Yugoslav War Issues

May 19, 1999

Dear Reader,

Since I have been asked what my feelings are, let me enumerate some of my concerns about the Yugoslav war (given my current knowledge level):

- there is no excuse for human rights abuses, ethnic cleansing and genocide in violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, etc. (Milosovic and Serbia are wrong to do this, however it is difficult to know how much of this was going on before the bombing, and after - "truth is the first casualty of war")

- Serbia has not tried to extend its borders (this was a 'civil war'; the Americans have chosen not to intervene in lots of civil wars; on the other hand, this is the fourth country the U.S. has bombed in the past eight months) (note - I refer to the U.S. as the dominant leader of NATO)

- a key United Nations principle is each nation's right to sovereignty (which historically has trumped the human rights issue)

- the risk of escalation into World War (the Balkans can be a powder keg, it is too close to home for Russia, and China recognizes the implications to them, both have been sabre rattling).  This is why sovereignty is so important (to avoid WW3).

- NATO's intervention usurps the authority of the UN, and weakens the UN accordingly

- unfortunately, the UN is relatively impotent due to veto power, and must be reformed to properly provide world governance with true democracy (I do believe that the UN based on a majority of members should have been the organization at the negotiation table, and intervening if necessary)

- NATO's stated purpose is defensive, not offensive (which this act is)

- NATO actions are similar to 'bullying' tactics, and they do not come with 'clean hands'

- I think NATO's intervention is wrong, as Clinton says 'we have to teach children to resolve their differences with words, not weapons'.  The same goes here. 

- I do not believe it was time for this bombing violence, and the cost has been extreme in more deaths, displacement, infrastructure destruction, environmental destruction than if diplomatic efforts were sustained.

- I am saddened by Canada's role in all of this.  I hoped that Canada would be a country to be first to adopt UNESCO's Culture of Peace Program, and provide world leadership in peace building. Bombing Yugoslavia hurts our credibility as peacekeepers and peace builders.

- while the recent poll indicates that Canadians are about 64% in favour of bombing, I believe the majority of Canadians do not know the issues and would not be prepared to send their loved ones to fight as ground troops over there, and be prepared to die for this cause (the true test).  In any case, the poll indicates that 36% of Canadians do not support bombing (that is a lot of people to not listen to).

- Canada's Department of National Defense is called that for good reason (why is it acting like a Department of National Offense?).

- the world does not want the Americans to be the world's police men, and there is a credibility problem (due to historic foreign policy practices).  Americans do not support such humanitarian institutions as an International Criminal Court, a Land Mines Ban, No First Use Policy for nuclear weapons, a Nuclear Weapons Ban, etc..

- NATO, with Canada's support, is using depleted uranium in its bombs.  I have read many conflicting reports, but I have to think that using depleted uranium can not be good for humans and the environment (and I assume it is potentially very bad, not just for Serbians but for their neighbours as well).

- one has to wonder how supposed enlightened 'liberals' like Jean Chretien, Lloyd Axworthy, Tony Blair, Bill Clinton etc. would support such an act in light of the above (it is disconcerting, and you have to wonder if they know something we do not or have they been duped).

- etc., etc. (please also refer to other articles in this series about 'War')

As I say, I am afraid Canada's participation takes away from our international reputation as peace builders and honest brokers, and prejudices efforts to build a Culture of Peace.  Weighing all of the above (and the many other reports that I have read, but recognizing I am not an expert), what would be my descision if I was in charge?  I would not have intervened if I were NATO.  I would not have participated in NATO bombing if I were Canada.  It was the U.N.'s responsibility to do the diplomatic negotiations, and put it to the U.N. Security Council when appropriate.  It was up to world leaders to decide to intervene.  Hopefully a significant number of world leaders in the U.N. forum would agree that something constructive had to be done to stop human rights abuses.

It is my current view that this war is not a problem at a civilian level.  It is a problem at the political level: nations to nations.  This situation is not comparable to Hitler and the holocaust, it is not enough to risk a World War.

So, having said that, what can Civil Society do? (i.e. this would include peace organizations, world and community service organizations, etc.)  There are humanitarian efforts, of course, but these are usually similar to band-aids.  More importantly, I think Civil Society should work to motivate government leaders to resolve the differences with words and non-violent actions, not weapons and violence.  Civil Society should also work to motivate the general population to motivate government leaders in this respect.

Unfortunately, these suggestions seem to be in opposition to NATO and Canada's current situation.  This is why I feel the situation is so politically sensitive and difficult.

Would you send your son as ground troops to save the Kosovars and risk death?

I would rather send our world leaders to resolve the conflict peacefully.

What do you think?

Respectfully submitted,

Robert Stewart

e-mail: stewartr [at] peace.ca

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