Bombing Is Not The Answer

The ongoing threats of NATO air strikes against Serbia to end the Milosevic regime’s repression against Kosovo’s Albanian majority is a prime example of the wrong policy at the wrong time.

The cause is certainly just: The Serbian authorities have imposed an apartheid-style system on the country’s ethnic Albanian majority and have severely suppressed cultural and political rights. However, this suppression has been ongoing since Milosevic revoked Kosovo’s autonomy in 1989. Until a year ago, the Kosovars waged their struggle nonviolently, using strikes, boycotts, peaceful demonstrations, and alternative institutions–indeed, it was one of the most widespread, comprehensive and sustained nonviolent campaigns since Gandhi’s struggle for Indian independence earlier this century. However, the world chose to ignore the Kosovars’ nonviolent movement.

Only after a shadowy armed group known as the Kosovo Liberation Army emerged about a year ago did the world media, the Clinton Administration and other Western governments finally take notice.

By waiting for the emergence of a guerrilla group before seeking a solution, the West gave Slobodan Milosevic the opportunity to crack down with an even greater level of savagery than before. The delay has allowed the Kosovar movement to be taken over by armed ultra-nationalists who are far less ready to compromise or guarantee the rights of the Serbian minority in an autonomous or independent Kosovo.

It is a tragedy on which the West squandered a full eight years when preventative diplomacy could have worked. It has also given oppressed people around the world a very bad message: in order to get the West to pay attention to your plight, you need to take up arms.

There are problems with current NATO strategy that run deeper than its belated response to the problem.

The threatened bombing has led to the withdrawal of the unarmed OSCE monitors, which served as at least a partial deterrent to the worst Serb atrocities. As predicted, violence against the civilian population has dramatically increased with their departure. Unable to effectively challenged NATO air power, the Serbs will likely take their vengeance on the unarmed ethnic Albanian population should the bombing commence.

The root of the Kosovar crisis, as was the root of the Bosnian tragedy, is the extreme Serb ethno-nationalism that emerged from the collapse of Yugoslavia. The paranoid view of Serbia as a besieged, isolated, and threatened nation put forward by Milosevic and other Serbian demagogues has brought untold tragedy to a once peaceful–if mildly autocratic–multi-ethnic federated system. The best way to undermine such dangerous ideologues is through supporting the growth of a more pluralistic Serbian society, such as encouraging Serbia’s burgeoning pro-democracy movement.

Instead, the threat of military action only reinforces the Serb’s self-perception that they are a people under siege, playing right into the hands of Serbian ultranationalists.

Furthermore, as any authority on conflict resolution can attest, workable conflict resolution cannot come from a pre-packaged “settlement” imposed from the outside through threat of force. True conflict resolution can only come from the interested parties themselves. At best, an imposed Western formula on Kosovo will result in an uneasy truce in a badly divided society that will not heal the wounds, encourage democracy, or lead to real peace.

There are also questions about the Clinton administration’s motivations. One does not have to be a Serb apologist to wonder why the U.S. so forcefully pushes for the same rights for Kosovars in Serbia that they oppose for the similarly suppressed Kurds in Turkey. Indeed, the record of both the current and previous U.S. administrations of supporting repressive armies against occupied and indigenous peoples is scandalous.

This has led to uncharitable speculation that Clinton may be motivated less out of concern for human rights than by a desperate search for a post-cold war mission for NATO or perhaps even an effort to destroy what remains of Yugoslavia, one of the last European holdouts to an neo-liberal global order. This has prompted some on the American and European left to make an unfortunate alliance with Serbian ethno-fascists.

There are still other choices besides bombing and doing nothing.

There could be the deployment of a large-scale, unarmed multinational force to both monitor the situation and physically intervene to discourage bloodshed. Direct contact between the Albanian and Serbian communities within Kosovo could be facilitated to work out a settlement that would meet the legitimate needs of both. Greater support could be given to democratic forces within Serbia. A more creative and flexible, yet rigorous, enforcement of economic sanctions against Serbia could be imposed, as well as re-enforcing the arms embargo against both sides.

On the eve of a new century, the people of the United States and Europe should not be forced by their governments to choose between abandoning an entire people to terror and repression or the unwise utilization of military power.

The Role of Non-Violent Action in the Downfall of Apartheid

Against enormous odds, non-violent action proved to be a major factor in the downfall of apartheid in South Africa, and the establishment of a democratic black majority government, despite predictions that the transition could come only through a violent revolutionary cataclysm. This was largely the result of conditions working against a successful armed overthrow of the system, combined with the ability of the anti-apartheid opposition to take advantage of the system’s economic dependence on a cooperative black labour force. This article traces the history of nonviolent resistance to apartheid, its initial failures, and the return in the 1980s to a largely non-violent strategy which, together with international sanctions, forced the government to negotiate a peaceful transfer to majority rule.

The Role of Non-Violent Action in the Downfall of Apartheid
Journal of Modern African Studies, Vol. 37, No. 1 (Mar., 1999), pp. 137-169