Canada's Human Security Agenda in Kosovo and Beyond: Military Intervention versus Conflict Prevention

By Nelles, Wayne | International Journal, Summer 2002 | Go to article overview

Canada's Human Security Agenda in Kosovo and Beyond: Military Intervention versus Conflict Prevention


Nelles, Wayne, International Journal


In Kosovo, NATO prevailed over evil... The Alliance's intervention was an important step in the ascendance of human security as a norm for global action... However, Kosovo must not be held up as a precedent justifying intervention anywhere, any time or for any reason. It raises serious and legitimate questions.

Lloyd Axworthy, 28 June 1999(1)

THE WAR OVER KOSOVO IN 1999 continues to raise serious concerns. A tendency to portray the North Atlantic Treaty Organiation (NATO) as the victorious moral leader, with 'good' prevailing over 'evil,' does not help to clarify the situation. The conflict was much more complicated - Albanians and Serbs both incited violence and committed atrocities in varying degrees over many years. Moreover, the West has to take some responsibility for helping to create and to exacerbate what became a major crisis. Nor does the moral proclamation by Canada's then foreign minister, Lloyd Axworthy, address long-term conflict prevention or the contradictory dimensions of Canada's human security agenda. Instead, Kosovo helped 'rescue' Canada's beleaguered defence establishment, as some in the military see support for the human security idea as a new role for defence.(2) Officials in the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) have also reinforced the human security notion, built on 'success' in Kosovo, to justify possible 'humanitarian' military intervention elsewhere.(3) Something is askew here, given that the human security concept attained initial credibility in the development-oriented and largely non-military vision of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in its Human Development Report 1994. UNDP raised hopes for a post-cold war 'peace dividend' to be generated by new international aid for sustainable human development.(4)

Before the war, some field observers with the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) mission in Kosovo believed a non-military solution to the emerging crisis was possible. The OSCE was authorized under United Nations Security Council resolution 1199 to monitor and verify ceasefire compliance, assist humanitarian agencies, and facilitate democratization for elections. Western governments and the media alleged Serb 'ethnic cleansing' or 'genocidal policies' against Kosovo Albanians. But some ground observers, such as Canadian Rollie Keith, disputed such claims. Keith suggested that the ceasefire deteriorated with increasing Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) attacks on Yugoslav security forces. Counter responses followed with human rights abuses (on both sides) in a spiralling vicious cycle. Keith, a former director of the OSCE's Kosovo Verification Mission, also stressed later that 'we require a better mechanism to counter national human rights violations than bombing... diplomacy has failed and the ongoing air bombardment exacerbated an internal humanitarian problem into a disaster.'(5) He believed war could have been avoided with enhanced OSCE or United Nations monitoring, an agreement with Yugoslavia to cancel economic sanctions, and support for restructuring to promote integration within Europe and to complement guarantees to address human rights concerns in Kosovo.

Canada, with its reputation as a non-combatant mediator of disputes and innovator of United Nations peacekeeping, might have offered high-level leadership on conflict prevention, development support, and diplomatic alternatives to bombing campaigns to resolve disputed issues, not just in Kosovo but throughout the Balkans and at a much earlier stage. Canada's successful federal state - officially bilingual and multicultural - was attained through constitutional, legal, policy, and economic incentives. When the Soviet Union collapsed, and the future of Yugoslavia was unclear, Canada was uniquely positioned to offer leadership on self-determination, ethnic co-operation, and nation-building in Yugoslavia. Instead, a decade of disaster and lost opportunities followed as armed secession became the order of the day.

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Canada's Human Security Agenda in Kosovo and Beyond: Military Intervention versus Conflict Prevention
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