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U.S. should think twice beford maiking Kosovo a model for future wars


The process of spinning the NATO attack on Serbia as a success is well under way in the Western media. It has been presented as a humanitarian war, in effect a noble, altruistic intervention to save the Kosovar Muslims from “ethnic cleansing” by racist Serbs.

The truth, however, is that while such ethnic cleansing was indeed in process, the intervention not only failed to stop it, it precipitated its rapid completion. Today almost all the Kosovar Albanians have been turned into refugees, many concentrated in refugee camps that may well become the seedbed for guerrilla movements of revenge for generations to come.

As the post hoc analysis unfolds, therefore, it is important to step back and try to evaluate the whole picture. One might begin by examining the traditional criteria of “just war,” since the war was justified by humanitarian concern — and since other wars will probably be waged in the future invoking similarly noble-sounding motives.

Just war theory demands that the war: 1) be entered into as a last resort, when all efforts to deter war through negotiations have been exhausted; 2) in self-defense, in response to attack on one’s own country; 3) by proportional means that do not create more damage than that inflicted by the aggressor; and 4) which have some hope of effectively meeting the goals of the war, which must be to restore the status quo prior to the aggression and not the taking of the territory of other countries.

One can ask whether any war has ever really fit these criteria, yet it should be evident that this war has disastrously failed to do so. The demands of the U.S. negotiators prior to the war included not only NATO occupation of Kosovo but also of Serbia itself, terms so extreme as to preclude their acceptance. None of the NATO countries was being invaded by Serbia. But, most of all, the criteria of proportional means and effective meeting of ends fails by so wide a mark as to become obvious even to casual American newspaper readers.

Aerial bombing is totally ineffective against the expulsion of an ethnic population. Moreover, the decision to fight the war entirely by air assured a high level of “mistakes.” Daily we heard stories of “accidents,” such as the bombing of bridges, columns of refugees, hospitals, barracks occupied not by Serbian soldiers but by the KLA, not to mention the Chinese Embassy. NATO spokespersons boast that only about 5 percent of their bombs have gone astray, but given the tens of thousands of sorties flown during the course of the war, this means that more than a thousand bombs hit the wrong targets.

One must ask, what is actually being targeted? It must be clear that in Serbia, as in the bombing of Iraq that still continues, there is no real distinction between military and civilian targets. The ultimate aim is the destruction of the industrial infrastructure of the region — its electrical systems, oil refineries, factories and the like.

The victims are primarily ordinary Serbians whose means of daily life are being systematically destroyed, while Milosevic’s army, particularly those attack troops used to expel Kosovars, were least affected. Nor did such attacks generate popular resistance to Milosevic and his policies, but rather promoted national unity in victimization and the silencing of opposition.

Most underreported in the American press (although widely reported in the Latin American and European press) is the ecological disaster the bombing is causing. The use of “degraded” uranium bombs, for example, generates a carcinogenic cloud of oxide of uranium carried by winds for miles. The fallout attacks the lungs, kidneys and tissues. Graphite bombs widely used in cities to destroy electrical systems disperse thousands of microscopic carbon fibers that attack the human body.

The destruction of oil refineries and factories has poured thousands of tons of oil and highly toxic waste into the rivers, which flow into neighboring countries, such as Romania and Bulgaria. As in Iraq, the bombing has largely destroyed the ability of Serbia to produce clean drinking water, with the threat of major outbreaks of disease. Clearly these disasters, already documented by European agencies, are only the tip of the iceberg. The full accounting of the damage to human life and the environment has only begun.

Given the extreme disproportionality of the destructive force used in Yugoslavia, one must ask: What were the real goals? Was this war really about the rights of Kosovar Albanians or was their plight a pretext for a campaign to establish NATO (and the United States) as the military policeman of Europe, as well as to open Southern Europe to a multinational takeover in the name of “reconstruction”? Hard questions need to be asked both about the conduct of this war and the model it provides for American-led wars of “humanitarian intervention” in the future.

Rosemary Radford Ruether is a professor of theology at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, Evanston, Ill.

National Catholic Reporter, July 2, 1999