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Is the world going to be outraged now ?

18 Jun 1999 - Vincent Browne

"The world is going to be outraged", said William Cohen, the US Secretary for Defence, on Monday night. He was speaking of the emerging evidence of the mass slaughter of Kosovan Albanians by Serbian security forces. And it is likely that the world will indeed be outraged and justifiably so.

But what is it about the world's capacity for outrage, that, apparently, there is barely a tittle of outrage about another mass slaughter that has occurred over 79 days from March 24th last? A mass slaughter perpetrated, in the main, by forces under the control of Mr Cohen and of his boss, President Clinton. It was President Clinton who told on March 25th the about-to-be victims of that mass slaughter: "I cannot emphasise too strongly that the United States and our European allies have no quarrel with the Serbian people".

The following is a random catalogue of what Mr Clinton and his friends did to the people with whom he has "no quarrel":

March 24th: the first night of the bombing, hundreds of private houses were blown to bits in the vicinity of Leskovac.

March 29th: civilian areas of Pristina were bombed and so were water installations.

April 8th: 50 civilians were massacred when a passenger train was bombed in Klisura.

April 14th: 72 refugees were murdered and 35 injured, including many women and children, when a refugee convoy was attacked on a bridge by NATO planes between Djakovica and Prizren.

April 23rd: NATO planes bombed a television station in Belgrade and murdered 15 people.

April 27th: NATO bombs murdered 12 children and eight adults and injured 150 others in Surdulica.

May 3rd: NATO bombed a bus near Savine Vode and murdered 20 civilians.

May 14th: Nearly 100 ethnic Albanian civilians, mainly women, children and old people, were murdered when NATO dropped cluster bombs on them .

Several hundred civilians were murdered, maybe well over a thousand, by NATO forces. While NATO did not directly target these civilians, in conducting the aerial bombardment it undertook and with the kind of bombs it used, it was entirely foreseeable that a large number of innocent people would be killed.

For instance, in the case of the targeting of bridges that were used primarily by civilians, it is not enough to say that NATO was merely reckless as to the fate of civilians. NATO knowingly murdered these civilians. More than that. In the conduct of the bombing campaign, NATO targeted not just the military apparatus of Milosevic, it sought to devastate and did devastate the civilian infrastructure of Yugoslavia. Electricity power stations, water supplies, schools, hospitals, roads, bridges, train tracks, factories, offices and thousands of homes have been torn apart.

All this done to a people with whom there is "no quarrel". And there is no "world outrage", hardly any outrage at all. Even if it is accepted that the end was justified - and manifestly intervention to stop massacres and ethnic cleansing was justified - have we got to a stage whereby the morality of the end justifying the means is now universally endorsed? Are there no constraints on the means, not even questions of proportionality? In the campaign to "degrade" the Serbian military capacity, was it really necessary to target bridges which were being used in the normal course of daily life by millions of civilians?

Was it necessary to cut off power and water supplies to the people with whom there was "no quarrel", given how crucial such supplies are to the essentials of contemporary living? Was a campaign of bombardment from a very high altitude, with all the error to which such bombardment is prone, justified, when the inevitable consequence was to cause indiscriminate loss of life and physical devastation?

But more than that.

The intervention by NATO without the sanction of a UN mandate has had other potentially disastrous implications. It has had a further destabilising effect on Russian political society, igniting dangerous nationalist impulses within the world's second-largest nuclear power. There is the potentially explosive standoff with the Russian troops in Kosovo. China has also been enraged, as has much of the rest of the world. There is an apprehension that America, the sole remaining super-power, is about the establishment of an American world order under American law and American domination.

The Associated Press published on Saturday a catalogue of the number of people killed in various conflicts around the world in the last 20 years. The following are some of the highlights: Afghanistan: 2 million; Algeria: 75,000; Bosnia: 250,000; Burundi: 250,000; Chechyna 18,000-100,000; Colombia: 30,000; Guatemala: 200,000; Liberia: 150,000; Persian Gulf War 4,500-45,000; Rwanda: 500,000-800,000; Sierra Leone: 14,000; Sri Lanka 58,000; Sudan: 1.5 million-1.9 million.

By comparison, at most 10,000 have been killed in Kosovo and of this NATO has killed well over half (these include members of the Serbian security forces killed since March 24th). So what was it that caused the United States and its allies to intervene, in defiance of international law, in Kosovo, given that at the very most no more than 3,000 were killed there before the bombing began?

Why was nothing done to stop the catastrophic loss of life in Sudan or Rwanda? Why has the US done nothing or so little to stop the slaughter in Turkey or Colombia or Liberia?

Why did the US participate in the appalling carnage in Guatemala?

Why wasn't more effort made to reach a diplomatic solution to the Kosovo crisis before March 24th? Why were the Russians not involved from the outset in the proposed international military force that was to enter Kosovo with Yugoslavia's permission? Why were there terms in the Rambouillet Agreement that, manifestly, Yugoslavia could not accept and which were unnecessary to the humanitarian mission that supposedly was contemplated (that part which would have given NATO forces unrestricted rights throughout the whole territory of Yugoslavia)? On Thursday night last, President Clinton went on US television and spoke directly again to the Serbian people. He told them "you endured 79 days of bombing" all because of Mr Milosevic. Apparently it did not occur to him how outrageous it was to cause the Serbian people to endure 79 days of bombing because of the actions of someone over whom the Serbian people have no control (that is according to Mr Clinton himself).

Nor did it occur to him to offer even an expression of regret for the massacre, grief and devastation he had rained upon them, the people with whom he has no quarrel.

Return to the 'NATO Bombing - has it brought peace to the Balkans?' Alert.

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