by Andre Gunder Frank
[March 26, 1999]
NATO bombing of Serbia is in abject violation of international law by taking it into your own hands to destroy it. That makes this NATO action first dangerously criminal and then criminally dangerous. The American NATO Military Commander's claim that he is speaking and acting for the 'International Community' is a deliberate hoax, since the membership of NATO is only about 15 percent of the states and even less than that of the population of the United Nations, whose two largest countries with 2 billion people and many others oppose this action. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan put it mildly the day bombing started on March 24 that NATO member states should 'consult' the UN Security Council before attacking. They did no such thing in the knowledge that two permanent members would have exercised their veto. Therefore NATO action is criminal and dangerously so because it is yet another important step in the systematic violation of the UN Charter and the total abrogation of international law. NATO action and its expansion is also criminally dangerous for a whole series of political, legal, social, economic, and of course moral reasons to be detailed below.

NATO action is not only criminal, but dangerously so; because it extends not only the violation but the very elimination of the UN Charter, structure, and process and its replacement by NATO and its dominant power in the United States. It is difficult to decide where to start a quick review of this process. In 1950 the United States was able to fight Korean War under the UN flag, because in the Security Council China was represented by the regime in Taiwan, and the USSR was absent the day of the vote. Never mind that the UN Charter requires the affirmative vote of all permanent members. In 1961, the UN was used as a cover for United States foreign policy in the Congo, which resulted in the installation by the CIA of Mobuto after the expulsion and killing of Lumumba and the death there of UN Secretary General Hammerskjold. In the 1980s, the United States alleged that it is not subject to the rulings of UN International Court in the Hague after the latter found that US mining of the Nicaragua harbour violated the UN CHarter.

But in 1990/91 the United States and its allies availed themselves of the UN and its Security Council to 'legitimate' the war against Iraq by pulling legalistic wool over the eyes of the world community to pretend that their action was carried out for the UN. Nonetheless, the then UN Secretary General Perez de Cuellar clearly said 'This is a US war, not a UN war." His resignation for that reason would have made it much more loud and clear. In fact, the US led war against Iraq clearly violated at least seven different clauses of the UN Charter. The first one is that Article 27, Clause 3 of the UN Charter requires the affirmative vote of all permanent members. That was not the case, since China abstained [ and the USSR only voted yes after being bribed to do so in its economic crisis. If it had at least abstained, China might have voted No, and probably France also]. This requirement is again relevant today: The United States and its NATO allies did not 'consult' the Security Council as the UN Secretary General reminded us simply because it is obvious that this time Russia would have vetoed this operation, and maybe China too.

The American pretence that no new Security Council resolution was required to legalize this NATO action is a sheer lie in yet another attempt to pull wool over world eyes. Indeed, that was so already in the war against Iraq. For Article 42 of the UN Charter bars the resort to war until the Security Council determines that all peaceful means to resolve the dispute have been exhausted pursuant to Article 41. [We return to peaceful means below]. Of course, there was never any compliance with any none of these and other requirements of the UN Charter, and least of all the provision that the military action be under UN military command [which has never been really established], and not under that of the USA or NATO. On the contrary, the Iraq war initiated another dangerous precedent in this regard: although it was not a NATO operation, NATO offered its infrastructural facilities and some military equipment, which were used by its member allies in their illegal war against Iraq.

So the United States converted the United Nations into a de facto arm of its own foreign policy and its spokespersons and the media availed themselves the tried and true methods of Joseph Goebbles to lie so much as to persuade as also in Big Brother's 1984 WAR IS PEACE double speak about international law and morality.

Bosnia offered the opportunity to take another major dangerous step down this criminal road. In the beginning, The Helsinki Security Organization OSCE and the United Nations were active in trying to defuse and then resolve the conflict. Both failed because its principal members, principally the United States, Britain, France, and also Germany and Russia were unable to agree and unwilling to act. That scuttled not only the Owens plan, which provided for essentially the same things as the Dayton agreement but would have avoided three years of war and saved countless lives. But this impasse and paralysis, especially of and by the United States which prior to an election demanded the use of European but no American troops, also paved the way to today in another way: The United Nations declared itself unable, and whats worse incompetent, to resolve the conflict in Bosnia -- and handed it over for 'resolution' lock, stock and barrel to NATO!

