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Humanitarian Intervention in Kosovo:

Fact or Fiction?
Peter Russell
Dublin European Institute
University College Dublin
A minor dissertation presented in partial fulfilment of
the requirements for the
Degree of Master of Arts in European Studies
(National University of Ireland)
August 2004
Table of Contents
Summary _______________________________________________________________ ii
Chapter 1: Introduction ___________________________________________________ 1
1.1 Justification and Literature Review _________________________________________ 1
1.2 Methodology __________________________________________________________ 4
1.3 Structure ______________________________________________________________ 4
Chapter 2: Human Rights __________________________________________________ 7
2.1 A Brief History of Human Rights __________________________________________ 7
2.2 Universal Human Rights: Theory and Practice ________________________________ 9
2.3 Concerns and Difficulties with Human Rights-Based Foreign Policy _____________ 12
2.4 Human Rights and Humanitarian Intervention _______________________________ 13
Chapter 3: Humanitarian Intervention ______________________________________ 15
3.1 A Brief History of Humanitarian Intervention ________________________________ 16
3.2 Defining Humanitarian Intervention _______________________________________ 18
Chapter 4: The Kosovo Intervention ________________________________________ 25
4.1 Kosovo from 1980 to 1999 ______________________________________________ 26
4.2 Situation _____________________________________________________________ 30
4.3 Motivations and Intentions _______________________________________________ 34
4.4 Means _______________________________________________________________ 41
4.5 Outcome _____________________________________________________________ 50
4.6 Summary and Conclusion _______________________________________________ 57
Bibliography ____________________________________________________________ 60
This dissertation will examine the military intervention conducted by NATO in Kosovo in
1999. By examining the pre-existing situation, the justifications given, the methods used, and
the results of the intervention, it will be determined whether the characterization of this event
as a humanitarian intervention is accurate. In the first chapter, the literature on Kosovo,
human rights, and humanitarian intervention is examined to assess the current state of the
debate on the Kosovo intervention. Following this introduction is a chapter on the idea of
human rights. This begins with a brief history of human rights, then assesses the standing of
human rights in international law and international relations and the ways in which they apply
to the Kosovo intervention. The concept of humanitarian intervention is examined in the next
chapter, including a short survey of its history in the post-World War II period, an examination
of different definitions of the term, and a determination of what criteria were (or should be)
applied in order to evaluate whether or not an intervention qualifies as humanitarian. The
fourth chapter is a case study of the intervention in Kosovo in the spring and summer of 1999,
applying the ideas of human rights and humanitarian intervention to the course of events
before, during, and after the NATO bombing campaign. This chapter includes a brief historical
background to the conflict, then moves on to an analysis of the motives, behaviour, and
interests of the intervening parties, and an assessment of the outcome of the intervention. The
final section of this chapter is the conclusion, which summarizes the findings of this thesis and
evaluates their significance in both academic and practical terms.
Peter Hilpold, Humanitarian Intervention: Is There A Need for Legal Reappraisal?, European Journal
of International Law, Vol.12, No.3 (2001), p.437.
Adam Roberts, NATOs Humanitarian War Over Kosovo, Survival, Vol.41, No.3 (Autumn 1999)
Miron Rezun, Europes Nightmare: the Struggle for Kosovo (2001), p.10.
See David Chandler, From Kosovo to Kabul: Human Rights and International Intervention (2002),
pp.15-17 for a concise summary of the importance of Kosovo to advocates of humanitarian intervention.
Chapter 1: Introduction
The question asked in this paper is a simple one: was the NATO intervention in Kosovo
in March-June 1999 a humanitarian intervention or not? The Kosovo intervention has come
to be seen by many as a critical event in international politics. Peter Hilpold describes it as a
watershed dividing a former Hegelian, state-centred system of international relations, from
an actual Kantian model which is far more community-oriented...the protection of
(fundamental) human rights has been assigned such an overwhelming importance that state
sovereignty should no more stand in the way in order to prevent gross violations of these
It marked a high point in the increasing emphasis on human rights and humanitarian
issues which has been a striking feature of international relations in the post-1945 era,
was the first time a war was ostensibly fought for human rights.
Kosovo is cited by
politicians, journalists, and academics as the prototype for humanitarian intervention in the
post-Cold War era. It is portrayed as the perfect example of a case where a pure dedication to
human rights inspired the international community to take forceful and successful action to end
1.1 Justification and Literature Review
Most of this discourse does not question the assertion that the Kosovo intervention was
humanitarian. It has not, however, been convincingly demonstrated that it was anything of
the kind. Nevertheless, it is repeatedly cited as a precedent-setting event which presages
significant changes in the international political and legal system, as Hilpolds comment
In this proposed new paradigm, exemplified by the intervention in Kosovo, (some)
states would have the right to use military force to violate the sovereignty of another state based
on claims of the need (and sometimes obligation) to protect the human rights of some portion
of the population of said state. The importance attributed to the example of Kosovo makes it
See for instance Hilpold; Bruno Simma, NATO, the UN and the Use of Force : Legal Aspects,
European Journal of International Law 10 (1999), pp.1-22; Daniel H. Joyner, The Kosovo Intervention: Legal
Analysis and a More Persuasive Paradigm, Journal of Environmental Law, Vol.13, No.3 (2001), pp.597-619;
M. OConnell, The UN, NATO & International Law After Kosovo, Human Rights Quarterly. v.22 (2000),
Nicholas J. Wheeler, Saving Strangers: Humanitarian Intervention in International Society (2000);
Michael Ignatieff, Virtual War: Kosovo and Beyond (2001).
Noam Chomsky, The New Mil itary Humanism: Lessons from Kosovo (1999); Edward Herman and
David Peterson, Moralitys Avenging Angels: the New Humanitarian Crusaders, in David Chandler (ed.),
Rethinking Human Rights: Critical Approaches to International Politics (2002); Tariq Ali, Masters of the
Universe? NATOs Balkan Crusade (2000)
critical to evaluate whether what happened there can accurately be described in those terms.
A great deal of the literature on humanitarian intervention in general and Kosovo
specifically focuses on the legal aspects. Is humanitarian intervention sanctioned by
international law? If so, should it require approval from the United Nations, or is unilateral
action by single states or groups of states acceptable? What are the criteria which render an
intervention legal, or which fail to do so? Where exactly does the Kosovo intervention stand
in light of these questions, and what is its meaning?
Literature in this area tends to be
theoretical in its approach, focusing on the legal issues rather than exploring what actually
happened in Kosovo. A major preoccupation is with the implications for international law if
the intervention in Kosovo is seen to be setting a new precedent. The status of Kosovo as
humanitarian intervention tends to be taken for granted instead of being a topic for discussion
in itself.
Of that literature which does focus on what actually happened in Kosovo before, during,
and after the intervention, most of it is written by people who are either arguing in favour of
the concept of humanitarian intervention or who believe that there is no such thing. It is no
surprise that their conclusions about the Kosovo intervention turn out to fit their particular
argument. Writers like Nicholas Wheeler and Michael Ignatieff, for example, are pro-
humanitarian intervention. They therefore contend that the intervention in Kosovo was
humanitarian in nature, while admitting that it may have been poorly planned or executed, or
that the results are disappointing.
Others, prominently Noam Chomsky, Edward Herman, and
Tariq Ali believe that humanitarian intervention is nothing more than a cover for the true,
self-interested motivations of the interveners, and so conclude that that is the case for Kosovo.
David Chandler takes a slightly different approach, being concerned about the destructive
Chandler, p.236.
Eric Herring, From Rambouillet to the Kosovo Accords: NATOs War Against Serbia and Its
Aftermath, in Ken Booth (ed.), The Kosovo Tragedy: The Human Rights Dimensions (2001).
Jim Whitman, The Kosovo Refugee Crisis: NATOs Humanitarianism versus Human Rights, in Ken
Booth (ed.), The Kosovo Tragedy: The Human Rights Dimensions (2001).
See note 2.
dynamic of humanitarian intervention.
For him Kosovo serves as a negative rather than a
positive example, but he still does not seriously question that Kosovo was such an intervention.
The problem with this literature is that it does not investigate the Kosovo intervention as an
event in its own right. It is instead used as an example to illustrate the more general themes
or ideas with which the authors are concerned. This is not to say that this literature is
completely unhelpful; with the different foci, different information is highlighted and explored.
When their work is combined, these authors make a large contribution towards a more
complete and nuanced picture of the course of events concerning Kosovo.
There is a small amount of literature which looks at the Kosovo intervention without
attempting to make it fit into a larger political, legal, or conceptual schema. These authors
often choose a particular topic or angle related to the intervention to investigate in depth.
Conclusions about the intervention are based upon the particular aspect under investigation.
Eric Herring, for instance, examines the path From Rambouillet to the Kosovo Accords,
taking the proposal which the Serbs rejected in March 1999 and the terms which they accepted
in June 1999 as the start and end points in an attempt to determine whether the use of military
force was justifiable at each stage of the process.
Jim Whitman focuses on the interest of
European nations in reducing the flow of refugees to question the depiction of the intervention
as truly humanitarian.
Adam Roberts does an excellent job of not imposing preconceptions
on his more general account of the intervention, in which he discusses the relative weights of
motives, actions, and outcomes.
All three of these authors conclude that the intervention is
at best questionable as an example of humanitarian intervention, but there is no sense that this
was a predetermined outcome of their research.
This thesis is an attempt to contribute to this third area of the literature. The question
of the nature of the Kosovo intervention will be approached as far as possible from a neutral
position, one which does not presuppose that humanitarian intervention is either good, bad,
or nonexistent. Of course, complete objectivity is impossible, and the authors bias may be
seen in the fact that the hypothesis upon beginning this work is that the Kosovo intervention
will not in fact turn out to be humanitarian. Nonetheless, a conscious effort will be made to
make a fair, balanced assessment and to avoid twisting the evidence or using it selectively in
order to reach a predetermined conclusion.
1.2 Methodology
This paper will adopt a qualitative approach, relying on both primary and secondary
sources. There is a large amount of material available on human rights and humanitarian
intervention which deals with the origins of the concepts, their legal status, the ethical and
moral arguments for and against, their history, and so on. This academic material will be used
along with primary sources such as United Nations declarations and conventions to provide the
essential background against which the Kosovo intervention must be evaluated. In the case
study portion of the thesis, relevant primary sources will be used - principally governmental
statements, declarations, speeches, and parliamentary debates - to illustrate the declared
motivations and actions of the different participants in the Kosovo war. Reports from the UN
and from NGOs such as Human Rights Watch will be drawn on in order to compare the
findings of (somewhat neutral) observers to the claims of the participating states. Secondary
literature, both academic and journalistic, will be used to examine and evaluate alternative
interpretations of the motives and actions of the participants.
There is no difficulty in accessing sufficient source material; the Kosovo war was recent
enough (but not too recent) and important enough that there is a great deal of material to
consult. The difficulty lies in the interpretation of the material; the primary governmental
sources in particular tend to be subject to spin to put that governments actions in the best
possible light, and much of the secondary literature is written from an ideological standpoint
which predisposes the authors to either favour or condemn the intervention. As wide a range
as possible of source material will be used in order to attempt to minimize or compensate for
ideological or political slants in the material and analysis.
1.3 Structure
Chapter 1 is this Introduction.
Chapter 2 will examine the concept of universal human rights, which lies at the root of
interventions such as Kosovo. To those who favour humanitarian intervention, a state can
effectively cede its right to sovereignty if its violations of human rights reach a certain ill-
defined level. Once this point is reached, other states have both a right and an obligation to
intervene. This chapter will show that, in spite of the fact that nearly all states now pay at least
lip-service to human rights and are officially committed to upholding them, the theory and
practice of human rights are actually still highly disputed. Cultures with non-European roots
argue that human rights are merely a form of Western imperialism, an attempt to impose
Western cultural norms around the world, and therefore do not accept human rights violations
as legitimate grounds for intervention. Even among Western states, there is no agreement on
a definitive list of human rights, let alone on how to promote and protect them. Therefore,
though it was technically human rights abuses which were the subject of the Kosovo
intervention, and which were referred to in attempts to legitimize it, human rights violations
per se are not enough to justify military intervention.
In Chapter 3, the concept and practice of humanitarian intervention will be explored.
The lack of legitimacy of intervention based simply on human rights violations will again be
demonstrated, using historical examples. This will show the basic lack of agreement in
political, legal, and academic circles on an exact definition of humanitarian intervention, which
leads to disagreements over whether or not the term can be applied to any specific case.
Therefore, the remainder of this chapter will be devoted to a comparison of a range of
definitions of humanitarian intervention in order to determine a set of criteria by which the
Kosovo intervention can be analysed. The classic definition will be shown to be
predominantly legalistic in nature and therefore not directly relevant to the question posed by
this paper. Four contemporary definitions will be analysed and compared to yield criteria to
serve as the basis for the case study of the Kosovo intervention.
The case study itself will form Chapter 4. The criteria which were determined in the
previous chapter will be applied sequentially to a study of the intervention in Kosovo.
Attention will be drawn to controversial or debatable issues relating to each of these, and to the
effect which differing interpretations of each of these criteria has on the analysis of the others.
Each section of this chapter will finish with a conclusion on whether the Kosovo intervention
did or did not adequately fulfill the particular criterion in question. The final portion of this
chapter will be the conclusion, in which the results of the case study will be summarized and
an answer to the question asked by this paper will be arrived at. This will be followed by a
brief discussion of the importance of this conclusion and its ramifications for the practice of
humanitarian intervention and for the future study of both humanitarian intervention in general
and the Kosovo intervention in particular.
Carol Devine, Carol Rae Hansen, Ralph Wilde, Human Rights: The Essential Reference (1999), pp.3-
55; R.J. Vincent, Human Rights and International Relations (1986), pp.20-32.
Chapter 2: Human Rights
The protection of human rights is theoretically at the root of the Kosovo intervention,
and indeed of the concept of humanitarian intervention in general. The degree to which that
was actually the case will be discussed below, but it is important to realise how much the
course of events was affected by the disputed nature and importance of human rights in the
international system. Despite the theoretical agreement of nearly every state on the planet to
standards of universal human rights, there is in fact little agreement on what exactly that phrase
means or how it should be applied. This had a direct impact on how the crisis in Kosovo was
approached and dealt with by the international community. It is beyond the scope of this paper
to explore all the complexities of the modern international human rights regime, but some
explanation is necessary to place the Kosovo intervention in context. To this end, this chapter
will briefly examine the history of human rights, their theoretical and philosophical
underpinnings, and their place in international law and in the practice of international relations.
It will conclude with an discussion of the practical relationship between human rights and
humanitarian intervention, and specifically with the intervention in Kosovo.
