P r e s s I n f o # 47 October 2, 1998
Questions Before Bombing Serbia
"What on earth would be the POLITICAL AIM of bombing Serbia now? Violence
has been used by both parties for almost a year. Some 250.000 people may
already be displaced, homes and towns torched and destroyed. KLA is
defeated and Serbia's government has declared that the war is over,
provided KLA's military struggle does not resume. Before the UN Security
Council, NATO or other actors in the international 'community' decides to
carry out air strikes throughout Serbia, it would be wise to ponder a few
questions, problems and risks and come up with some answers. I offer some
of both in what follows," says Jan Oberg who, with his TFF colleagues, has
conducted analyses and served as a citizen diplomat in the region since
* IF WE BELIEVE THAT NATO INTERVENTION WOULD STOP THE KILLING, ETHNIC
CLEANSING AND MASSACRES, WHY HAS IT NOT HAPPENED LONG AGO?
POSSIBLE ANSWERS: 1) The international "community" is not a community when
it comes to managing conflicts. There are too many solid national interests
and the EU is divided internally with Germany and the UK being more
interventionist than the rest. And they cannot act without the United
States. 2) Bombings of Serb facilities will unavoidably be interpreted as a
support to (violent) secessionism. Thus, Kurds, Palestinians, Turk
Cypriots, people in the Basque province and in Chechenya, to mention
some, may be encouraged - and the West doesn't exactly want that. 3) It
can't be done without ignoring the Russians - but they are on their heels
anyhow. 4) Perhaps no bombings is really contemplated; it's all a game. But
then there is a public relation problem vis-a-vis citizens: why do
statesmen solemnly declare their moral outrage, threaten tough measures and
thereby create expectations worldwide about resolute action - fully well
knowing that they won't do anything? 5) Powerful actors may see it fit to
wait and "fail" with preventive diplomacy in order to present military
options as "necessary."
* IS THIS COMPATIBLE WITH INTERNATIONAL LAW?
POSSIBLE ANSWERS: 1) It is probably the first time NATO bombs a sovereign,
recognised state in support of a movement whose stated aims are complete
independence and integration with a neighbouring state. 2) Bombings would
destroy (parts of) Yugoslavia's self-defence capacity (capacity on its own
territory) which it has a right to have according to Article 51 of the
UN Charter. 3) Yugoslavia has not invaded another country. 4) Ironically,
the United States recently conducted bombings with some 70 cruise missiles
against three countries thousands of kilometres beyond it own borders and
justified it with reference to the same Article 51. No international
organisation has taken steps to investigate the legality of this unilateral
action. Thus, the international "community" seems to judge that this is
acceptable behaviour, although the only appropriate term for it would be
'state terrorism' - terrorism defined as violent action involving or
targeting people who are innocent or otherwise not party to a conflict. 5)
No NATO country is threatened, so there is no justification for a NATO
response. The involvement of peaceful countries with no international power
ambitions, such as Norway and Denmark, ought to be ruled out. Alas, they
have already made fighter planes available! 6) Whether legal or not,
bombings would contrast the international community's policies elsewhere:
when in 1995 Croatia drove out 250.000-300.000 legitimate Croatian citizens
of Serb origin who lived in the self-proclaimed state of Republika Srpska
Krajina, it was HELPED by the international community, especially the
United States, to do so. Such lack of principled policies undermines any
attempts to develop a universal normativity towards global governance.
* WHAT COULD HAPPEN IN SERBIA?
