The curse of the Blair Doctrine (Robert Henderson)
by Robert Henderson
The curse of the Blair Doctrine
The blueprint for the present international mess lies in the overthrow of Milosevic
The first Gulf War was the last Western intervention with force under the old Cold War rules. It was limited to evicting Saddam Hussein from Kuwait and establishing a no-fly zone established over the Kurdish part of Iraq . No attempt was made to overthrow Hussein . Indeed, the reverse is the case because the first President Bush deliberately lifted the no fly order in the immediate aftermath of the War to enable Hussein to re-establish control, the USA’s judgement being that it was the lesser of two evils, the greater evil being Iraq as a client state of Iran. This was still recognisably the world of Communist East versus capitalist West.
The wars which eventually occurred from the splitting of Yugoslavia after Tito’s death gradually increased the West’s liberal imperialist tendencies and culminated in NATO bombing – action unauthorised by the UN and illegal under NATO’s own rules because Slobodan Milosevic offered no threat to a NATO member – what remained of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. There was also something new, the desire to remake territories in the West’s image by imposing conditions on a sovereign state over part of its territory, in this case Kosovo. The first steps towards ignoring the UN Charter’s protection of national sovereignty (chapter 7) had been taken not merely in actuality, but intellectually.
It was the experience of the wars resulting from the break up of Yugoslavia and the continuing difficulties represented by Saddam Hussein that persuaded Blair to develop what became the Blair Doctrine. He first outlined this in 1999 in a speech to the Economic Club in Chicago, viz:
The most pressing foreign policy problem we face is to identify the circumstances in which we should get actively involved in other people’s conflicts. Non -interference has long been considered an important principle of international order. And it is not one we would want to jettison too readily. One state should not feel it has the right to change the political system of another or foment subversion or seize pieces of territory to which it feels it should have some claim. But the principle of non-interference must be qualified in important respects. Acts of genocide can never be a purely internal matter. When oppression produces massive flows of refugees which unsettle neighbouring countries then they can properly be described as “threats to international peace and security”. When regimes are based on minority rule they lose legitimacy – look at South Africa.
Looking around the world there are many regimes that are undemocratic and engaged in barbarous acts. If we wanted to right every wrong that we see in the modern world then we would do little else than intervene in the affairs of other countries. We would not be able to cope.
So how do we decide when and whether to intervene. I think we need to bear in mind five major considerations
First, are we sure of our case? War is an imperfect instrument for righting humanitarian distress; but armed force is sometimes the only means of dealing with dictators. Second, have we exhausted all diplomatic options? We should always give peace every chance, as we have in the case of Kosovo. Third, on the basis of a practical assessment of the situation, are there military operations we can sensibly and prudently undertake? Fourth, are we prepared for the long term? In the past we talked too much of exit strategies. But having made a commitment we cannot simply walk away once the fight is over; better to stay with moderate numbers of troops than return for repeat performances with large numbers. And finally, do we have national interests involved? The mass expulsion of ethnic Albanians from Kosovo demanded the notice of the rest of the world. But it does make a difference that this is taking place in such a combustible part of Europe.
Milosovec lost a Presidential election in 2000, was arrested on April 1, 2001 and extradited to the Hague Tribunal on June 28, where he died in detention in March 2006, before his trial was completed.