2.1 A Brief History of Human Rights
There is no single time or event that can be pinpointed as the beginning of the idea of
human rights. Its historical pedigree can be traced back to concepts which were first articulated
in ancient Greece, and which developed throughout the course of European history.
The basic
foundation of the modern human rights regime was laid in the aftermath of World War II,
beginning with the Nuremberg and Tokyo war crimes trials, the mention of human rights in the
United Nations Charter in 1945, the Convention of the Prevention and Punishment of the
Crime of Genocide, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR),both in 1948.
This beginning was later extended by the completion in1966 of the International Covenant on
Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and
Cultural Rights (ICESCR); these were legally binding instruments, which the UDHR was not,
Devine et al, pp.55, 60-63.
David P. Forsythe, Human Rights in International Relations (2000), p.4.
Tim Dunne & Nicholas J. Wheeler, Introduction: human rights and the fifty years crisis, in Tim
Dunne & Nicholas J. Wheeler (eds.), Human Rights in Global Politics (1999), p.2.
Michael Ignatieff, Human Rights as Politics and Idolatry (2001), pp.23-24.
Helsinki Final Act, accessed from on 10 June 2004..
Ignatieff, Human Rights as Politics and Idolatry, p.19.
Jack Donnelly, The Social Construction of International Human Rights, in Dunne & Wheeler (eds.),
Human Rights in Global Politics (1999), pp.88-89.
US President George H.W. Bush, Speech to Congress, 6 March 1991, accessed on 11 June 2004 from
and came into force in 1976.
About 140 states (out of 185 United Nations members in 1999)
had formally adhered to the two covenants by the end of the twentieth century.
Outside the
UN structures, the European Convention on Human Rights of 1950 (and its later protocols) was
a landmark for its codification of binding international standards on human rights for the
members of the Council of Europe.
Since the founding of the UN, the role of human rights in international relations has
become increasingly prominent. Their status in law has become more detailed and formalized,
both in the passage of UN instruments and in national law in many states. However, many
states fail to follow through on their legal obligations to support human rights; in 1997, for
example, Amnesty International reported that 123 of the 185 sovereign states in the world
regularly practised torture.
Although most Western states show a rhetorical concern for the
human rights records of the states to which they supply aid or investment, there are few
consequences for the violators beyond a rise in conditionality.
Nevertheless, states have come
to give much more attention, or at least devote more rhetoric, to human rights over the last
sixty years. During the Cold War, the high point of this process was the Helsinki Final Act in
1975, in which states on both sides of the ideological divide pledged to abide by internationally
agreed standards,
leaving one global human rights culture.

It was only in the post-Cold War period that human rights took on a truly prominent and
active role in international relations.
As George H.W. Bush put it in 1991, it was now a
world where the United Nations, freed from Cold War stalemate, is poised to fulfil the historic
vision of its founders. A world in which freedom and respect for human rights find a home
among all nations.
The fall of the Soviet Union and the dismantling of the Soviet empire
Ignatieff, Human Rights as Politics and Idolatry, p.11.
Janne Haaland Matlary, Intervention for Human Rights in Europe (2002), p.190.
It was of course still possible for Russia (and China) to deny UN sanction to humanitarian interventions
through the use or threatened use of vetoes on the UN Security Council. The Kosovo intervention was not a UN-
approved operation.
freed Western states to take more aggressive positions for the promotion of human rights. In
the wake of the end of the East/West standoff, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) such
as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch came to exercise a greater influence on
public opinion and on government policies and statements.
The efforts of the NGOs to
publicize human rights violations, coupled with greater media coverage in at least some cases,
began to result in increasing public demands for some kind of action. This arguably began to
make human rights issues into real interests for many governments, rather than just values;
according to Janne Haaland Matlary the potential political costs of ignoring human rights
became too great to ignore with impunity.
All of these factors must be taken into account when evaluating the Kosovo
intervention. It was only in the post-Cold War period that the use of military force to intervene
in support of human rights became a realistic option. Although post-communist Russia did not
like the idea of intervention in sovereign states on human rights grounds any more than its
Soviet predecessor, it was no longer in a position to deter the Western states from doing so if
they chose.
Crucially, this greater freedom of action came at a time when the popular
pressures to be at least seen to be doing something were mounting. When combined with the
increasing importance being given to human rights, the ability to employ military force could
quite easily turn into a perceived obligation or right to use military force. Kosovo was perhaps
the first case where all of these factors came into play at once.
2.2 Universal Human Rights: Theory and Practice
Universal human rights are supposed to apply to everyone, everywhere, all of the time:
that is of course what universal means. Article 2 of the UDHR states that
Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without
distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion,
national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be
Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 2. Accessed from
on 11 June 2004.
R.J. Vincent, Human Rights and International Relations (1986), p.36.
Vincent, p.32.
Forsythe, pp.28-29.
For detail on the evolution and theories of human rights, see Forsythe, pp.28-49; Vincent, pp.19-36.
European in this context should be taken to include cultures and societies which are substantially
rooted in European societies, in particular (though not limited to) the United States, Canada, Australia, and New
Quoted in Devine et al, p.62.
made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country of
territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or
under any other limitation of sovereignty.
Supporters of universal human rights argue that they are outside any particular society or
culture...and...endure beyond a single generation.
However, there is still little consensus on
the philosophical basis of universal human rights, and a great deal of ink has been spilled in
attempts to justify the concept. Human rights have been described as everything from the
contemporary expression for natural rights
to monstrous fiction[s]...and...figments of the
imagination, as property rights, as constructions of a political process featuring self-
and in many other ways.
The debate over the foundations of human rights is
an ongoing process, and demonstrates that the concept is not so universal as its supporters
would like to believe.
This paper will not attempt to reach a conclusion on the philosophical rationales for
human rights. The important point here is that human rights are almost exclusively based on
European ideas and concepts.
John Humphrey admitted that almost all of the sources which
he chose to use as the basis of the original outline of the UDHR came from English-speaking
sources and all of them from the democratic draft attempted to combine
humanitarian liberalism with social democracy.
This leaves room for arguments that human
rights have questionable relevance and applicability to non-western societies. Cultural
relativists argue that
rights and rules about morality are encoded in and thus depend on cultural
transcendent or transcultural ideas of right can be found or agreed on...[this] necessarily
Henry J. Steiner & Philip Alston (eds.). International Human Rights in Context: Law, Politics, Morals,
ed. (2000), pp.366-367.
See, for instance, Steiner & Alston, pp.552-553; Vincent, pp.44-57.
For a brief outline of African, Chinese, and Islamic perspectives on human rights, see Vincent, pp.39-
Steiner & Alston, p.365.
Richard Rorty, Human Rights, Rationality, and Sentimentality, in Stephen Shute & Susan Hurly (eds.),
On Human Rights: the Oxford Amnesty Lectures (1993), pp.111-134.
Andrew Hurrell, Power, principles and prudence: protecting human rights in a deeply divided world,
in Dunne & Wheeler (eds.), Human Rights in Global Politics (1999), pp.277-302.
Ignatieff, Human Rights as Politics and Idolatry, p.11.
contradicts a basic premise of the human rights movement.

There are convincing arguments against the cultural relativist position,
but the point is that
human rights are not uncontroversially accepted as valid justifications for foreign policy by
states, NGOs, or intergovernmental organisations (IGOs) which may have very different
conceptions of rights based on their own histories and culture.
According to Henry Steiner
and Philip Alston, rights are no more determinate in meaning, no less susceptible to varying
interpretations and disputes among states, than any other moral, political or legal conception -
for example, property, or sovereignty, or consent, or national security.
They are not
a universally accepted basis for military intervention, implying as that would an acceptance of
the imposition by force of what are perceived by many to be Western standards.
Recognizing this difficulty, writers such as Richard Rorty
and Andrew Hurrell
advocate ignoring the question of the philosophical roots of human rights altogether as being
unnecessary, distracting, and counter-productive. They propose instead an understanding and
acceptance of human rights that is based on a pragmatic recognition of the fact that they have,
regardless of their roots, effectively become a worldwide normative standard, at least at the
level of rhetoric and theoretically binding international agreements. Even states with
notoriously poor human rights records accept that their foreign policy must at least pay
rhetorical attention to values, as well as interests.
This argument holds that it doesnt matter
where they came from originally; they are here now, and must be addressed. The need to
justify human rights is thus avoided right from the start; states are to be held to the agreements
they have signed, regardless of their reasons for doing so.
This paper will adopt Rorty and Hurrells perspective on the theoretical basis of human
Vincent, pp.10-11. The distinction between positive and negative rights, and between political/civil
and social/economic/cultural, is not clear-cut; see Vincent, pp.11-16.
Ignatieff, Human Rights as Politics and Idolatry, p.20.
Ignatieff, Human Rights as Politics and Idolatry, p.20.
rights. It is not necessary to know from whence they came for this analysis. What is important
is that human rights have attained a demonstrable importance in foreign policy that allowed -
and perhaps required - the intervening nations to offer them as a justification for their actions,
but not so clearly established or uncontroversial as to serve as an unambiguous justification.
2.3 Concerns and Difficulties with Human Rights-Based Foreign Policy
As illustrated by the two UN Covenants, human rights are commonly divided into two
families: political and civil rights, and economic, social, and cultural rights. The former are
often described as negative rights: areas in which governments are obliged not to interfere.
They include rights such as freedom of speech, freedom of political association, and freedom
of the press. These are rights that may become threatened by government actions - to control
the press or to intimidate voters, for example. Social, economic, and cultural rights, on the
other hand, are frequently described as positive rights, which require government action in
order to secure them. Examples would be the right to clean water, to sufficient food and
adequate shelter, to an education.
Some states, in particular the United States, concentrate
on political and civil rights, believing that it is inappropriate for government to engage in the
sort of interference which may be required to promote other rights. The European Union and
most individual European states, along with some other states such as New Zealand and
Canada, place a more equal policy emphasis on both categories of rights.
There is a reluctance in the West to admit that there are potentially fundamental
contradictions involved in using human rights as the basis for foreign policy. Many human
rights are at least potentially contradictory: stability vs. self-determination, liberty and
equality, freedom and security, private property and distributive justice.
There is no
agreement on the exact definition or application of human rights, nor of the moral priority
which should be followed when there is conflict between rights.
These problems are largely
ignored in the evaluation of human rights as justification and motivation for policy decisions.
One cannot speak of a human rights-based policy without asking which rights, and why. As
Roberts, p.103.
Simma, p.2. He further points out that what the international community is facing (i.e. at the time of
writing, early March 1999) are massive violations of human rights and rights of ethnic minorities, but not acts of
genocide in the sense of the1948 Convention.
will be seen, these questions are important in the evaluation of the intervention in Kosovo.
2.4 Human Rights and Humanitarian Intervention
There is a school of thought which holds that if the violations of human rights by a
state become too extreme and systematic then that state has, or should have, effectively ceded
its right to sovereignty over the territory in question.
Other states are then justified or even
obligated to intervene in order to end the abuses. This is most clearly seen in the extreme case
of genocide, where the right of states, or collectivities of states, to counter breaches of human
rights most likely becomes an obligation,
but the right of other states to intervene in cases
of less severity is subject to a great deal of debate. Although this highly contentious argument
has been used in connection to the intervention in Kosovo, it requires an unambiguous,
generally agreed-upon definition of human rights which does not in fact exist, as this chapter
has demonstrated. Furthermore, there can never be a clear agreement on when human rights
abuses have become sufficiently extreme. If there is not even agreement on what are and are
not human rights amongst the Western, European-based states, how can a consensus be
reached on when the severity of violations of those rights justifies intervention?
Beyond this difficulty, any decision to pursue a human rights-based policy requires a
prior decision as to which rights are in question, and which of those are to be given priority.
This problem becomes more acute when the use of military force is contemplated. In the case
of Kosovo, the intervention was pursued via means which aggravated the level of human rights
violations in that province while also widening the crisis to include Serbia as a whole, as will
be shown below. The characterization of the intervention as a humanitarian mission is
problematic when one recognises that the attempt to promote or guarantee certain human rights
in Kosovo resulted in the systematic and large-scale violation of other human rights during and
after the intervention. These violations were suffered both by the Kosovo Albanians and by
Serbs and other ethnic groups during and after the intervention, and continue in some cases up
to the present day. The intervention demonstrated and required a value judgement as to whose
human rights and which human rights were more important, and to whom (i.e. to the
interveners or to the subjects of the intervention). These judgements were demonstrated in the
declared motivations for the intervention and especially in the means used to carry it out, and
are still evident in the continuing aftermath.
Human rights are in the peculiar position of being an important, even vital, legitimating
factor for intervention, while not being sufficient in themselves as a justification for the use
of force. Western leaders spoke repeatedly about human rights in Kosovo, which may have
stirred up public interest, concern, and support but which did not constitute acceptable grounds
for intervention. The next chapter will look at the ways in which humanitarian intervention
has been justified and legitimized in the past and establish in more detail the criteria which will
be used to assess the intervention in Kosovo.
Hilpold, p.457.
Hilpold, pp.458-459.
Chapter 3: Humanitarian Intervention
Since the question addressed by this paper is whether or not the intervention in Kosovo
can accurately be described as a humanitarian intervention, some knowledge of the history of
humanitarian intervention before Kosovo will help to place the circumstances and issues in
context. Furthermore, when looking at that history it quickly becomes clear that there is no
general agreement on what exactly is a humanitarian intervention; therefore, a working
definition of the term for use in this paper must be determined and explained. This chapter
will begin with a brief survey of humanitarian intervention in the post-World War II period.
The rest of the chapter will be devoted to finding a definition of humanitarian intervention
which can then be used in the case study portion of this paper. The classic definition will
be shown to be concerned primarily with legal issues which are not relevant here. Therefore,
four proposed contemporary definitions will be compared and analysed in order to establish
the criteria which will be used in the examination of the Kosovo intervention. The intention
is to establish a set of minimum criteria which can be empirically examined in order to reach
a conclusion as to whether or not the intervention in Kosovo can be plausibly labelled as
Peter Hilpold notes that many authors have elaborated lists of criteria which measures
of humanitarian intervention should respect to become morally and politically commendable,
and claims that although these lists only slightly differ in their content, applied to Kosovo
[they] brought completely different results depending on the personal view taken by the
various authors.
His points are only partially correct, but they indicate the necessity for the
examination to be carried out in this chapter. Firstly, as will be shown below, in fact the lists
do not only slightly differ in their content; there are significant differences which need to be
reconciled and evaluated. He is correct that the conclusions and the criteria chosen usually
depend on the view of each author regarding humanitarian intervention; this problem was
addressed in Chapter 1. However, he is overly dismissive of criteria which are partly stating
generally accepted (or acceptable) principles...which per se are non-contestable...[and which]
leave a broad margin of appreciation or their fulfilment is difficult to prove.