At the time, hardly anybody [except me on WSN?] noticed or noted this further qualitatively significant step in the de facto dismemberment of the United Nations and its alleged de jure replacement by NATO, and de facto by the United States, which then dictated its terms of 'settlement' at Dayton, Ohio, USA. Among them were the capture and trial of war criminals in the former Yugoslavia, which the same United States has resolutely opposed and prevented ever since then. Thus, not only international law, but even its own dictates are conveniently violated by the United States whenever they are inconvenient. That happened again when the US and UK governments unilaterally bombed Iraq again in January 1999 again in violation of the United Nations Charter and even resolutions and international law but even of their own dictates.

Ironically if not tragically, this attack on Serbia is also in direct violation of the NATO Charter itself, which allows defensive action only in response to an attack on a member state, which Serbia/Yugoslavia certainly has not done. Moreover NATO is itself subordinated to the United Nations also by its own NATO Charter, which reads:

"The North Atlantic Treaty Washington D.C., April 4, 1949 The Parties to this Treaty reaffirm their faith in the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations and their desire to live in peace with all peoples and all governments....
Article 1
The Parties undertake, as set forth in the Charter of the United Nations, to settle any international dispute in which they may be involved by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security and justice are not endangered, and to refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force in any manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations."

So, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of this agreement in Washington next week, the United States and [its?] NATO have step by step set themselves up as accuser, prosecutor, judge, jury, and executioner of international 'law' however it suits them in total violation of the charters of both the United Nation and of NATO itself. And if it does not suit some member/s, like Greece which naturally objects to fanning flames on its borders, never mind, except that for celebratory purposes such internal NATO disagreement can be embarassing or even inconvenient, as is the denial of fly-over rights along the way to Serbia by neutral Austria. And if NATO action does not suit anybody else in the world, so much the better; since that will only demonstrate in practice to one and all who is really 'in charge' in this one world. Alas, that position and practice is criminally dangerous, particularly in a world in which economic power is shifting, and military - nuclear!- power is diversifying.

This war is also criminally dangerous for more reasons than it is possible even to summarize here. So I will concentrate only on two kinds of reasons, political and moral. Far from safeguarding international security, the expansion of NATO membership, coverage and military action itself poses a very serious danger. There was absolutely no European security interest, and not even much political support, for the eastward expansion of NATO to include Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic. Indeed, the principal motor force for this move was domestic politics in the United States. In Russia however, NATO's eastward expansion was rightly perceived as aggressive and threatening. So is, of course, the recent proposal again to increase 'defense' spending and to revive the Star Wars program with anti-ballistic missiles in direct violation of the ABM treaty. All Russian political parties have been united in opposition to this American and NATO threat and now to its bombs, whatever their differences on other issues. These political and domestic policy differences themselves have been sharpened by the growing Russian economic crisis, which much of the Russian public sees rightly as the result of what it is, less a form of American Way modernization and ever more a modernized form of American carpetbagging. But the Russian public and its politics are likely to be even further aggravated by this American and NATO foreign policy, which threatens a country still armed to the teeth with nuclear weapons and whose army desperately needs renewed economic and popular support to rally around the flag.

Yet NATO not only threatens further eastward expansion of membership, but it helps move the boundaries and center of gravity of NATO's attention into the Balkans and Southeastern Europe, where they clash with Russia's interests. This threat and danger is confirmed by NATO military intervention in Bosnia, and now by its attack on Serbia. All these moves and NATO's use of Macedonia as a staging area also pose additional threats and dangers of NATO military penetration even further south-east perhaps including Southwest Asia [mis- called the Near or Mid East], the Caucasus, and the Caspian Sea where long term strategic disputes rage about oil and pipe-line routes. The US has already held joint military 'excercises' with and in Kazakstan in whose major oil deposits Russia and China also have vital interests.