What Blair saw the fall of Milosevic as a success for the Blair Doctrine and this has laid the foundation for all the misbegotten Western intervention since. Nor has it been simply a matter of military force. The EU had a hand in making sure that Milosovec did not survive by dangling carrots such as eventual membership of the EU for Serbia. From this the EU became more and more ambitious in its expansionist plans to the East, something which is all too apparent in the EU’s messy hand in creating the Ukraine conflict we are presently witnessing by pressing for it to move close to the EU with eventual membership the end of the game. The imperialist mindset of the EU is unambiguously described in an EU document The Western Balkans and The EU: ‘The hour of Europe’ (Edited by Jacques Rupnik Chaillot Papers, June 2011), viz:
Today, more than fifteen years after the end of the wars of Yugoslavia’s dissolution, the ‘Balkan question’ remains more than ever a ‘European question’. In the eyes of many Europeans in the 1990s, Bosnia was the symbol of a collective failure, while Kosovo later became a catalyst for an emerging Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP). In the last decade, with the completion of the process of redrawing the map of the region, the overall thrust of the EU’s Balkans policy has moved from an agenda dominated by security issues related to the war and its legacies to an agenda focused on the perspective of the Western Balkan states’ accession to the European Union, to which there has been a formal political commitment on the part of all EU Member States since the Thessaloniki Summit in June 2003. The framework was set, the political elites in the region were – at least verbally – committed to making Europe a priority and everyone was supposedly familiar with the policy tools thanks to the previous wave of Eastern enlargement. With the region’s most contentious issues apparently having been defused, the EU could move from stability through containment towards European integration.
There are favourable trends to make this possible: the EU has emerged as the unchallenged international actor in the Balkans; the region, exhausted by a decade of conflict, is recovering stability and the capacity to cooperate; the EU has no other equally plausible enlargement agenda in sight and could use the direct involvement of some of its Member States in the region to facilitate the accession process.
I wrote the essay below in 1999 for Free Life, the magazine of the Libertarian Alliance. Reading it now I am glad I placed a question mark after Milosovec in the title. Milosevic might be said to have won the war and lost the peace, for it was Western interference which did for him. Had he been left, as Saddam Hussein was after the First Gul War, to fight to retain power in the rump Yugoslavia without international interference he would probably have remained in office. As it was when the Presidential Election was run in 2000 Milosovec
What the 1999 essay does do is show how the move from non-intervention to regime change and nation building was well under way fifteen years ago, with all the disastrous consequences we have seen since, including creating false hopes in many countries democracy could be magicked up simply by removing a dictator.
Rousseau wrote that people must be forced to be free for their own good : the Blair Doctrine states that people must be forced for their own good to live by the rules of political correctness.
A victory for Milosevic?
Now that the big boys toys have been put back in the cupboard and Mr Jamie Shea is returning to run his whelk stall in the Mile End Road, we really do need to ask why this bizarre act of aggression by Nato occurred because it has profound implications for Britain. What was it all about? Well, we all know that, don’t we? To put the Albanians back into Kosovo, stupid! Wrong! The war started because Milosevic would not accept the Nato proposals drawn up at Rambouillet, which was scarcely surprising for they might have been designed to ensure their refusal.
Not only did the Rambouillet Proposals give foreign soldiers the right to enter any part of Yugoslavia, they provided for a referendum on independence for the Kosovan population. Add to that the demand that Serb troops withdraw from Kosovo and the refusal to allow Russian troops to be part of a peacekeeping force, and it is all too easy to see why Milosevic refused them. Moreover, the Rambouillet proposals were not put forward as a basis for negotiation, but as a fait accompli. They then became the subject of a naked ultimatum, issued effectively by the US in the egregious person of Madeleine Albright.
The Rambouillet proposals would have reduced Yugoslavia to the status of a dependent territory, with the virtual guarantee that the land (Kosovo) which had the greatest emotional significance for the majority Serb population would be lost to the hated Albanian minority. Moreover, they had the knowledge that the loss of Kosovo through a referendum would almost certainly result in the expulsion of the two hundred thousand Serbs normally resident in Kosovo, assuming that they had not already left after the withdrawal of Serbian troops. Milosevic was offered the prospect of tremendous humiliation and nothing else. If Nato had wished to ensure a war they could scarcely have done better. As Henry Kissinger remarked in a interview with Boris Johnson of the Daily Telegraph (28/6/99,) Rambouillet was a provocation.
But the Rambouillet proposals were only the immediate cause of the conflict. The war was really about the imposition of Liberal Internationalist ideals. Since 1945, the Liberal Internationalist cause have been growing in strength until it has become the ostensible ideology of the ruling elites throughout the West. During the Cold War the territorial ambitions of the Liberal Internationalists were considerably constrained. Since 1989 those constraints have been removed.
