WASHINGTON, D.C. -- After three days of NATO bombing, the Clinton administration has concluded that the situation in Kosovo has taken "a dramatic and serious turn for the worse." Critics of the bombing question its legality under U.S. and international law.
"Violence against civilians in Kosovo," reports The Washington Post (Reports Say Civilians Face Rising Violence, Daniel Williams, March 27)
"appeared to be spiraling out of control today with reports of executions of
ethnic Albanians [Kosovar Muslims] and the burning of houses, shops and cafes by masked and armed bands of Serbs who roamed the streets while residents cowered in their homes or fled in search of safety."
The Albanian government reported that Yugoslav forces had massacred 20 ethnic Albanian men after burning the villages of Goden, Prush and Zylfaj. Refugees fleeing Kosovo have reported to Reuters "that about 22,000 refugees were surrounded by Yugoslav forces in Cirez, a village in the central Drenica
Meanwhile, the numbers of refugees crossing into Macedonia has diminished
from about 500 a day before the NATO airstrikes to about 300. Armed Serbs have begun to occupy the homes vacated by the Kosovar Muslims.
The legality of bombing Serbia, and its province Kosovo is being questioned both in the U.S. and abroad.
"I think it's unconstitutional," said Sen. Robert C. Smith (R-N.H.), a candidate for president, and opponent of the Clinton administration.
Russia and China have denounced the bombing as blatantly illegal. According to The Washington Post (Legality of Airstrikes Disputed in U.S., U.N., William Branigin and John M. Goshko, March 27) , China called the airstrikes "a blatant aggression and act of vandalism" yesterday, and said "the international community has a moral imperative to rise up against this barbarity." Russia said the attacks violate international law.
U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan has pointed out that NATO explicitly
acknowledges that the U.N. Security Council "has primary responsibility for
maintaining international peace and security." U.N. members say the NATO attacks have not been authorized by any Security Council resolutions.
According to the London Times (Balkans Conflict: The Public Debate, Peter Riddell, March 26) generally accepted legal doctrine has been: first, the supremacy of the United Nations Security Council over international disputes and authorising the use of force; second, the right of countries to defend themselves; and, third, non-intervention in the internal disputes of sovereign states.
The Economist (Stumbling into war, March 27) asks, "How would the West respond if one day, say, China were to carry out air strikes against an Indian government fighting to prevent its Muslim-majority province of Jammu & Kashmir from seceding?"
Legal issues aside, the NATO air campaign alone is neither likely to dislodge the Serb leader, Slobodan Milosevic, nor save the Kosovar Muslims. A ten year embargo, and repeated bombing of Iraq, have not dislodged President Saddam Hussein.
Senior NATO and U.S. officials have begun to discuss the use of ground forces, which a divided U.S. Congress may oppose. The vote supporting U.S. participation in the NATO operation was 219 to 191 in the House, and 58 to 41 in the Senate.
Barring a change of heart by Mr. Milosevic, there seems to be no good way to avoid further bloodshed. The NATO bombing has worsened the situation for the Kosovar Muslims, and taken the world into new legal territory with unknown long-term repurcussions.
Begun with good intentions, the NATO bombing may turn out to be bad strategy.
["Increasingly, it is suggested that NATO also should deploy ground troops. This is an option that President Clinton was wrong to rule out from the start, and he is wrong to rule it out now." -- Editorial, The Washington Post, March 30]
[General Klaus Naumann, chairman of NATO's Military Committee, said that the first phase of the strikes was made deliberately light, in the hope that President Slobodan Milosevic would concede quickly... He also accepted that the alliance was powerless to prevent the expulsion of the remaining ethnic Albanians. -- The Independent, May 5, 1999]