New Times, July 1999

Mary Kaldor talks to Paul Anderson about the implications of what happened in Kosovo

‘It would be a big mistake to see what has happened in Kosovo as a success for bombing,’ says Mary Kaldor, looking out of the window of her office at the London School of Economics. ‘Nato has been presenting the Serbs’ withdrawal as a vindication of all its actions. What we need to remember is that the bombing failed to prevent the ethnic cleansing in the first place. Indeed, it accelerated it.

‘I’m not trying to be wise after the event, but there really were options that could have been taken before the bombing started that would have prevented the ethnic cleansing. No one can say that we didn’t know long ago what Slobodan Milosevic wanted to do in Kosovo. If the international community had been committed to a policy of humanitarian intervention to protect civilians on the ground, he could have been stopped long ago without Nato bombing.’

Even as late as the beginning of the year, she says, it would have been feasible for there to have been a limited intervention on the ground in Kosovo organised by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe to give protection to the Kosovo Albanians. This OSCE force could have been supported by a Nato deterrent force in Macedonia which would threaten ground invasion in the event that the OSCE couldn’t carry out its job.

‘The problem was that the Americans were intent on bombing to teach Milosevic a lesson — a position that Milosevic was quite happy with because it would give him the excuse to expel the Albanians from Kosovo. So nothing was done to organise a limited military operation to set up safe zones in Kosovo, and when the Rambouillet talks broke down, there simply wasn’t the capacity for ground intervention. To cap it all, Nato then made the huge mistake of ruling out ground forces when it started to bomb. The British government realised the mistake and started pressing for ground troops – I think sincerely – but the damage had been done.’

Kaldor has been a critic of western foreign and military policy, as academic and activist, for a long time. The daughter of Nicholas Kaldor, the eminent Keynesian economist and adviser to Harold Wilson, she first established a reputation for hard-hitting work on the military-industrial complex in the late 1960s as a young researcher on the arms trade at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, which she joined after reading PPE at Oxford.

In the 1970s, back in Britain working at Sussex University, she was a key figure in the Labour Party’s defence study group, which in 1977 (to the embarrassment of the then Labour government) put forward detailed proposal for radical defence spending cuts. The next year, she published The Disintegrating West, a path-breaking and prescient analysis of the transatlantic tensions over economic and foreign policy that exploded in the 1980s. During the 1980s, as well as publishing a string of books and articles, most notably her account of the military’s fixation with technology, The Baroque Arsenal, she was one of the leading lights in European Nuclear Disarmament. (END was the pressure group that gave the movement against nuclear arms its intellectual dynamic and, more importantly, inoculated it against apologists for Soviet militarism.) Since 1990, while continuing to write prodigiously, she has played a major role in END’s successor organisation, European Dialogue, the British affiliate to the Helsinki Citizen’s Assembly, the transnational movement for democracy and human rights.

Until Kosovo, however, Kaldor was always a critic of western foreign and military policy from a perspective that emphasised the pursuit of policy by peaceful, political means rather than by military means. On Kosovo, her argument has been that Nato used the wrong military means – bombing not ground troops. Some of her former allies from the 1980s peace movement accuse her of abandoning her principles and becoming an armchair general.

She dismisses such criticism emphatically. ‘I’m not a pacifist. I respect people who are, but a lot of the people who oppose intervention really don’t seem to care very much about ethnic cleansing. They have been exclusively concerned with the effects of Nato bombing. I was at a big peace movement conference in the Hague in May where there were passionate demands for an end to the bombing – but people were nothing like as energetic in condemning what had been done to the Kosovo Albanians. The rest of the world could not have stood by and watched. Military intervention was essential. The problem was that the Americans were insistent on bombing, and the rest of Nato allowed itself to be pushed by the Americans.

‘What I proposed in any case was humanitarian intervention, which is quite different from war-fighting even though it may involve use of troops. A weak version of it was UNPROFOR in Bosnia, which imposed safe havens and humanitarian corridors which were backed by the UN Security Council but not negotiated with the Bosnian Serbs. The mistake in Bosnia was that the troops were poorly armed and ordered not to use force even though they had a mandate to do so, and their lives were privileged over those they were meant to protect.’

So what should happen now that Milosevic has withdrawn from Kosovo and the province is under the control of foreign armed forces? ‘The first thing is that it is essential to come up with a settlement for the whole Balkans region,’ says Kaldor. ‘The international community should recognise that it was a great mistake to deal with each of the conflicts in former Yugoslavia one by one. Every partial agreement covering one area has led to a war in the next one. The partial agreement on Slovenia was followed by the war in Croatia. The agreement on Croatia in early 1992 was followed by the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina. And the Dayton agreement on Bosnia was followed after a brief respite by the eruption of conflict in Kosovo. There’s now a real danger of wars in Macedonia and Montenegro – and who knows where’ they might spread to?’ Some of the ideas for south-east European integration envisaged in German foreign minister Joschka Fischer’s proposal for a stability pact are very relevant, she says.

‘Secondly, as everyone now admits, it was a terrible mistake to negotiate with Milosevic. He should be totally sidelined. As long as he remains in power, the violence is bound to spread because sooner or later he will need an international emergency – that’s the way he rules. He is at the apex of a system involving extreme nationalists and a mafia who have a vested interest in continued violence. There is an urgent need to provide assistance for democracy in Serbia: there should be support for independent media to counter official propaganda and also support for bottom-up political initiatives – non-governmental organisations, city twinning and so on. And a way has to be found of giving economic aid to Serbia without dealing with Milosevic.’

In the long run, however, what is required is nothing less than a complete reorientation of foreign and military policy to take account of the changing nature of warfare. Kaldor’s most recent book, New and Old Wars, gives a panoramic overview of the way that war has changed in the second half of the 20th century. Her thesis is that war in the sense of large-scale organised violence between states is becoming an anachronism. Instead, armed conflicts today are likely to be fuelled by ethnic hatreds and be fought by paramilitary groups, mercenaries and warlords as well as regular forces.

‘What I call “new wars” are in practice a mixture of war, organised crime and human rights violations,’ she says. ‘In all of them, it’s possible to identify islands of civility where local groups have defended an inclusive set of social arrangements. Any international effort to solve these wars has to build on these islands of civility. Politically the aim has to be to strengthen those groups offering a real alternative to the politics of exclusive identity. Militarily, peacekeeping has to be rethought as international law enforcement, as the protection of civilians.’

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