On March 24, 1999, NATO-led by the United States-launched the first offensive action in the history of the treaty organization by attacking Yugoslavia. After more than two months of bombing, the US,NATO, UN and Yugoslavia signed an agreement and peacekeeping forces entered the Yugoslav province of Kosovo. Ten months later, the conflict in Kosovo raises a number of very troubling but important questions concerning the morality and legality of the US/NATO operation including (but not limited to):
The US military is the most effective fighting force in the world. Much of that effectiveness comes from the trust that has been developed between enlisted, officers, senior military leaders and the civilian national leadership. That trust is built on a foundation of duty or obligation that each has to the others. Civilian leaders have a duty to engage American forces only in those conflicts that are legal and just. Military leaders have a duty to fight those conflicts with just means and to protect their subordinates. Military personnel are supposed to be able to trust that their leaders would not commit them to an unjust or illegal conflict. This chain of duty and trust is a cornerstone of US military effectiveness. If duty has been violated and that innate sense of trust is damaged or destroyed, it can have a long and devastating impact on the effectiveness of the US armed forces.
The primary purpose of this paper is to generate discussion about the moral and legal obligations of military officers-especially American military officers-of all ranks. A secondary purpose is to consider the real-world effects of duty, character and leadership-or the lack of them-on trust and effectiveness. The intent is to generate a discussion that will increase the long-term honor, professionalism and performance of the US military. It is only through continuous self-examination and pursuit of the Truth that the US and the US military can avoid developing some of the dark problems that haunt other armed forces.
This paper should in no way be construed as an apology for Yugoslav actions in Kosovo or as equating the actions of the US/NATO and Yugoslavia. The record of human rights violations-including ethnic cleansing and coordinated, widespread rape and murder-of the Milosevic regime in Yugoslavia is long, terrible and well documented.
We will begin with a short chronology followed by an examination of the morality and legality of the Kosovo conflict in terms of the just war tradition, the UN Charter and the North Atlantic Treaty of 1949. We will generate questions for discussion in each section and conclude with a list of broader questions for consideration.
THE KOSOVO CONFLICT
The United States and NATO (US/NATO) feared that without an intervention by an international peacekeeping force, the persecution might escalate into full-scale ethnic cleansing. Yugoslavia considered Kosovo a domestic issue. While open to a UN peacekeeping force, Yugoslav leaders feared that a NATO peacekeeping force would put their province of Kosovo on the road to independence.
>From February 6th through 17th, the three sides (US/NATO, ethnic Albanians and Yugoslavia) met at Rambouillet, France, to discuss an agreement. The United States and NATO drafted the Rambouillet Accords and obtained the acceptance of ethnic Albanians leaders. Yugoslavia objected to several aspects of the accords and refused to sign. The Clinton administration gave the Yugoslav government an ultimatum: sign the accords or be attacked. Yugoslavia refused. Additional talks were held in Paris from 15 through 19 March, but again Yugoslavia refused to sign the Rambouillet Accords. Five days later, on March 24th, the US/NATO launched offensive airstrikes against Yugoslavia.
Persecution against ethnic Albanians in Kosovo immediately escalated. Several hundred thousand were forced from their homes and-the KLA and the US/NATO claim-more than 10,000 ethnic Albanians were murdered.
Airstrikes continued until early June when negotiations between the US/NATO, Russia, the UN and Yugoslavia resulted in a final agreement that represented a retreat from the US/NATO position at Rambouillet. On June 10th, the airstrikes stopped and US/NATO forces entered Kosovo under the auspices of the UN.
Since that time, most of the displaced ethnic Albanians have returned to Kosovo. In a turn around, crimes by ethnic Albanians against ethnic Serbs-including murder and displacement-have increased significantly. Forensics teams from around the world, including FBI teams from the US, have converged on Kosovo to search for evidence of war crimes. As of November 1999, with the most notorious 30% of 450 sites searched, forensics teams have found 2,108 bodies of about 11,334 claimed murders. It is unclear at this time, however, whether these bodies are ethnic Albanians or Serbs, and the victims of murder or war.
