This weekend marks the eighth anniversary of the U.S.-led NATO bombing of Yugoslavia. The implications of that action are still with us.
'The onslaught that began March 24, 1999, continued for 78 days, causing an estimated 10,000 civilian casualties and inflicting widespread damage on the country's infrastructure. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization's unprecedented attack against a sovereign state was done without United Nations authority and in violation of the UN Charter and international law. It also set a dangerous precedent: It transformed NATO from a purely defensive organization into a powerful alliance prepared to intervene militarily wherever it chose to do so. And it paved the way for the unilateral U.S. invasion of Iraq.
'Bill Clinton and other NATO leaders justified the bombing on humanitarian grounds. It was alleged that genocide was taking place in Kosovo and that Serbian security forces were driving out the Albanian population. Later, it was disclosed there was no genocide in Kosovo. (Of course, the outcome appears to be an independent quasi-state of Kosovo, as shall be recommended next week to the UN Security Council.) Before the bombing, several thousand Albanians had been displaced within Kosovo as a result of the fighting between Serbian security forces and the Kosovo Liberation Army. But nearly all of the Albanians who fled Kosovo did so after the bombing began. The real ethnic cleansing came after Serbian forces withdrew and more than 200,000 Serbs, Roma, Jews and other non-Albanians were forced to flee; more than 150 Christian churches and monasteries have since been burned by Albanian mobs.
'The bombing had little, if anything, to do with humanitarian concerns. It had everything to do with the determination of the United States to maintain NATO as an essential military organization. The fall of the Berlin Wall, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the withdrawal of Warsaw Pact armies had called into question NATO's reason for existence. Why was such a powerful and expensive military organization needed to defend Western Europe when there was no longer any threat from Soviet communism?
'The armed rebellion by the terrorist Kosovo Liberation Army provided Washington with the opportunity needed to demonstrate to Western Europe that NATO was still needed. So, it was essential to convince the news media and the public that atrocities and ethnic cleansing were taking place in Kosovo.This was done with relative ease by a campaign of misinformation aimed at demonizing the Serbs and by assertions by Mr. Clinton, Tony Blair and other NATO spokesmen that hundreds of young Albanian men were "missing" and that mass executions and genocide were taking place in Kosovo. Compliant journalists and a credulous public accepted these lies.
'In April, 1999, at the peak of the bombing, Mr. Clinton gathered NATO's political leaders in Washington to celebrate the alliance's 50th birthday. The party was used as a platform for Mr. Clinton to announce a new"strategic concept" -- NATO was to be modernized and made ready for the new century. There was no reference to defence or the settling of international disputes by peaceful means or of complying with the principles of the UN Charter. The new emphasis would be on "conflict prevention," "crisis management" and "crisis response operation."
'Usually when a treaty is to be amended or changed, it must be approved and ratified by the legislatures of the contracting states. This was not done with the North Atlantic Treaty. It was changed by an announcement from the U.S. president, with little or no debate by the legislatures of member countries. It may well be that NATO should be in a position to intervene militarily in the internal affairs of another country, but it surely is essential that the ground rules for such intervention be in accordance withthe UN Charter and only after concurrence of member states. NATO should not become a convenient political "cover" to justify the use of military power by the United States.'