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Bomber Tony’s Balkan shame

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Issue 1688

In my view

Bomber Tony’s Balkan shame

By Pat Stack

ONE YEAR on from NATO’s war against Yugoslavia, the easiest response would be to gloat and say, “I told you so.” Yet such are the human misery and destruction left behind that there is no room for gloating, only for sorrow and for rage at those who waged that bloody war. Indeed the anniversary of NATO’s war on Yugoslavia is not being greeted by much rejoicing, even among those who were gung – ho for the military campaign at the time.

BBC2’s Moral Combat: NATO at War, shown last Sunday, started by appearing to accept NATO notions of a moral crusade, and perhaps because of this it made the programme’s later conclusions all the more damning. The programme made the quite correct assumption that Kosovan Albanians suffered under Serbian rule. However, it then set out to show how crude military intervention was never going to solve these problems. It showed how the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) deliberately developed a strategy to pull NATO into the war, and how Madeleine Albright masterminded the Rambouillet “peace talks”.

The programme confirmed that Albright was not seeking peace but laying a trap, offering a deal that the KLA could buy, but Belgrade could not. US political and military spokespeople were quite frank about this in the programme. Only the hapless Robin Cook wished to maintain that it was a serious attempt to forge peace. With this pretext, the war was given moral authority, even though later many of the NATO allies were excluded from key decisions. That this happened merely confirms this was first and foremost a US war, with the “Boy’s Own” enthusiastic backing of Blair’s government. Drawing on that profound sense of history he so often exhibits Blair defended this backing “because America does what is right”.

There were, however, real tensions within the alliance. These tensions were in no small part caused by the fact that a war that was at worst meant to last less than a fortnight, at best three days, carried on for 78 days. Needless to say, Blair’s major claim to glory is that he was instrumental in improving the “spin”. Little surprise that with his obsession with all things spun he should calmly defend the bombing of the Belgrade TV station.

Incredibly, Blair cited the television pictures of the massacre of the Albanian refugee convoy by NATO bombs as justification. In other words the problem was not that the convoy was attacked, but that we could see pictures of the impact of that attack. In the end an increasingly nervous alliance had to call on the Russia, which it had deliberately excluded at the outset, and agree to a UN mission overseeing the “peace”. So what did this war achieve? It murdered, it destroyed, it polluted and it impoverished. It didn’t stop ethnic cleansing or ethnic conflict. Instead it gave a green light for KLA terror against Serbs, “the oppressed, once liberated, themselves oppressing”, as the programme put it.

The war didn’t bring peace, self determination, or progress. The “evil” Milosevic remains intact and in power. If he is to be overthrown it will be by internal opposition-which was always the case. So how could a war conducted for all the high and humanitarian ideals we were sold end in such a way? The programme summed up the reason for this succinctly: “In the end this war was not about morality, not about Kosovo. It was about saving NATO.”

Blair concurred, “The bottom line was that we couldn’t lose…the credibility of NATO was at stake.” Yes, Prime Minister!

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