JUST WAR THEORY AND KOSOVO
The just war theory is a widely accepted criterion for evaluating the morality of war. While questions have been raised about US/NATO tactics in the conduct of the conflict (in bello), we will concentrate on whether the US decision to go to war was moral or not (ad bellum). While there are different versions of the just war theory and some variations in the criteria, the following criteria are found in almost every version. In order for a war to be just, the conflict must meet all of the criteria.
The just war criteria are interrelated. For instance, if there is no reasonable chance of success, then a war will necessarily violate the proportionality criteria because there is no good resulting from the war that can outweigh the evil brought about by the war. Because war is so terrible, in order for a reason to be a just cause, it must be significant enough to warrant the evils of war and must match the actual intent. Otherwise, anything can be declared a just cause, making just cause becomes nothing more than an excuse to go to war for other reasons
In the case of the conflict in Kosovo, it is clear that US territory, honor and allies were not attacked or directly threatened by Yugoslavia. Therefore, the US/NATO bombing of Yugoslavia must be justified by either humanitarian reasons or a threat to US national interests. Further, because just cause is supposed to be a significant barrier to starting war, the humanitarian reasons or the threat to national interests must be great enough to warrant the evils that come with war. In the humanitarian case, this may be particularly difficult to evaluate. How many murders or how much ethnic cleansing must occur before intervention and the violation of sovereignty are justified?
Several of the reasons given by the Clinton administration clearly fail to meet the just cause criteria. Expelling Yugoslav forces from their own province, degrading their war-making capability and punishing Serbia (Yugoslavia) are offensive, not defensive actions. These may be things that happen as other causes are fought for-like degrading Yugoslav war-making capability in order to stop the killing of ethnic Albanians-but they cannot serve as (a) just cause(s) themselves. Similarly, the democratic nature of Yugoslavia and the autonomy-or lack thereof-of Kosovo present no threat to the US and cannot function as a just cause.
On the surface, the prevention of a wider war in the Balkans and/or moving Yugoslavia into the Balkan mainstream may fit into the just cause category of a threat to national interest. But it must be asked, what evidence was there that a wider war in the Balkans was imminent, and what national interest was so directly threatened-and to what degree-that it warranted an offensive bombing campaign? A good argument can be made that the bombing campaign actually increased the odds of a wider Balkan war.
That leaves two other possible just causes-halting the killing of ethnic Albanians and the return of ethnic Albanian refugees. While it is clear that some ethnic displacement took place prior to the bombing campaign, there is no doubt that the vast majority of the displacement of refugees took place after the bombing started. Does the displacement of refugees itself constitute a just cause for war?
What about the widespread murder of ethnic Albanians? US and NATO representatives made frequent statements about massacres and genocide in Kosovo, stating that more than 10,000 Kosovars were murdered by FRY military and Serbian paramilitary personnel. Since the war ended, actual investigations have revealed something different. As of October, 1999, after having searched the worst 150 of 400 sites, the FBI and other investigative teams found far fewer bodies than expected. In most cases, the bodies were found in small numbers with injuries that seemed to indicate limited acts of brutality rather than a widespread, calculated plan of genocide. The latest report from the International Criminal Tribunal on Yugoslavia (ICTY) in November 1999 indicated that 2108 bodies (of 11,334 reported) had been found-but there was no determination how many of these were ethnic Albanians or Serbs, or how many had been killed in combat or were murder victims. Some of the most notorious sites-like the Trepca mine where 700 ethnic Albanians bodies were reportedly dumped-revealed no bodies.
Further, most of the murders and displacement of ethnic Albanians did not occur until after the US/NATO bombing started. Indeed, the bombing campaign may have facilitated an increase in the number of murders and refugees because it forced the withdrawal from Kosovo of international human rights monitors.
Murders of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo did occur and murder is never acceptable. But that does not necessarily constitute a just cause for war. It seems that the US and NATO too readily accepted inflated casualty numbers provided by the KLA-a military organization that had a vested interest in building US support for a war against Yugoslavia. Certainly the previous record of murder in Bosnia by the Yugoslav/Serbian leadership made accepting KLA numbers easier.
