No Excuse for NATO's Bombing of Civilians
Atlantic City Press, May 28, 1999
Knight-Ridder/Tribune Media Services, May 25, 1999
"This is a coward's war," said a French reporter covering the bombing in Yugoslavia, using a phrase that has been gaining currency in Europe.
It's true. There are no good guys in this conflict. It's really a disgrace to our military, too-- dropping bombs from three miles high and showing the whole world that civilian life on the ground is so cheap that NATO is willing to blow hundreds of innocent people to shreds, in order to maintain a "zero risk" policy for its own forces.
Perhaps that is why the American Legion, a conservative organization of 2.9 million veterans, has called for an immediate withdrawal of U.S. forces from the Balkans.
The "collateral damage" is piling up, in the form of mangled and twisted bodies buried under wreckage exploded by NATO's bombs. Last week these bombs struck a hospital, killing four and wounding at least a dozen, including two women struck by flying glass as they were giving birth.
It was the second time in less than two weeks that NATO hit a hospital. The previous bombing of a hospital and outdoor market killed 15 people and wounded 70. Cluster bombs, which spit out thousands of pieces of shrapnel in all directions, were dropped on a residential neighborhood in Nis, Serbia's third largest city.
Even if one believes that our government is motivated by humanitarian concerns-- which takes some imagination-- there is no excuse for bombing civilians. It is no defense to say that wedid not drop these bombs for the specific purpose of murdering civilians. In American law, you are held criminally responsible for the likely consequences of your actions.
It is really only the support of the media that has allowed these atrocities to go on for so long without provoking overwhelming revulsion among Americans. Despite some excellent reporting by individual journalists such as the New York Times' Steven Erlanger, most of the news that reaches most of the public-- on TV-- is little more than government propaganda.
This deterioration in the media's standards of objectivity once the F-16s have taken off is a serious problem. It gives our leaders an added incentive to bomb first and negotiate later. A recent study by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting found that only five percent of the sources on ABC's Nightline, for example, were critics of the bombing -- and no Americans other than Serbian-Americans were among them. This is clearly not representative of public opinion, which is very divided, nor even of our elected officials: a resolution to support the air strikes was voted down by the U.S. House of Representatives on April 29.
Most Americans are avoiding this war as much as they can, as one ignores the stench from a sewer, hoping it will go away with a shift in the winds. But many Europeans are reaching their limit. The Italian government has now joined the Greek government in calling for a halt to the bombing. In Greece, there have been massive and regular demonstrations of as many as a million people-- in a country of ten million-- against the war.
Chancellor Gerhard Schroder of Germany has drawn the line at ground troops, stating firmly that Germany will not participate. He is responding to widespread disgust with the war inside his own party, as well as his coalition partner, the Greens. The Greens' conference two weeks ago called for a halt in the bombing, and much of the party was ready to topple the government over the issue. Europe's largest labor union, the German I.G. Metall, has also taken a stand against the war.
Should we expect a higher standard of respect for human life from the Clinton administration than from the Milosevic administration? Most people would say yes, but it has not been forthcoming. Although Yugoslav military and paramilitary forces have probably killed more civilians than NATO has since the bombing began, the order of magnitude is similar. No honest international tribunal could prosecute Milosevic for crimes committed in this war without also indicting the leaders of NATO.
President Clinton claims that NATO's terms for ending the war "are simply what is required for the Kosovars to go home and live in peace." Is that so? Is it required that the bombing continue until Yugoslav troops are withdrawn, or could NATO stop the bombing in order to negotiate? Does a peacekeeping force have to be controlled by NATO, or could it be more neutral?
It is doubtful that the Kosovars, who are paying the price in homelessness and hunger for "NATO's credibility," would want to hold out for the unconditional surrender that the Clinton administration is demanding.
Mark Weisbrot is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, in Washington, D.C. and president of Just Foreign Policy. He is also the author of the forthcoming book Failed: What the "Experts" Got Wrong About the Global Economy (Oxford University Press, 2015).