POSSIBLE ANSWERS: 1) Increased sense of once again being treated in an
unfair manner by the world, leading to increased support for Yugoslav
President Milosevic, no matter how destructive his Kosovo policies have
been to the country as a whole. This means strengthening of a hardline,
self-isolationist policy and a further weakening of every decent
opposition. 2) Milosevic may decide to say: "Fellow Serbs, the whole world
is against us, I can do no more in the face of NATO bombs. We have to
divide or give away parts of the Kosovo province." Remember, Milosevic is
not a nationalist; he has given up major national issues and the welfare of
Serbs both in the Croatian Krajina conflict and in Dayton. 3) As he is the
only politician the West and Russia deals with for real, he will be offered
a good deal for throwing in the glove concerning (parts of) Kosovo, perhaps
even lifting of the present sanctions and re-integration into the
international community - and a guarantee that he himself will never be
indicted for war crimes.
* WHAT COULD HAPPEN IN KOSOVO?
POSSIBLE ANSWERS: 1) Psychologically, every Kosovo-Albanian will see
bombings of Serb installations as the long-awaited support for their
struggle from the West. 2) Militarily, with Serbian defence installations
destroyed, the Kosovo-Albanian military wing(s) is likely to contemplate
re-starting the military activity, alternatively switch to more systematic
hit-and-run terror actions. In such a situation, what will NATO/UN do?
Deploy troops on the ground? Ask for UN peacekeepers? Permit Serbia/FRY to
counteract it again? 3) Dr. Rugova will remain the leader chosen by the
West, at least until some other figure turns up. It is difficult to know
whether the defeat of the KLA will place him in the centre again, among the
elites as well as the Kosovars in general. Be this as it may, bombings can
only serve a purpose as part of a long-term strategy. So far, Kosovar
politicians have shown little interest in Western proposals that offer less
than total independence. Has the US or the EU a secret guarantee that they
will be more flexible after NATO air strikes? Do they have a
Kosovo-Albanian politician to install who can both negotiate without
preconditions AND have the loyalty of the majority of Albanians? And who
will represent the Serb minority in Kosovo?
* WHAT COULD HAPPEN IN BOSNIA?
POSSIBLE ANSWERS: 1) That depends somewhat on what happens in Serbia/FRY
and the position of president Milosevic after bombings; he is still needed
to some extent for the Dayton implementation process. 2) The flow of
refugees into Bosnia could increase dramatically, and they are not welcome
anywhere. 3) The Serbs in Republika Srpska will see even less reason to
co-operate with the international community if that same community bombs
Serbia. With the new Radical Party president of Republika Srpska, Nikola
Poplasen, who has replaced Western-backed Biljana Plavsic, the
international community - even though trying to deny it - is likely to face
even more problems ahead. Poplasen's party colleague in Serbia, deputy
prime minister Seselj has mentioned the option of taking UN personnel
hostage in Bosnia. 4) Serbs in Bosnia will ask themselves why they were
bombed because they wanted an independent state while now the Albanians are
rewarded for having the same wish.
* WHAT COULD HAPPEN IN MACEDONIA?
POSSIBLE ANSWERS: 1) The divided Albanian community will come closer to
each other and interpret NATO intervention in Kosovo as a support for their
long-term goal of living in one Albanian state. 2) This means new problems
for Macedonia whose stability is vastly exaggerated by the West. 3) In the
event of bombings, Macedonia's willingness to place its territory and
airspace at the disposal of NATO will be tested. De facto it has no choice.
President Kiro Gligorov will face a very difficult dilemma, as it is not in
his country's interest to participate in something that is bound to
antagonise Serbia and look like a support to Albanian separatism through
violence. But Macedonia still wants weapons, military training, NATO
membership and EU integration, so it won't protest too loudly. 4) Having
very limited capacity to accommodate more than 20 000 refugees, the country
may collapse if refugee flows increase because of a) the approaching
winter, or b) the Kosovo-Albanian military struggle and/or terror resumes
under the (presumed) protection of NATO; or c) Kosovars run away from NATO
bombs and Serb retaliation. 5) Serbian military or paramilitary units could
strike against American soldiers in Macedonia.
* WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN DONE TO PREVENT LOCAL VIOLENCE AS WELL AS
INTERNATIONAL VIOLENCE NOW?
