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The Current Bombings
                        By Noam Chomsky
     There have been many inquiries concerning NATO (meaning primarily US)
bombing in Kosovo. A great deal has been written about the topic, including
Znet commentaries. I'd like to make a few general observations, keeping to
cts that are not seriously contested.

There are two fundamental issues: (1) What are the accepted and
applicable "rules of world order"? (2) How do
     these or other considerations apply in the case of Kosovo?

     (1) What are the accepted and applicable "rules of world order"?

     There is a regime of international law and international order,
binding on all states, based on the UN Charter and
     subsequent resolutions and World Court decisions. In brief, the threat
or use of force is banned unless explicitly
     authorized by the Security Council after it has determined that
peaceful means have failed, or in self-defense
     against "armed attack" (a narrow concept) until the Security Council

     There is, of course, more to say. Thus there is at least a tension, if
not an outright contradiction, between the rules
     of world order laid down in the UN Charter and the rights articulated
in the Universal Declaration of Human
     Rights (UD), a second pillar of the world order established under US
initiative after World War II. The Charter
     bans force violating state sovereignty; the UD guarantees the rights
of individuals against oppressive states. The
     issue of "humanitarian intervention" arises from this tension. It is
the right of "humanitarian intervention" that is
     claimed by the US/NATO in Kosovo, and that is generally supported by
editorial opinion and news reports (in the
     latter case, reflexively, even by the very choice of terminology).

     The question is addressed in a news report in the NY Times (March 27),
headlined "Legal Scholars Support Case
     for Using Force" in Kosovo (March 27). One example is offered: Allen
Gerson, former counsel to the US mission
     to the UN. Two other legal scholars are cited. One, Ted Galen
Carpenter, "scoffed at the Administration
     argument" and dismissed the alleged right of intervention. The third
is Jack Goldsmith, a specialist on international
     law at Chicago Law school. He says that critics of the NATO bombing
"have a pretty good legal argument," but
     "many people think [an exception for humanitarian intervention] does
exist as a matter of custom and practice."
     That summarizes the evidence offered to justify the favored conclusion
stated in the headline.

     Goldsmith's observation is reasonable, at least if we agree that facts
are relevant to the determination of "custom
     and practice." We may also bear in mind a truism: the right of
humanitarian intervention, if it exists, is premised on
     the "good faith" of those intervening, and that assumption is based
not on their rhetoric but on their record, in
     particular their record of adherence to the principles of
international law, World Court decisions, and so on. That is
     indeed a truism, at least with regard to others. Consider, for
example, Iranian offers to intervene in Bosnia to
     prevent massacres at a time when the West would not do so. These were
dismissed with ridicule (in fact, ignored);
     if there was a reason beyond subordination to power, it was because
Iranian "good faith" could not be assumed. A
     rational person then asks obvious questions: is the Iranian record of
intervention and terror worse than that of the
     US? And other questions, for example: How should we assess the "good
faith" of the only country to have vetoed a
     Security Council resolution calling on all states to obey
international law? What about its historical record? Unless
     such questions are prominent on the agenda of discourse, an honest
person will dismiss it as mere allegiance to
     doctrine. A useful exercise is to determine how much of the literature
-- media or other -- survives such

     elementary conditions as these.

     (2) How do these or other considerations apply in the case of Kosovo?

     There has been a humanitarian catastrophe in Kosovo in the past year,
overwhelmingly attributable to Yugoslav
     military forces. The main victims have been ethnic Albanian Kosovars,
some 90% of the population of this
     Yugoslav territory. The standard estimate is 2000 deaths and hundreds
of thousands of refugees.

     In such cases, outsiders have three choices:

          (I) try to escalate the catastrophe

          (II) do nothing

          (III) try to mitigate the catastrophe

     The choices are illustrated by other contemporary cases. Let's keep to
a few of approximately the same scale, and
     ask where Kosovo fits into the pattern.

     (A) Colombia. In Colombia, according to State Department estimates,
the annual level of political killing by the
     government and its paramilitary associates is about at the level of
Kosovo, and refugee flight primarily from their
     atrocities is well over a million. Colombia has been the leading
Western hemisphere recipient of US arms and
     training as violence increased through the '90s, and that assistance
is now increasing, under a "drug war" pretext
     dismissed by almost all serious observers. The Clinton administration
was particularly enthusiastic in its praise for
     President Gaviria, whose tenure in office was responsible for
"appalling levels of violence," according to human
     rights organizations, even surpassing his predecessors. Details are
readily available.

