Andrei Sakharov, 1987

ASF Archive Documents


Elena Bonner expresses her views on the Kosovo crisis and the policies of NATO in an article she wrote May 27, 1999.

On May 22, The New York Times published an Op-Ed article by the President of the United States, William Jefferson Clinton. This was no trivial matter. The President's article was clearly an attempt to rally public opinion in the face of the administration's concern about the course of the war in Yugoslavia.

The President again explains that Slobodan Milosevic is guilty of ordering the murder and expulsion of Kosovar Albanians, which justifies NATO's use of whatever means, including military means, to stop him. The article argues that this is a just war undertaken for humanitarian ends and in defense of human rights. At first glance, this seems a persuasive argument.

In the world today, there is general agreement that human rights, at least in theory, are universal. But then doubts arise. Why hasn't NATO launched a similar humanitarian action in defense of the Kurds living in Turkey, who have been subjected for many years to systematic genocide? Why didn't NATO attempt, at least by diplomatic means, to defend the population of Chechnya when they were attacked from the air and on the ground by the Russian army from December 1994 through August 1996? Indeed, in 1995, in the midst of the war in Chechnya, the heads of NATO countries attended a parade in Moscow and thus gave tacit support to a state conducting genocide. These and other examples of a double standard have, from the very beginning, called into question the professed humanitarian purpose of the war against Yugoslavia.

Moreover, the article doesn't mention that Americans were promised a short, victorious war. Secretary of State Albright spoke about a few days of bombing, which, she was convinced, would lead to the fall of the Milosevic regime. Assurances were also given that the civilian population would not be affected: only military targets would be attacked.

Now, after two months of fierce bombing, Serbia's infrastructure is in ruins. Electric power stations, oil storage tanks, bridges, passenger trains, intercity buses, a refugee convoy, the Chinese embassy, a prison, a hospital, rural villages and hundreds of other civilian objects with little or no military significance have been damaged. Many of the ten million inhabitants of Serbia lack running water, a working sewer system, public transportation, regular supplies of food, medical assistance and other necessities of life. The number of casualties is unknown, but with such extensive bombing of towns and cities, you can be sure that there have been thousands of civilian victims.

Once the damage caused by this war becomes widely known, anti-Americanism, which is unfortunately traditional even for many members of NATO, will be reinforced. And Americans themselves will begin to feel the financial consequences of the war when it forces a significant jump in government spending.

In Russia, the war has provoked a sharp increase in anti-NATO and anti-American sentiment, which may lead to renewed militarization of the economy, dashing what hope remains for liberal reforms. And the current mood in Russia can only have a negative influence on the Duma elections scheduled for December, providing new support for the anti-Western, anti-democratic propaganda of our National-Bolsheviks.

And what of the Kosovars themselves? Before the war began there were 400,000 refugees, a substantial number. Now there are twice as many, and it is anticipated that the total will soon exceed one million refugees. Many of the homes of these refugees have been destroyed by Serbian forces, while NATO bombing has damaged the infrastructure in Kosovo just as in Serbia proper.

The water-supply system is no longer working in Kosovo's capital city Pristina. It is unlikely that the refugees will return to Kosovo before winter comes. How can aid organizations feed and care for so many unemployed people? Will all the refugees even want to return to their ruined homes?

NATO's bombs have not increased the Serbs' affection for Albanians, and the Albanians are unlikely to forget in the coming decades what they have suffered at the hands of Serbs. Now, the indictment of Milosevic as a war criminal will complicate peace negotiations. Is revenge more important than saving lives?

The problem of repatriation is always difficult. The only real incentive for the return of the refugees would be a partition of Kosovo, with the northern region attached to Serbia and the Albanian Kosovars free to determine the future of the southern region. But this is the unwanted outcome much feared by the NATO alliance.

There can be no good ending to this war, and like all wars, it can only result in tragic losses. All these issues President Clinton left out of his article "A Just and Necessary War."

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