Bombing raids should have had UN approval – General Lewis MacKenzie

The Ottawa Citizen

March 26, 1999, FINAL

Bombing raids should have had UN approval

by General Lewis MacKenzie  (Chief of Staff UN Peacekeeping force in Yugoslavia 1992-3)

I’m already on record as having some considerable disagreement with the diplomatic activity that brought us to the current state of affairs in Kosovo. But I have to confess that reading news accounts of Operation Allied Force and watching the dramatic images of NATO air power on television, my soldierly status automatically kicks in and there’s one consideration that’s uppermost in my mind — to bring this business to a positive conclusion with an absolutely minimal loss of life.

That’s a soldier’s instinct doing the thinking. But, that being said, I have to say I’m really disturbed to see Canada and the rest of the NATO member nations committing an act of war without the backing and foundation of an authorizing resolution from the United Nations Security Council. Frankly, it sets a very dangerous precedent, and it bothers me a lot.

We all know the rationale and the explanation for using NATO as the vehicle for our operation against Slobodan Milosevic instead of going through the UN — that China would be opposed, and the Russians’ long-standing friendship with the Serbs would mean that both of these permanent Security Council members would surely cast a veto against any UN resolution that authorized using force in the Balkans.

Currently, China is acting as president of the Security Council, but I can’t help recalling that just a few weeks ago Canada assumed the rotating presidency and, justifiably, we took a lot of pride in that role. Well, today we’re saying, ”We don’t like the probable result of a Security Council debate, so we’ll bypass it and simply use NATO to achieve our purpose.”

The very premise of the argument used to justify the current bombing campaign seems to me to be open to some question. If we’re prepared to punish Milosevic for his treatment of the ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, then presumably we should also be prepared to mount air attacks against Ankara for the Turks’ treatment of their Kurdish minority, and the same applies to Beijing for the brutal Chinese suppression of the Tibetans. And then there’s Indonesia and the treatment of East Timor. The list goes on and on.

It’s not hard to understand why Moscow might be concerned about the precedent that’s being created here, regardless of its feeling of brotherhood with the Serbs. When you think of Chechnya and fledgling independence movements in some of the other provinces of the old Soviet empire, their concern is obvious.

There’s another point I’d like to make, and it concerns the Kosovo Liberation Army. It was declared a terrorist organization by the CIA as recently as 12 months ago. Yet today, with the spin that’s being put on this operation, you would be forgiven for thinking that they’re probably eligible for the next Nobel Peace Prize.

The truth of the matter is that it has obviously been in their interest to provoke the Serbs. And it’s equally true that most governments facing a separatist or independence movement tend to react with a heavy hand. That’s true even of ourselves, when you recall that we invoked the War Measures Act over a few bombs in mailboxes and a couple of kidnappings. Here again, it’s worth remembering that until today, when I understand that they are really getting ruthless, the Serbs allowed TV cameras a pretty free run around the country. When Turkey launches an offensive against the Kurds, you can bet that CNN won’t be there.

I’m not saying that it isn’t despicable — because it is — but this isn’t the first case of ethnic cleansing the world has ever seen.

The UN itself assisted in it in Cyprus in 1974, moving both Turks andGreeks to new locations.  I don’t want to make light of 2,000 deaths, and I’m not. But considering the number of people being pushed around, the loss of life in Kosovo is really low.  And remember that of those 2,000, probably 25 per cent were Serbs — they lose that many people in a day in southern Sudan. The death count — tragic as it is — really isn’t that high.


What is Milosevic’s strategy in all of this? Quite frankly, they want the northern half of Kosovo. That’s where the monasteries and Serbia’s spiritual heartland  are located. And that’s where the mines and natural resources are.

They are out to grab as much as they can in the next 48 hours or so, and then they’ll be in a pretty good position. Whenever there’s a ceasefire,  everything will be frozen in place on the ground and then they’ll be quite happy to give away the southern half, which will immediately join Albania.

At least that’s the way this soldier sees it.