News Release

Kosovo War: “Humanitarian Interventionism” Ten Years Later


March 24 marks the tenth anniversary of the start of the bombing of Yugoslavia by a U.S.-led NATO force. The bombing continued until June 10, 1999.

Author of the soon-to-be-released book First Do No Harm: Humanitarian Intervention and the Destruction of Yugoslavia, Gibbs is an associate professor of history and political science at the University of Arizona. He said today: “The 1999 Kosovo war is often remembered as the ‘good’ war which shows that American power can be used in a morally positive way and can alleviate humanitarian emergencies. In fact, the NATO air strikes failed to alleviate the humanitarian crisis in Kosovo; instead the strikes worsened the atrocities and heightened the scale of human suffering.

“The NATO states could have achieved a negotiated settlement of the Kosovo problem and resolved the humanitarian crisis — without war. However, the Clinton administration blocked a negotiated settlement at the Rambouillet conference, leading directly to the NATO bombing campaign. The U.S. government sought to use the Kosovo war as a means to reaffirm NATO’s function in the post-Cold War era. It was this NATO factor — rather than human rights — that was the main reason for the war.

“The Kosovo war had many features in common with George Bush’s 2003 invasion of Iraq. In both Kosovo and Iraq, American presidents avoided diplomatic avenues that might have settled the disputes without war, went to war by circumventing the UN Security Council, and engaged in extensive public deception.

“All this shows the negative aspect of so-called ‘humanitarian interventions,’ which are advocated by Samantha Power in her book ‘A Problem from Hell: America in the Age of Genocide.’ There is a tendency by many to simplify complex ethnic conflicts in ways that favor U.S. intervention, for example now in Darfur in the Sudan. There is also a tendency to ignore the danger that intervention, however well intended, runs the risk of worsening humanitarian crises.”

Communications director of the Institute for Public Accuracy, Husseini wrote the piece “How Holbrooke Lied His Way into a War.” He said today: “When questioned by Charlie Rose during the bombing of Yugoslavia as to why the Serbs didn’t agree to the terms of the Rambouillet text, Amb. Richard Holbrooke, who delivered the final ultimatum to Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, stated that Serbs claimed that signing the Rambouillet text would amount to agreeing to a NATO occupation of their country. Holbrooke told Rose he insisted this ‘isn’t an occupation.’ In fact, an examination of the Rambouillet text shows that it did fundamentally call for an occupation of Yugoslavia. Further, several weeks later, when confronted by a journalist familiar with the Rambouillet text, Holbrooke claimed he never asserted the Rambouillet text wouldn’t amount to an occupation.” Relevant video and audio clips of Holbrooke are here.

Husseini added: “April 4 marks the sixtieth anniversary of NATO, now being used as a major instrument in the war in Afghanistan. Holbrooke of course is now the State Department’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.”

The Rambouillet text (of Feb. 23, 1999) is available at the State Department web page.
More Information

For more information, contact at the Institute for Public Accuracy:
Sam Husseini, (202) 347-0020; or David Zupan, (541) 484-9167