Reasonable Chance of Success
The answer appears to be no. As stated above, the vast majority of murders and refugee displacement occurred after the bombing campaign began. The war appears to have facilitated refugee displacement and widespread murder-not deterred it or stopped it. Indeed, most of the refugee displacement and murders appear to have taken place in April-a month before the bombing campaign ended. The bombing campaign may have made the reasons for the war-the just causes-worse, not better. At Rambouillet, Yugoslavia was ready to accept a peacekeeping force under UN (not NATO) auspices. Did the bombing campaign result in an increase in murder and displacement that a peaceful solution (UN peacekeeping force) might have avoided?
Was there a reasonable chance that other US/NATO objectives would be attained? Again, the answer appears to be no. Early in the conflict and against the advice of senior military officials, the Clinton administration ruled out the use of ground troops. The decision reduced the threat of US/NATO casualties and prevented an erosion of public support at home, but it also severely damaged the ability and credibility of the US/NATO to exert its will in Kosovo. Yugoslav leaders knew that if they could withstand the bombing campaign, they could prevail.
While there was a reasonable chance of success in achieving objectives if all military options were left open, by ruling out a ground option, the Clinton administration reduced the chance of success to almost zero. That raises a serious problem. If the humanitarian problem in Kosovo was so serious that it constituted a just cause for war, then was it not also serious enough to justify the national commitment required to present a real solution to the problem, like the possibility of ground troops? If the problem was not serious enough to warrant the national commitment expressed in the possible deployment of ground troops, then was the problem serious enough to justify war?
If the argument is made that public opinion would not have supported the possible deployment of ground troops, then one must ask where the national commitment and authority for the war lay.
Did the good achieved in the Kosovo bombing campaign outweigh the evil? On the negative side, US/NATO bombing destroyed much of the infrastructure of Yugoslavia and resulted in the inadvertent deaths of several hundred ethnic Albanians and possibly several thousand Yugoslav-Serbs. It also undermined the important international concept of sovereignty, as the US/NATO attacked Yugoslavia over an issue that geographically resided entirely within the borders of the Yugoslav nation.
What about the positive side-was the war not a success in the end? The Yugoslav military left Kosovo, the ethnic Albanian refugees did return, Yugoslavia was punished and NATO was allowed to put a peacekeeping force in Kosovo. These seem to be indications of victory. But was the US/NATO truly successful in achieving any of its goals?
Consider the widespread murder and displacement of ethnic Albanians. These operations drastically increased only after the US/NATO bombing began and appear to have largely ended weeks before the bombing campaign ended. There is little evidence that these terrible crimes ended or were cut short by US/NATO bombing. Indeed, the only affect US/NATO bombing appears to have had on these despicable operations was to facilitate them. Going to war appears to have actually made this problem worse, not better.
A comparison between US/NATO demands before the conflict began (the Rambouillet Accords) and the final agreement reached between the US/NATO/UN and Yugoslavia has some surprises. At Rambouillet, the US/NATO made a number of demands that included:
On each point, the final US/NATO/UN position represents a retreat from the original (Rambouillet) demands. In other words, the war could have been avoided had the US/NATO simply backed off its original demands at Rambouillet and accepted the Yugoslav position. It is hard to understand how the US/NATO could declare this a victory or the war successful.
What about the other objectives of the war? During the war, US/NATO spokespeople talked a lot about how much damage the Yugoslav army in Kosovo was suffering. US/NATO spokespeople declared that more than 40% of Yugoslav armor was destroyed. But when the fighting ended, the final toll was much different. Only about 2% of Yugoslav tanks were destroyed (10 out of 400). Much of the Yugoslav air force stationed in Kosovo survived the US/NATO air attacks and flew to Serbia after the final agreement was signed. It does not appear that Yugoslav war-making capability was seriously degraded.
While the US/NATO argued that Yugoslavia agreed to US/NATO demands and withdrew from Kosovo because of the bombing campaign, critics argued that Yugoslavia withdrew because it had achieved its objectives: the changes noted above in the Rambouillet Accords. Rambouillet called for NATO to fully control the terms deployment of peacekeeping forces. The final agreement allowed NATO forces to enter Kosovo under the auspices of the UN Security Council. The difference is important. Under the UN Security Council, Russia and China-Yugoslav allies-could influence the scope and duration of the peacekeeping operation. Once again, the final agreement favored Yugoslavia, not the US/NATO.