No definitive
TomWoodhouse, Introduction and Overview, in Tom Woodhouse, Robert Bruce, Malcolm Dando
(eds.), Peacekeeping and Peacemaking: Towards Effective Intervention in Post-Cold War Conflicts (1998), p.4.
Oliver Ramsbotham and Tom Woodhouse, Humanitarian Intervention in Contemporary Conflict
(1996), pp.45-47.
Caroline Thomas, New States, Sovereignty, and Intervention (1985), p.48.
Ren Cassin, quoted in Ignatieff, Human Rights as Politics and Idolatry, p.38.
answer as to whether or not these criteria were fulfilled can ever be reached; they will always
be subject to dispute. However, these generally accepted principles, once clearly defined,
can be applied to historical research which can then at least add to the balance of evidence
concerning the larger question asked in this dissertation.
3.1 A Brief History of Humanitarian Intervention
Even using the loosest definition of humanitarian intervention (forcible action by
states across international borders to protect human rights
), the history of humanitarian
intervention is a contentious one, with little agreement on which instances, if any, are
legitimate examples of the type. There is little discussion of humanitarian intervention in the
pre-World War II period. Most of the literature concentrates on the Cold War period (and now
increasingly on the post-Cold War period), which offers many possible cases of humanitarian
intervention. Here, however, one falls afoul of the differing definitions of humanitarian
intervention. The result, as surveyed by Oliver Ramsbotham and Tom Woodhouse,
is a
situation where the number of potential Cold War interventions ranges from four to eleven or
more, or even zero if sufficiently strict criteria are used. The same case may be cited by one
author as a particularly clear example while others deny its relevance entirely.
This ambivalence over historical cases of humanitarian intervention derives from the
tension between the norm of inviolable sovereignty and the legitimacy of intervention. The
principle of non-intervention was enshrined in the UN Charter. Strong countries favoured it
because it protected them against action by the UN itself, weaker countries because it protected
them against interference by the stronger states.
But there was always a strand of thought
which held that human rights abuses were valid grounds for intervention, particularly when
violation of human rights by a given state within its borders results in a threat to international
For example, the Genocide Convention obliges states by international law to ensure
Thomas, pp.66-67.
Wheeler, Saving Strangers, p.42.
This is not to say that human rights concerns did not play a role in the decisions to intervene. For
example, in the case of the Tanzanian intervention in Uganda, President Nyerere had been vocally attacking Idi
Amins regime for some time on human rights grounds, but he did not attempt to justify his actions on these
grounds. Wheeler, Saving Strangers, pp.60-65, 85-89, 117-122.
Wheeler, Saving Strangers, pp.65-71, 90-100, 122-132.
that UN institutions combat genocide, even if it is occurring within the borders of a single
state. Many African states maintained that armed intervention against South Africas apartheid
regime would have been justified,
and the massacre of Ibos by Nigerian troops in the war
over Biafran secession led some scholars to claim that there was a legal right of unilateral
humanitarian intervention.
Most of these Cold War period incidents have come to be considered as potential
humanitarian interventions only in retrospect. Even in those cases where there was a strong
human rights argument, humanitarian reasons were seldom either offered or accepted as
justification at the time. Nicholas Wheeler looks in detail at three candidates and finds that
in each case the primary justification used by the intervening governments was self-defence
or security; humanitarian reasons were secondary at best.
This was in spite of the fact that
there were systematic, large-scale atrocities being carried out in all three case studies which
were effectively ended by the interventions. The self-defence justifications were shaky at best,
and the international reaction was to condemn all three interventions as illegitimate violations
of the sovereignty of the target states.
Purely domestic human rights violations were not seen
as grounds for international intervention in this period.
The post-Cold War period has seen a marked upswing in the number of interventions
which are justified in humanitarian terms. Interventions in Bosnia, Iraq, Somalia, Haiti,
Kosovo, Afghanistan, and again Iraq have all prominently featured human rights arguments,
along with claims of self-defence or international security. The Rwandan genocide and its
aftermath of widespread chaos and attendant humanitarian crises in central Africa resulted in
scathing criticisms of the international community and the UN for not intervening. Human
rights justifications are considered to be much more legitimate than they were during the Cold
War. In spite of this, there is still debate over what exactly constitutes a humanitarian
intervention; there is no generally agreed, uncontroversial definition.
Cited in Ramsbotham & Woodhouse, p.112.
Ramsbotham & Woodhouse, p.3.
Ramsbotham & Woodhouse, pp.43-44, 109-111.
3.2 Defining Humanitarian Intervention
Humanitarian intervention is a very difficult concept to define. It carries a different
meaning depending on who is using it and when: Lori Fischler-Damrosch notes at least
seventeen different interpretations which have been put on the term.
Oliver Ramsbotham and
Tom Woodhouse cite Wil Verweys definition of humanitarian intervention as the correct
usage in international law and state practice:
[t]he threat or use of force by a state or states abroad, for the sole purpose of preventing or
putting a halt to a serious violation of fundamental human rights, in particular the right to life
of persons, regardless of their nationality, such protection taking place neither upon
authorization by relevant organs of the United Nations nor with permission by the legitimate
government of the target state.
Using John Vincents work as a basis, they then describe six features which characterize this
classic definition of intervention:
(a) Purpose: The motivation for the intervention must be purely, or at least
overwhelmingly, humanitarian; state interests cannot be significant. Furthermore,
humanitarian is strictly defined as the protection of fundamental human rights
threatened by the host government. The idea of intervening for other humanitarian
purposes is not addressed.
(b) Agency: Possible interventionist actors are limited to individual states or groups of
states. Organizations like the United Nations are explicitly ruled out as being possible
agents of intervention.
(c) Target: The intervention is done against the will of the target state. This assumes both
that a clearly legitimate government exists, and that intervention is automatically done
against that government. This area also brings in concerns about legality of
interventions under the UN Charter.
(d) Force level: Intervention is equated with the threat or use of force, ensuring that it is
For an excellent discussion of sovereignty and the non-intervention principle, see Thomas, especially
pp.22-51; also Ignatieff, Human Rights as Politics and Idolatry, pp.37-39.
John Vincent, cited in Ramsbotham & Woodhouse, p.44.
prohibited by UN Charter Article 2(4). Distinctions between intervention and war on
the one hand and coercion (but not force) on the other are ignored.
(e) Context: It is assumed that the intervention is to protect human rights from threats by
the government of the state in question. If that is not the case, it cannot be called
humanitarian intervention.
(f) Legitimacy: Practically speaking, any action which could be labelled intervention
was found to be illegitimate under these standards. The question of what actually
constituted a legitimate intervention becomes side-tracked by the call
a possibly legitimate act intervention.
The most distinctive feature of this definition of intervention is its predominantly
legalistic character. It is not so much intended to lay out criteria by which one might determine
what is a legitimate humanitarian intervention as it is to lay out standards by which any
potential candidate can be ruled out. This is entirely consistent with the primacy given to
sovereignty and non-intervention in the international system.
But as Vincent points out, there
is confusion between the use of the word intervention as a description of an event in
international relations and its use as a normative expression by international lawyers.
the purposes of this paper, the classic definition is crippled by that confusion. Since the
question here is not the legality of the Kosovo intervention, but rather its characterization as
a humanitarian intervention in moral and practical terms, it is necessary to turn to other
definitions of humanitarian intervention to find usable criteria. The four definitions chosen
all date from the post-Cold War period and primarily (though not exclusively) address non-
legal features of humanitarian intervention. The listed features are considered to be the
minimum requirements which must be met in order for an intervention to be labelled
humanitarian; Wheeler goes on to discuss a further four features over and above these
threshold requirements which, if present, add further to the legitimacy of an intervention but
These are: humanitarian motives, whether humanitarian justifications are used, the legality of an
intervention, and the issue of selectivity of intervention; see Wheeler, Saving Strangers, pp.37-51.
Ramsbotham & Woodhouse, pp.73-76.
Ignatieff, Human Rights as Politics and Idolatry, p.40.
Jon Holbrook, Humanitarian Intervention and the Recasting of International Law, in David Chandler
(ed.), Rethinking Human Rights: critical approaches to international politics (2002), p.137.
Wheeler, Saving Strangers, p.34.
which are not required.
A summary of the proffered criteria, broken down into general
categories, is shown in the following table:
Michael Ignatieff
Jon Holbrook
Nicholas Wheeler
Situation -Humanitarian
-Human Rights Abuses
(-Threat to international
peace & security)
(-Vital interest of
powerful nations)
-Just Cause (a
Motivation -Humanitarian
End in view
(-Vital interest of
powerful nations)
Means -Humanitarian
-Chance of success via
military means
-Coercive action -Proportionality of
means used to ends
-Force must be last
-High probability of
success through
Outcome -Humanitarian
(-Threat to international
peace & security)
-Lack of indigenous
As can be seen, there is only marginal consensus on what is necessary for an
intervention to qualify as humanitarian. Before proceeding with a discussion of these
features, it is worth noting that the authors were variously describing what they felt was a
newly-emerging standard for humanitarian intervention (Ignatieff), suggesting new normative
criteria for humanitarian intervention (Ramsbotham & Woodhouse, Wheeler), or arguing
Ignatieff, Human Rights as Politics and Idolatry, p.18.
Ramsbotham & Woodhouse, p.73.
against what they saw as a dangerous new-found legitimacy for humanitarian intervention in
the post-Cold War period (Holbrook).
There is general agreement on certain situational requirements for humanitarian
intervention, with all the authors except Holbrook listing at least one as a necessary factor.
Wheeler cites the need for a supreme humanitarian crisis as a just cause for intervention. He
does not define this specifically, but it must plausibly require armed, forceful intervention to
either stop a humanitarian disaster that is in progress or prevent an imminent disaster from
coming about. Ignatieff argues that only in strictly defined cases of necessity - where human
life is at risk - can coercive human rights interventions be justified.
Ramsbotham and
Woodhouse do not go so far as that; they write of [great] human suffering
as a justification,
but like Wheeler do not attempt a strict definition. Holbrooks omission of situation should
probably not be taken as an argument that a precipitating crisis need not exist, since he
implicitly addresses this concern elsewhere. A pre-existing situation of humanitarian crisis,
actual or imminent, is the first required feature in a humanitarian intervention.
Ignatieff has two other criteria which can be described as situational but which are not
relevant to the question at hand. The first, that the situation must be a threat to international
peace and security, is actually aimed at the legal requirements for intervention under
international law. It is precisely this circumstance which can be (and has been) used to justify
intervention under Article 42 of the UN Charter. His other situational stricture is a practical
addendum that the region in question must be of vital interest, for cultural, strategic, or
geopolitical reasons, to one of the powerful nations in the world and another powerful nation
does not oppose the exercise of force. This is a partial explanation for why interventions take
place in some circumstances but not in others - and perhaps should be seen as a motivational
requirement as much as situational - but does not further our understanding of the humanitarian
character of an intervention.
The next category is motivation, which effectively only appears in two of the four sets
of criteria. Ramsbotham and Woodhouse require that humanitarian ends be in view.
Holbrook simply requires a declared humanitarian objective (which presumably requires the
Ramsbotham & Woodhouse, p.74.
Wheeler, Saving Strangers, pp.37-38.
Ramsbotham & Woodhouse, p.73.
humanitarian crisis which he did not mention as a situational requirement). Motivation is a
vexed question in this context. Ramsbotham and Woodhouse admit that when states are
sending troops across borders, it is...unlikely that humanitarian ends can be separated from
political ends, but argue that a lack of separation between the humanitarian and the political
need not invalidate humanitarian ends, and furthermore that disconnecting humanitarian and
political ends may in fact hinder a real solution to the underlying problems which led to the
crisis in the first place.
Wheeler takes the same argument - that motivations can never be
pure and disinterested - to conclude that they should not be considered at all as a relevant
factor, especially since humanitarian outcomes do not necessarily depend on humanitarian
Ignatieffs stance on required motivations is virtually anti-humanitarian: he
claims that the interests of powerful nations must be involved, but he does not mention
humanitarian concerns at all. On balance, it is reasonable to require humanitarian motivation
as a prerequisite for humanitarian intervention, if only so the means and outcome can be
properly judged. However, it is not necessary that such motivations are the only, or even the
dominant, motivating factor.
The only category which is represented on all four lists is means, though the specific
details vary widely. Holbrooks only requirement is that the action taken is coercive, which
reflects his predominant concern with the legalities of intervention more than it does any
interest in the specific actions taken in any particular set of circumstances. Ignatieff says little
more, merely stipulating that there must be a reasonable chance of success through the use of
military force; this is also on Wheelers list. Ramsbotham and Woodhouse require a
humanitarian approach, meaning the action was carried out impartially, and...the interests of
the interveners at any rate not incompatible with the humanitarian purpose,
and humanitarian
means. This last point is similar to Wheelers requirements that force must be the last resort,
and must be proportional to the intended ends. This is an issue which is not addressed at all
in the classic definition of humanitarian intervention, and which is in fact key to the accurate
evaluation of such actions. Regardless of whether the initial humanitarian crisis is alleviated,
the humanitarian nature of an intervention is open to severe question if the means used to
Ramsbotham & Woodhouse, pp.75, 76.
Wheeler, Saving Strangers, pp.36-37.
I have included these stipulations under the heading of Means, since they have a direct bearing on how
an intervention is carried out, but they could also be considered as belonging in the Outcome category.
achieve the goals results in the worsening or widening of other human rights violations, or
indeed creates new violations, to a degree which arguably outweighs the benefits in the first
case. Furthermore, it is important to judge whether the means chosen, as Ignatieff and Wheeler
say, had a reasonable chance of success. The question of appropriate, proportional, well-
chosen means is the third criteria which will be used to analyse the Kosovo intervention.
Only Ramsbotham and Woodhouse include humanitarian outcome in their criteria. The
difficulty with this is that no intervention can be described as humanitarian before the outcome
is known. It is only in retrospect that one could make claims on the nature of a given
intervention. It also potentially invalidates all the other criteria: an intervention undertaken for
humanitarian motives, by humanitarian means, to resolve a humanitarian crisis, which is
ultimately unsuccessful would not qualify as a humanitarian intervention. They admit that
outcome is notoriously difficult to assess, and offer as a possible test the question: does the
outcome converge with the wishes of those in whose name it is carried out?
explicitly rules out consideration of outcome as a criterion, since it can never be known in
advance that more lives will be saved by intervention than will be lost by it, or that the
exigencies of military action will not damage the moral credentials of the interveners.
closest that he or Ignatieff come to requiring a positive outcome is in their stipulation that there
must be a reasonable chance of success through the use of force.
