An account of the Yugoslav War written by by Jan Marijnissen and Karel Glastra van Loon
Jan Marijnissen is leader of the Socialist Party of the Netherlands (SP)
Karel Glastra van Loon was a novelist and journalist, closely associated with the SP, who has died, at the age of only 43, since this book was published in the original Dutch. His best known work in English was The Passion Fruit
The Last War of the 20th Century - Chapter 12
May 7, 2008 15:37 | by Jan Marijnissen and Karel Glastra van Loon
Europe saves the world (not)
There are people whom one convinces with towering gestures, but whom with arguments one makes suspicious.
On 29th November 1999 Minister of Defence Frank de Grave and his colleague from Foreign Affairs Jozias van Aartsen issued the 'Defensienota 2000', the defence memorandum for the coming year. A mistake was evident in the voluminous section dealing with the future of the national army. In a separate letter to parliament's lower house dated 8th December, this error was corrected: the latter part of the sentence, 'The government is strongly attached to having a good basis in international law for military actions, but in the end puts humanity before sovereignty' would have to be scrapped. No information was divulged as to the background to this amendment, but the most probable reason for it was that fortunately the cabinet was not willing to adopt this brief summary of the the thoughts of De Grave and Van Aartsen as representing its own collective opinion.
The new world order which the two ministers had in mind, and which to a great extent was based on NATO's actions in Kosovo, is for many reasons undesirable. In the foregoing chapters various people from a range of different disciplines have given their strongly critical views of the actions of the western countries in the Yugoslavia crisis. We have, moreover, on the basis of a reconstruction of the wars in Kosovo and in Bosnia, shown how limited in efficacy NATO's military actions have been. We will now try to make visible the coherence which unites these various critical points, and from this to draw a number of conclusions regarding the new world order, or whatever remains of it. We will, furthermore, dwell on the important question of whether, if we do not favour opening the way to military humanitarian interventions, what can we do instead to help to reduce the number of humanitarian tragedies in the world? Because nothing provides such fertile ground for violence and terror as does indifference.
In the Amnesty International magazine Wordt vervolgd! of December 1999, Van Aartsen attempted to set out his vision of the new world order. His 'essay' on 'humanitarian intervention' was in fact a brief summary of his speech before the United Nations General Assembly (see Part 1, Chapter 9). And just as was the case for the speech, this article was full of rhetoric about what was happening in the world today, with far-reaching suggestions regarding how it should be otherwise - without a moment's reflection on what the consequences might be if these suggestions were indeed taken up. A few examples.
The minister writes: 'Must we stand idly by as ethnic cleansing, and even genocide, take place because to intercede would perhaps be in conflict with international law? Of course not'
The minister here suggests that international law under all circumstances advocates passivity, even if there is the likelihood of genocide. This is incorrect. The UN Charter in fact makes it obligatory for countries to act whenever such a possibility exists. But, and this is still worse, the minister further suggests that international law need not be taken all that seriously, that it is something which you can adhere to or not, as you wish. Such an attitude begs questions. What or who is the 'international community' without 'international law'. Who decides on this? Who then decides whether there is a possibility of 'ethnic cleansing, and even genocide', so that military intervention can be justified? And who decides to engage militarily? With whom lies the responsibility for this decision? Who ensures that there is no likelihood of a double agenda, and that rather than combating alleged systematic abuse of human rights, other strategic goals are not being pursued by means of military intervention in another country? To answer each of these questions is precisely why international law was created.
Yet the rhetoric goes still further. 'Because it surely cannot be,' the minister writes, 'that the crimes committed in the killing fields of Cambodia, Rwanda and Yugoslavia can be prosecuted after the event, but that the world community cannot take action against them earlier than that. International law without justice is no law.'
