Academic journal article Connections : The Quarterly Journal

A Look Back at NATO's 1999 Kosovo Campaign: A Questionably "Legal" but Justifiable Exception?

Academic journal article Connections : The Quarterly Journal

A Look Back at NATO's 1999 Kosovo Campaign: A Questionably "Legal" but Justifiable Exception?

Article excerpt

If one can say of any war that it is ethical, or that it is being waged for ethical reasons, then it is true of this war.

~ Vaclav Havel, April 29, 1999

It was the last European war in a bloody century of European wars. Less than ten years after the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the 1999 Kosovo War-Operation Allied Force, as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) referred to it-was unique in many respects. From the perspectives of both international law and the law of armed conflict, it significantly challenged the limits of jus ad bellum, the international laws of war governing the circumstances under which nations are permitted to use force, as well as jus in bello, the laws of war relating to proper conduct in war.1 After decades of a NATOWarsaw Pact standoff in Europe and proxy wars elsewhere it was not self-defense, but rather humanitarian considerations, that drew the NATO Alliance, with the United States in the forefront, into this conflict.

While the seventy-eight-day NATO bombing campaign captured the world's attention, not long after its conclusion this military operation began to fade from the public memory. Beyond the Balkans, a little more than two years after the Kosovo War's conclusion, the traumatic events of September 11, 2001, would virtually remove global examination and recollections of the Kosovo conflict from the agenda. The United States and much of the world embarked on an entirely new, 21sl century ideological and combative struggle: fighting the scourge of terrorism. Nevertheless, the Kosovo War has alternatively been referred to as a reference point by Americans who have sought a response to the Syrian conflict as well as by Vladimir Putin as justification for claims to Crimea and the "protection" of Russian nationals.

Some sixteen years after the Kosovo conflict and Operation Allied Force, it is worth asking: are there any insights to be recalled and gained from this conflict? What has been the war's effect on the law of international armed conflict to date? Is it right to re fer to the Kosovo campaign as justification for the use of force, either implied or explicit, in Crimea or greater Ukraine?

It will be argued here that in spite of significant concern and warnings then that the Kosovo campaign would provide a dangerous precedent for international law and even global stability,2 it has had a nominal if not negligible effect on the body of international law as info mied by jus ad bellum. In spite of attempts to try to identify it as a precedent, the Kosovo campaign was indeed an exception. While it was characterized as a messy and "ugly" affair,3 it did accomplish what it intended to do: stop the killing of potentially tens of thousands of Kosovar Albanians and the expulsion of hundreds of thousands more from Kosovo, ultimately providing them with a better and more secure life than was possible in the pre-Kosovo campaign period.

The Roots of Conflict

The deep roots of the 1999 Kosovo War can be traced back to 1389 and the Battle of Kosovo, when, not far from present-day Pristina, the Serbs attempted to fend off the encroaching Ottoman Turks, with Albanians fighting on both sides. After a subsequent battle in 1448 between the Ottoman Turks and the Hungarians, however, the Ottomans came to dominate the region for centuries. Over time, the Albanians, who constituted the majority in the Kosovo territory, were portrayed as Ottoman sympathizers by the Serbian and mostly Orthodox Christians. The following centuries only contributed to this portrayal and associated hatreds, fears, and myths. With time, Kosovo became heavily populated with Albanians and in the 17th century the Serbs were forced out by the Ottomans. However, with the Ottoman Empire reaching its high water mark outside the gates of Vienna in the Ottoman-Hapsburg War of 1683-1699, the Serbs, Montenegrins, Bulgarians, and Greeks drove the Ottoman armies out of the Balkan Peninsula in the early 20th century. …

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