The result has been an unhappy sequence of interventions, covered by the fig leaf of UN colours, which have demonstrated the utter impotence of the Liberal Internationalist creed by invariably creating situations the exact opposite of those intended by the interveners: Somalia is a mess of anarchy, Bosnia a UN protectorate with the warring ethnic groups largely segregated and future conflict just waiting to happen. The war against Serbia marked a new stage in Liberal Internationalist ambitions: naked aggression was undertaken without even the indecent cover of the UN fig leaf.
The persistent failure of international intervention has not deterred the Liberal Internationalists because, like all fanatic ideologues, the Liberal Internationalist is incapable of admitting that his creed is plain wrong no matter have often events prove it to be so. For the Liberal Internationalist any failure is simply the result of insufficient resources and time, a spur to behave in an ever more totalitarian manner; from peacekeeping through outright war to de facto colonial occupation. Consequently those with the power in the West continue to intervene ineptly in conflicts inherently irresolvable in liberal Internationalist terms. Their response to failure or the contrary evidence of events is to embark on ever more intervention regardless of the havoc caused or the long term consequences.
What the war was not about was morality, despite Blair and Clinton’s inordinate and deeply risible posturing. (In fact war is never about morality. It is always about territory, aggrandisement, the removal of competitors and the imposition of the victor’s will.) The nations attacking Yugoslavia had stood by during many greater man made horrors such as the massacres in Rwanda. Most pertinently, the West had not merely stood by while hundreds of thousands of Serbs were expelled from Croatia, but in the guise of the UN had actively assisted in that expulsion by providing arms and airpower to support the Croat military. Most tellingly, and most repellently, because it was utterly predictable, Nato has not meaningfully protected the Kosovan Serbs since the end of the war. Nor could they have had any reasonable expectation of doing so, for the size of even the projected peace keeping force (50,000 – which numbers have not been met) was obviously inadequate to mount a general police action against an Albania population of nearly two million in which there were plentiful arms. A cynic might think that Nato’s aims were from the beginning to produce a Kosovo ethnically cleansed of Serbs.
The course of the war laid bare the stupidity, incomprehension, incompetence and amorality of the Nato members’ leaders. The objective facts say that the conflict has greatly worsened a naturally fraught situation. Before the war, the vast majority of the Albanian population of Kosovo was in Kosovo living in their homes. Since the war began the, vast majority have either left the country or remain in Kosovo having been driven from their homes. Thus, just as the Second World War signalled the beginning of the Holocaust, so Nato’s action signalled that of the Kosovan Albanians’ tragedy. Without the war, it is improbable to the point of certainty that the greatest movement of a population in Europe since 1945 would have occurred.
The hypocrisy of the whole business was graphically demonstrated in the Nato members’ attitude towards the refugees. The public posturing on the need to provide for the refugees was all too clearly balanced by the fear that any large scale import of refugees to Nato countries outside the Balkans would arouse considerable dissent in those countries. Amongst many stomach heaving moments, Clare Short’s protestations that Britain did not want to move the refugees away from the Balkans simply because Britain did not wish to unwillingly assist Milosevic rank very high. The double standards, both amongst politicians and the media have continued with the end of the war, as the Liberal Ascendency quietly tolerates ethnic cleansing of the Kosovo Serbs and the gross acts of revenge taken by the Kosovo Albanians.
What if there had been no war? Judged by what had gone before, there would have been continued harassment of Kosovan Albanians by Serb paramilitaries and some action by the regular Serb forces, the latter primarily directed against the KLA. One simple fact alone gives the lie to Nato’s claims that wholesale ethnic cleansing would have occurred regardless of Nato intervention. Prior to the war, Milosevic had ten years to undertake the task and did not attempt it. Fine ideals are not fine at all if they are so out of keeping with reality that they produce evil ends.