However, justification
(legal or moral) before an intervention works on a different basis than retrospective
examination of an historical event. In the latter case, a negative humanitarian outcome may
not disqualify an intervention as humanitarian - the best-laid plans can go wrong, especially
in war - but it would certainly weaken the case. Conversely, a positive outcome can reinforce
the humanitarian credentials of an intervention, as it would bear out the motivations and means
which were given and used for the intervention. In this paper, which is examining a historical
event rather than attempting to justify a proposed course of action, the outcome will be
considered as a relevant factor in characterizing the intervention.
Ignatieff and Holbrook both either implicitly or explicitly address the legality or
legitimacy of humanitarian interventions. Ignatieffs argument that there must exist a threat
to international peace and security is discussed above in the section on situation. Holbrook
stipulates that the intervention must be done without the consent of the government in the
target state. This harks back to the classic definition of intervention, and has no bearing on the
question addressed in this paper.
Accordingly, the intervention in Kosovo will be examined with regard to the categories
discussed above, with the exception of that of legality: (1) Situation: was there a
humanitarian/human rights crisis which could justify an intervention, (2) Motivation: was at
least part of the intent of the intervention the amelioration of the human rights situation, (3)
Means: were the methods used proportional, appropriate, and could they plausibly have led to
success, and (4) Outcome: whether or not the intervention resulted in an appreciable
improvement in the human rights situation. The concerns with and limitations of human rights
with regard to intervention, as discussed in the previous chapter, will be brought in for
additional context where appropriate. The case study of the Kosovo intervention in which
these criteria are applied is the next chapter of this dissertation.
Chapter 4: The Kosovo Intervention
In Chapter 2, the history and basis of human rights was discussed. Their role in
international relations, their grounding in international law, and their disputed nature were all
examined in order to provide a background to the human rights justifications and consequences
of the intervention in Kosovo. Chapter 3 performed the same role for humanitarian
intervention, beginning with an outline of the history of the concept. A comparison between
varying conceptions of humanitarian intervention was then carried out and a set of criteria were
determined by which the Kosovo intervention should be examined in order to determine
whether or not it is accurate to call it a humanitarian intervention.
Chapter 4 will apply this structure to a study of the NATO intervention in Kosovo in
1999. It will begin with a brief survey of the relevant historical developments in Kosovo,
Serbia, and internationally from approximately 1980 to 1999. Following this, each of the four
criteria which were discussed in the previous chapter will be examined in turn, and a
conclusion reached for each. Since the four criteria are more or less chronologically ordered,
each successive section will refer back to the developments and conclusion of the earlier ones
to substantiate the conclusions.
The first section will establish what the human rights situation in Kosovo was in the
period immediately prior to the intervention. What abuses were occurring? Which group or
groups were carrying them out? What role, if any, was the international community playing
in either permitting these abuses to take place or in ameliorating them? The characterisation
of the state of affairs as a humanitarian crisis will be explored, along with the question of
whether or not an accurate picture of the situation in Kosovo was either known to Western
leaders or accurately communicated in their public statements.
The next section will explore the general motivations and specific intentions of the
leaders of the intervening states. The justifications and reasoning given by NATO leaders for
the intervention will be shown, which will later allow the means and outcome of the
intervention to be judged on their own terms. Alternative explanations for the intervention will
also be examined in an attempt to determine if the public rhetoric of the NATO leaders was
in fact representative of their true motivations.
The third criterion is that of the means used in the intervention. The first question
See for instance the remarks by Justice Louise Arbour in the OSCE report Kosovo/Kosova: As Seen,
As Told, p.9, accessed from on 15 July 2004. Also see Alex
J. Bellamy, Kosovo and International Society (2002), pp.16-36.
Independent International Commission on Kosovo (IICK), Kosovo Report (2000), pp.38-39.
which needs to be answered is whether or not the use of force was truly the last resort by 1999.
Once this has been determined, the reasons for the choice to rely exclusively on an aerial
bombing campaign will be examined, along with the implications and consequences of that
choice. This will be done in light of both the declared motivations and intentions and the
alternative explanations
Fourthly, the outcome of the intervention will be assessed. This section will employ
both short- and long-term perspectives. The immediate consequences during the actual period
of the intervention from March to June 1999 will be considered first. After this, the outcome
in the immediate post-war period will be examined, followed by a longer-term perspective
considering developments up to 2004. The state of human rights in Kosovo, and more
generally in Serbia, will be considered as well as the overall humanitarian consequences of the
The chapter will end with a summary of the findings regarding each of the four criteria,
and will offer a conclusion as to whether or not the Kosovo intervention can therefore be
considered to be a humanitarian intervention. Finally, the significance of this conclusion in
academic and practical terms will be discussed.
4.1 Kosovo from 1980 to 1999
It was widely recognised long before 1999 that the ethnic situation in Kosovo was
potentially the most dangerous in Yugoslavia.
The population in Kosovo was over 80%
ethnic Albanian, but the province was regarded by the Serbs as the historic homeland of their
nation. Under the Yugoslav constitution, Kosovo was in legal terms a province of Serbia, a
fact which is important in understanding the course of events; this will be discussed below.
During the 1980s, Kosovo Serbs felt that they were being marginalised and threatened by the
Albanian population; many left the province citing a fear of physical violence and actual
institutional and ideological discrimination.
In 1986 a notorious memorandum was
circulated by a group of intellectuals at the Serbian Academy of Arts and Sciences which
Quoted in IICK, p.40.
Rezun, p.36.
In fact, a study of the frequency of rape in Yugoslavia concluded that Kosovo had the lowest rate in
the country, and that most of those which did occur were committed by members of the same ethnic community.
See Alex J.Bellamy, Human Wrongs in Kosovo, 1974-1999, ' in The Kosovo Tragedy: the Human Rights
Dimensions (2001), pp.110-111.
IICK, pp.36-37.
Quoted in Rezun, p.35.
Quoted in IICK, p.41.
declared that physical, political, legal and cultural genocide was being faced by the Serbs in
The high birth rate of the Kosovo Albanians was said to be a deliberate policy
carried out to dispossess the Serbs in Kosovo,
and manufactured tales of Albanian rapes of
Serb women circulated across the country.
On the Albanian side, demonstrations in 1981 for
either greater status for the Albanian population within the current legal structures or for the
establishment of Kosovo as a full Yugoslav republic (i.e. independent of Serbia) were brutally
repressed and restrictions were placed on Albanian-language education.
repression and politically-motivated arrests and trials continued throughout the 1980s.
The ascent of Slobodan Milosevic to the leadership first of Serbia and then effectively
of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) marked the downturn in the fortunes of the
Kosovo Albanians. Milosevic repeatedly used Albanian-Serb clashes in and about Kosovo as
a device to stir up Serbian nationalist sentiments to bolster his popularity. Speaking in 1987
at Kosovo Polje, the site of the mythologised 1389 defeat of the Serbs at the hands of the
Ottoman Turks, he declared that no one will beat the Serbs again...Yugoslavia does not exist
without Kosovo...Yugoslavia and Serbia are not going to give up Kosovo!
In June 1989,
speaking at the 600
anniversary of the battle, Milosevic commented that six centuries later,
again, we are in battles and quarrels. They are not armed battles although such things cannot
be excluded.
In March 1989 Milosevic removed the autonomous status of Kosovo and
illegally dissolved the Kosovo Assembly. The province was placed under military occupation,
local media was suppressed, and Albanian-language education was completely eliminated.
The situation in Kosovo deteriorated rapidly and dramatically over the course of the
next decade. Even before the revocation of autonomy, the Serbian government began pursuing
policies to reduce the ethnic Albanian majority in Kosovo; these intensified after the summer
of 1990 and spawned an increase in human rights abuses and discriminatory government
IICK,, pp.41-42; see also Bellamy, Human Wrongs in Kosovo, 1974-1999,' pp.114-116.
Bellamy, Human Wrongs in Kosovo, 1974-1999,' pp.116-117.
See IICK, pp.42-49.
IICK, p.42.
IICK, pp.50-51.
IICK, p.52. The KLA was subject to deep factional splits and conflicts which makes attribution of its
activities and policies difficult; see Chomsky, The New Military Humanism, p.29; Tim Judah, Kosovo: War and
Revenge (2000), p.147.
Parallel societies evolved in Kosovo, with the Serbs controlling the public sector
and the Albanians the private sector; services like education and health care were provided
The Kosovo Albanians elected an illegal shadow government which even had
its own taxes, which were imposed on Albanians on top of the taxes collected by the Serb
government. Nevertheless, the impoverished Kosovo Albanian system could not provide the
services needed by its population.
Human rights abuses were relatively constant: deprivation
of education and medical care, harassment by police, and so on, and there were some incidents
which may have been intended to provoke the Kosovo Albanians into violent confrontations.
The ethnic Albanian population pursued a policy of peaceful non-cooperation which was
advocated by the unofficial President of Kosovo, Ibrahim Rugova They feared that resorting
to violence would lose any international sympathy for their cause and give the Serbs an excuse
to pursue the same sort of ethnic cleansing policies that had been seen in Bosnia.
In the mid-90s, the situation began to deteriorate further. The Dayton Accords ended
the fighting in Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1995, but Kosovo was not even mentioned and the
Kosovo Albanians were not participants in the negotiations. This convinced many of them that
the non-violent route would never bring them success, in spite of apparent new possibilities
for a negotiated settlement.
A severe worsening of the human rights situation was chiefly the
result of the interaction between the newly-appearing Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) and the
Serb police and military. Initially believed by many to be a front for provocations by the Serb
authorities, the KLA targeted Serb police and Albanian collaborators with the apparent goal
of provoking a violent response from the Serbs and ultimately an international intervention.
The collapse of Albania into chaos in 1997 enabled the KLA to obtain large amounts of
weaponry from that country and to establish secure bases in Albanian territory, both of which
allowed them to escalate their attacks in Kosovo. The Serbs responded by increasing police
Human Rights Watch, cited in IICK, p.69.
Report of the Secretary General Prepared Pursuant to Resolution 1160 (1998), 1199 (1998) and 1203
(1998) of the Security Council, UN Doc. S/1998/1221, p.3. Accessed on 18 July 2004 from
harassment of the Albanian population, reinforcing their military presence in Kosovo, and
resorting to increasingly brutal methods in their counter-insurgency operations.
In February 1998, a Serb military operation against a prominent KLA leader resulted
in the deaths of at least fifty-eight people, including many women and children. This attack
prompted many Albanian communities to form self-defence militias, which although organised
independently claimed affiliation with the KLA. Over the next six months, fighting between
the Yugoslav National Army (JNA) and the KLA increased in frequency and intensity. Over
the summer, the JNA mounted major operations in a largely successful attempt to eliminate
or drive out the KLA from large areas of Kosovo which resulted in the deaths of large numbers
of civilians.
The Serbs employed large-scale bombing and shelling of Albanian villages,
generating an increasing flow of refugees which began to threaten the stability of neighbouring
countries. Abuses against both Serb and Albanian civilians increased, though the Serb abuses
greatly outweighed those by the KLA and other Albanians.
There were international efforts to restrain the combatants, but they were largely
ineffectual until late in the year. In October 1998 NATO issued an Activation Order for an air
campaign against Yugoslavia; this gave NATO Commanding General Wesley Clark the
authority to launch air strikes without further formal approval. Under the pressure of this
threat, Milosevic negotiated the so-called October agreements with NATO, which provided
for the withdrawal of large numbers of JNA troops from Kosovo and the deployment of an
international Kosovo Verification Mission (KVM) to monitor and confirm the cease-fire and
troop withdrawal. The Kosovo Albanians were not invited to participate in the negotiations.
The KLA took advantage of the Serbian withdrawal to take over the abandoned JNA positions
and continue or resume their military activities. These actions were condemned by the
international community, but nothing concrete was done to stop them. By December the UN
declared that actions of Kosovo Albanian paramilitary units have only served to provoke the
Serbian authorities, and that there was a new cycle of major hostilities underway in
At least partly in response to these violations of the agreements, the Serbs moved
The full text of the Rambouillet Interim Agreement for Peace and Self-Government in Kosovo is
available from, accessed on 18 July 2004. The requirement
for free movement and legal immunity for NATO forces throughout Yugoslavia has been described by some as
a deliberate deal-breaker with the Serbs; see Herring, pp.227-228; Herman and Peterson, p.211-212.
IICK, pp.82-83; Mary Robinson, Situation of Human Rights in Kosovo, Federal Republic of
Yugoslavia, 22 April 1999. Accessed on 16 July 2004 from
increasing numbers of troops and heavy equipment back into Kosovo.
The well-publicised massacre by Serb forces of 45 civilians at the village of Racak on
15 January 1999 is commonly held to be the immediate trigger for renewed international
interest in Kosovo. Pressure was brought to bear on both sides to participate in peace
negotiations, which were held at Rambouillet in February. Following a further series of
negotiations in Paris in mid-March, a proposal was signed by the Kosovo Albanian delegation
which would have restored Kosovos autonomy and independent political institutions, but
which left the issue of independence undecided. An Implementation Mission led by NATO
would have been brought in to enforce the agreement; the Yugoslav government was to allow
free movement by those NATO forces throughout all of the FRY.
The Yugoslav government
refused to sign the proposed agreement. Over this period of January to March 1999, the
violence in Kosovo continued apace. As many as 200,000 or more refugees were driven from
their homes, and the Yugoslav army continued to move troops back into the province.
The KVM was withdrawn from Kosovo on 20 March. At 8pm local time on 24 March
1999, NATO launched Operation Allied Force against Serbia.
4.2 Situation
As discussed in the previous chapters, the idea of humanitarian intervention is rooted
in the concept of universal human rights. So given the course of events narrated above, what
exactly was the human rights situation in Kosovo in early 1999? Information was often
difficult to come by; access to Kosovo for international observers was frequently hindered by
the FRY government and military, and the conditions in the province made it difficult to obtain
reliable information even when access could be obtained.
Even so, there were many
international organisations active in Kosovo over the course of the 1990s, and their combined
efforts make it possible to assess the general state of affairs. Their reports make it clear that
the human rights situation in Kosovo deteriorated severely during the nineties. By 1999 there
IICK, p.77; Dana H. Allin, NATOs Balkan Interventions (2002), p.48. The media was also suppressed
and controlled in the rest of Yugoslavia: see Robin Cook and George Robertson, Joint Press Conference by the
UK Defence and Foreign Secretaries, 22 April 1999. Accessed from on 20 July 2004.
