Kosovo | Oct 1999

FMBR Editorial: Oct, 1999


Marshall Pease

The situation in Kosovo has become something which, if not peaceful, is still far different from the previous state of war. It could easily relapse back into active conflict, but it offers hope that perhaps a resolution of the basic causes can be found. In any case, it is now possible to consider what has been done and the global significance of the action.

I have long felt that a major cause of world troubles has been the principle of national sovereignty. It encourages nationalistic and ethnic chauvinism which can too easily be exploited by power-hungry demagogues. It is an ancient doctrine that has sometimes served humanity well, but too often has led to misery and conflict. In Kosovo, the UN and NATO have asserted a new doctrine – that they have the collective authority and even the duty to intervene when a government becomes too aggressive against its own citizenry and that this principle can and must take precedence over national sovereignty.

It is ironic that the immediate cause of the crisis was the demand of the KLA for an independent Kosovo state – a new sovereign entity. Indeed, that demand persists and continues to threaten serious trouble. It is also ironic to recall that both the UN and NATO were created to protect the national sovereignty of their member states. Nevertheless and despite these ambiguous side issues, the UN and NATO, acting by consensus, seem to have established a new order of global priorities.

Many US leaders seem fully aware that a new principle is involved but still find it necessary to justify the action as “in the national interest” – an argument based on US sovereignty. This seems necessary because the public has shown a wide range of responses. Many do not question the fact of “ethnic cleansing” but question whether the US should be involved. Others point to other areas of the world such as in Africa and, more recently, East Timor where the world has ignored highly oppressive situations. Others – hopefully a minority – would wash their hands of the problem as not our responsibility and not worth risking our own military people and property.

Past failures to intercede elsewhere were irrelevant in the case of Kosovo because the principle is so new. Any new principle can be advanced most persuasively only when it is reinforced by other long-accepted considerations. The fact that the appalling events in Kosovo could easily have escalated to a real and present threat to the peace of Europe gave the principle an urgency it could not otherwise have commanded.

This is not to deny that the US and its NATO allies have serious problems of their own. We and several of our allies face situations of bigotry and intolerance some of which threaten violence and even civil war. That there are such problems makes the evidence for the emergence of a new principle – and a new precedent – even more remarkable. Clearly the precedent is far from being well established. Clearly also there remain serious questions as to when and how it should be invoked. Still the remarkable fact is that it has been established at all.

Perhaps we, the people of the world, are beginning to move towards a more human view of what the world might and should be. If that is what Kosovo indicates, the intimations of what has happened are indeed awe-inspiring.

Marshall Pease, October 1999

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