This NATO intervention in Serbia, far from containing trouble, is likely to spread it further southeast through domino like knock on effects in Albania, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey. All also harbour intra- and inter- state ethnic conflicts that can be fanned as they were in Yugoslavia -- and then invite more NATO 'peace' keeping. Indeed, that is why there already is Greek opposition within NATO to its attack on Serbia and its pledge to be a non-nuclear zone was just withdrawn by Ukraine, which along with other CIA states also feels threatened. These developments represent a weak underbelly for NATO, particularly given other regional Greco-Turkish conflicts within the NATO alliance.

The pretence by NATO, US President Clinton, UK Prime Minister Blair and their myriad official and other fellow travellers in the media and elsewhere is that they are engaged in a humanitarian mission to protect innocent civilians. Moreover they allege that they have no alternative but to do use military means to pursue their humanitarian mission, because the bad guy on the other side will not listen to reason. But none of these pretences reflect the reality whose most important factors are hidden by so much of a smoke screen that the public can no longer even distinguish smoke from mirror. The Western NATO powers have so far acted exclusively in their - not always common -political interests and have never ever lifted a humanitarian finger to safeguard or help anybody in Yugoslavia itself, or elsewhere for that matter. Nor are the humanitarian NATO bombs designed or able to do so.

The United Nations Charter stipulates in its Article 41 that all peaceful means to resolve - indeed to forestall escalation - of conflict be exhausted before the United Nations, not NATO or any member state, resort to military force. Far from exhausting the use of such peaceful means in the former Yugoslavia, the principal NATO partners exhausted all the means of the Yugoslavs and their successor to forestall and de-escalate conflict among them. Any objective examination of recent history will demonstrate that not 400 years of ethnic conflict in Yugoslavia but 20, 10, and 2 years of criminally dangerous action and inaction by the Western powers is responsible for the past, present, and future disaster.

To begin with, it has been primarily US monetary/ economic and political/military policy that aggravated the world economic crisis and shifted its burden to those least able to bear it, including especially the Soviet Union/Russia and Yugoslavia. The latter was already so burdened by foreign debt that it was already clear [at least to me] in 1984 that without relief the result had to be military rule, civil war, or both. Then to add insult to injury and do even more injury, the IMF pushed the Yugoslav Federal state to de facto suicide by obliging it to eliminate from its budget the transfer payments to its constituent republics, which were the de facto cement that held the federation together. Therewith, the Federation of Yugoslavia lost its political economic raison d'etre at the same time that a renewed economic recession, IMF structural adjustment, and growing poverty and polarization hit the country and its people.

When Slovenia and Croatia sought to abandon the Yugoslav ship, the German foreign minister Genscher supported them [along with his Austrian colleague who also sought economic benefits there] and presented its European Union allies with the following ultimatum: EU recognition of secession or Germany will go it alone. The EU caved in with the full knowledge that the independence of Slovenia and Croatia had to lead to the same in Bosnia, which had to lead to civil war and further partition. And President Milosevic in Belgrade naturally used these opportunities handed to him to escalate and fortify Serbian nationalism, not the least by using the Serbian officered 'Yugoslav' army against all three new countries and to support the Bosnian Serbs, as well as to divest Albanians in Kosovo of more and more of their constitutional rights. The danger posed by Milosevic and his chauvinist politics was so obvious that even I was able to warn against them in publications in 1990/91, including one published by the United Nations. Yet it took a long time for anyone in the West, let alone the United Nations, to lift a finger to dissuade Milosevic. And then it was primarily to impose an ineffective embargo on Serbia, which has publicly sustained Milosevic politically and economically, it is said, for his and his inner circle's private purses.

So for years none of the Western powers did anything to stop or even discourage him, except that for its own purposes the United States first opposed partition, then changed its mind and accepted it, and then started to push for intervention so long as it would not cost American troops. Britain and France, who would have had to supply the troops, and of course Germany dragged their feet as well. Russia also for its own reasons opposed intervention. Ethnic cleansing and every kind of horror and human tragedy was the result. But all of it could have been avoided by the implementation by the United Nations and/or the Western powers of economic, political and social policies with the least bit of humanitarian concern for the welfare of the people such as that ever professed as a cover for the naked political policy that the Western powers implement in their own interests.

