THE GLOBE AND MAIL, Wednesday, April 21, 1999 COMMENTARY p. A13 NATO's unjust war MARCUS GEE Can the killing of innocent people in war ever be justified? That was the question that came to mind after NATO accidentally bombed a convoy of unarmed refugees in Kosovo last week. In a just war, the answer has to be yes. Countless civilians died when the Allies invaded France to free Europe from the Nazis, when the cause and the war were undeniably just. Can the same be said of the war in Kosovo? Is this a just war? To that question, the answer has to be no. St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas each wrestled with the idea of a just war. Over the centuries, scholars have refined their thoughts and come up with five basic criteria: Is the cause righteous? Are the intentions good? Was the war declared by a proper authority? Is there a reasonable chance of victory? Are the means proportionate to the ends? Let's be generous and concede points one and two to NATO. The stated aim of this war -- the protection of Kosovo Albanians from Serbian attacks -- is hard to question. The intentions, too, are essentially good. This is not a war of conquest or a war of revenge or a war for resources. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization's unselfish motive is to rescue civilians and stop a thug: Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic. But on the other three points, NATO loses hands down. Declared by a proper authority? Not one of the 19 NATO countries had the honesty to declare war when the alliance began raining destruction on Serbian cities four weeks ago today. In Canada, the government has not even allowed Parliament the chance to vote. Worse, NATO has completely bypassed the United Nations. Article 53 of the UN Charter says the UN Security Council is the proper authority to approve a collective police action such as the NATO bombing. Yet Canada and its allies never even asked the Council's opinion. Why? Because Russia might have voted against us. So we simply ignored the UN, and 50 years of Canadian support for the rule of international law has gone down the drain. Even NATO's sanction of the bombing is suspect. The NATO charter describes the organization as a defensive alliance that is committed to use force only when one of its members is attacked. No NATO member has been attacked by Yugoslavia. A reasonable chance of victory? There was always a chance that Mr. Milosevic would fold his tent as soon as the bombing started. But from the early days, it was clear that this was not going to happen. Instead of folding, he attacked Kosovo and forced hundreds of thousands of Albanians to flee. NATO should have known this might happen. Intelligence reports before the war showed that he might unleash his troops on Kosovo if he thought the rebels there had forged an alliance with NATO, which is how Belgrade, with its acute victim complex, was certain to see it. Yet, with feckless optimism, NATO bombed away. Is there a reasonable chance of turning back Serbia's assault on Kosovo with the means currently being used? No. If the political end we are seeking is the total withdrawal of Serb forces and the occupation of Kosovo by foreign troops, it seems highly unlikely that NATO will achieve it with aerial bombing alone. Yet the bombs keep falling. NATO's only response to the failure of its bombing campaign is to drop more bombs on more places. Which brings us to the fifth and final criterion. Are the means proportionate to the ends? This is perhaps the most important measure of a just war. If we are to use violence justly, we must be sure that the violence inflicted is less severe than the violence it is trying to counteract, and that the ultimate gains outweigh the losses. Is this so in Kosovo? The violence Mr. Milosevic has inflicted on Kosovo is awful, but what NATO is doing is pretty awful, too. Belgrade claims that the bombing has killed 1,000 people in Serbia. If this is true -- and given the number of deadly mistakes that NATO has admitted, it could be -- it is possible that NATO's bombing of Yugoslavia has already killed more people than Yugoslavia's ground attack on Kosovo. As NATO steps up the bombing, pummelling Serbian cities day and night, more and more innocent civilians will die. In the end -- whenever that will be -- it seems inevitable that the number of dead will exceed the 2,000 killed in Kosovo before the war began. To NATO, that doesn't seem to matter. Convinced that their cause is just and their motives pure, its leaders are determined to prosecute this war to the bitter end. But as St. Thomas acknowledged, good intentions and a just cause do not alone make a war just. A just war must also be fought under proper authority, with a reasonable expectation of success, by proportionate means. Is this a just war on those grounds? It is not. E-mail: Letters to Editor:

Back to texts' page
Back to index page

This page has been visited times.