THE GLOBE AND MAIL, Wednesday, April 21, 1999 COMMENTARY p. A13
NATO's unjust war
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
Is this a just war on those grounds? It is not.
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