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intervention in kosovo


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- Sinister cults
- Intervention in Kosovo
- Children in war
- Collective amnesia
- Catching them young
- Alex Comfort


A seminar on ‘Intervention after Kosovo’ was arranged jointly at Kings College, London, by the Council on Christian Approaches to Defence and Disarmament and The Centre for Defence Studies. The speakers were distinguished: Christopher Greenwood, Professor of International Law at LSE, retired General Sir Hugh Beach, Oliver Ramsbotham, Head of Department of Peace Studies at Bradford, and Lyndell Sachs, Information Officer, UNHCR.

The ‘after Kosovo’ part didn’t, however, get the major attention. The seminar was really a consideration of the well-trodden arguments for the legality of Nato intervention in Kosovo, for non-intervention in many other humanitarian disasters around the world, and for an up-dated concept of the just war, leavened by some musings on the evolution of an international community, and troubled (perhaps) by some trenchant comments on UNHCR’s experiences with Nato and refugees in Kosovo.

The ‘use of force’ provisions of the United Nations Charter and the sequence of Security Council resolutions on the existence of a humanitarian catastrophe in Kosovo were lucidly explained, together with the currently accepted norm in international law, that a state’s abuse of its own citizens is not an internal matter of no concern to the rest of the world but may be a threat to international peace and security. The part played by the politics of national interests in decisions of whether to intervene or not – intervention, of course, being thought of solely in terms of military force – was acknowledged. The dilemmas posed to military planners of just when and how military action would be most effective within the constraints of the requirements of a ‘just war’ were spelled out. The future was considered in the context of an international community evolving out of changing perceptions of the state in which sovereignty is seen as belonging to ‘the people’. But even these thoughts on universal cooperation in dealing with humanitarian disasters rooted in the massive abuse of humanity were expressed in terms of ‘intervention implies the use of military force.’

After all this lofty talk of law and high politics, the refugee camps were a different experience; here was intervention on the ground and what it meant to the people it was allegedly saving from disaster. All agreed that the refugee crisis was already there when Nato started its bombing campaign and that UNHCR were not able to cope at that point. But we also heard of UNHCR’s vain efforts since 1992 to get international action and resources to prevent that crisis. Adequate resources became available only in order to get the refugees back into Kosovo; then Nato’s ‘super-efficient’ refugee camps, put on show as part of the political justification for the messy intervention, added to the difficulties of cooperation and to UNHCR’s resentment at being made the scapegoat. This was only an indication of the problems inherent in military involvement in the rehabilitation of civilian lives.

The seminar was specific on such matters as the criteria for selecting your intervention, your bombing targets, or your justifications. It did not discuss what forms of intervention short of force might be possible or what preparations should be made for the aftermath of military action. Above all, it did not discuss the causes of humanitarian disasters, or what the ‘international community’ might do about them. Perhaps the most important comment was made by Oliver Ramsbotham: it takes about 15 years for a situation to build up to the point of crisis. That seems to me to be the starting point of a really useful discussion.

Florence Assie


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