Let's just stop and take a closer look at the example of Rwanda. An estimated 800,000 people were slaughtered there in an appalling civil war. Everyone remembers the horrifying pictures. But where was the international community, where was the Netherlands, then? By January 1994 a flood of warnings was arriving at the United Nations. But it was only in April that the organised mass slaughter began. On 29th April, by which time the full extent of the atrocities had long been clear, the United States and Britain refused to support a proposal from the incumbent chair of the Security Council, the New Zealander Colin Keating, to recognise that 'genocide' was occurring, though such a recognition would have made it possible for the UN to act. The British representative at the United Nations went so far as to assert that such a declaration would open the Security Council to ridicule. In a report published in December 1999, written at the behest of Kofi Annan, who at the time was responsible for all UN peacekeeping missions, former Swedish premier Ingvar Carlsson concluded that the United Nations, and above all the Security Council, held joint responsibility for the bloody genocide in Rwanda. It was thus in this case not international law which stood in the way of a timely intervention, but the unwillingness of two major powers - by coincidence precisely the same two major powers which had cried loudest in the case of Kosovo that military intervention was absolutely necessary. It is of course possible that conclusions were drawn from the events in Rwanda, conclusions which pointed to the assertion 'never again'. But is not more likely that this example demonstrates how opportunistic in reality the 'international community' is in its weighing up such events?
And Van Aartsen now asserts that we should have intervened militarily, in Rwanda, but also in Cambodia? Should the Netherlands then have supplied troops? Would we then have established a UN protectorate, just as in Bosnia and Kosovo? To none of these questions did the minister give an answer. And that is, indeed, understandable (it would have put him in an awkward predicament, given how big the Dutch armed forces would have to become if we really did want to play the policeman in the entire world), but equally unforgivable for someone who bears so great a responsibility and who is unfolding such ambitious ideas for the future.
The idea that 'international law without justice is no law' is an expression with which no-one can find fault. But what does it mean in combination with what is written before this? Does it mean that the 'world community' (once again, as to who or what that is, if not the United Nations which according to international law is so designated, the minister has nothing to say) must act sooner, because otherwise there is no question of justice? And just when is that then - 'sooner'?
One last quotation: 'The evolution of the concept of sovereignty,' the minister states, ' does not end with this. In a globalising world we have not only to deal with the abuse of human rights. Consider also dilapidated nuclear power stations, mass deforestation, shortage of water, large-scale production of narcotics, or the so-called "failed state". Must politicians sit and watch until the calamity is truly a fact? Or do they have the duty to take preventative action? The question is apposite. But who will give it a definitive answer?'
Here the minister is once more repeating his speech before the UN. Even if he has not yet written it, Van Aartsen's answer to his own rhetorical question is clear: politicians must not sit around until a calamity has occurred. They have the duty to take preventative action. And you do not have to take this line of reasoning to its most absurd conclusions, as Noam Chomsky did in Chapter 9, to see that it's crazy. Because what would it involve? That we would send soldiers to Indonesia to protect the poor farmers of Borneo from the burning of their forests to create arable farmland? That we invade Russia because nuclear power stations there do not comply with the latest demands? One concrete example of where this sort of policy would in practice lead we have already seen, when the Netherlands gave the Americans the right to conduct war against the cocaine farmers of Colombia from the Dutch Antilles, in order to do something about 'the large-scale production of narcotics.' According to expert analysts, Colombia has since threatened to become a second Vietnam.
Where are these wise thoughts of the minister leading to in concrete terms? In his article he writes that he wants three things: the Netherlands Advisory Committee on International Public Law and the Netherlands Advisory Council on International Affairs to write a common advisory note on military intervention in the absence of Security Council authorisation, and for it to organise in addition an international seminar, and finally - and this is politically the only one of his wishes which is relevant - to open for discussion the right of veto of the five permanent Security Council members, because this right is an 'anachronism'.