POSSIBLE ANSWERS: 1) I am positive that different policies could have
prevented the war in the first place. Imagine that the West had supported
Serb prime minister Milan Panic and his excellent ministers in 1992-93;
they wanted a peaceful settlement. Imagine that the West had established a
comprehensive negotiation process just five years ago. Imagine that the
international community had not suspended Yugoslavia from the OSCE but kept
it there (and scolded it); then the comprehensive OSCE missions in
Voivodina, Sandzak and Kosovo could have remained - and the war would have
been impossible. Imagine that the US and Europe had dissociated themselves
earlier from the Kosovo-Albanian idea of complete independence (they didn't
because the Kosovo problem served as a leverage on Milosevic). Imagine that
the international community had facilitated a process of learning and
reconciliation on the ground among ordinary Serb and Albanian citizens by
introducing peace and human rights education, empowerment of mixed NGOs,
support to multiethnic media etc. Imagine it had offered economic
incentives for peaceful co-existence instead of introducing sanctions that
have only impoverished Serbs and Albanian citizens and enriched the Mafia.
That would have supported Dr. Rugova's non-violent line AND helped the
Serbs, too. Now the West ends up supporting Albanian secessionism and
violent behaviour on that side - and supporting Rugova when that violent
strategy has weakened him tremendously.
* WHAT CAN STILL BE DONE INSTEAD OF BOMBINGS?
POSSIBLE ANSWERS: 1) The excellent UN mission in Macedonia could be
expanded to do monitoring in Kosovo; Belgrade might have a direct interest
in that. 2) A robust civil-military UN peacekeeping mission could be
established in Kosovo, to provide order and security during a period of
negotiations. 3) The parties could be offered positive incentives -
economic aid, various international memberships, more intensive exchange
with the international community, assistance to the schools, health and
cultural system etc etc. - instead of threats and condescending words. 4)
Yugoslavia could be brought back into the OSCE and the UN; but we know the
US does not want that - and thus it does not happen. 5) Most effectively,
establish a strong international presence in Albania, along the borders,
and prevent arms, ammunition and soliders from entering Serbia; in short,
help Albania's government to control its own territory instead of serving
as a base for what comes close to international aggression.
* DO WE KNOW ENOUGH ABOUT THE SITUATION TO TAKE SUCH TOUGH MEASURES?
POSSIBLE ANSWERS: 1) Hardly! Facts are difficult to come by both concerning
the number of refugees, their conditions and who exactly did what when it
comes to massacres and alleged mass graves. 2) The biased international
media coverage has repeated itself; the Serb side (also independent sources
such as human rights institutes, independent media and the NGO Serb Media
Centre in Pristina) has been largely ignored by leading media such as CNN,
New York Times and even BBC. How much have you heard about massacres on
Serbs or about KLA attacks on Albanians who would not participate in the
violent struggle? 3) It does take time to find out who has committed what
crimes against whom. To hastily base a decision to bomb one party on
international media who think they know who the "alleged" perpetrators are
a few hours after the dead bodies have been found, would be highly
irresponsible. These are tricky issues in this political culture, as should
be should have learnt from similar event in Bosnia as well as Croatia.
4) Serbian Democratic Party leader Dr. Zoran Djindjic has advanced the
plausible hypothesis that that those who committed these atrocities at this
particular moment are likely to be interested in provoking bombings. This
could mean uncontrolled, extremist, fascist Serb or Albanian groupings.
* CAN PEOPLE BE BOMBED TO THE NEGOTIATION TABLE?
POSSIBLE ANSWERS: 1) It should be reasonably clear to any observer on the
ground over the last years and months that the Kosovo-Albanian side is even
more reluctant to engage in talks or negotiations than the Serb side.