Who won the war? Well, let us follow the Dragnet example and just look at the facts. Milosevic remains in control of Yugoslavia minus Kosovo. Two of the prime demands of the Rambouillet proposals – that the Kosovo population be given a referendum on independence within three years and the right of peacekeeping troops to go anywhere in Yugoslavia – have been dropped. There is also to be no referendum and the peacekeeping force will operate only within Kosovo. In addition, Russian troops are involved in the peacekeeping force, a token Serb presence will be allowed in Kosovo and there are signs that the force may eventually come under UN not Nato auspices. Those are very significant political gains for Milosevic.
Let us make the assumptions which most favour Nato. That the agreement which was reached between Milosevic and Nato was not ambiguous. That Milosevic will keep his word. That the peace keeping force will be Nato led under a unified command. That the Russians involved in the peace keeping will not subvert the process on the ground. That money will be forthcoming in sufficient amounts to rebuild Kosovo. That the KLA will allow themselves to be disarmed. A collection of pretty improbable occurrences. But no matter, let us grant them. What then?
Even under such propitious and unlikely circumstances, it is highly improbable that Kosovo will be quickly returned to normality. The destruction of housing and the spoliation of farm land alone make that immensely difficult, but given the will and the money, the material damage might be repaired.
But material renaissance is not the heart of the problem. That lies in the all too simple fact of the existence of two incompatible ethnic groups occupying the same territory, both sides replete with ancestral hatreds and recent hurts. In such circumstances a peaceful multicultural Kosovo is a fantasy.
We have the example of Bosnia before us. Stripped of all cant, it is now a good old fashioned League of Nations Protectorate, a mandated territory. It has the experience of several years of UN control. Yet the vast majority of the displaced populations in Bosnia have not returned to their homes and the various ethnic groups there lead largely segregated lives.
But the post bombing situation in Kosovo is unlikely to be anything like so favourable as I have described. The KLA have shown no more willingness to generally disarm than the IRA. The agreement which was reached is not unambiguous.
Milosevic cannot be relied to keep his part of the bargain. The Russians have shown that they are not willing to accept Nato command unconditionally. Money in the quantities suggested as needed for rebuilding (anything between 15-25 billion pounds) may well prove to be too great a hurdle for politicians to sell to their publics who are being told of the need for cuts in welfare – The USA and Europe are already squabbling over who should bear the cost of rebuilding Kosovo.
Milosevic also has one great general political advantage; he knows that political life amongst the Nato powers is ephemeral. While he may be in power in five years time, the majority of his opponents will not. He can afford to sit and wait until a propitious moment comes to regain all or part of Kosovo. Milosevic’s position is not as strong as that of Saddam Hussain in purely authoritarian terms, but he has a vital quality which Saddam does not, namely his authority does not rely entirely on force.
Before the war started the Nato leaders must have known that a western led occupation of Kosovo would simply replace one form of repression with another. At best they could expect a replica of Bosnia: at worst, an ethnic cleansing of Serbian Kosovans. Since the end of the war, all too predictably the worst has occurred as the western disregard shown for the welfare of ordinary Serbs elsewhere in the Balkans has been repeated. The peacekeeping force has stood ineffectually by whilst Kosovo is cleansed of Serbs by the KLA and their associates.
Perhaps no one has won the war, but that is often the way of wars. The real question is who has suffered the most damage. At the moment it may look like Milosevic, not least because the Nato countries in truth had nothing material to gain and everything to lose from the War. Yet Milosevic has reduced the Rambouillet demands, probably tightened his control on Yugoslav politics and large parts of Kosovo has been ethnically cleansed. The Nato countries have made significant concessions and committed themselves to massive expenditure and the deployment of troops indefinitely. This will both take money from their own electorates and influence their future foreign policies. It is a strange sort of victory if victory it be for Nato.
For Britain there is much about which to be ashamed and worried. We have bombed defenceless targets which plainly were not in any meaningful sense military. This places us in an impossible moral position in dealing with terrorist action. What moral argument could we have against Serb reprisal bombs in Britain? That it is wrong to bomb innocent civilians?
