Mary Baldwin College, Staunton VA 24401
by Prof. Gordon L. Bowen, Ph.D.
delivered in formal debate at Mary Baldwin College, April 7, 1999
Interests and Values: Why Americans Should Support War against Serbia
Gordon L. Bowen, Professor of Political Science and International Relations, Mary Baldwin College, Staunton, VA
War is upon us, and when it comes to deciding how to respond to war, Americans know what they believe. Scriptures, experience, readings of history, all guide many of us to condemn war categorically. War is sinful. War is calamitous. War solves nothing. We have all heard these claims. Today it is my unfortunate task to demonstrate the contrary.
War against the Yugoslavian regime of Slobodan Milosevic is necessary to preserve our values: America cannot stand aside again while Europe struggles to find an effective way to stop his genocidal actions in Kosovo. Moreover, the defeat of Yugoslavia will advance our interests: we have a long term security interest in a unified, non-hostile, democratic Europe, a Europe allied with the US in the next millennium as it has been since 1949. In the recent words of a leading Berlin newspaper (Berliner Zeitung March 25) "standing still any longer would threaten Europe."
War is no one's first option, but it must be one of our options. Let us review why. The Europeans tried to stop Milosevic's earlier aggressions with talk, diplomatic persuasion. In Slovenia and Croatia in 1991, talk alone could only delay him from using force to pursue his agenda of a "Greater Serbia." His Yugoslav Federal army invaded Croatia, arming and training Serb militias there. His fellow nationalists in Belgrade formed paramilitary volunteers to aid these militias; and at Vukovar, throughout Slavonia, and in the Krajina they mercilessly killed innocent civilians. Hospitals were emptied and the occupants shot. Concentration camps were established. That was round one of Milosevic's genocidal agenda.
The Europeans and Americans sent UN Peacekeepers to separate the frazzled populations, ratifying his aggression. We thought this could bring peace. It didn't.
In 1992, round two began in Bosnia. Again, Serb nationalists from Belgrade, paramilitary leaders Arkan and Seselj, trained Bosnian Serbs in their practiced art of genocide. Cities were laid to siege by Serb military veterans of the Federal Yugoslav Army such as Ratko Mladic. Teachers and other social leaders were singled out and shot. Cultural sites -museums, mosques-- were destroyed. Two million refugees inundated Europe, seeking sanctuary. Again, the West opted not to meet war with war. We blocked arms exports to the whole area, leaving the victims, the Bosnian government, outgunned while Milosevic's minions continued the aggression. The UN again sent lightly armed peacekeepers under strict orders to fight no one. Safe havens were established by the UN in Bosnia; the Serbs shelled them. Gorazde. Bihac. At these places the UN's approach was humiliated. Serbs even took the Bosnian Vice President from a UN convoy, and shot him dead right before the UN troops. Impunity in violence abetted the genocide: Serbs established centers nearly adjacent to UN outposts for the sole purpose of systematically and repeatedly raping Bosnian women. These facts all were known. They were inconvenient.
In 199495, at Milosevic's order, those UN safe havens were shelled again, and some were overrun. In summer 1995, at one of these "safe havens," Srebrenica, 8000 Moslem men were separated from their families, from the protection of only lightly armed Dutch peacekeepers. War crimes investigators have proved that they were taken and systematically murdered by Gen. Mladic's forces; the worst single atrocity in a war that consumed a quarter million Bosnians. When those minions of Milosevic turned next to Sarajevo, the UN finally recognized the failure of its "safe havens" approach and asked for NATO's help. Then, and only then, did NATO respond militarily. Two weeks of air raids, combined with ground operations by British, French, Croatian and Bosnian forces, convinced Milosevic to call off his dogs.
The Dayton Peace Accords of 1995 which then resulted might have been an opening for Milosevic to desist from ethnic hatred. We, the NATO allies, met that possibility half way. We removed trade embargoes from Serbia; we guaranteed the security of Serbs still in Bosnia. Our SFOR troops still remain on duty fulfilling that promise. But Milosevic did not change. He turned next to the Kosovar Albanians of Kosovo, within his own Serb Republic. Deprived of their self-rule since 1989, and deprived of access to Kosovo's schools and universities for this entire decade, Milosevic squeezed Kosovo harder after Dayton. The goal clearly was to make life untenable there, and many left. But voluntary emigration was not sufficient for Milosevic.