This self interest, now especially by the Clinton administration in the United States, also guided and permeated the Dayton 'Peace' Accords that belatedly ended the war in Bosnia -- with essentially the same provisions favorable to the Serbs proposed by the Owen Plan and rejected by the United States three years earlier. An Dayton provided much more for policing Bosnia than for democratizing, let alone developing or even reconstructing it economically. For that, only very few dollars were budgeted; and hardly a cent was ever made available. But the Dayton accords are themselves violated daily even regarding the policing, for again American domestic political interests have prevailed to prevent arresting the principal and most other war criminals and bringing them to justice at the UN Court in The Hague. The establishment by the UN of a permanent International Criminal Court to try violations of human rights was also opposed and is still hamstrung by the small minority vote of United States and its Chinese, Israeli, Iraqi and Lybian 'traditional' allies. So much for humanitarian concern for the welfare and human rights of the people by the United States and its NATO allies.

Moreover, just as the Bosnian disaster was pre- programmed into the German and European support for independence in Slovenia and Croatia, so did Dayton set the stage or at least fail to prevent the escalation of Serbian oppression and the aggravation of the conflict in Kosovo. Nor was anything done or even attempted to prevent, let alone to reverse, this process until it was indeed too late. Again the claim that peaceful conflict resolution failed and now made military bombing necessary is more smoke and mirrors. Or is it a smokescreen for even more dangerously criminal and criminally dangerous measures? And why now?

There are no doubt many reasons and possible explanations why these military measures are being taken now. Whatever they are, a bit of global historical perspective can help clarify them. Examination of the record since World War II will show that the United Sates has rattled or used its military sabre and then increased 'defense' spending in every economic recession: 1949-50 Korea, 1953-54: Iran and Guatemala, 1958: Lebanon, 1967, 1969-70 and 1973-75: Vietnam, 1979: first the second cold war including a 3 percent yearly increase in all NATO spending and then arming the Afghans against Soviet occupation, and 1989-92: Iraq. In each case also, spending was increased by and for the military-industrial complex against which President Eisenhower warned in his 1958 fare well speech. Now the time has come for another recession, foreshadowed by the economic crisis in Asia, Russia, and Latin America and by a dip in the index of [future] economic indicators in the United States. Moreover, the end of the [second] cold war with the Evil Empire led to significant cuts in US military budgets, although three new customers were created ipso facto by NATO expansion to Prague, Warsaw, and Budapest. So the same Pentagon, which was well still nourished in 1990 and opposed going to war in Iraq as Chief of Staff Colin Powell also did, now demanded and received the go-ahead for military action again in Iraq and now in Serbia. Moreover, military commanders want to try out the new military hardware and software that was supposed to be upgraded since its abject failure in Iraq in 1991. And the same Bill Clinton who once evaded the draft in the war against Vietnam now comes out in favour of new weapons for unconventional warfare, anti-ballistic missiles to be employed in - that is against - the Third World and argues that it is high time again to increase military spending 'only' to pay for it all. So this is an overall context in which to examine the various real and imagined reasons for beginning 1999 by bombing Iraq and Serbia.

One thing is certain. Bombing Serbs in Serbia and even in Kosovo is not designed to and cannot promote the welfare of the Albanian population in Kosovo and also not in neighbouring states. If it were, then with the same argument NATO could also bomb its NATO member Turkey to protect its even more abused Kurds, or the so far non-member Israel that has so institutionalized its ethnic cleansing of Palestinians as to make it all but 'invisible' though to help it do so is the only country in the world to have legalized torture and itself just wantonly bombed Lebanon again without the slighest reprimand, let alone reprisal.