What about preventing a wider war or moving Yugoslavia into the mainstream of the Balkans? It is impossible to know whether the Kosovo conflict will eventually increase or decrease the likelihood of wider war in the Balkans. It certainly did serve to increase Greek dissatisfaction with the US and NATO as anti-American protests delayed or prevented the US/NATO use of Greek ports.
Finally, the US and NATO failed to accomplish their objectives in regard to bringing self-determination and (possibly) eventual independence to Kosovo. While the Rambouillet Accords included a call to establish self-determination, the final agreement called for “substantial autonomy and self-administration” while “fully recognizing the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.” The same result could have been achieved without war if the US/NATO had simply backed down on their demands at Rambouillet. Again, the bombing campaign did not achieve the US/NATO objective.
When balancing the good and evil of the war, it appears that the scale falls firmly on the side of evil. The US/NATO bombing campaign inflicted tremendous damage on the Yugoslav infrastructure, killed Yugoslavs and ethnic Albanians, and may have facilitated Yugoslav ethnic cleansing operations against ethnic Albanians while achieving none of the key US/NATO war aims.
Were US/NATO intentions in the Kosovo conflict consistent with seeking peace and achieving the just cause?
At Rambouillet, the US/NATO presented Yugoslavia with a set of terms that included (Appendix B, Section 8):
Does the military strategy chosen by the Clinton administration in the Kosovo conflict indicate anything about actual intent? If the administration truly intended to stop ethnic cleansing and genocide in Kosovo, why did they choose a strategy-an air war and the ruling out of a possible ground campaign-that almost guaranteed failure? Why did they choose this strategy in spite of universal military advice to the contrary? If we assume that the administration has rational people who would choose a strategy to achieve their actual intent, then what does the choice of this strategy say about their actual intent?
The conflict in Kosovo raises hard legal as well as moral issues. Article 1, paragraph 1 of the United Nations Charter reads:
4. All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.
7. Nothing contained in the present Charter shall authorize the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state…
The North Atlantic Treaty of 1949 reaffirms the UN commitment to peaceful, non-aggressive resolutions to disputes. In articles 5 and 6, the treaty defines collective defense and the territories covered by that defense.
Kosovo is recognized internationally as a province of the sovereign nation of Yugoslavia. Yugoslav actions in Kosovo are, by definition, domestic actions. Yugoslavia did not attack (in this limited case) or present an imminent or direct threat to any other nation.
While the US participation in the conflict appears immoral and/or illegal (ad bellum), the actual tactics used by American pilots (in bello) appear to be moral and legal. Ironically, the ICTY has announced that it will conduct investigations into the actions of American pilots during the Kosovo conflict (in bello), but no mention was made about the morality of the war itself (ad bellum). If officers in the military already question the integrity of the president, what will the effect be if a US pilot is arrested and tried for a war crime while nothing is said about the president who sent him or her there?
It is one thing to discuss character, leadership and trust on a television talk show or in an academic conference in the relatively benign environment of the United States. In the military-especially in the midst of threatening situations overseas-the relationship between character, leadership and trust is much more important and real. Subordinates watch everything that a leader does, constantly analyzing how much they can trust their leader with their lives. The actual and perceived qualities of character that the leader possesses have a significant, long-term affect on the military, its culture, morale, retention and effectiveness.
What effect will the conflict in Kosovo have on the future of the US military?
The conflict in Kosovo was a relatively short-lived war that had very little direct impact on people in the United States. It may be tempting to look past this conflict and its inconveniences to larger things going on in the world. The problem is that we become what we practice-both as people and as a nation. Failure to recognize and resolve these problems today makes it far easier to repeat them in the future. As in other things, the transgressions will be small and expedient at first, then gradually grow in magnitude until ideas like character, honor, duty and trust become hollow, and then finally disappear. By studying the conflict in Kosovo and asking hard questions, we may be able to recognize and prevent immoral and unjust actions in the future.