More worryingly Blair has shown himself to be an unashamed warmonger. I would like to believe that Blair’s public words were simply a cynical manipulation of the public to promote his reputation and were made in the certain knowledge that Clinton would not commit troops to a land war. Unfortunately I think that Blair was anything but cynical in his belligerence. The Observer reported on 18 July that Blair had agreed to send 50,000 British troops to take part in an invasion force of 170,000 if Milosevic had not conceded Kosovo to Nato. Incredible as this may seem, (and it was not denied by Downing Street) such recklessness fits in with Blair’s general behaviour. So there you have it, our prime minister would have committed the majority of Britain’s armed forces to a land war in which we have no national interest, regardless of the cost, deaths and injuries. The danger remains that Blair will find another adventure which does result in a land war. Over Kosovo, he behaved like a reckless adolescent and nearly came a fatal political cropper. Yet this government appears to have learnt nothing from the experience, vide the unpleasant and malicious fanaticism in Blair and Cook’s declarations of their intent to both unseat Milosevic from power and bring him before an international court, vide the humiliation of Russia, vide the ever more absurd declarations of internationalist intent since hostilities ceased. That adolescent idealists’ mindset could lead Britain down a very dark path indeed. It is also incompatible with a foreign policy that supposedly encourages elected governments (however imperfect they are) over dictatorships.
What other lessons does this war teach us? It shows above all the utter powerlessness of the democratic process and the sham of international law. In the two countries which have taken the lead, US and Britain, parliamentary support was not formally sought nor given, funds voted or a declaration of war sanctioned. The other members of Nato have been impotent bystanders.
The American Constitution was designed to prevent aggressive acts of war without congressional approval. That constitutional guarantee has been severely tested since 1945, but perhaps never so emphatically as in the past months. If an American president can commit such considerable forces to a war regardless of Congressional approval, it seriously brings into question the value of the constitutional restraint. Where exactly would the line be drawn in the Constitutional sand?
In Britain, the matter was debated at the government’s convenience but at no one else’s. Incredibly, many will think, support for the war was never put to a vote in the Commons.
As for international law, that has been shown in the most unambiguous manner to be a sham. The war was fought without a declaration of war, in contravention of the UN Charter and in a manner guaranteed to cause significant civilian casualties.
Yet Judge Arbour at the War Crimes Tribunal does not indict the likes of Clinton and Blair, only Milosevic. (Readers might like to note that formal complaints to Judge Arbour about Blair and Clinton have been ignored). Law which is not equally applied is no law, but merely a tool of the powerful against the weak. Moreover, there does not appear to be any illegality at which the US would draw the line. Apart from incitements to murder Milosevic, there have been newspaper reports of attempts by the CIA to illegally enter Milosevic’s bank accounts and drain them of funds (we honest folks call that theft). If governments do not obey the core moral and legal commandments of their own societies, law does not effectively exist.
If international law meant anything, the Nato action would be deemed objectively illegal. It was so first because of an absence of lawful international authority, there being no UN sanction for the War. On a national level, neither the British nor the American Parliaments sanctioned either the action or the expenditure which permitted the action.
The war also drove a coach and horses through the UN Charter and the Nato Treaty. The UN Charter was breached because it prohibits action to amend a sovereign state’s borders. As for the NATO treaty, this only provides for action to be taken in defence of member countries. Clearly the Yugoslav government had offered no direct threat to NATO members because there was no attempt to act outside the territory of Yugoslavia. Moreover, the only NATO countries which might have called for assistance to a perceived threat – Greece and Hungary – did not do so and made it clear that they were far from supportive of the Nato action.
In general terms, it was impossible before the war began to make a convincing case that Yugoslavia could present a threat to the peace of Europe. It is a country of ten million souls, poor with an underdeveloped industrial base. Moreover, its natural poverty had been greatly increased by years of civil war and UN sanctions.
Balkan history tells a single story: any of its peoples which become possessed of the advantage of numbers, wealth or arms will oppress as a matter of course any other of its peoples. If the Albanians gain control of Kosovo, rest assured that they will behave as abominably towards the Serbs as the Serbs have behaved towards them. The disputed territory is Serb by history and Albanian by present settlement. There is no absolute right on either side.