In my own career this question came up in an interesting way after the NATO bombing of Serbia/Kosovo in 1999. That episode represented a classic attempt by Tony Blair to establish the principle of ‘humanitarian intervention’ under the idea of a new ‘Right to Protect’ populations from massive human rights violations by their own authorities.
This principle made sense at the time – the fact that so many people had been murdered at Srebrenica in eastern Bosnia shuddered the UN system. Nonetheless, the way NATO intervened in Serbia/Kosovo was morally problematic, for me at least. NATO forces bombed countless Serb targets almost at will, killing hundreds of Serbian soldiers and civilians. Milosevic and the top Belgrade leadership whose policies had prompted the intervention were unscathed, although most of them ended up facing war crimes charges at the Hague Tribunal.
When that NATO bombing ended, I was appointed by then Foreign Secretary Robin Cook to lead on the British diplomatic policy towards the Balkans in general and Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic in particular. We of course wanted Milosevic to resign or be toppled. But we were not allowed by FCO lawyers to say that we were acting to make this happen. That would be pressing for regime change – a quite improper interference in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia’s internal affairs under firmly established international law.
Anything we might contemplate doing to help see Mr Milosevic depart had to be described in bland, unspecific ways – for example, supporting democratic reforms and European standards of the sort Belgrade itself had endorsed under the Helsinki Accords. Pshaw. Back in the real world we did a lot to help anti-Milosevic forces. And we won.
Monday, July 12, 2010
From Diplomat Magazine: