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Peace from Above

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Issue: 35 Section: Media Analysis Geography: Europe Yugoslavia Topics: Balkans War

March 22, 2006

Peace from Above

The final article in a five-part series on the former Yugoslavia

by Dru Oja Jay

[ Part one | Part two | Part three | Part four | Part five ]

An oil refinery destroyed by NATO bombs.

A crater left by a NATO bomb near a school.

A mother and child killed in the bombing.

A refugee killed en route by NATO bombs.

Houses destroyed by NATO bombs.

Belgrade burning after a night bombing raid.
In 1999, NATO planes dropped twenty thousand tonnes of bombs on targets in the former Yugoslavia, killing upwards of 3,000 human beings and injuring thousands more. Targets included power plants, hospitals, industrial infrastructure, schools, churches, historic sites, water and sewage facilities, apartment buildings, temporary housing for refugees, traveling refugees, the state television station, bridges, and socially-owned, worker-run factories. Michael Parenti, Jeremey Scahill and others have noted that buildings owned by multinational corporations remained curiously unscathed, though the Chinese Embassy was levelled by NATO bombs. One and a half tonnes of depleted uranium munitions were used in attacks. Cluster bombs were used. Bombing also resulted in the incineration of 80,000 tonnes of crude oil in a heavily populated area, and the contamination of the Danube river with hundreds of tonnes of toxic chemicals.

NATO planes, it was reported, often waited fifteen minutes after bombing a target before hitting it again, killing rescue workers.

Canada participated in the bombing, though neither the public nor parliament were consulted in the decision.

NATO's bombing campaign continues to be dubbed a "humanitarian intervention" against Serbian forces, allegedly bent on the wholesale slaughter of innocent Muslims and Croats.

"This is America at its best. We seek no territorial gain. We seek no political advantage," President Clinton told television viewers.

The stated reason for the bombing was to force Serbian leaders to sign the Rambouillet agreement, which called for the unconditional NATO occupation of the whole of Yugoslavia. The "agreement," which most observers say was simply an ultimatum, would have empowered a NATO-designated official to "issue binding directives" to the governments of Yugoslavia and Kosovo. According to a source quoted by George Kenney, US State Department officials bragged that the US had "deliberately set the bar higher than the Serbs would accept." While the Rambouillet document nominally sought autonomy for ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, the Americans seemed to make several assumptions about what the Albanians would do with their autonomy. Among other things, the agreement called for a "free-market economy" in Kosovo and the privatization of all government-owned assets.

Writing in the Guardian, Neil Clark notes that "NATO only destroyed 14 tanks, but 372 industrial facilities were hit--including the Zastava car plant [known for its production of the 'Yugo'] at Kragujevac, leaving hundreds of thousands jobless. Not one foreign or privately owned factory was bombed."

In other news, Clark reports that Kosovo's Trepca mine complex--estimated to be worth $5 billion, and called "war's glittering prize" by the New York Times--was seized by 2,900 NATO troops, who used tear gas and rubber bullets to take it over. Now held "in trust" by the UN, the mine has largely been sold off to foreign investors and firms.

Reporting of this kind lends a degree of credibility to an account like that of Michael Parenti, who maintains that Yugoslavia was dismantled and attacked because it refused to submit to western interests and privatize its industry in the manner imposed on the rest of post-communist eastern Europe. (Parenti is hardly unique in holding this view, however. Former State Department official George Kenney and retired US Air Force Colonel Allan Parrington have both come to a very similar conclusion independently.) That the standard of living in such countries has declined significantly, while unemployment, crime and inequality have risen across the board seems to be little more than a footnote to official accounts.

What political agenda is the media serving by demonizing Serbs and Milosevic in particular? Is it because, as a diverse set of observers suggest, that the Serbs were demonized and bombed for having put up the toughest resistance to the imposition of a privatized free-market economy?

If and when there is a real debate in Canada about the Yugoslavian civil war, perhaps an explanation will emerge that accounts for the facts that are now available to everyone. Until then, the evidence is more favourable to the case made by people like Parenti than it is to remarkably unequivocal view that blame for the entire conflict rests on one man.

The explanation of NATO's role as "humanitarian intervention," however appealing, has the additional burden of contradicting almost every precedent of US foreign policy in the last three decades, in addition to requiring the commentator to ignore the verified facts on the ground.

The bombing itself was a serious war crime by most definitions of the term. Bill Clinton and Jean Chrétien, however, are unlikely to appear in front of a war crimes tribunal any time soon, as the tribunal itself is funded and controlled by the United States and other NATO members.

In November of 1999, Canadian lawyers David Jacobs and York University law professor Michael Mandel presented a formal request that the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), where Milosevic was until recently on trial, investigate sixty-seven NATO leaders (including Bill Clinton and Jean Chrétien) in the deaths of thousands of civilians. They presented three volumes of evidence to substantiate their request. Continued failure to act, they said, was a violation of the court's mandate.

Two months later, ICTY prosecutor Carla Del Ponte made it clear that NATO leaders would not be investigated. Mandel wrote that he and his colleagues could not "understand the failure of the Tribunal to act on these and the many other complaints against the NATO leaders. The law is clear. The evidence is overwhelming."

Responding to a reporter's question about why the International Court of Justice did not have jurisdiction over NATO countries, NATO spokesperson Jamie Shea was quite plain:

The charge by Yugoslavia was brought under the genocide convention. That does not apply to NATO countries. As to whom it does apply, I think we know the answer there.

Needless to say, the press does not share Shea's refreshing honesty when it comes to NATO exceptionalism and the selective application of international law.

Further reading:

» NATO: Press Conference given by NATO Spokesman, Jamie Shea

» Michael Mandel: Meeting with Carla del Ponte on NATO's Crimes of War

» Alan Parrington: Clinton Had A Chance To Avoid Kosovo Bombing

» Noam Chomsky: Another Way For Kosovo?

» George Monbiot: Nato's Dirty War

» George Monbiot: As we knew from bombing Serbia: refineries are the key

» George Monbiot: A Discreet Deal in the Pipeline: Nato Mocked Those Who Claimed There was a Plan for Caspian Oil

» Independent Commission of Inquiry to Investigate U.S./NATO War Crimes Against the People of Yugoslavia: Selected Research Findings

» Institute for Economic Democracy: It was Yugoslavia's Turn to be destabilized

» Associated Press: Serbian town will be polluted for years following NATO strikes

» Jeremy Scahill: Rest Easy, Bill Clinton: Slobo Can't Talk Any More

» Michael Mandel, David Jacobs et alia: Notice Of The Existence Of Information Concerning Serious Violations Of International Humanitarian Law Within The Jurisdiction Of The Tribunal

» Human Rights Watch: Cluster Bombs

» Documentation of NATO bomb attacks

» More photos of NATO attack

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