Besides, all informed opinion insists that NATO bombing will politically strengthen Milosevic and Serbian nationalism rather than weakening either, as NATO pretends. Surely, if the Western powers really sought to achieve or even to serve any of their professed objectives, any Western aided economic and social development program for the entire population would have done so better. But then, instead of economic structural adjustment and then military intervention, so would it have been in Somalia, Rwanda and elsewhere. Moreover the NATO military attack on Serbia now again undermines the peace settlement in neighbouring Bosnia and risks putting its own military 'peace' keeping personnel there [including it is said a whole British armoured division] in Serbian harm's way. The offensive use of German military power for the first time since World War II and again against Serbs will also be politically used by Milosevic to strengthen his hand and his followers' resolve.

And what about the quiet NATO military build up in also neighbouring Macedonia? First the now 10,000 [or more?] troops - including another armoured division of 5,000 men and equipment already brought by the British months ago] were said to be there to permit the evacuation of the 2,000 unarmed OSCE observers in Kosovo, so they would and could not become Serbian hostages. Then the bombing started without any notice that all observers have been evacuated to Macedonia, and we are told that the NATO troops are there ready to cross over into Serbian Kosovo just in case of Serbian reprisals against Albanians there. But according to official doublespeak of the United States, we are informed that its troops in Macedonia will never be used to make peace but only to keep it. Either way, we are not told how these NATO troops could possibly protect either the two thousand observers or the two million Albanians in Kosovo. Moreover, NATO bombing and the removal of OSCE observers will expose the remaining Albanian population to greater hatred, oppression and ethnic cleansing by the Serbians and increase the fear and flight of the already three hundred thousand refugees from Kosovo - that is de facto the very ethnic cleansing the Serbians want. That also again fuels earlier proposals for a Greater Albania to bring Albanians from Albania, Macedonia, Greece and Kosovo under one flag and center that could as well be in the last as in the first of these.

So what are NATO troops and their ground force military equipment in Macedonia - and Bosnia - for? For what is euphomistically called more 'mission creep', however pre-programmed it may be. For the whole NATO operation is based or at least sold on the false official premise that it will protect Albanian interests by bringing President Milosevic to his knees and/or forcing him out of office by dividing his domestic support. For the foreseeable future, NATO can only achieve the opposite.

Less consideration has been given to how this NATO operation may become divisive among and within its member states, and with what consequences. At this writing, the Prime Minister and then the Parliament of Italy, which is just across the Adriatic so that the United States uses its air bases to bomb Yugoslavia from which Italy therefore also attracts new refugees, has already demanded renewed political negotiations. En Germany, the Green Party foreign minister [still?] supports this adventure but the Social Democratic finance minister was forced to resign in a conflict with the defense minister over additional finance for this contribution to NATO by Germany. Moreover, that is the country that already received the largest number of war refugees from Bosnia [like Italy from Albania] and is most sensitive to any such new refugee stream from Kosovo and neighboring regions.

Refugees are the least concern for the the most protected and hawkish members of NATO, Thatcher/Blairite Britain, maybe Canada and the United States. In the latter the use of American ground troops in the Balkans and thereabouts will not go down as well as Desert Storm did in Iraq -- unless the operation can be sold at home as a second [really third] cold war against the Russians. They for their part are talking [and planning?] to arm the Serbs and perhaps also to send military personell, albeigh be it as mercenary 'volunteers' from an army that today goes unpaid. But rekindling and firing up another cold war and heating it up to boot entails obvious criminal dangers of its own. Besides that, it may entail some less obvious global geo-political and military consequences, including the fortification of a Sino-Russian alliance, this time perhaps also including India -- each with nuclear weapons.

Thus, far from preserving the peace, NATO is threatening - indeed already undoing - it. Far from promoting and enforcing international law, NATO is violating and destroying it. Far from serving any humanitarian ends, NATO and its principal powers are negating them all. One of these ends should be to speak the truth instead of spreading lies about all of the above. So lets at least some of us, as the pacifist Society of Friends [Quakers] saying has it, SPEAK TRUTH TO POWER!

Back to texts' page
Back to index page

This page has been visited times.