Source Jim Devine
Date 03/08/14/15:48

A pattern of aggression

Iraq was not the first illegal US-led attack on a sovereign state in
recent times. The precedent was set in 1999 in Yugoslavia writes Kate

Kate Hudson

Thursday August 14, 2003

The Guardian

The legality of the war against Iraq remains the focus of intense debate
- as is the challenge it poses to the post-second-world-war order, based
on the inviolability of sovereign states. That challenge, however, is
not a new one. The precursor is without doubt Nato's 1999 attack on
Yugoslavia, also carried out without UN support. Look again at how the
US and its allies behaved then, and the pattern is unmistakable.

Yugoslavia was a sovereign state with internationally recognised
borders; an unsolicited intervention in its internal affairs was
excluded by international law. The US-led onslaught was therefore
justified as a humanitarian war - a concept that most international
lawyers regarded as having no legal standing (the Commons foreign
affairs select committee described it as of "dubious legality"). The
attack was also outside Nato's own remit as a defensive organisation -
its mission statement was later rewritten to allow for such actions.

In Yugoslavia, as in Iraq, the ultimate goal of the aggressor nations
was regime change. In Iraq, the justification for aggression was the
possession of weapons of mass destruction; in Yugoslavia, it was the
prevention of a humanitarian crisis and genocide in Kosovo. In both
cases, the evidence for such accusations has been lacking: but while
this is now widely accepted in relation to Iraq, the same is not true of

In retrospect, it has become ever clearer that the justification for war
was the result of a calculated provocation - and manipulation of the
legitimate grievances of the Kosovan Albanians - in an already tense
situation within the Yugoslav republic of Serbia. The constitutional
status of Kosovo had been long contested and the case for greater
Kosovan Albanian self-government had been peacefully championed by the
Kosovan politician, Ibrahim Rugova.

In 1996, however, the marginal secessionist group, the Kosovo Liberation
Army, stepped up its violent campaign for Kosovan independence and
launched a series of assassinations of policemen and civilians in
Kosovo, targeting not only Serbs, but also Albanians who did not support
the KLA. The Yugoslav government branded the KLA a terrorist
organisation - a description also used by US officials. As late as the
beginning of 1998, Robert Gelbard, US special envoy to Bosnia, declared:
"The UCK (KLA) is without any question a terrorist group."

KLA attacks drew an increasingly heavy military response from Yugoslav
government forces and in the summer of 1998 a concerted offensive
against KLA strongholds began. In contrast to its earlier position, the
US administration now threatened to bomb Yugoslavia unless the
government withdrew its forces from the province, verified by the
Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). The US was
now clearly determined to remove Milosevic, who was obstructing
Yugoslavia's integration into the western institutional and economic

Agreement was reached in October 1998 and 1,000 OSCE observers went to
Kosovo to oversee the withdrawal of government troops. But the KLA used
the pullback to renew armed attacks. In January 1999 an alleged massacre
of 45 Kosovan Albanians by Yugoslav government forces took place at
Racak. Both at the time and subsequently, evidence has been
contradictory and fiercely contested as to whether the Racak victims
were civilians or KLA fighters and whether they died in a firefight or
close-range shootings.

Nevertheless, Racak was seized on by the US to justify acceleration
towards war. In early 1999, the OSCE reported that "the current security
environment in Kosovo is characterised by the disproportionate use of
force by the Yugoslav authorities in response to persistent attacks and
provocations by the Kosovan Albanian paramilitaries." But when the
Rambouillet talks convened in February 1999, the KLA was accorded the
status of national leader. The Rambouillet text, proposed by the then US
secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, included a wide range of
freedoms and immunities for Nato forces within Yugoslavia that amounted
to an effective occupation. Even the former US secretary of state, Henry
Kissinger, described it as "a provocation, an excuse to start bombing".
The Yugoslavs refused to sign, so bombing began on March 24 1999.

Despite claims by western leaders that Yugoslav forces were conducting
"genocide" against the Kosovan Albanians, reports of mass killings and
atrocities - such as the supposed concealment of 700 murdered Kosovan
Albanians in the Trepca mines - were often later admitted to be wrong.
Atrocities certainly were carried out by both Serb and KLA forces. But
investigative teams did not find evidence of the scale of dead or
missing claimed at the time, responsibility for which was attributed to
the Yugoslavs. The damage inflicted by US and British bombing,
meanwhile, was considerable, including civilian casualties estimated at
between 1,000 and 5,000 deaths. Nato forces also used depleted uranium
weapons - linked to cancers and birth defects - while Nato bombers
destroyed swathes of Serbia's economic and social infrastructure.

Far from solving a humanitarian crisis, the 79-day bombardment triggered
the flight of hundreds of thousands of Kosovans. Half a million Kosovan
Albanians who had supposedly been internally displaced turned out not to
have been, and of the 800,000 who had sought refuge or been forced into
neighbouring countries, the UNHCR estimated that 765,000 had already
returned to Kosovo by August of the same year. A more long-lasting
result, however, was that half the Kosovan Serb population -
approximately 100,000 - left Kosovo or was driven out.

So was the war worth it? Notwithstanding the Nato-UN protectorate
established in Kosovo, the territorial integrity of Yugoslavia was no
longer under threat - the Kosovans did not achieve their independence.
Nor has western support for the KLA been mirrored in Kosovan voting
patterns: the party of Rugova, who never backed the violent path,
received a convincing majority in the elections in 2001.

Meanwhile, violence dogs the surviving minority communities, and in
spite of the presence of 40,000 K-For troops and a UN police force, the
Serb and other minorities (such as Roma) have continued to be forced
out. More than 200,000 are now estimated to have left. In the short
term, support for Milosevic actually increased as a result of the war,
and the regime was only changed through a combination of economic
sanctions, elections and heavy western intervention. Such interference
in a country's internal politics does not generally lead to a stable and
peaceful society, as evidenced by the recent assassination of Serbian
prime minister Zoran Djindjic, the most pro-western politician in the

As in Yugoslavia, so in Iraq: illegal aggression justified by spin and
fabrication enables might to prevail and deals a terrible blow to the
framework of international law. As in Yugoslavia, so in Iraq, people's
wellbeing comes a poor second-best to the interests of the world's
self-appointed moral and economic arbiters.

*Kate Hudson is principal lecturer in Russian and East European politics
at South Bank University, London and author of Breaking the South Slav
Dream: the Rise and Fall of Yugoslavia.

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