Military interventions on supposedly humanitarian grounds have become an established feature of the post-Cold War global order. Since September 11, this form of militarism has taken on new and unpredictable proportions. Diana Johnstone's well-documented study demonstrates that a crucial moment in establishing in the public mindand above all, within the political context of liberalism and the leftthe legitimacy of such interventions was the "humanitarian" bombing of the former Yugoslavia in 1999.
In the course of the civil wars that led to the break-up of Yugoslavia, a complex history came to be presented as a morality play in which the parts were scripted to meet the moral needs of the capitalist West. The identification of Muslims as defenseless victims and Serbs as genocidal monsters inflamed fears and hatreds within Yugoslavia, and prepared the way for power to be shifted from the people of the region to such international agencies as NATO.
Deceptions and Self-Deceptions tests the popular myths against the reality of Yugoslav history. Johnstone identifies the common geopolitical interests running through such military interventions, and argues persuasively that they create problems rather than solving them. She shows that the "Kosovo war" was in reality the model for future destruction of countries seen as potential threats to the hegemony of an "international community" currently being redefined to exclude or marginalize all but those who conform to the interests of the United States.
A concluding chapter shows how the script prepared for Yugoslavia is being re-enacted in Afghanistan. Whether Milosevic's trial before the International Court at the Hague or the capture of bin Laden will provide an adequate conclusion to this ideological play-making, remains an open question.
The Legality of the NATO Attacks
There is literally no question but that NATO's attack on Yugoslavia violates the United Nations charter: the NATO attacks were never authorized by the Security Council and could not by any stretch of the imagination be considered to have been in self-defense.(15) Interestingly, some commentators who acknowledge this uncomfortable fact then argue that an exception to international law should perhaps be created for what Antonio Cassese calls "humanitarian countermeasures," when, according to Bruno Simma, "imperative political and moral considerations may appear to leave no choice but to act outside the law," or, as Vaclav Havel put it, to find a "higher law" to justify what international law defines, clearly, as aggression. This acknowledgement of NATO illegality even by those supporting NATO's actions is noteworthy.
A War Against Civilians
Every time NATO bombs a hospital, bus, market, town center, apartment building or refugee convoy, NATO spokesmen assert that NATO "never targets civilians" but that, while NATO's bombs are the most accurate in history, "collateral damage" is inevitable. However, NATO's attacks have been aimed against civilian targets since literally the first night of the bombing, when a tractor factory in the Belgrade suburb of Rakovica was destroyed by cruise missiles.(16) Since then NATO targets have included roads, railroad tracks and bridges hundreds of miles from Kosovo, power plants, factories of many kinds, food processing and sugar processing plants, water pumping stations, cigarette factories, central heating plants for civilian apartment blocks, television studios, post offices, non-military government administrative buildings, ski resorts, government official residences, oil refineries, civilian airports, gas stations, and chemical plants. NATO's strategy is not to attack Yugoslavia's army directly, but rather to destroy Yugoslavia itself, in order to weaken the army. With this strategy it is military losses that are "collateral damage," because most of the attacks are aimed at civilian targets.(17)
Evidence that the attacks have targeted mainly civilians can be seen in casualty figures. As mentioned above, after 60 days of bombing and more than 7,000 attacks, Serb military losses were "in the hundreds," while civilian casualties were as high as 1500 killed and 6000 wounded. NATO claims that less than one percent of its bombs miss their targets, so if Serb civilian casualties outnumber military losses, the reason must be that NATO is targeting civilians more than it is the military.
This strategy is hardly secret. The Wall Street Journal reported on April 27 that NATO had decided to attack "political, rather than just military, targets in Serbia." On April 25, the Washington Times reported that NATO planned to hit "power generation plants and water systems, taking the war directly to civilians." NATO generals told the Philadelphia Inquirer on May 21 that "Just focussing on fielded forces is not enough ... . The people have to get to the point that their lights are turned off, their bridges are blocked so they can't get to work." Note that the purpose of destroying these bridges is not military; but this was clear when NATO destroyed the bridges in Novi Sad, 500 km. from Kosovo, installations which clearly did not make the "effective contribution to military action" in Kosovo that would have rendered them legitimate targets under Article 52 of Protocol I additional to the 1949 Geneva Conventions.
That NATO planned from the start to hit civilian targets was made clear to me a few days before the attacks began by an employee of a U.S. intelligence organization who said that the CIA had been charged with preparing lists of Yugoslav economic assets and that, "basically, everything in the country is a target unless it's taken off the list." This was nothing new: as Michael Walzer notes, in the Gulf War in 1990, "the coalition decided (or the U. S. commanders decided) that the economic infrastructure of Iraqi society -- all of it -- was a legitimate military target," and that while similar strategic targeting had been common in World War II, what was new was the attempt to deprive the Iraqi population of clean water. However, Walzer notes drily, perhaps that "wasn't technically feasible in the 1940s."(18)
But it is technically feasible in the 1990s. On May 23, "fifteen NATO bombs hit water pumps ... in the northwestern town of Sremska Mitrovica for the second night in a row."(19) Attacks on May 24 "slashed water reserves by damaging pumps and cutting electricity to the few pumps that were still operative."(20) Only 30 percent of Belgrade's 2 million people had running water, and the city was down to 10 percent of its water reserves.(21) That these attacks were not aimed at military operations in Kosovo is clear from the remarks attributed by the Washington Post to a Pentagon official, who stated that the attacks had been limited to Serbia proper but that "NATO commanders are understood to be planning to extend the attacks to Kosovo."(22)
NATO War Crimes
Depriving a civilian population of water is a textbook example of a violation of international humanitarian law, specifically of Article 54 of Protocol I of the 1949 Geneva Conventions. As Aryeh Neier has noted, the U.N. War Crimes Commission that investigated the Bosnian war concluded that attacking the civilian population was prima facie a war crime, and recommended that the commander of the Bosnian Serbs be indicted for attacking the civilian population.(23) There would seem to be no doubt that NATO commanders and, presumably, at least some NATO political leaders are guilty of war crimes on this count alone.
But this count is not alone. The level of damage done to clearly non-military infrastructural targets in Serbia would seem to render NATO military commanders and at least some NATO political leaders liable to the same charge that was made against Ratko Mladi and Radovan Karadi by the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), "extensive destruction of property:" that they
The culpability of NATO military and political leaders in the ICTY would seem particularly clear since the Prosecutor of the Tribunal had in fact warned NATO that it, too, is bound by the Geneva Conventions,(27) while Human Rights Watch had sent a letter to NATO's secretary general expressing concern about specific violations by NATO of international humanitarian law.(28) NATO, however, seems unlikely to be overly concerned. When questioned on May 16 about the possibility of NATO liability for war crimes before the ICTY, NATO spokesman Jamie Shea said that "NATO is the friend of the Tribunal ... NATO countries are those that have provided the finances to set up the Tribunal, we are among the majority financiers." He repeated the same message on May 17: NATO Countries "have established these tribunals... fund these tribunals and ... support on a daily basis their activities." No, he did not anticipate indictments against NATO leaders or military personnel.(29)