     In this case, the US reaction is (I): escalate the atrocities.

     (B) Turkey. By very conservative estimate, Turkish repression of Kurds
in the '90s falls in the category of Kosovo.
     It peaked in the early '90s; one index is the flight of over a million
Kurds from the countryside to the unofficial
     Kurdish capital Diyarbakir from 1990 to 1994, as the Turkish army was
devastating the countryside. 1994 marked
     two records: it was "the year of the worst repression in the Kurdish
provinces" of Turkey, Jonathan Randal
     reported from the scene, and the year when Turkey became "the biggest
single importer of American military
     hardware and thus the world's largest arms purchaser." When human
rights groups exposed Turkey's use of US
     jets to bomb villages, the Clinton Administration found ways to evade
laws requiring suspension of arms deliveries,
     much as it was doing in Indonesia and elsewhere.

     Colombia and Turkey explain their (US-supported) atrocities on grounds
that they are defending their countries
     from the threat of terrorist guerrillas. As does the government of

     Again, the example illustrates (I): try to escalate the atrocities.

     (C) Laos. Every year thousands of people, mostly children and poor
farmers, are killed in the Plain of Jars in
     Northern Laos, the scene of the heaviest bombing of civilian targets
in history it appears, and arguably the most
     cruel: Washington's furious assault on a poor peasant society had
little to do with its wars in the region. The worst
     period was from 1968, when Washington was compelled to undertake
negotiations (under popular and business
     pressure), ending the regular bombardment of North Vietnam.
Kissinger-Nixon then decided to shift the planes to
     bombardment of Laos and Cambodia.

     The deaths are from "bombies," tiny anti-personnel weapons, far worse
than land-mines: they are designed
     specifically to kill and maim, and have no effect on trucks,
buildings, etc. The Plain was saturated with hundreds of
     millions of these criminal devices, which have a failure-to-explode
rate of 20%-30% according to the manufacturer,
     Honeywell. The numbers suggest either remarkably poor quality control
or a rational policy of murdering civilians
     by delayed action. These were only a fraction of the technology
deployed, including advanced missiles to penetrate

     caves where families sought shelter. Current annual casualties from
"bombies" are estimated from hundreds a year
     to "an annual nationwide casualty rate of 20,000," more than half of
them deaths, according to the veteran Asia
     reporter Barry Wain of the Wall Street Journal -- in its Asia edition.
A conservative estimate, then, is that the crisis
     this year is approximately comparable to Kosovo, though deaths are far
more highly concentrated among children
     -- over half, according to analyses reported by the Mennonite Central
Committee, which has been working there
     since 1977 to alleviate the continuing atrocities.

     There have been efforts to publicize and deal with the humanitarian
catastrophe. A British-based Mine Advisory
     Group (MAG) is trying to remove the lethal objects, but the US is
"conspicuously missing from the handful of
     Western organisations that have followed MAG," the British press
reports, though it has finally agreed to train
     some Laotian civilians. The British press also reports, with some
anger, the allegation of MAG specialists that the
     US refuses to provide them with "render harmless procedures" that
would make their work "a lot quicker and a lot
     safer." These remain a state secret, as does the whole affair in the
United States. The Bangkok press reports a
     very similar situation in Cambodia, particularly the Eastern region
where US bombardment from early 1969 was
     most intense.

     In this case, the US reaction is (II): do nothing. And the reaction of
the media and commentators is to keep silent,
     following the norms under which the war against Laos was designated a
"secret war" -- meaning well-known, but
     suppressed, as also in the case of Cambodia from March 1969. The level
of self-censorship was extraordinary
     then, as is the current phase. The relevance of this shocking example
should be obvious without further comment.

     I will skip other examples of (I) and (II), which abound, and also
much more serious contemporary atrocities, such
     as the huge slaughter of Iraqi civilians by means of a particularly
vicious form of biological warfare -- "a very hard
     choice," Madeleine Albright commented on national TV in 1996 when
asked for her reaction to the killing of half a
     million Iraqi children in 5 years, but "we think the price is worth
it." Current estimates remain about 5000 children
     killed a month, and the price is still "worth it." These and other
examples might also be kept in mind when we read
     awed rhetoric about how the "moral compass" of the Clinton
Administration is at last functioning properly, as the
     Kosovo example illustrates.