They've said 'no' to every single appeal from the international community
or said 'yes' with conditions that add up to a 'no.' 2) Unless there is a
deal already made with the Albanians that they WILL engage seriously after
bombings of Serbs facilities, it would be utterly naive to believe that
bombings in this case brings either party closer to a negotiation table. 3)
In addition, a minimum of trust must be built BEFORE negotiations. Trust
can lead to negotiations, head-on negotiations are not likely to lead to
* IS THE INTERIM AGREEMENT BROKERED BY US ENVOY TO KOSOVO AND AMBASSADOR TO
MACEDONIA, MR. CHRISTOPHER HILL, SOLID ENOUGH TO PROVIDE A FRAMEWORK FOR
POSSIBLE ANSWERS: 1) I don't think so. The Kosovo-Albanians have already de
facto said 'no thanks' to it and the recently elected political
spokesperson for the KLA, Mr. Adem Demaqi, has resigned because of health
problems (which he also had before accepting the offer to become spokesman)
So, there is no one to talk politics with in the KLA and its three
fractions. 2) The interim agreement may have many useful elements but it
lacks two which are essential: a) a concept of civil society and peace
'from below' that invites ordinary citizens in the province to build trust,
confidence and reach reconciliation either together or as good neighbours.
Without such elements, no legal provisions or 'agreements' are likely to
succeed in a conflict with such deep psychological mistrust. And b) a
framework in which Kosovo is seen as part of the Balkans.
* WHAT WILL OTHER SECESSIONIST MOVEMENTS THINK?
POSSIBLE ANSWERS: 1) There is no way NATO countries can bomb Serbia -
while for years tacitly letting Albania, which it backs in many other ways,
serve as a base for the Kosovo-Albanian arms build-up and military training
- and avoid being interpreted as a clear support for the Albanian side in
the conflict, albeit not necessarily the KLA. 2) It may sound cynical but
the number of dead and displaced human beings in this conflict is smaller
than in many other conflicts - where the international community (the
West/NATO etc) has done nothing, such as Chechenya, Algeria or Eastern
Timor. This type of 'selective' humanitarian and human rights concerns is
detrimental for the longterm development of a genuine global ethics and
responsibility for human suffering.
* SHOULD THE U.N. LEND ITS GOOD NAME TO SUCH ACTIVITY?
POSSIBLE ANSWERS: 1) No! According to its preamble, the UN shall seek to
solve international disputes and face threats to world peace with peaceful
means; only when everything else has been tried and proven in vain - which
is not the case as is argued above - can the UN take military action (or
ask somebody to do so). 2) Those who want to conduct military action that
can be interpreted as violating international norms and laws should do it
on their own and not be provided with the legitimacy of the UN.
"In summary," says Jan Oberg, "I fear we shall soon see high-tech, 'quick
fix' military action legitimised as 'necessary' and 'moral' because of
three factors: a) the international community's general lack of competence
in professional conflict management, b) it's complete failure for almost a
decade in terms of preventing the predictable outbreak of violence in
Kosovo, and c) the creation of a world public opinion in favour of military
intervention based on a biased WAR REPORTING instead of fair,
research-based CONFLICT JOURNALISM." Oberg concludes:
"I am convinced that bombings at this point will have more negative than
positive consequences with respect to the parties' willingness to engage
seriously in negotiations as well as with respect to alleviating the
humanitarian catastrophe. Just think of the 'opportunity costs' - of how
much humanitarian aid we could bring for the sheer costs of such a military
operation. Are we really to believe that bombings is the most appropriate
tool for conflict-management? That it is legitimate when SO MANY other
initiatives could either have prevented the war in the first place or
helped stop it months ago?
In short, bombing Serbia will be a moral as well as intellectual defeat. It
shows that the self-appointed international 'conflict managers' have failed
miserably long ago. I think they know it deep inside. It's not acceptable
to compensate for that weakness - or conceal it - by playing tough now.
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Dr. Jan Oberg
Director, head of the TFF Conflict-Mitigation team
to the Balkans and Georgia
T F F
Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research
Vegagatan 25, S - 224 57 Lund, Sweden
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