See for instance Mary Robinsons UNHCHR report cited in note 19. Even when medical care was
available, many Albanians were afraid or poisoning or malpractice if they went to Serb doctors; see Bellamy,
Human Wrongs in Kosovo, 1974-1999' , p.117.
Allin, p.53.
IICK, pp.72, 77, 80-81; Robinson Report.
Human Rights Watch, Eighteen Civilians Massacred in Kosovo Forest, 29 September 1998, accessed
from on 21 July 2004.
Human Rights Watch, Serb Police Attacked Convoy of 250 Vehicles, 30 September 1998, accessed
from on 21 July 2004.
IICK, p.79; Allin, p.50.
were sustained, organised, and deliberate human rights violations taking place throughout
Kosovo, largely but not exclusively at the hands of the Serbs. These violations encompassed
all types of human rights: political, civil, economic, social, and cultural.
Serb violations of the human rights of the Kosovo Albanians were widespread and
relatively well-documented. Since the removal of Kosovos autonomy in 1989, at the latest,
the Albanian population had been denied any voice or method of participation in the
government of the country or the province. Albanian-language media was suppressed, and in
1998 the Serb government began imposing restrictions and demands on foreign journalists and
broadcasters as well.
Medical care and education were denied to Kosovo Albanians on the
basis of their ethnicity.
Yugoslav military actions, such as shelling villages and towns to
encourage the population to flee and the killing of Albanian livestock were specifically
designed to deprive the Kosovo Albanians of adequate food and shelter.
Arbitrary arrest and
detentions, extra-judicial executions, and lack of due legal process were frequently reported,
especially in the 1998-1999 period.
Human Rights Watch claimed that the Yugoslav Army
and Serbian Police are fighting a war against civilians,
an unrestrained campaign of terror
against a civilian population.
As had been the case in Bosnia, attacks on the civilian
population were not merely a side-effect of the military conflict. Civilians were the deliberate
target of military actions.
Though it does not excuse such violations, many Serb actions in 1998 and 1999 were
taken in response to KLA attacks and provocations.
Albeit on a much smaller scale, the KLA
was also responsible for systematic and deliberate human rights violations. The Humanitarian
IICK, p.72.
Statement of the Special Rapporteur , Mr. Jiri Dienstbier, of the Commission on Human Rights on the
situation of human rights in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, 6 August
1998, accessed from on 19 July 2004.
IICK, p.69.
William Walker, OSCE Verification Experiences in Kosovo, November 1998-June 1999,' in Ken
Booth (ed.), The Kosovo Tragedy: the human rights dimensions (2001), p.129.
Quoted in Ignatieff, Virtual War, p.74.
In August 1998, the UNHCR reported more than 100,000 internally displaced Kosovo Albanians, with
more than 10,000 more in Albanian and Macedonia; see the Dienstbier Report. As of 23 March 1999, the
UNHCR reported 260,000 internally displaced within Kosovo, another 100,000 or more elsewhere in the region,
and 100,000 refugees or asylum seekers outside the region; see Roberts, p.113.
Law Centre reported Albanian responsibility for disappearances, abductions, and the arbitrary
detention of Serb civilians in Kosovo.
UNHCHR Special Rapporteur Jiri Dienstbier reported
in August 1998 over 100 abductions of Serb citizens by the KLA.
Although primarily
aimed at Serbs, KLA abuses were also sometimes directed at other non-ethnic Albanians and
at Albanian collaborators.
The KLA deliberately targeted civilians, either as revenge
attacks for Serb actions or in an attempt to provoke Serb atrocities in order to gain international
support. In the words of William Walker, head of the KVM, the crisis in Kosovo was largely
based on egregious violations of human rights by both parties to the conflict,
but nobody
denied that there was a crisis. The claims by the intervening states to be acting to rectify gross
human rights abuses were to this degree entirely consistent with the situation on the ground
in Kosovo, but tended to ignore the abuses by the Kosovo Albanians to concentrate on those
by the Serbs.
Be that as it may, it was established above that, as Robert Skidelsky puts it, human
rights abuse per se is not a ground for intervention.
In order to fulfill the first criterion for
humanitarian intervention there must be a current or imminent humanitarian crisis, something
which plausibly requires military force to remedy and which goes beyond simple abuses of
human rights. In Kosovo in early 1999, it was reasonable to argue that a humanitarian
catastrophe was indeed imminent, if not already in progress. Hundreds of thousands of
people had been displaced from their homes and were living either in the woods and mountains
of Kosovo or in UN refugee camps in Albania and Macedonia.
Up to the end of 1998, the
KLA was responsible for the deaths of up to 150 Serbian police, perhaps the same number of
Serb civilians, and for approximately the same number of kidnappings. Yugoslav forces had
Herring, p.229.
Herman and Peterson, p.209.
Herman and Peterson, p.210.
Chandler, p.73.
killed perhaps 2000 people and detained 1200.

However, the situation was more complex than this picture makes it out to be. The
actions of the Serb military in 1998 and 1999 could be attributed to legitimate, if brutal,
counterinsurgency combat. According to Edward Herman and David Peterson, charges of pre-
intervention ethnic cleansing were
not supported by any official document, including those of the State Department, OSCE,
British House of Commons Defence Review, or any of the three indictments of Milosevic.
Indeed, prior to the bombing, the German Foreign Office had even denied that the refugee
flows constituted a case of ethnic cleansing, contending that: [The] actions of the security
forces [were] not directed against the Kosovo Albanians as an ethnically defined group, but
against the military opponent and its actual and alleged supporters.
Furthermore, although the fighting in Kosovo did not abate in the first four months of 1999,
neither did it get significantly worse, and the KVM reported no serious incidents between 15
January and its withdrawal in late March.
The NATO representation of the situation in Kosovo prior to the intervention is also
problematic, for example with regard to the number of Kosovo Albanian deaths. US Defence
Secretary William Cohen claimed that 100,000 may have been murdered; David Scheffer,
the US envoy for war crimes, cited a figure of up to 225,000. Geoff Hoon at the British
Foreign Office offered the lowest figure, estimating at least 10,000' deaths. In August 2000,
the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia concluded that there had been a total of 2-
3000 deaths, Serb and Albanian, as a result of the conflict.
This is an extreme discrepancy
even allowing for the difficulty of obtaining reliable information, and suggests that the crisis
was deliberately exaggerated by Western officials in order to justify the intervention to the
public, to their colleagues, and perhaps to themselves.
Another apparent misrepresentation of the situation is found in the repeated references
made by NATO to Operation Horseshoe, a Serb military operation to force the entire Kosovo
Albanian population out of the province. This plan was supposedly already in place and ready
Bellamy, Human Wrongs in Kosovo, 1974-1999,' p.121.
Herman and Peterson, p.210.
Herring, p.230.
for implementation before the intervention began.
In this version of events, the expansion
of the refugee crisis after March 24 was nothing more than a coincidence, the execution of a
long-planned move by the Serbs. However, Operation Horseshoe was never mentioned before
the bombing, and according to Herman and Peterson has been exploded as a fraud.
Independent reports did not support the contention that Operation Horseshoe began between
the withdrawal of the KVM and the beginning of air strikes, and in any case the Serbs were
well aware that the bombing was about to begin.
Finally, in April 1999 General Clark
denied any knowledge of Operation Horseshoe, which would be difficult to credit if NATO
truly knew of the existence of such a plan beforehand.
Despite these misrepresentations on the part of NATO, the human rights and
humanitarian situation in Kosovo was such that the first criterion can be held to have been
fulfilled. To use Michael Ignatieffs stricture, human life was certainly directly at risk. The
more general criteria of a humanitarian cause or supreme humanitarian emergency were
plausibly though not definitively met. The situational preconditions for a humanitarian
intervention were present, although they were much more complex than they were generally
portrayed by Western leaders.
4.3 Motivations and Intentions
The second criterion established in Chapter 3 is that of motivation: humanitarian
objectives or ends are necessary for an intervention to qualify as being humanitarian. They also
provide a useful benchmark for analysing the outcome of an intervention according to the
interveners own declared motivations. Motivation is a difficult factor to establish; it is
inevitably mixed, and statements cannot necessarily be taken at face value. However, it is at
least possible to determine what the interveners claimed they were there to do, which is
necessary for the evaluation of the means and the outcome, and to evaluate possible alternative
explanations and their impact on the humanitarian objectives.
Unsurprisingly, the declarations and statements by NATO leaders overwhelmingly
Tony Blair, Doctrine of the International Community, speech given in Chicago, USA, 22 April 1999.
The full text of the speech is available from , accessed on 3 August 2004.
A. Cassese, A follow-up: forcible humanitarian countermeasures and opinio necessitatis, European
Journal of International Law, Vol.10, No.4 (1999), p.793.
Quoted in Nicholas J. Wheeler, Reflections on the Legality and Legitimacy of NATOs Intervention
in Kosovo, in Ken Booth (ed.), The Kosovo Tragedy: the human rights dimensions (2001), p.153.
Quoted in Chomsky, The New Military Humanism, p.3.
Roberts, p.104; Ignatieff, Virtual War, pp.178-179.
emphasised humanitarian motives. In a speech which he gave in Chicago on 22 April 1999,
British Prime Minister Tony Blair claimed that the bombing campaign was a just war, based
not on any territorial ambitions but on values and that we cannot let the evil of ethnic
cleansing stand.
A German representative of the EU spoke of the humanitarian tragedy
of enormous scale set off by the gross violations of human rights perpetrated by the
government of the FRY.
The Canadian ambassador to the UN claimed that [h]umanitarian
considerations underpin our action. We cannot simply stand by while innocents are murdered,
an entire population is displaced, villages are burned.
US President Bill Clinton spoke of
upholding our values, protecting our interests, and advancing the cause of peace and noted
that we cannot respond to such tragedies everywhere, but when ethnic conflict turns into
ethnic cleansing where we can make a difference, we must try, and that is clearly the case in
Similar statements were made by officials from every country which participated
in the intervention.
Beyond the obvious, the repeated use of such language also implies another motive
which is in no way incompatible with the declared humanitarian motives: shame. The
international community had allowed the wars of ethnic cleansing to sweep through the rest
of Yugoslavia earlier in the decade, and were perhaps not prepared to sit idly and ineffectually
by and see the same events repeated in Kosovo.
This has added weight when considered
in light of the post-Cold War developments discussed in Chapter 2, which made intervention
a more feasible option in 1999 than it had been earlier in the decade.
In addition to such general references to a humanitarian crisis, many declarations were
made of the specific goals or demands which were NATOs objectives in the intervention.
Prime Minister Blair, in the same speech in Chicago, identified five objectives:
a verifiable cessation of all combat activities and killings; the withdrawal of Serb military
NATO Press Release 040, 23 March 1999, accessed from
on 3 August 2004.
Chandler, p.81.
Noam Chomsky, In Retrospect: A review of NATOs war over Kosovo, part I, Z Magazine, April
2000, accessed from on 3 August 2004.
Quoted in Chandler, p.75.
police and paramilitary forces from Kosovo; the deployment of an international military force;
the return of all refugees and unimpeded access for humanitarian aid; and a political
framework for Kosovo building on the Rambouillet accords.
NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana characterised the International Communitys
demands as being acceptance of the interim political settlement which has been negotiated
at Rambouillet; full observance of limits on the Serb Army and Special Police Forces agreed
on 25 October; ending of excessive and disproportionate use of force in Kosovo.
similar statements can be found from representatives of any NATO country. The specific goals
of the intervention in Kosovo were thus apparently clearly defined, though there is evidence
that this was not in fact the case.
Publicly, at least, the demands NATO was making of the
FRY government were clear and non-negotiable.
There are problems with accepting the declared humanitarian motives for intervention
in Kosovo. Firstly, the scale of the crisis increased dramatically after the air war began. The
vast majority of the ethnic Albanians displaced from Kosovo were forced out while the NATO
bombardment was in progress, not before it. As Noam Chomsky notes, this is only an
acceptable result if one accepts the contention that the situation would eventually have gotten
even worse, which is a questionable assumption at best.
The British House of Commons
Foreign Affairs Committee used exactly this reasoning in 2000:
The issue in Kosovo was...whether in the absence of NATO intervention, the Serb campaign
would have continued over many years, eventually resulting in more deaths and instability in
the region than if NATO had not intervened. We believe that it would.
However, this was not how the intervention was sold at the time. In the spring of 1999,
the talk was of ending the Serb ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, allowing the refugees to return
home, guaranteeing the human rights of the population, and so on. Certainly the ending of all
combat activities and killings would preclude the continuation of Serbian policies, but the
emphasis was on ending current abuses, not preventing hypothetical future ones. Even when
British Defence Secretary George Robertson, quoted in John Pilger, Moral Tourism, The Guardian,
15 June 1999. Accessed from on 19 July 2004.
Chandler, pp.85-86.
the talk was of an impending humanitarian catastrophe,
the context was such that it was
clear that this phrase referred to imminent Serb actions, not a long drawn-out continuation of
the status quo in Kosovo. It is telling that the justifications changed after a more accurate
picture of the pre-intervention situation in Kosovo had been formed. This suggests that the
declared motives were to a large extent dependent on what was politically expedient, which
in turn presents the possibility that the humanitarian declarations were instead a cover for other
The behaviour of the NATO states in comparable situations elsewhere in the world
lends credence to this suspicion. Humanitarian catastrophes and gross human rights abuses
in Turkey, Indonesia, and Israel had not resulted in military intervention. These regimes
continued to receive funds and military supplies from the West during this period, in contrast
to the arms embargo on all sides in Yugoslavia. One can acknowledge that different situations
may call for different responses, and while the inconsistencies in Western behaviour in these
cases makes the rhetoric of human rights and humanitarianism ring somewhat hollow, it does
not necessarily prove that such rhetoric was insincere. Why was the West not appalled and
outraged by these other cases? Michael Ignatieffs response would be a practical one: the
major powers had no compelling interests in those regions. In the case of Turkey, a major
NATO ally bordering the volatile Middle East, the interest was in actively not addressing the
Kurdish issue. This is true as far as it goes, but still does not answer the charge of selectivity
and hypocrisy. If anything, it reinforces that charge: human rights abuses were ignored when
it was inconvenient to pay attention to them.
One possible counter-argument was mentioned
above: that Kosovo was the first case where the inclination and practical ability to intervene
were not countered by other considerations. Kosovo could thus be seen as a valid start of a
new standard which places more emphasis on humanitarianism, rather than the cynical
continuation of past policies.
Other points which suggest that humanitarian motives might not have been sincere
include the almost complete lack of preparation on the part of NATO to cope with hundreds
of thousands of refugees during the intervention and the lack of interest in follow-up on
Allin, pp.57-59.
Tariq Ali, Springtime for NATO, New Left Review 234 (March/April 1999), pp.64-67.