1Humanitarian grounds as a just cause for war is a relatively new idea and under considerable debate-especially when it involves the internal affairs of a nation. It is included here as a possible just cause in order to fully consider all possible just causes. For more about violating a nation’s sovereignty in order to prevent humanitarian catastrophes, see “An End to Sovereignty?” by Major Jerry Whitman, USAF at www.usafa.edu/isme/jscope95 http://www.usafa.edu/isme/jscope95
2For a list of quotes from Clinton administration officials falling with in each of these categories, see Catalogue of Confusion: The Clinton Administration’s War Aims in Kosovo, Jack Spencer, Heritage Foundation No. 1281, May 13, 1999 available at www.heritage.org/#pgfId=1023694 http://www.heritage.org/#pgfId=1023694
3 Where are the Kosovo Killing Fields? Report on Kosovo by Stratfor.com available at http://www.stratfor.com/SERVICES/GIU/101799.asp. Also see the report by the ICTY at http://www.stratfor.com/CIS/commentary/c9911110034.htm
4 Another very common criterion for just war is that the war must be conducted with proper authority. In a democracy, the people are sovereign and express their will through elected representatives. If there is not sufficient popular support to conduct the war with a reasonable chance of success-through a ground war, for instance-then we can reasonably say that the sovereign does not support the war. From where but the sovereign can the proper authority for war originate? The Clinton administration refusal to contemplate the use of ground troops violates one criterion-reasonable chance of success-and is symptomatic of the lack of another criterion-proper authority.
5 Estimates of Yugoslav-Serb dead range from a couple of thousand to more than 10,000. See http://www.stratfor.com/cis/commentary/c9906242045.htm
Whether nations are allowed to intervene in the internal affairs of other nations based on humanitarian grounds is a issue under much debate. Many argue that some humanitarian situations, like genocide, are so terrible that other nations have an obligation to intervene. Others counter by arguing that permitting intervention in domestic affairs for humanitarian reasons can too easily become an excuse for intervening at will. Catholics in Northern Ireland and Basques in Spain consider themselves to be oppressed minorities. Would foreign intervention be permissible in these situations?
6 Rambouillet Accords found at http://www.un.org/peace/kosovo/sc_kosovo.htm including the now infamous Appendix B, Section 8, which permitted NATO forces to occupy the entire FRY.
7 The US laid out an ultimatum: accept the Rambouillet Accords or face military action. For President Clinton’s comments see http://cnn.com/US/9902/19/clinton.chirac.03/
8 Final agreement between the UN/NATO and the FRY found at http://www.nytimes.com/learning/general/specials/kosovo/kosovo-plan-text.html or http://cnn.com/WORLD/europe/9906/08/resolution.text/ http://www.stratfor.com/cis/commentary/c9906242045.htm
9 The final agreement signed between the UN, NATO and FRY can be found at a number of sources including: http://www.nytimes.com/learning/general/specials/kosovo/kosovo-plan-text.html
Rambouillet Accords, Appendix B, Section 8 at http://www.un.org/peace/kosovo/sc_kosovo.htm
11 The UN Charter available at www.un.org/aboutun/charter http://www.un.org/aboutun/charter ibid
12 For the NATO Treaty, see http://www.nato.int/docu/basictxt/treaty.htm
13 In World War II both Germany and Japan used humanitarian grounds as justification for their actions. Indeed, Serbia used it as a justification to exert its will in Bosnia-Herzogivina Germany justified its actions in Czechoslovakia and Poland by claiming that ethnic Germans were not safe. Japan claimed that European powers were oppressing Asians in their Asian colonies. Serbia claimed that ethnic Serbs were being harmed by Bosnian Muslims and Croats. If there is no clear criterion of when a humanitarian intervention is justified-including when it is not justified-then we risk either allowing any intervention based on the humanitarian claim or the claim that the victor of the war gets to decide (relativism).
14 These tactics included extensive target verification, rules of engagement that prohibited the release of weapons unless a target was verified and more. The US/NATO bombing operation showed more restraint in the delivery of weapons than probably any other war in history.
15 NATO officials are dismissing the ICTY investigation. The ICTY itself does not seem to take the investigation seriously. See http://cnn.com/2000/WORLD/europe/01/04/bc.warcrimes.nato.ap/