     Just what does the example illustrate? The threat of NATO bombing,
predictably, led to a sharp escalation of
     atrocities by the Serbian Army and paramilitaries, and to the
departure of international observers, which of course
     had the same effect. Commanding General Wesley Clark declared that it
was "entirely predictable" that Serbian
     terror and violence would intensify after the NATO bombing, exactly as
happened. The terror for the first time
     reached the capital city of Pristina, and there are credible reports
of large-scale destruction of villages,
     assassinations, generation of an enormous refugee flow, perhaps an
effort to expel a good part of the Albanian
     population -- all an "entirely predictable" consequence of the threat
and then the use of force, as General Clark
     rightly observes.

     Kosovo is therefore another illustration of (I): try to escalate the
violence, with exactly that expectation.

     To find examples illustrating (III) is all too easy, at least if we
keep to official rhetoric. The major recent academic
     study of "humanitarian intervention," by Sean Murphy, reviews the
record after the Kellogg-Briand pact of 1928
     which outlawed war, and then since the UN Charter, which strengthened
and articulated these provisions. In the
     first phase, he writes, the most prominent examples of "humanitarian
intervention" were Japan's attack on

     Manchuria, Mussolini's invasion of Ethiopia, and Hitler's occupation
of parts of Czechoslovakia. All were
     accompanied by highly uplifting humanitarian rhetoric, and factual
justifications as well. Japan was going to
     establish an "earthly paradise" as it defended Manchurians from
"Chinese bandits," with the support of a leading
     Chinese nationalist, a far more credible figure than anyone the US was
able to conjure up during its attack on South
     Vietnam. Mussolini was liberating thousands of slaves as he carried
forth the Western "civilizing mission." Hitler
     announced Germany's intention to end ethnic tensions and violence, and
"safeguard the national individuality of the
     German and Czech peoples," in an operation "filled with earnest desire
to serve the true interests of the peoples
     dwelling in the area," in accordance with their will; the Slovakian
President asked Hitler to declare Slovakia a

     Another useful intellectual exercise is to compare those obscene
justifications with those offered for interventions,
     including "humanitarian interventions," in the post-UN Charter period.

     In that period, perhaps the most compelling example of (III) is the
Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia in December
     1978, terminating Pol Pot's atrocities, which were then peaking.
Vietnam pleaded the right of self-defense against
     armed attack, one of the few post-Charter examples when the plea is
plausible: the Khmer Rouge regime
     (Democratic Kampuchea, DK) was carrying out murderous attacks against
Vietnam in border areas. The US
     reaction is instructive. The press condemned the "Prussians" of Asia
for their outrageous violation of international
     law. They were harshly punished for the crime of having terminated Pol
Pot's slaughters, first by a (US-backed)
     Chinese invasion, then by US imposition of extremely harsh sanctions.
The US recognized the expelled DK as the
     official government of Cambodia, because of its "continuity" with the
Pol Pot regime, the State Department
     explained. Not too subtly, the US supported the Khmer Rouge in its
continuing attacks in Cambodia.

     The example tells us more about the "custom and practice" that
underlies "the emerging legal norms of
     humanitarian intervention."

     Despite the desperate efforts of ideologues to prove that circles are
square, there is no serious doubt that the
     NATO bombings further undermine what remains of the fragile structure
of international law. The US made that
     entirely clear in the discussions leading to the NATO decision. Apart
from the UK (by now, about as much of an
     independent actor as the Ukraine was in the pre-Gorbachev years), NATO
countries were skeptical of US policy,
     and were particularly annoyed by Secretary of State Albright's
"saber-rattling" (Kevin Cullen, Boston Globe, Feb.
     22). Today, the more closely one approaches the conflicted region, the
greater the opposition to Washington's
     insistence on force, even within NATO (Greece and Italy). France had
called for a UN Security Council resolution
     to authorize deployment of NATO peacekeepers. The US flatly refused,
insisting on "its stand that NATO should
     be able to act independently of the United Nations," State Department
officials explained. The US refused to
     permit the "neuralgic word `authorize'" to appear in the final NATO
statement, unwilling to concede any authority
     to the UN Charter and international law; only the word "endorse" was
permitted (Jane Perlez, NYT, Feb. 11).
     Similarly the bombing of Iraq was a brazen expression of contempt for
the UN, even the specific timing, and was
     so understood. And of course the same is true of the destruction of
half the pharmaceutical production of a small
     African country a few months earlier, an event that also does not
indicate that the "moral compass" is straying
     from righteousness -- not to speak of a record that would be
prominently reviewed right now if facts were

     considered relevant to determining "custom and practice."