Roberts, p.267.
Ali, Springtime for NATO, pp.67-68.
Peter Gowan, The NATO Powers and the Balkan Tragedy, New Left Review 234 (March/April
1999), pp.96-99.
humanitarian issues in the post-war period. Militaries are often ambivalent about dealing with
so-called civilian issues, but that does not explain the lack of planning and follow-through
on the part of NATO governments. These issues will be examined in more detail in the section
dealing with the outcome of the intervention.
If humanitarian motives were not the primary concern of NATO, what were the reasons
for the war in Kosovo? There are several possibilities. Russian leaders, already feeling
threatened and isolated by the expansion of NATO and the Partnership for Peace into former
Eastern Bloc and Soviet territory, believed that it was simply a cover for an American/NATO
desire to increase their military presence and dominance in the Balkans.
NATO actions in
Kosovo must be seen in the context of the expansion of NATO to include the larger, Western-
oriented states of central Europe, and was designed to marginalise and contain Russia.
Adam Roberts finds these arguments to be unconvincing, writing that neither Russia nor other
critics have adduced any compelling evidence to support their contention that traditional
motives of realpolitik explain Operation Allied Force.
He is correct; while it would be
surprising if NATO planners had not considered the ramifications of intervention with regard
to these issues, the allegation that they were the actual motivations does not seem to be borne
out by the evidence available thus far.
Another suggested motivation was the need for NATO to justify its own existence in
the post-Cold War period. The collapse of the Soviet Union, according to this argument, had
left the alliance without a true raison dtre, and promoting so-called humanitarian
intervention gave it a new lease on life.
A variant of this theory is that, rather than a need
to justify NATO per se, it was an American desire to ensure that NATO remained (or became)
the pre-eminent security organisation in Europe which motivated its interventions in

Another factor is that, having threatened to use military force, NATO would have
Herring, pp.236-238.
Gowan, p.102.
Quoted in Judah, p.235.
Whitman, pp.164-183.
Blair, Doctrine speech.
Originally in Foreign Affairs, New York Times, 4 July 1999; quoted in Chomsky, The New Military
Humanism, p.5.
suffered a major loss of face and credibility if it had backed down.
This suggests that once
the threshold of using threats to try to coerce Serbian cooperation had been breached, the
importance of preserving NATOs credibility acted as a new impetus encouraging the eventual
use of force. Peter Gowan suggests that the American policy was in fact to deliberately create
this crisis of credibility.
If so, it was a strategy which placed the alliance in a very difficult
position. A joint German-British memo on the future of NATO written in late March 1999
stated: At this very moment in Kosovo, the alliance is now damned if it does, and damned if
it doesnt...NATOs credibility will be destroyed if it dithers indefinitely and fails to deliver
on its threats. The memo also points out the potential damage if a campaign should go poorly,
noting that the military black hole into which [NATO] is heading can just as well devastate
that credibility.
Jim Whitman argues that the intervention was motivated much less by a humanitarian
concern for the refugees and victims of human rights abuses than by the need to limit a refugee
problem which was straining the fabric and unity of both the European Union and NATO.
That is, their concern was not with the conditions of the Kosovo Albanians as such, but was
rather over the increasing numbers of refugees who were fleeing the Balkans entirely and
claiming sanctuary elsewhere in Europe. A related concern was with the stability of the entire
southern Balkan region, as Macedonia and Albania in particular were unable to cope with large
numbers of refugees. Tony Blair touched on this when he said that acts of genocide can never
be a purely internal matter. When oppression produces massive flows of refugees which
unsettle neighbouring countries, then they can properly be described as threats to international
peace and security.
Pro-intervention journalist Thomas Friedman perhaps inadvertently
supported this theory when he wrote that once the refugee evictions began, ignoring Kosovo
would be wrong,
rather than writing that once the human rights abuses began, ignoring
Kosovo would be wrong.
See Chomsky, The New Military Humanism, pp.38-80.
Though, as discussed in chapter 3, motivation does not need to be purely humanitarian,
it is necessary that humanitarian motives play at least a significant role in the decision to
intervene. Furthermore, any other motives must not be basically incompatible with a positive
humanitarian outcome. If the argument is correct that humanitarianism was merely a cover for
the real motives for the intervention, it would disqualify the Kosovo war as a humanitarian
intervention. This position hinges on the questionable argument that the inconsistent - some
would say hypocritical - behaviour of Western governments in intervening in Kosovo while
ignoring or even supporting other situations in which the scale of humanitarian crisis and
human rights abuses were similar, albeit in different contexts, proves that humanitarian
motives could not possibly have played a part.
However, while this selectivity weakens the
claims of humanitarian concern, it does not necessarily destroy them. Essentially, those who
make this argument are overstating their case. The fact that somewhat comparable situations
did not generate comparable reactions is not proof that the stated motivations for the Kosovo
intervention were therefore false. One might argue that it was racist or hypocritical to be so
concerned over the Kosovo Albanians after virtually ignoring the Rwandans, but that does not
mean that the concern expressed over Kosovo was not and could not be real. Lacking the
ability to prove that humanitarian motives did not play a role in the decision to intervene in
Kosovo, it is reasonable to at least provisionally accept the statements which were made at the
time. The past behaviour of the interveners does justify considerable skepticism in judging
their motivations, but this can more profitably be employed in examining the means used and
the outcome of the war in Kosovo.
As for the other potential motives for the Kosovo intervention, the test is not whether
they were present, but whether they necessarily conflicted with a humanitarian conduct or
outcome for the intervention. That is, did these other putative motivations interfere with the
declared humanitarian motivations? As noted above, no use of military force for foreign
intervention can ever be free of a mixture of motivations, constraints, and concerns on the part
of the intervening states. In this case, even if all of the other suggested motives were correct -
expansion of military power, stemming of the refugee flows into Europe, providing a new
rationale for the existence of NATO, and bolstering NATOs credibility - none of these are by
definition incompatible with an improvement in the human rights situation in Kosovo. The
possibility that they were in practice incompatible will be addressed below.
Clearly, there are many possible motivations for the intervention in Kosovo, and it is
difficult, if not impossible, to assign relative weights and importance to them. Public records
and statements cannot simply be taken at face value for the simple reason that they were the
public justifications which were offered for the intervention. Private records are only partially
available at best and are equally subject to possible self-serving distortions, but are the closest
approach that can be made to the individual memories and psychologies of the participants.
Nevertheless, it would be a mistake to leave motivations out of an analysis of the Kosovo
intervention. Although definitive positive answers cannot be reached, it can at least be shown
that the evidence does not provide any solid basis for ruling out the declared humanitarian
motivations. It also provides reference points against which the means and outcome of the
intervention can be assessed. Whether they were sincerely meant or not, the words of NATOs
leaders are valid benchmarks to use for the assessment of their own actions.
4.4 Means
The NATO intervention in Kosovo took the form of a seventy-eight day bombing
campaign, against a wide variety of targets throughout Kosovo and Serbia proper, from late
March to early June 1999. This followed intensive diplomatic efforts during 1998 and 1999
and varying degrees of political engagement between the international community and
Yugoslavia throughout the nineties. Ground troops were only employed by NATO following
the signing of the Kosovo Accords in June 1999; the military campaign itself was entirely
aerial from NATOs point of view. The evidence indicates that NATO planners and leaders
expected the bombing campaign alone to be sufficient to achieve their aims in a fairly short
period of time, rendering the use of ground forces superfluous. This failure in planning
partially explains the lack of planning for the aftermath which was mentioned above, and led
also to the necessity for ad hoc decisions on the conduct of the bombing campaign which
ultimately damaged the credibility of the humanitarian claims made for the war.
Means are the clearest, least ambiguous indicator of the humanitarian legitimacy of an
intervention. They relate to and connect all three of the other criteria. In theory, they are
chosen in response to the pre-existing situation in order to carry out the declared motives and
intentions of the interveners. They are obviously a huge factor in the ultimate outcome of an
intervention. There are thus many points of reference against which to measure them in an
analysis such as this one.
There are three questions which must be answered with regard to means if an
intervention is to qualify as humanitarian. Firstly, had all peaceful means to resolve the crisis
truly been exhausted, leaving force as the last resort? Secondly, were the means used
proportional and appropriate to the size and nature of the crisis? Thirdly, was there a
reasonable chance of success in the declared aims of the intervention through the use of the
selected means?
In order to determine whether force was a last resort, it is necessary to explain why
there were no effective diplomatic efforts to address the problems in Kosovo before they
developed into a crisis. The main problem that prevented any serious early attempts to address
the situation was the legal status of Kosovo as a province of Serbia rather than a full Yugoslav
republic. An argument could be (and was) made that the republics had a legal right to secede
from the federation, hence converting internal Yugoslav conflicts into conflicts between
independent states. According to the UN Charter, internal conflicts are the business of the
state in question; no one was eager to set precedents for internal interference. Once the
conflict was internationalised other states were freer to get involved, particularly when one
party or another involved in the conflict requested assistance. It was on this basis that Western
interventions in the Balkan wars of the mid-nineties could take place.
Kosovo, however, had never attained the status of a republic within Yugoslavia, in
spite of long-term efforts on the part of the Kosovo Albanians. Under the Yugoslav
constitution of 1974, it was an autonomous province of Serbia. It was self-administered and
had many but not all of the rights of a full Yugoslav republic. Crucially, it did not have even
a notional right of secession. Unlike Croatia or Bosnia-Herzegovina, there was no legal basis
to argue that the situation in Kosovo was anything but an internal Serbian concern. This fact
effectively crippled observers who predicted a coming explosion in Kosovo but were unable
to find a way to intervene beforehand. Of course, sovereignty proved not to be an insuperable
impediment to the bombing campaign of 1999, so clearly the West was able to overcome its
March 24: Finally the Bombing Begins, The Observer, 18 July 1999. Accessed from on 14 July 2004.
scruples on this matter when it wished to do so. To some extent, then, it is arguable that a
more robust approach could have been taken earlier, had sovereignty not been seen at the time
as an insuperable obstacle to such an approach. Since 1999, Kosovo has served as the prime
example of how the conflict between non-interference in internal affairs and humanitarian
intervention should be resolved, according to advocates of intervention, but it has not
decisively settled the question of how these conflicting ideals can be reconciled.
Unfortunately, there are far too many variables to definitively say that different
approaches much earlier in the decade would have avoided the crisis in 1999. The simple fact
is that sovereignty did trump human rights (or any other) concerns in Kosovo over most of the
nineties. Under the circumstances of the times, perhaps diplomacy had done as much as
possible, but this indicates a striking inability to learn from past experience. The wars in
Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia had demonstrated the consequences of allowing matters in
the former Yugoslavia to proceed along predictably disastrous courses, yet there was little
effort to resolve the Kosovo situation by diplomatic means before it became a crisis.
More useful is a focus on the period from roughly October 1998 to March 1999. It is
during this period that NATO began to seriously threaten the use of military force against
Serbia over Kosovo, based on the premise that threats (sometimes assisted by relatively minor
military action) had worked in the past. The Rubicon of being willing to violate Serbian
sovereignty over Kosovo had clearly been crossed. Therefore it becomes reasonable to ask
whether the diplomatic options in this particular period were truly exhausted by the time
NATO commenced bombing.
There are at least two plausible arguments that not all of the options were explored
prior to the intervention. American and British officials acknowledged that, by explicitly and
publicly ruling out the use of ground forces, NATO undermined its own threats against
Yugoslavia and encouraged Milosevic to believe that he would only face an aerial campaign.
Given the political and operational difficulties for NATO in sustaining a long bombing
campaign against the FRY, Milosevic had reason to expect only a short campaign which he
could hope to outlast. Even after more than two months of bombing, it was only the growing
Wheeler, Saving Strangers, p.273; Roberts, p.118.
This does admittedly beg the question of whether credible threats were politically possible for the
NATO leaders, but since they did play a role later in the conflict, this does not seem to be beyond the realm of
Two days later, the Yugoslav parliament passed a resolution condemning the withdrawal of the KVM
and calling for an international presence in Kosovo immediately after the signing of an accord for self-
administration in be decided by the [UN] Security Council. Given the harassment and obstruction
of the KVM, some healthy skepticism is required here, but it does indicate that it was not an international presence
per se in Kosovo which was the issue. This resolution went largely unreported in the West, and was ignored by
the NATO governments. Quoted in Pilger, Moral Tourism.
threat of a ground invasion, as evidenced by NATO troop movements and infrastructure work
in Macedonia and Albania, that ultimately convinced him to capitulate.
This strongly
suggests that, had the threats of air strikes been accompanied by credible threats to use ground
forces as well, the October agreements and subsequent KVM deployment could have been
more successful.
The argument that continuing diplomacy would only have allowed the
Serbs to continue their abuses in Kosovo is not a decisive one. While the intervention did
eventually end those abuses, it first resulted in their becoming much more severe, and has
allowed significant Albanian abuses to continue for years afterward. The positives and
negatives in this case are far from clear.
The other issue is the outcome of the Rambouillet negotiations. The question here is
whether or not the demands made of the FRY were truly deal-breakers, and hence whether it
is credible that the negotiations could have resulted in a viable agreement. While some
accounts of the negotiations indicate that Milosevic was simply unwilling to accept the
presence of a multinational force in Kosovo to monitor and enforce compliance, this is not
There were two main reasons given by the Yugoslav government for rejecting the
accords. The first was the insistence on a purely NATO peacekeeping force, as opposed to
a more genuinely multinational force under UN auspices. In favour of this position is the
argument that it would have been months before a UN-sanctioned force could have been
placed in Kosovo, and the difficulties only recently experienced by UN forces in Bosnia-
Herzegovina legitimately added to concerns as to the efficacy and safety of such forces.
However, the strength of this argument is questionable given that, almost three months later,
the war achieved the placement of a UN-sanctioned force consisting primarily of NATO troops
in Kosovo, but only after a dramatic worsening of the crisis which was directly attributable to
the bombing campaign.
Simon Chesterman, Just War or Just Peace? Humanitarian Intervention and International Law
(2002), p.179. Wheeler dismisses this argument, writing that the argument that no sovereign state would have
accepted the terms of an implementation agreement that gave NATO unprecedented rights of access in the FRY
ignores the point that the whole point of Rambouillet was to limit severely the FRYs sovereignty over Kosovo.
Kosovo, however, was the location of the human rights abuses which NATO was allegedly trying to end; it is
disingenuous to say that access to Kosovo is essentially the same as access to all of the FRY. See Saving
Strangers, p.283.
According to Chesterman, p.211, it was reported that the only matter on which the United States was
willing to compromise was on the name of the international force that would police the agreement.
Quoted in Chesterman, p.224.
