rush? Ostensibly to get the Kosovo Albanians home before the harsh Balkan winter. This is a sham: The commander of NATO’s humanitarian operations, Lieut. Gen. John Reith, reported on May 22 that repatriating the deportees will take up to two years. Once again, NATO offers cynical false hope to the beleaguered Kosovars. The real goal of invasion remains to restore the alliance’s “credibility,” degraded far more than Milosevic’s military capabilities by the bombing campaign.
What kind of war are we being sold? Since NATO commanders have admitted they failed to foresee the horrifying outcome of the air war, this is the moment to spell out the likely consequences of a ground invasion. While the invasion force assembles in Albania, Serbian paramilitaries will increase the pace of expulsions and killings of Kosovars and engage in a scorched-earth retreat. Serbian nationalism, rooted in the mythology of glorious defeat so carefully manipulated by Milosevic, will grow in virulence with every kilometer of NATO’s advance, fertilized by the retribution-fearing flight of Kosovo’s remaining ethnic Serbs. Independent Serb antiwar protesters will be suppressed by Milosevic. Meanwhile, NATO will rain bombs and artillery barrages on Yugoslavia, leaving Kosovo a moonscape and Belgrade and other cities with no infrastructure. NATO’s killing of civilians will accelerate, driven by a strategic decision to break the population’s will.
Both Bill Clinton and Tony Blair refer to the Kosovo campaign as a “just cause.” But a just cause does not necessarily make a just war. As international-law scholar Joy Gordon notes, any expansion of Operation Allied Force fails the most basic benchmarks for the morality of intervention going back to Saint Augustine. One such standard: The damage incurred must be proportionate to the good expected. If the good to be done is halting ethnic cleansing, then the acceleration of expulsions as a result of NATO’s war leaves the alliance with a bounced moral check. Another principle is discrimination between combatants and civilians; here, the civilians killed so far by NATO offer their own mute testimony. NATO is claiming “just cause” to wage, rather than prevent, an antihumanitarian war. This is moral bankruptcy.
Advocates of invasion claim the high ground by portraying Kosovo as a small-scale replay of the World War II crusade against fascism. But Serbia’s crimes and ambitions are uniquely its own, and repeated invocation of the Holocaust is misleading. A growing chorus of interventionist intellectuals portrays complicity in ethnic cleansing as so deeply rooted in Serbian society as to demand occupation and “denazification” of Serbia itself. But this argument mirrors the dehumanization of Albanians by Serbian demagogues. As Richard Goldstone, former presiding judge of the Hague tribunal, has pointed out, belief in culturally based guilt is at the root of the Balkan catastrophe. Only by individuating responsibility for atrocities can the cycle of revenge be broken.
Other invasion advocates hold out the promise that the NATO operation will somehow usher in a new Balkan human rights order, superseding big-power realpolitik. This, too, is a grand delusion. Radovan Karadzic continues to sip espresso under the noses of NATO patrols, and, at least until the war made a Milosevic indictment attractive, the Hague tribunal had to go crawling to Washington to get even minimal support. The air force bombing Belgrade includes planes from NATO member Turkey, whose ethnic cleansing of Kurds makes Milosevic look like a piker. Liberals calling for a ground invasion want a good war that doesn’t exist, by a morally motivated NATO that doesn’t exist, with human-rights objectives that don’t exist. Their cheerleading for war is based on a stack of if-onlys that function like an interventionist pyramid scheme.
Morality also demands consideration of the broader consequences. Diplomatically, a ground invasion would be a disaster, wrecking US relations with Greece and perhaps Italy and scuttling nuclear-arms-reduction talks with Russia. Also, as of May 25 the Clinton Administration was prosecuting the war in defiance of the War Powers Act, which requires Congressional approval within sixty days of commencing hostilities. The issue is now before US District Court Judge Paul Friedman in Washington.
War fever is not a juggernaut just yet. That is thanks in large part to the German Greens, who have balked at their government’s participation in such madness. But the barriers to a massive ground invasion are being systematically eroded by the Anglo-American interventionist lobby.
The best chance to forestall a disastrous ground war rests with the G-8 peace plan, which has already laid the basis for a settlement with Milosevic. The United States and NATO nations must recognize the primacy of the United Nations; NATO has already proven it cannot be a humanistic arbiter of world order. At the same time, US peace activists should heed the combined messages of the Green protest and the mothers of Yugoslav reservists in Krusevac and Aleksandrovac, whose antiwar protests recently demonstrated that the Serbs are not all monomaniacal nationalists willing to sacrifice their children for Kosovo real estate.
One opportunity: the twin marches planned for June 5 in Washington and San Francisco (info: www.iacenter.org). The widespread domestic skepticism toward this invasion suggests the evolution of a new coalition that makes American politics a “nonpermissive environment” for continuing a war that is neither just, nor wise, nor legal.