10 June 1999

U.N. Fig Leaf: Nato Compellence as Global Norm

The Times of India, June 10, 1999

UN Fig Leaf

NATO Compellence as Global Norm

By Siddharth Varadarajan

DESPITE the imposition of a peace agreement on Belgrade last week and the tabling of a draft resolution in the UN Security Council, it is still not certain how the crisis in Kosovo will finally end. After violating every principle of international law and international humanitarian law for more than nine weeks by attacking a sovereign country, bombing civilian targets and killing some 1,500 non-combatants, one-third of whom were children, NATO has definitely achieved a measure of success. And yet, the draft UN resolution is ambiguous on the precise role NATO will play in the international peacekeeping force to be sent to Kosovo. It merely calls on “member states and relevant international organisations'’ to organise the force; NATO is mentioned only in an appendix and no leadership role is assigned to it. Nevertheless, the US insists the mission will be a NATO operation through and through and Russia’s denials are sounding weaker by the hour.

Principles for Peace
How events unfold over the next few days will determine more than just the future of Kosovo and Yugoslavia. If Russia, China and other members of the Security Council capitulate and go along with a UN resolution which essentially rewards NATO for its aggression, the outlook for world order will be bleak indeed.

The US-led military alliance began its bombing campaign on March 24 with three key demands: that NATO troops be granted control over the province of Kosovo; that Yugoslav forces be withdrawn; and that substantial autonomy be granted to the Kosovo Albanians pending a referendum to decide the province’s fate three years later. When the intensive bombing — and the vengeful, criminal actions of Serb forces — led to the mass exodus of Kosovar Albanians, a fourth demand was added: that the refugees be allowed to return to their homes.

Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic, an authoritarian leader who had no faith in his people’s capacity to resist compellence, has now agreed to withdraw his forces from Kosovo and allow in a UN force with a “fundamental'’ NATO component and a “unified command structure''. On paper at least, he is also committed to Kosovo’s autonomy and to the return of the refugees. Still, the US refuses to suspend the bombing. So contemptuous is NATO of the UN that it has already decided the international force commander will be a British general. During the G-8 deliberations in Bonn on Monday, British foreign secretary Robin Cook also revealed his contempt for China. A G-8 drafted resolution, he said, was bound to be rubber-stamped by the Security Council.

War Crimes
If Russia and China have any regard for international law, they should insist that NATO suspend its bombing immediately and that the draft resolution on Kosovo be amended to satisfy five principles. First, the sovereignty of Yugoslavia must be respected, not just formally but substantially. Second, since Belgrade has consented to the deployment of UN troops, the mission mandate should be drawn up under Chapter VI of the UN Charter and not Chapter VII, which is inherently coercive. NATO troops entering Yugoslavia armed with sweeping Chapter VII powers could easily be a law unto themselves. The US could also use those powers to bomb Yugoslavia whenever it decides that Belgrade is not cooperating. Unfortunately, Mr Milosevic let himself be talked into allowing a Chapter VII operation and may find it difficult to change track at this stage.

Third, the mission must be politically neutral. For peacekeeping to have any meaning, peacekeepers must be fully trusted by those among whom they are supposed to keep the peace. Sending NATO troops from any of the 10 countries which are bombing Yugoslavia — or allowing NATO to command the force — would make a mockery of natural justice as well as of UN practice. Throughout the war, NATO provided logistical support — if not direct military assistance — to the Kosovo Liberation Army. How can it now be trusted to disarm the same group?

Fourth, the reference to cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) must be rephrased so that equal and explicit cognisance is taken of both Belgrade’s operations and NATO’s bombardment. The killing of civilians is reprehensible regardless of whether the victims are Albanians or Serbs. In this, NATO leaders are as culpable as Mr Milosevic and should also be held accountable for their actions, though unfortunately ICTY chief prosecutrix Louise Arbour of Canada has refused to investigate charges that NATO has grossly violated the laws of war.

Law in the Grave
Finally, the deployment of UN peacekeepers must not be open-ended as the draft resolution currently envisages. Instead of stating that the mission would continue “unless the Security Council decides otherwise'', an explicit expiry date must be built into the resolution — as exists in the mandates for UN forces in Macedonia and Angola — so that each subsequent extension requires a fresh debate in the Security Council as well as the concurrence of its five permanent members. Not incorporating an expiry date could well lead to a replay of the tragedy in Iraq, where the lifting of the UN embargo — now in its ninth year — is being blocked by the intransigence of the US and Britain. UNSCR 687, which ended the Gulf War, only states that sanctions will be lifted when the Security Council is satisfied Iraq has fully disarmed. Thus, just one country with a veto can block the lifting of sanctions in perpetuity. Were UN troops (or NATO troops under UN cover) to enter Yugoslavia with a mandate which requires a fresh Security Council decision for them to be withdrawn, Kosovo could well be under NATO occupation for a long time to come.

If Russia and China are not prepared to stand by these principles — and there is plenty of evidence to suggest that they won’t — international brigandage will have been legitimised. When NATO launched its armed aggression against Yugoslavia, it did so conscious of the fact that the UN Security Council would not have approved its use of force. It would be ironical indeed if the Security Council were now to sanctify NATO’s actions. If after so much bloodshed and wanton destruction, all that is on offer is the current draft, it is better that there be no UN resolution at all. International law has already been bombed into its grave. A resolution dictated by NATO would be more a shroud than a fig leaf.

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