Chesterman, p.224.
NATO Press Release 040.
Roberts, p.102.
The second reason was the stipulation in Appendix B of the Rambouillet Accords
which would have allowed NATO forces to go wherever they wished throughout Yugoslavia
(not only in Kosovo) and given them immunity from the Yugoslav legal system.
to local law is a standard precondition for the deployment of US forces even in NATO
countries, but it was the extension of both these stipulations to the whole of the FRY which
was the sticking point. The willingness of the Yugoslav government to accept NATO freedom
of movement and legal immunity within Kosovo alone was not explored.
Neither of these issues were open to negotiation,
and an aide to US Secretary of State
Madeline Albright was quoted as saying that Rambouillet had only one purpose: to get the
war started with the Europeans locked in.
Given that both of these requirements were
dropped in the June settlement which ended the bombing campaign, it is reasonable to
conclude that a diplomatic solution to the crisis was not being sought in good faith by at least
some of the NATO states at Rambouillet,
indicating that force was resorted to before it could
truly be described as the last resort. Nonetheless, Javier Solana solemnly declared that, all
efforts to achieve a negotiated, political solution to the Kosovo crisis having failed, no
alternative is open but to take military action.
Having disposed of the question of force as a last resort, the next concern is over the
appropriateness and proportionality of the type of force which NATO did employ. In the 78
days of the air campaign, NATO launched 37,465 sorties over Yugoslavia, of which over
14,006 were strike missions. By the end of the campaign, 912 aircraft and 35 warships were
involved, over three times the number employed at the start.
In the early stages, the bombing
Quoted in Wheeler, Saving Strangers, p.270.
Roberts, pp.111-112.
NATO Press Release 040.
Cited in Centre for Peace in the Balkans, Submission to the International Criminal Tribunal for the
former Yugoslavia. Accessed from on 3 August 2004.
was directed against strictly military targets, but quickly expanded to include oil refineries, fuel
depots, roads, railways and other infrastructure, government offices, and television studios and
In the broadest terms, the intervention was supposed to end the human rights abuses
in Kosovo and allow the refugees to return home safely. The air campaign was not able to
accomplish these goals, and this was known and (to varying degrees) acknowledged before the
intervention began. NATO was understandably reluctant to deploy ground forces against a
well-trained and well-equipped JNA; but the choice to act anyway, using air power alone,
suggests that it was more important to be seen doing something than it was to do something
effective but potentially much more costly. Wesley Clark stated bluntly that air power alone
cannot stop paramilitary action.
The British Select Committee on Defence pointed out that,
given the presence of large numbers of Serb troops in and around Kosovo, the commencement
of a bombing campaign would give them both the incentive and opportunity to dish out an
awful lot of punishment very quickly to the Kosovo Albanians. Defence Secretary Robertson
was unable to explain how they would be protected, saying only we would clearly take that
into account if that was the situation.
The course of events after the start of the bombing
proved General Clark to be quite correct.
Within NATOs political and military leadership there seem to have been contradictory
ideas concerning what exactly the bombing campaign was meant to accomplish in pursuit of
the larger goal. Javier Solana stated that military action...will be directed towards disrupting
the violent attacks being committed by the Serb Army and Special Police Forces and
weakening their ability to cause further humanitarian catastrophe.
The commander of the
air war, Lieutenant-General Michael Short, commented that at the same time that I am...killing
the army in Kosovo...I also need to strike at the leadership and the people around Milosevic
to compel them to change their behavior.
Speaking just before the war, Defence Secretary
George Robertson asserted that
Quoted in Roberts, p.112.
Cook and Robertson, Joint Press Conference.
Quoted in Chomsky, In Retrospect.
March 24: Finally the Bombing Begins.
Roberts, p.112.
our targets are military and do not involve civilian or urban targets...[military action] will be
taken only against military targets with a very clear objective, not to bomb common sense into
the mind of President Milosevic, but to reduce the military capacity that is being used against
a civilian population...It is not a war.
But on 22 April 1999, he spoke of his confidence that the air strikes campaign is going to
change the behaviour pattern and the way of thinking going on in Belgrade.
And General
Clark asserted that the intervention
was not designed as a means of blocking Serb ethnic cleansing. It was not designed as a means
of waging war against the Serb and MUP [internal police] forces in Kosovo. Not in any way.
There was never any intent to do that. That was not the idea.
The air war was in fact poorly chosen to achieve either the political goal of changing
Milosevics way of thinking or the military goal of reduc[ing] the military capacity that is
being used against a civilian population.
The decision to restrict flights to an altitude of 15,000 feet was made to reduce the risk
to NATO pilots, but it also reduced the ability of those pilots to correctly identify and attack
their targets. As a result, million-dollar missiles were used to destroy rubber decoy tanks, and
convoys of refugees fleeing the country were bombed in error. The raids were more successful
against fixed, immovable targets, but this simply encouraged the expansion of the target list
to concentrate on infrastructure rather than military targets. The targets were chosen according
to political rather than military criteria, and were intended to allow for a carefully controlled
phased escalation in the case of continuing intransigence from Belgrade.
Since the Serbs
knew, at least until late in the campaign, that there was no imminent ground attack to worry
about, they could conceal and protect their artillery and tanks rather than deploy them
In this context, the claims by NATO leaders that the bombing campaign
forced the Serbs to hide had little relevance; they had no need to do otherwise. It was only
when the KLA, filling to some extent the role of NATOs absent ground component, managed
Quoted in Robert Singh, American Perceptions, in Mary Buckley and Sally N. Cummings (eds.),
Kosovo: Perceptions of War and Its Aftermath (2001), p.65.
Quoted in Patrick Bishop, UN rights chief warns NATO on bombing, Telegraph, 5 May 1999.
Accessed from on 15 July 2004.
to lure Serb forces into the open that NATO planes were able to kill large numbers of JNA
The expansion of the bombing to include targets throughout Serbia had two major
effects. The first was the strengthening of Milosevics popular support in Serbia as the
population rallied around the government in the face of NATOs attack. Rather than
weakening his grip on power, the bombing campaign over Serbia reinforced it. Furthermore,
there was no way for NATO to know when Milosevics pain threshold would be reached.
As Colin Powell observed, the challenge of just using air power is that you leave it in the
hands of your adversary to decide when hes been punished enough.
In the absence of a
willingness to use ground troops, all NATO could do was continue and expand the bombing
campaign in the hopes that Milosevic would eventually give in. The list of approved targets
was hurriedly expanded when it became clear that Milosevic was not going to quickly
capitulate, and an increasing number of targets were of questionable military significance. The
war became an attempt to pressure Milosevic by inflicting pain and suffering on the people of
Serbia, rather than by destroying his military. The aerial bombing campaign was not an
appropriate means of intervention in terms either of the general goals claimed for NATO or
its more specific operational objectives.
The expansion of the target lists made the proportionality of NATOs campaign
increasingly questionable. In modern warfare, plausible military arguments can be made for
destroying civilian infrastructure. Nevertheless, bombing bridges, roads, railways, power
stations, oil refineries, and television stations effectively made the population of Serbia the
target. UNHCR head Mary Robinson criticized this policy: there should be a recognition of
the need not only to adhere to the principle of proportionality, but to err on the side of the order not to cause civilian death, civilian injury or undue civilian suffering
through being deprived of water, of life-saving machines in hospital and so on.
Her report
dated 22 April 1999 included information from the FRY government of the effects of the
NATO bombing, including the destruction of schools and hospitals. Among a long list of
Robinson Report. Human Rights Watch later concluded that about 500 civilians in Serbia and Kosovo
died as a result of NATO bombing. A third of all the incidents and more than half the deaths occurred as a result
of attacks on illegitimate or questionable targets. Human Rights Watch, New Figures on Civilian Deaths in
Kosovo War, Press Release, 7 February 2000, accessed from on 24
July 2004.
Chesterman, p.110.
damages, the report cited Yugoslav claims that to date, over 500 civilians have been reported
killed. Over 4000 have sustained severe injuries.
The point here is not merely the
questionable morality of killing civilians in one location for the ostensible purpose of saving
civilians in another. The disproportionate nature of NATOs actions leaves the whole
characterization of the intervention as humanitarian questionable at best.
It is almost redundant this point to ask whether the intervention had a reasonable
chance of success. It was known ahead of time that a bombing campaign could not prevent
and would probably accelerate assaults on the Kosovo Albanians. Far from having a real
chance of ending the humanitarian crisis, the bombing campaign was expected to aggravate
it. The only argument against this point is that it would end the ethnic clashes in Kosovo in
the future; a traumatic surgery now, as it were, to allow real healing to begin afterwards.
However, as noted above, that was not what NATO claimed to be doing at the time. The
ultimate outcome in this respect will be examined below. As for the operational goals -
changing the thinking in Belgrade and incapacitating the military forces involved in the
conflict in Kosovo - the campaign as it was conducted was not well-suited to them either.
Save for the speculative long-term results, there does not seem to have been any reasonable
expectation of achieving the declared goals of the intervention through the means which
NATO chose to employ.
Why then did NATO choose to use rely exclusively on air power? One factor was a
disinclination to risk the lives of NATO troops in Kosovo. Simon Chesterman points out that
[reluctance] to accept casualties...leads to particular modes of operation...that may conflict
with the supposed humanitarian aims of the operation.
Political factors, especially but not
only in the United States, resulted in ground forces being ruled out even before the bombing
campaign began. Reinforcing this desire to avoid ground operations was a misinterpretation
of the role which the NATO air raids had played in forcing Serbia to sign on to the Dayton
Accords in 1995, in which too much credit was given to the air strikes. The fact that Bosnian
Chesterman, p.110. See also Wheeler, Saving Strangers, pp.242, 256-257.
In general, it seems that the Americans were more confident than the British and other Europeans that
it would be a short campaign. See March 24: Finally the Bombing Begins. Adam Roberts claims that his
interviews showed that the belief that Belgrade would quickly fold was widespread on both sides of the Atlantic;
see Roberts, p.111. There were even some arguments that Milosevic would use the bombing to capitulate quickly
and isolate more hard-line nationalists; see Ali, Springtime for NATO, p.70.
Serb forces were suffering major reversals on the ground at that time was underplayed, though
not completely ignored. It is also important to consider that the NATO interventions in 1995
were in Bosnia, not Serbia itself, which changed the political ramifications of the behaviour
of both sides.
This misinterpretation of the lessons of Bosnia contributed to an unfounded
belief that Milosevic would quickly capitulate once the bombing began.
Only an unlikely
quick capitulation by Belgrade would allow the intervention to be at all successful in
ameliorating the humanitarian crisis in Kosovo.
4.5 Outcome
The last criterion to be evaluated is outcome. This differs from the other three in that
it is a factor which can only be considered in retrospect. The first three criteria were all
applied at the time of the intervention to justify and explain it; what was known and claimed
at the time can be compared with what was learned and said afterwards. The outcome can only
be included as part of a historical effort to determine whether or not the intervention can
accurately be labelled humanitarian. It must be conceded that an intervention which fulfills
the first three criteria can still fail to have a positive outcome; there is no such thing as a sure
thing in war. Therefore, the assessment of the outcome must look not only at the situation
on the ground in the wake of the intervention, but also how these results relate to the
motivations for the intervention and, crucially, to the means used to intervene. Given the
nature and conduct of the aerial intervention in Kosovo, it is useful to consider the outcome
in two parts: during the intervention itself, and in the months and years which followed it.
As noted in the previous section, it was no surprise that the violence in Kosovo
accelerated when the bombing began. The UNHCHR report of 22 April 1999 documented a
massive expansion of the ethnic cleansing, with nearly 600,000 refugees in neighbouring
countries (not including Serbia, for which information was not available) and an estimated
800,000 internally-displaced persons inside Kosovo; it further predicted that thousands more
Robinson report.
Quoted in Herman and Peterson, p.197.
Robin Cook, Foreign Secretarys Commons Statement on Kosovo, 14 June 1999. Accessed from on 20 July 2004.
IICK, p.86.
Quoted in Ali, Springtime for NATO, p.69.
One NATO ambassador reportedly said Even if we were winning the war militarily, we would have
lost the war at home if Milosevic had not started the expulsions and let us win the propaganda war. Quoted in
Whitman, p.171; see also IICK, p.89.
would flee in the near future.
A Canadian OSCE observer commented that the NATO
assault turned an internal hum problem into a disaster.
Speaking on 14 June 1999, British
Foreign Secretary Robin Cook back-handedly acknowledged that the bombing had been worse
than useless in this respect when he listed provid[ing] urgent relief to the hundreds of
thousands of displaced persons who have spent the last two months hiding from Serb forces
on the hillsides and in the forests inside Kosovo...[and] manag[ing] the return of the masses
of refugees who were deported as two of the most urgent tasks in the wake of the

NATO made minimal efforts to prepare for the expected flood of refugees.
Short later explained on behalf of the British government that to have been seen preparing for
the refugees might have given the public the impression that this was the inevitable effect of
NATOs bombing action.
Given the moral propaganda value of the plight of the refugees,
it is even possible that NATO was deliberately relying on the situation to bolster support for
the intervention.
They knew perfectly well that it was in fact the inevitable result of the
campaign; they simply did not wish to admit this in public. As a result, the living conditions
which the refugees were faced with in the camps in Albania and Macedonia were appallingly
bad until the UN and international NGOs were able to pick up the slack.
In addition to greatly worsening the immediate situation in Kosovo, the bombardment
of the rest of Serbia in effect spread the crisis across the whole country. The humanitarian
issues of targeting infrastructure, buildings, and industry were noted in the previous section.
While some might argue that the Serbs deserved what they got for supporting Milosevic, this
is very shaky moral ground at best. Denying the Serbian population clean water and medical
services may have eventually put more pressure on Milosevic, but to use this argument means
accepting that violating the human rights of the Serbs was a legitimate means of securing the
Cook and Robertson, Joint Press Conference.
Jonathan Steele, quoted in Roberts, p.114 (originally in The Guardian, 9 July 1999).
A Kosovo Albanian refugee, quoted in Roberts, p.113.
Roberts, p.117.
Pilger, Moral Tourism.
human rights of the Kosovo Albanians. Why then were the violations of Albanian human
rights not a legitimate tactic for the Serbs in their attempts to resolve the Kosovo situation in
their favour? A major part of the criticism of Milosevic was that his forces were deliberately
violating the human rights of the Kosovo Albanians in an effort to force them out of Kosovo.
NATO in turn deliberately violated Serb human rights in an effort to force the FRY
government and military out of Kosovo.
The air war was not terribly effective at destroying Yugoslav military capabilities in
Kosovo, notwithstanding George Robertsons claim that NATOs air campaign has succeeded
in disrupting massively Serbian military operations in Kosovo.