As the result of the 'doctrine of humanitarian intervention' launched by the minister, this one concrete proposal is of course rather slender, but it is moreover open to question whether this proposal itself is all that intelligent. Naturally, at first sight it appears sympathetic and also democratic: why should the United States, Russia, France, the United Kingdom and China, after all, have the right to impose their will on the United Nations in matters of peace and security? For this reason only: that the most significant result of the abolition of the right of veto in the current period would be that the Security Council would marginalise itself. Because it is of course not for nothing that these five major countries, each of which has nuclear weapons at its disposal, have been allotted the right of veto. This has everything to do with their exceptionally great political, sometimes economic and in each case military power. None of these countries would accept a declaration from the Security Council which went against the national interest of the state in question. Should these countries lose, therefore, their right of veto, what would be instigated would either be the life-threatening situation in which a decision by a majority of the Security Council meant that the major powers affected would find themselves in direct opposition to the minority, and that they would then find themselves in conflict with each other, or the decisions of the Security Council would be regarded as unimportant and pushed to one side, so that the body would no longer mean anything. As a result the only podium on which the major powers currently speak to each other, the only place also where geopolitical developments can be seriously discussed, would disappear. It is therefore certainly not in the interest of world peace to treat the possibilities offered by this Council light-heartedly, or to speak about it in denigrating terms.
Yet within the Dutch government it is evident that things are seen differently. That is not so astonishing, because the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia took place, as we have seen, without the approval of the Security Council. Russia and China had from the beginning major objections to the way in which the West, (for which read the NATO countries) was operating in the Kosovo crisis. They were unwilling therefore to give their approval to NATO military action. For NATO, and therefore also for the Netherlands, this turned out, however, not to be any reason to decide not to conduct such actions. On the contrary. The attack was now in a sense directed at the Security Council itself, while at the same time attempts were made to justify in international law the right to intervene on one's own count and to do so wherever this might be judged necessary, including therefore beyond the NATO states' own territory.
This change in the attitude of the Netherlands in relation to the Security Council was rapid. On10th August 1998 Van Aartsen could still write the following in answer to a question from two Labour MPs, Bert Koenders and Gerrit Valk: 'The Netherlands' standpoint is that a Security Council resolution must be in place as the basis for military intervention.' Not six months later this standpoint has been exchanged for its opposite. In the Kosovo crisis a go-it-alone Western approach was preferred to cooperation within the Security Council.
The Secretary General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, has on a number of occasions expressed an extremely negative reaction to this development. He is seriously concerned about the constantly growing number of military actions by the United States, whether or not in cooperation with other powers: the rocket attack on Sudan, the persistent bombing of Iraq, the bombing of Afghanistan - with each American bomb becoming a foundation stone taken from beneath the fragile home of international dialogue within the UN. The Pax Americana is increasingly taking shape. The United States is no longer merely playing the role of international police officer, but sees itself in addition as the prosecutor of anyone who departs from the American norm, as the judge who sets the punishment, and as the one to impose this punishment - as judge, jury and executioner rolled into one. And all of this without the least concern for what the long term consequences might be.
Michael Gorbachev, the last president of the Soviet Union, said the following about this at the time of NATO's action against Yugoslavia:
'This war demonstrates that the United States, which plays an authoritative role in NATO, is prepared not only to ignore the norms of international law, but also to impose its own norms on the world with regard to international relations. In fact the United States, in determining these norms, allows itself to be led by its own national interests and only takes account of the United Nations when the decisions and actions of the UN serve the interests of the United States.'
It must also be noted that the United States is the only country in the world capable of exercising financial blackmail over the United Nations, using its contribution as collateral. Of the 188 countries currently members of the UN and signatories to its Charter, the United States is by far and away the country with the biggest backlog of unpaid levies. The UN's claim against the US amounts at the moment to around a billion dollars, enough to pay the annual costs of the UN secretariat plus the costs connected with its peacekeeping operations. The US is prepared to pay this debt if first a number of things within the UN are changed in a manner which the Americans find desirable.