Since early 1998, the Kosovars have fought back, largely without outside aid. The leading NATO nations plus Russia formed a "Contact Group" and again chose diplomacy. We met repeatedly with the Serb leaders; in Fall 1998, we negotiated his promise for humane treatment of the Kosovars, and we deployed unarmed observers to monitor the agreed to peace. But Milosevic would not abandon his goal of a purely Serbian Serbia. The reconciliation promised never was tried. And on February 26, 1999, he began to implement his "Operation Horseshoe," the planned driving of the Kosovars en masse from Kosovo. Milosevic made this no secret: he told the Foreign Minister of Germany in early March that, if he chose, he could drive them all out within a week! Since then, the peace monitors were compelled to leave, and no one, not journalists, not UN officials, not even the International Red Cross, has been able independently to observe what other crimes have accompanied this awful policy.
But we know what has happened. A chilling similarity is heard in the tales of the expellees -- refugees is not a precise enough term! Cities have been emptied, villages burned, men separated from women and children, mass executions are feared. The state-run extermination of a culture is happening; only we, the NATO allies, have the capacity to stop it. Half of all Kosovars have fled to neighboring countries. Their tales are horrific. Their plight is defamed by the monstrous canard, by the lie, that what they now flee is not Milosevic but NATO's bombing. For seven years the grisly extremes to which Milosevic will take his hateful views have been all too clear. Genocide in the name of the glory of the Serb people has now reached chapter three.
We know that our words will not stop Milosevic. We know that his own word cannot be trusted. We know that the threat of criminal prosecution will not deter him: Arkan, an indicted war criminal walks freely on the streets of Belgrade and appears regularly on ABC News!; Mladic, an indicted war criminal, remains sheltered by Milosevic's friends in Pale; Seselj now holds a high office in the Serbian Government: he is deputy Prime Minister. Nor will arms embargoes and economic sanctions compel him to desist: they stopped no aggression in Bosnia.
Milosevic rules by force; he understands only force. The culture of genocidal nationalism he has created resists rational refutation; its policies must be cauterized for that nation to heal. Living to watch chapter four of his genocidal aspirations would corrode the character of our democratic community. If we do not stand against ethnic mass murder, if we do not stand against forced mass exodus, we do not stand for much. War now advances fundamental American values.
In the nuclear age, or more precisely, in the age when Soviet nuclear weapons threatened world peace, Americans rationally formed opinions about war in the shadow of a looming nuclear holocaust. Unable to risk local conflicts that might escalate to nuclear war, many came to believe all wars were futile. The end of the Cold War disconnected local conflicts from any such danger of escalation, but our attitudes have not similarly evolved. Indeed, many antique attitudes about war have been dusted off. Pacifism lures. Isolationism's song again is heard. Today, withdrawal now from this war will be said to be wise; rejection of war altogether may pose as a more moral choice. These views may be sincere, but they are based on mistaken premises. They point toward outcomes which will damage our collective future.
Regimes such as Milosevic's do more than threaten to corrode our values. Milosevic also threatens our national security interests. In recent weeks, clear proof of Yugoslav aid to the Iraqi biological weapons program has been documented in the London Sunday Telegraph, Russian news sources, and the Jerusalem Post. In exchange, Saddam has supplied Milosevic oil and funds to aid his war machine. Rogue states with aggressive records of starting wars now are collaborating to produce weapons of mass destruction. Clearly, US national security interests cannot be protected by the further evolution of this anti-Western axis.
Still more basic US interests also are now in jeopardy. The US has a permanent interest in insuring that never will Europe become a hostile military center. To that end, as much as to defeat the Soviets, the NATO alliance has long served our interest. Today, the governments of every European state which possesses significant power all favor the air war against Yugoslavia. And so do their people: solid majorities in France and Britain support the further step of using ground troops; 62% of the once reticent Germans approve of the air war. Only the American people are in a position to weaken our resolve. But the voices who would have us forsake effective action, the voices who see no evidence of genocide in those Kosovars' faces, the voices of appeasement increasingly find a shrinking audience: today the NBC-Wall St. Journal poll reported 73% of Americans not only back the air war but also favor sending ground forces should NATO determine that step necessary.
America certainly cannot stop all violence the world over. With 5% of the world's population, even we must know limits to our reach. But genocide is not just random violence; and in Kosovo, we are in good company when we act to stop it. For the sake of the Kosovars and their most elemental human rights, we should act. To protect our south eastern European friends and to diminish the possibility of further Balkan wars we are prudent to act now. But to protect our fundamental national security interest in insuring that rogue states never again menace us with weapons of mass destruction, we must act.
Proven aggressors must not prevail. To preserve the non-hostility of Europe and America in the long run, the partnership of North America and the free nations of Europe must meet this test. I urge each of you to do what you can to insure victory of the NATO Alliance, in the current air war and in the further steps our leaders determine necessary.
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