     It could be argued, rather plausibly, that further demolition of the
rules of world order is irrelevant, just as it had lost
     its meaning by the late 1930s. The contempt of the world's leading
power for the framework of world order has
     become so extreme that there is nothing left to discuss. A review of
the internal documentary record demonstrates
     that the stance traces back to the earliest days, even to the first
memorandum of the newly-formed National
     Security Council in 1947. During the Kennedy years, the stance began
to gain overt expression. The main
     innovation of the Reagan-Clinton years is that defiance of
international law and the Charter has become entirely
     open. It has also been backed with interesting explanations, which
would be on the front pages, and prominent in
     the school and university curriculum, if truth and honesty were
considered significant values. The highest
     authorities explained with brutal clarity that the World Court, the
UN, and other agencies had become irrelevant
     because they no longer follow US orders, as they did in the early
postwar years.

     One might then adopt the official position. That would be an honest
stand, at least if it were accompanied by
     refusal to play the cynical game of self-righteous posturing and
wielding of the despised principles of international
     law as a highly selective weapon against shifting enemies.

     While the Reaganites broke new ground, under Clinton the defiance of
world order has become so extreme as to
     be of concern even to hawkish policy analysts. In the current issue of
the leading establishment journal, Foreign
     Affairs, Samuel Huntington warns that Washington is treading a
dangerous course. In the eyes of much of the
     world -- probably most of the world, he suggests -- the US is
"becoming the rogue superpower," considered "the
     single greatest external threat to their societies." Realist
"international relations theory," he argues, predicts that
     coalitions may arise to counterbalance the rogue superpower. On
pragmatic grounds, then, the stance should be
     reconsidered. Americans who prefer a different image of their society
might call for a reconsideration on other
     than pragmatic grounds.

     Where does that leave the question of what to do in Kosovo? It leaves
it unanswered. The US has chosen a
     course of action which, as it explicitly recognizes, escalates
atrocities and violence -- "predictably"; a course of
     action that also strikes yet another blow against the regime of
international order, which does offer the weak at
     least some limited protection from predatory states. As for the longer
term, consequences are unpredictable. One
     plausible observation is that "every bomb that falls on Serbia and
every ethnic killing in Kosovo suggests that it will
     scarcely be possible for Serbs and Albanians to live beside each other
in some sort of peace" (Financial Times,
     March 27). Some of the longer-term possible outcomes are extremely
ugly, as has not gone without notice.

     A standard argument is that we had to do something: we could not
simply stand by as atrocities continue. That is
     never true. One choice, always, is to follow the Hippocratic
principle: "First, do no harm." If you can think of no
     way to adhere to that elementary principle, then do nothing. There are
always ways that can be considered.
     Diplomacy and negotiations are never at an end.

     The right of "humanitarian intervention" is likely to be more
frequently invoked in coming years -- maybe with
     justification, maybe not -- now that Cold War pretexts have lost their
efficacy. In such an era, it may be
     worthwhile to pay attention to the views of highly respected
commentators -- not to speak of the World Court,
     which explicitly ruled on this matter in a decision rejected by the
United States, its essentials not even reported.

     In the scholarly disciplines of international affairs and
international law it would be hard to find more respected
     voices than Hedley Bull or Leon Henkin. Bull warned 15 years ago that
"Particular states or groups of states that
     set themselves up as the authoritative judges of the world common
good, in disregard of the views of others, are in
     fact a menace to international order, and thus to effective action in
this field." Henkin, in a standard work on world
     order, writes that the "pressures eroding the prohibition on the use
of force are deplorable, and the arguments to
     legitimize the use of force in those circumstances are unpersuasive
and dangerous... Violations of human rights are
     indeed all too common, and if it were permissible to remedy them by
external use of force, there would be no law
     to forbid the use of force by almost any state against almost any
other. Human rights, I believe, will have to be
     vindicated, and other injustices remedied, by other, peaceful means,
not by opening the door to aggression and
     destroying the principle advance in international law, the outlawing
of war and the prohibition of force."

     Recognized principles of international law and world order, solemn
treaty obligations, decisions by the World Court,
     considered pronouncements by the most respected commentators -- these
do not automatically solve particular
     problems. Each issue has to be considered on its merits. For those who
do not adopt the standards of Saddam
     Hussein, there is a heavy burden of proof to meet in undertaking the
threat or use of force in violation of the
     principles of international order. Perhaps the burden can be met, but
that has to be shown, not merely proclaimed
     with passionate rhetoric. The consequences of such violations have to
be assessed carefully -- in particular, what
     we understand to be "predictable." And for those who are minimally
serious, the reasons for the actions also have
     to be assessed -- again, not simply by adulation of our leaders and
their "moral compass." _

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