Now of course there is much to criticise about the United Nations: the slowness, the lack of efficiency, the financial waste, the limited power of the General Assembly, the dominant role of the Security Council, and the sometimes roundly cynical attitudes which prevail. But for the time being the United Nations is all we have. The world community has no other platform on which to discuss questions of war and peace than the UN. We must therefore make the best use we can of this institution and oppose all those persons and all those countries which undermine and ridicule the authority of the UN. The UN Charter includes a number of extremely useful moral anchors for international relations, amongst which is the ban on aggression, and even for the relationship between state and citizen. Responsible states might be expected to know the value of international law, but this can alas not be said of the United States and the other NATO countries. If we look at their actions in the Kosovo crisis, we can only conclude that these damaged both the interests of the UN, and international law itself. M. Bos, Professor emeritus in international law at the University of Utrecht and Vice-President van de International Law Association, has the following to say about this:
A characteristic of the law is that it sets limits. The UN Charter does that in a way which is abundantly clear. Transgressing these limits means placing yourself outside of the law of the UN. Appealing to human rights along the way as grounds for justification for conducting a military intervention does not in itself exempt you from this. Such an appeal - assuming that this is de jure possible - can only succeed if the human right in question is enforced and the means of doing so are permissible under general international law. As for the first of these conditions, human rights can indeed be universal, but they do not have an 'absolute' effect... One always has to ask oneself what are the role of and prospects for the human right cited and what in the given circumstances is or could be just. From an historical perspective justice has never been anything other than "what works". This must be the guiding principle of all implementation of human rights... The second point, the permissibility of the means, requires us to look into their proportionality. I have seen no analysis of this principle applied to the question of Kosovo.
As our Russian interviewees in Chapter 8 of Part 1 of this book admitted, the fact that the NATO countries had placed themselves outside UN law also had direct consequences for discussions with other countries on the question of what should or should not be allowed in the world. Many people have reacted with indignation to how the Russians have conducted their war against the Chechen rebels, but no proper discussion of this could be held, neither in the Security Council, nor in the OESC conference in Istanbul. One single reference to Kosovo was, for the Russians, sufficient for them to justify their assertion that they did not want to pass any responsibility on to the world community, simply declaring that this was an internal matter to do with nothing more than bandits and terrorists.
Precisely how extensive will be the consequences of the illegal actions of NATO in relation to the Kosovo question cannot yet be assessed. But that they will be exceptionally serious is already certain. Now NATO has been transformed from a security organisation to a sort of international intervention force of the rich west, the question is no longer whether new 'Kosovos' will arrive but simply when. After all, just as in the Netherlands has been demonstrated with the Light-Mobile Brigade and the mission to Srebrenica, the simple fact of the existence of an intervention force can mean that politicians - whether or not under pressure from public opinion - may decide more quickly to send troops to a centre of conflict.
The European Union, which is developing increasingly in the direction of a political union, is currently hard at work on its Common Foreign and Security Policy. In order to render decision-making within this framework more effective, there are moves to give the European Commission more powers. For this reason NATO ex-Secretary-General Javier Solana, whom we already know well from the Kosovo crisis, has been appointed as the first High Representative for the Common Foreign Policy of the European Union. Further, there are those who would abolish the right of veto enjoyed by the separate member states and move to a regime governed by qualified majority voting. As indicated above in discussing the Security Council, the abolition of the right of veto could have serious consequences and in the end turn out even to be counterproductive. Within Europa equally, the major countries will never allow the law to be prescribed by any supranational body whatsoever. And certainly not in relation to so important and, when it comes to the national interest, so sensitive a point as foreign policy.
There are nevertheless moves to proceed further along this path. What's even worse is that, anticipating the possibility of a true, allegedly effective common foreign policy, there is a desire to work on a European Security and Defence Identity (ESDI), a sort of Euro-army. No longer are Europe's leaders willing to be dependent in every respect on the US. They are demanding their own role in the geopolitical game. Europe must speak with one voice, and become more credible. The quote from Joris Voorhoeve, cited in the preceding chapter, shows how this credibility will be fleshed out: by providing major military adventures. And so a military arm must be added to the body of the common foreign policy.