It did succeed in doing
substantial damage to the FRY air defences and air force, but had relatively little effect on the
ground troops in Kosovo which were ostensibly the immediate target. Far from reducing the
Serbs capacity for repression during the bombing, they were in fact able to intensify their
operations. Though most Kosovo Albanians later approved of NATOs intervention,
were also well aware that the sudden onslaught of the Serbs was a direct consequence of
NATOs attack: The Serbs cant fight NATO, so now they are after us.
When the Serb
military withdrew from Kosovo in June, more troops left the province than intelligence reports
had indicated were there in the first place.

With regards to changing the thinking in Belgrade, it is certainly true that the Serbs
accepted an agreement which obliged them to withdraw from Kosovo. The question of how
much of this can be credited directly to the bombardment and how much to the increasing
threat of a ground invasion was addressed above. However, the terms which were agreed to
were almost identical in principle to those [Milosevic] had agreed at Rambouillet six weeks
before the bombing began.
The Kosovo Accords refer to UN auspices and an
international security presence rather than a NATO force, although admittedly in practice the
force was largely comprised of NATO troops. This force was to be present only in Kosovo,
not throughout the rest of the FRY. The question of the ultimate status of Kosovo was left
Herring, p.232.
Cook, Statement on Kosovo.
Herman and Peterson, p.201. To add to the irony of this outcome, according to the BBC, this [the
designation of the KLA as a terrorist organisation] was the specific go-ahead for Milosevic to launch his counter-
insurgency in March, along with his offer of provincial autonomy; see Gowan, pp.100-101.
Quoted in Herman and Peterson, pp.198, 214.
Herring, p.227.
unsettled, though the preamble to UN Security Council Resolution 1244 affirmed the
sovereignty and territorial integrity of Yugoslavia.
The seventy-eight day bombing
campaign ended with NATO backing down from non-negotiable demands which it had
made back in February and March.
In the longer term, the intervention and the consequent withdrawal of Serb forces did
allow the Kosovo Albanian refugees to return to their homes. The human rights situation for
them unquestionably improved from where it had been during the intervention, and also from
the general situation of the mid to late nineties. But NATO failed to ensure the security and
safety for all the people of Kosovo, whether Albanian or Serb, or from any other ethnic group
or to secure...a future for its people, free from fear.
The KLA was incorporated into the
new Kosovo Protection Corps, thus placing the leaders and members of an organisation which
NATO had branded as terrorist only the previous year in positions of considerable power.
According to Jiri Dienstbier, the postwar period saw serious ethnic cleansing carried out by
the KLA, which killed over a thousand people and forced more than 300,000 ethnic non-
Albanians to flee Kosovo. He further claimed that what is happening is not some sort of
revenge of ordinary ethnic Albanians against those Serbs who remained in the province, but
was a carefully organised, systematic programme carried out by Albanian extremists under
the protection, or at least benign neglect, of NATO.
As Eric Herring points out, if Serbias
human rights violations forfeited its moral right to Kosovo, the KLAs violations should
logically have had the same effect.
For all the talk of building a Kosovo free of ethnic hostility and fragmentation, the
reality is that the intervention paved the way towards an ethnically-pure Kosovo which
favoured the Albanians over the Serbs. Five years after the intervention, there are only about
100,000 ethnic Serbs and other non-Albanians remaining in Kosovo. They live either in
heavily protected enclaves or in the northern part of the province bordering Serbia proper. As
Field of sorrows, The Economist, 25 March 2004. Accessed on 25 July 2004 from
NATO Press Release S-1(99)62, 23 April 1999. Accessed from
062e.htm on 19 July 2004.
Herring, p.236
Chandler, p.80.
Jasmina Husanovic, Post-Conflict Kosovo: An Anatomy Lesson in the Ethics/Politics of Human
Rights, in Ken Booth (ed.), The Kosovo Tragedy: The Human Rights Dimensions (2001), pp.271-272.
Gunning for local power, The Economist, 5 August 2004. Accessed on 8 August 2004 from
Field of sorrows
recently as March 2004, Albanian violence in Kosovo led to 28 deaths, the ethnic cleansing
of 4000 Kosovo Serbs and Roma (gypsies), destruction or damage to 366 houses and attacks
on 41 Orthodox churches and monasteries.
The talk now is of a possible partition of
Kosovo, not of a peaceful, multi-ethnic and democratic Kosovo where all its people can live
in security and enjoy universal human rights and freedoms on an equal basis.
International involvement in post-war Kosovo has been inconsistent and frequently
counter-productive to the improvement of the humanitarian and human rights situation. In
contrast to the estimated $4 billion spent on the 78-day bombing campaign, the UN presence
in Kosovo since June 1999 has been consistently denied adequate resources to fulfill its
Little of the $456 million which were allocated to fund the UN mission in Kosovo
for the first year was spent on actual humanitarian needs: the allocation of human rights
spending seems to be unrelated to the requirements of those on the ground.
forces either avoid getting caught between the ethnic communities or actively work to keep
them separated, neither of which contribute to reaching long-term solutions to the continuing
Economically, Kosovo remains a shambles, with unemployment of over 50% and
only small prospects of any significant economic development.
Five years after the
intervention, there is a real fear that discontent with the UN, Kosovos unresolved status and
the stalled economy may just win the extremists behind the [recent] violence more support.
Political results aside, there were other serious effects from the intervention which are
not easily reconciled with a humanitarian designation. The destruction of oil refineries and
chemical plants released large amounts of toxic chemicals into the air and water, posing both
immediate and long-term dangers. Despite the well-publicized use of smart weapons,
Jonathan Steele, Death Lurks in the Fields, The Guardian, 14 March 2000. Accessed on 29 July
2004 from
See Roberts, p.115.
Whitman, p.175.
Chandler, pp.74-75.
Kosovo and Serbia are littered with unexploded ordnance from the bombing campaign which
is a deadly long-term danger to the population. A year after the bombing, the United States
was still refusing to use its troops to remove the thousands of unexploded cluster bombs which
NATO had dropped the previous year. The Americans also refused to teach other
organisations how to safely defuse the bombs on the grounds that it was a national security
Another concern is the residue of depleted uranium munitions, which is alleged
(though not conclusively proven) to have serious long-term health consequences. The US
refuses to acknowledge this concern and contributes nothing to clean-up efforts. NATOs
leaders clearly do not believe that it is their responsibility to deal with these problems even in
Kosovo itself, let alone Serbia.
By a crude measure of the total level of human rights violations in Kosovo, it could be
claimed that this outcome is compatible with a humanitarian intervention. Since fewer people
in Kosovo are suffering abuses now, by definition it was successful. The fact that (some)
Kosovo Albanians are now doing to the Serbs what (some) Serbs did to the Kosovo Albanians
before is apparently not relevant. As a result of the intervention, there are fewer systematic,
deliberate abuses now than there were beforehand; therefore, it was a good thing. This is the
school of thought which believes that, however much damage was done by the bombing
campaign, a choice had to be made between watching the further progress of brutal repression
or forcibly putting a stop to it, while minimising the human costs.
There is some merit to
this view, and surely a reduction in the overall level of human rights violations is a good thing.
But as David Chandler points out, by starting off with the assumption that genocide is
inevitable...short of killing every ethnic-Albanian in Kosovo, NATOs haphazard bombing
campaign was guaranteed to be a success.
This view fails to take several salient points into consideration. Firstly, it accepts the
argument that the bombing campaign minimis[ed] human costs. It certainly did so for
NATO, which did not suffer a single casualty, but there were large numbers of military and
civilian casualties on the Serb side which must be considered. There were huge human costs
to the Albanians during the bombing which NATO knew would happen, which a bombing
campaign could not prevent, and for which there was little preparation. There are continuing
human costs for the non-Albanian residents of Kosovo and for the population of Serbia.
Secondly, this view accepts the idea that the alternative to bombing was to do nothing.
This argument was explored above, with the conclusion that there were in fact alternatives.
Even if military force was ultimately required, bombing was not the appropriate form.
Although the use of ground forces might have resulted in greater casualties on both sides, this
would have to be balanced against the greater appropriateness of ground forces to the
humanitarian issues at stake.
Thirdly, it ignores the actual goals which were articulated by NATO in favour of a
general, though highly unbalanced, improvement. If one looks at the objectives laid out by
Tony Blair in his speech on 22 April 1999, how do they correspond with the actual outcome?
Two of them have been achieved: the withdrawal of Serb military, police and paramilitary
forces from Kosovo and the deployment of an international military force. As we have seen,
there has never been a verifiable cessation of all combat activities and killings. There has
been a cessation of Serbian combat activities and killings, but the role of aggressor has now
been taken on by the Albanians. The return of all refugees has become the return of Albanian
refugees, while hundreds of thousands of Serbs and other non-Albanian residents of Kosovo
have fled. Unimpeded access for humanitarian aid is not a reality even in 2004, but now it
is Albanian extremists who are responsible for attacks on UN soldiers and civilian aid workers.
Since the Kosovo Accords, as noted above, were actually less stringent than those which
NATO proposed at Rambouillet, it is debatable whether a political framework for Kosovo
building on the Rambouillet accords has been achieved. The political future of Kosovo
remains undecided, and ultimate authority in the province lies with the UN, not with a
democratically elected government.
These outcomes do not plausibly fulfill the fourth criterion for a humanitarian
intervention. If the operation had had clearly defined motivations and goals, and been well-
planned and executed in realistic pursuit of those goals, such a negative outcome might not
disqualify the Kosovo intervention. In this case, however, the goals were ill-defined, the
specific operational intentions unclear, and the means chosen to intervene were neither
appropriate nor proportional to the situation. In these circumstances, the outcome adds to the
evidence that the intervention was not truly humanitarian right from the start.
4.6 Summary and Conclusion
The question this paper posed was whether or not the intervention in Kosovo can
accurately be called a humanitarian intervention. Four criteria were established which had
to be met before that label could be applied. Two of them were found to have been
successfully fulfilled: the situation in Kosovo was arguably bad enough to merit forceful
intervention to remedy a supreme humanitarian crisis, and there were valid humanitarian
motives for intervening, though they were not the only motives. However, the intervention
was not found to have fulfilled the other two criteria. The means used failed the tests of
appropriateness and proportionality, and possibly that of force being the last resort. Finally,
the outcome failed to live up to the declared motivations, resulted in questionable human rights
gains overall, and showed a marked lack of concern by NATO for the continuing abuses within
a UN-supervised Kosovo. Since these four criteria were the minimum which needed to be
met, the evidence strongly suggests that NATOs intervention in Kosovo cannot accurately be
labelled as humanitarian.
In the worlds of international law and international relations, the importance of
correctly reassessing the events in Kosovo are clear. The legal debates based on Kosovo may
be addressing relevant and important points, but they are building on a poor foundation by
using Kosovo as their example of humanitarian intervention. Ironically, they may need to be
even more theoretical than they already are, because the real-world example on which they
base their arguments does not appear to be what they think it is. Politically, whenever the
concept of humanitarian intervention comes up, Kosovo is the point of reference which is used.
It is still the example of a successful humanitarian intervention. To use a current example,
in an article advocating the need for intervention to end the violence in western Sudan, the
Economist notes that there is a precedent...NATO intervened in Kosovo to curb ethnic
Sudan cant wait, The Economist, 29 July 2004. Accessed on 3 August 2004 from
For example, see the articles referenced in notes 173 and 178.
Quoted in Chandler, p.15.
Hilpold, p.443.
Chandler, p.227.
The truth of the intervention and its aftermath, even as reported in their own
is apparently immaterial. If the arguments in favour of humanitarian
intervention have any validity, they can only be weakened by this reliance on the failed and
flawed intervention in Kosovo in 1999.
The politically and ethically-charged questions surrounding the Kosovo war have made
it a difficult subject to study according to its own merits and needs. As Kirsten Sellars put it
at the time, the consensus rules that anything done in the name of human rights is right, and
any criticism is not just wrong but tantamount to supporting murder, torture and rape.
a result, much of the literature to date on Kosovo rests on questionable foundations. Both
those in favour of humanitarian intervention and those who oppose it have been guilty of
misrepresenting the Kosovo intervention in order to support their larger concerns.
Since Kosovo, as Peter Hilpold notes, the number of writers criticizing the concept
of a right to humanitarian intervention - once decisively preponderant - seems to dwindle.
It is difficult to argue against the concept of intervening to end gross human rights abuses or
to end a humanitarian crisis. But those who hold up Kosovo as an example of such an action
can only do so by ignoring significant parts of the story, in particular the misrepresentation of
the situation in Kosovo before the intervention, the completely inappropriate means which
were used, and especially the blatant and continuing human rights violations against Serbs and
other non-ethnic Albanians in Kosovo since 1999. They fail to explain how these
circumstances are compatible with humanitarian intervention, either in theory or in practice.
They exhibit what Chandler calls degraded universalism, in which the lives and rights of
some people are more important than those of others, and in which the need to do something,
and to be seen to be doing something, replaces a real interest in solving the problems at
Those who use Kosovo as an example with which to condemn humanitarian
intervention in general correctly point out these problems in the pro-intervention literature, but
they are guilty of their own distortions. The intervention in Kosovo is made to fit models of
Western behaviour which have been derived from other historical events. The need to portray
Kosovo as another example of selfish motives, counterproductive actions, and hypocritical
behaviour takes precedence over an open-minded approach willing to follow where the
evidence leads. These authors may be correct in their assertions, but their argument is
damaged by the manner in which they approach it. In writings which are ostensibly about
Kosovo, the intervention is in fact displaced from the focus by the writers larger political or
ideological concerns.
It is to be hoped that these problems will be remedied as NATOs war in Kosovo
recedes into the past. There is an obvious need for literature on Kosovo in which the
intervention is not merely used as an example to prove or support a more general point. It is
the historians responsibility to attempt to evaluate all of the available information on a topic,
whether or not it agrees with ones political beliefs. Conclusions must follow evidence, not
precede it. The evidence must be followed wherever it leads, not where one wishes it would
go. This author began work on this dissertation believing that the Kosovo intervention could
not be accurately called humanitarian. During the course of researching the topic, that belief
changed to one that it was a humanitarian intervention, but one which was very poorly
executed and ultimately unsuccessful. In the end, the original hypothesis was returned to, but
this conclusion was based on empirical evidence and analysis, not on preconceived ideas. As
long as the intervention in Kosovo is first seen as an exemplar of greater ideas or ideals -
whether moral, legal, political, or ideological - its history will be ill-served. It was
unquestionably an event of great significance. It therefore deserves to be studied and
recognised for what it truly was, rather than what people wish it to be.
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