Now we would be the last ones to say that we were happy with NATO, or certainly with the role of the United States in the alliance. But what is bizarre is that this Euro-army will not replace NATO, but supplement it. The intention is decidedly to continue with NATO, but in addition, as European countries, to make use of NATO resources - and if necessary quite apart from NATO to have a military capacity entirely their own on top of these resources. And, as we said earlier, more military potential - certainly in combination with ambitious politicians (by which we here mean politicians who want Europe to be make an impact in the world) - will provide more dangerous examples of exaggerated self-esteem.
In addition to enhancing the credibility of Europe's foreign policy, the ESDI will also have to provide 'the solution to conflicts on Europe's periphery' - a matter also currently spoken about quite openly. Where this periphery ends did not long remain a secret. The Caucasus is generally seen as a region in which a European military presence is most certainly a possibility. To begin with Europe may establish a permanent presence in Kosovo, where the Eurocorps - in which Germany, France, Spain, Belgium and Luxembourg are already cooperating militarily - will for six months, beginning in April 2000, assume the leadership of KFOR. The Eurocorps can, just as did the Western European Union and the Anglo-French cooperation agreed at the French resort of St. Malo, be seen as one of the forerunners of the Euro-army. All of these initiatives will feed into this.
European business has now understood well enough the new possibilities offered by all of this. Manfred Bischoff, Chairman of the Board of Directors of DASA, said on 3rd February 1998, 'Give us a vision. Politicians must answer some obvious questions: Where does Europe want to go? What does Europe expect from high technology, from its defence industry? What products should be made?' In other words, Bischoff sensed that there was, after years of malaise resulting from the end of the Cold War, once again big money to be made by the war industry. The Clingendael Institute, also known as the Netherlands Institute for International Relations, published an essay on the Euro-army in December 1999 in which it said that 'From a military point of view numerous additional exertions are needed, which will demand billions of Euros.' The defence budget of the various European countries offers little space for this, so that carrying out all of these fine plans in reality would mean a huge increase in these budgets in the immediate future. The Clingendael Institute's researchers warn above all of European shortcomings when it comes to high technology, writing that:
Precisely because politicians make such exacting demands for the minimalisation of the number of civilian victims and the maximalisation of the pilots' security, high-value technology fulfils a crucial role.... Without American planes, equipped for electronic warfare... no combat mission could be carried out. No European country has available an in-flight ground-target surveillance system. Bad weather imposes serious limits on the carrying-out of air-raids by most European countries.
At the European Summit in Keulen on 3rd and 4th June 1999, it was then also decided that a 'substantial industrial and technological basis, a competitive and dynamic European defence industry' must be created. At the Helsinki Summer in December of the same year this decision was once more confirmed and further concretised: in 2003 the EU member states must have ready a total of 200,000 soldiers, so that at any time within sixty days 60,000 soldiers could be sent abroad for a lengthy period of time. More cooperation would be necessary, and gaps in organisation, armaments and instruments to enable the gathering of data must be addressed. And this would cost money. Defence Minister Frank De Grave: 'The cost comes before the benefit: you first have to invest. After years of economies the financial space for this is lacking. It is time to make up the European bill.' Manfred Bischoff can thus sleep easily. But who else can do so?
There remains one more aspect of the desire of the EU countries to demand 'armed and therefore credible' space on the geopolitical playing field. If you want new space, you can only have it at the cost of another. And that simple fact leads to tensions, dangerous tensions. Were not both world wars after all violent expressions of the will to bring about a new division of spheres of influence? The Clingendael researchers have this to say about this: 'Tensions between the US and the European allies over the extent and direction of European defence cooperation are unavoidable.'
But there is more. Within the US Congress a more isolationist course is increasingly supported, one independent of Europe. The United States determination to develop a space-based defence shield is undiminished, despite the fact that this is in conflict with the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. But on the economic front as well, friction between the US and Europe is growing. Accusations time and again over a more than alleged protection of each bloc's economic interest grow exponentially. And to these will be added the growth of European economic and monetary force now that the Euro will be competing with the dollar. Add to these the political ambitions of an EU becoming ever bigger and more powerful on the world stage, and you can only conclude that all of the ingredients for a future clash are in place.