Clinton`s "Just" War
Jude Wanniski
May 27, 1999


Memo To: President Bill Clinton
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: A "Just War"

In your lengthy op-ed in the Sunday New York Times, you attempt to make the case that NATO's war against Serbia is both necessary and just. But on every count, NATO's war fails to meet the criteria of "Just War." I asked my colleague Peter Signorelli to offer you his views from a Roman Catholic perspective, which we share with our Website fans:

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The Roman Pontiff John Paul II is emphatic that peaceful solutions must be found, and that recourse to war never resolves a crisis. This is not something peculiar to this pope. It is fundamental traditional Catholic teaching. There are occasions when peaceful resolution of conflict do fail, but the Roman Catholic Church seeks to employ a moral framework for restraining, limiting and regulating the use of force. The "Just War" tradition provides the best guide for that approach.

Among the major components of Just War is Just Cause. At the point that the U.S., via NATO, opted for military force, the case could not be made that the conditions in Kosovo represented grave, public evil. This is not to say that all was well in the province. Between 2,000 and 3,000 individuals, most of them, but not all, ethnic Albanians, had been killed in Kosovo before NATO's launching of war. Yes, Slobodan Milosevic ended autonomy for Kosovo some years earlier, and yes he did violate many rights of ethnic Albanians, but none of the violations at that time would qualify as life-threatening. (In some ways his treatment of the Kosovo Albanians was less onerous than the treatment of African-Americans in our country's post-slavery era -- deplorable, morally offensive, even evil.) The arbitrary revocation of autonomy in Kosovo and the subsequent violations of civil rights there were not a cause for war as the only option.

Comparative Justice: There are rights and wrongs on all sides in all conflicts. But at the time NATO opted for force, did the injustices suffered by the Kosovo Albanians so outweigh those suffered by Serbs? The ethnic Albanians had been deprived of equal treatment before the law, but there still was the option of negotiated resolution between Belgrade and the ethnic Albanian leader and spokesman Dr. Ibrahim Rugova. Serb reprisals for terrorist attacks by the Kosovo Liberation Army were brutal and merciless, but they were not indiscriminate attacks against ethnic Albanians per se. Remember, Kosovo is a province of a sovereign Serbia. The U.S. was demanding that Yugoslavia sign an agreement that, in practical terms, will allow secession of its province after three years. And Serbia, facing an armed, terrorist operation in its Kosovo province, was ordered at Rambouilette to permit NATO troops to occupy not just Kosovo province but Serbia itself!

Legitimate authority. NATO for all its life was a military alliance between the U.S. and Western Europe, designed to prevent the Soviet Union's expansion by force of arms. But you, Mr. President, your Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and the UK's Tony Blair, all proclaim that "Kosovo is NATO's future." That is, this supranational agency will deploy outside its traditional arena, will not be bound by the UN charter, and will not abide the concept of sovereignty. (I am sure the Chinese are taking note.) But NATO has not amended its charter, and operates in violation of its own founding mandate and tasks.

Right Intention. Force may be used only in and solely for a truly just cause. The violation of ethnic Albanian civil rights in Kosovo before NATO's recourse to war? How does one measure those infringements of civil liberties against, say the allegations of the slaughter of Timorese by Indonesia, the suppression of Tibetan culture and identity by China, the rampages in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Rwanda, the persecution of Christians in Saudi Arabia or Pakistan, the enslavement and slaughter of Christians in Sudan, the war of NATO ally Turkey against its Kurdish citizens, etc., etc., etc? The U.S. insists NATO's bombing of Serbia was to protect the Kosovo Albanians, and then when it produced an exodus of mammoth suffering and proportions, it claimed that it knew the bombing would provoke that consequence. But then how could the intention of its bombing of Serbia been to protect the ethnic Albanians of Kosovo?

Probability of Success. Of course Madeleine Albright claimed that Milosevic is just a "schoolyard bully." Bloody his nose and he'll run," she asserted. The best strategic military advice to the President was that NATO would not be successful in imposing its war aims on Serbia via air power alone. Your administration now acknowledges that it knew it would lead to the refugee crisis. Why you never informed the ethnic Albanians of this is still an unanswered question. Initially your administration insisted that success would have to include Serbia's total capitulation to the agreement that Albright tried to force upon the Serbs at Rambouilette -- withdrawal of Serb forces from its province, an occupation army made up of NATO troops, restoration of full autonomy, and in three years a new relationship. (Blair wanted Milosevic's removal a condition for an end to NATO's war on Serbia.) Arrogance bred of power. Disproportionate measures are required now to claim "real success" in Kosovo. I trust Mr. President that you will find some way to proclaim success, even as a negotiated Russian-brokered cessation of hostilities is implemented. But then, Mr. President, the war was for nothing. It is not at all as you believed it would be -- a lot of electronic gadgetry with quick, surgical airstrikes (with all the casualties on the other side and none on this side), followed by capitulation of the enemy.

Proportionality. Would the good to be achieved outweigh the overall destruction required for the use of force? This principle requires, among other things, that "collateral damage" be stringently curtailed. The justification of violence requires its own opaque language. "Oops. Well, while NATO does not admit to the charges that it hit civilian targets, it does acknowledge that accidents may happen." And, although almost every NATO briefing now begins with "NATO regrets...", the spokesmen are quick to add that the killing of civilians by NATO is "all Milosevic's fault anyway."

The decisions to bomb all bridges across the Danube (shutting down a crucial transport network from Germany to the Black Sea and throwing the entire region into grave economic distress), to bombing electrical grids, rail lines, water filtration and pumping plants, car factories, media centers, etc., etc., reveals that NATO is waging war against noncombatants. It was known beforehand, was it not Mr. President, that the victims of NATO's attack on Serb media facilities all would be civilians. NATO now proclaims another victory: It has reduced the water supply of Belgrade to but 10% of what is required, and the city's hospitals, residences, factories, etc. are without electricity for most of the day and night. At least two million Serbs now are added to the unemployment rolls because of the destruction of Serbia's factories. In addition, 250,000 people have fled from Kosovo province to Serbia proper and Montenegro. This increases the humanitarian burden in Yugoslavia on top of the already nearly 600,000 refugees there from Bosnia and Croatia. We now see reported that you have issued an intelligence "finding" that will allow clandestine CIA black ops against Serbia: Train the KLA in acts of sabotage -- cutting telephone lines, fouling gasoline reserves, pilfer food supplies, tamper with water purification and pumping systems, disrupt electrical services, Internet terror and other acts of terrorism and sabotage. Clearly, this represents the waging of war on the civilian population of Serbia. NATO provides a rationale for all this destruction, but then its aim is not peace with justice, but the total prostration of Serbia.

Last Resort: Were all other options exhausted? The Pope called for "humanitarian intervention" into the crisis (a point of view shared by the Serbian Orthodox Patriarch Pavel), asking that a "humanitarian corridor" be set up to allow refugees to come out and aid workers to go in. NATO dismissed that initiative and the Pope's efforts on behalf of peace and reconciliation among the children of God. The Russians were kept at arms length, deceived at Rambouilette by M. Albright, and then allowed to come aboard eventually as part of a foreign occupation force in Serbia. But all the options for peaceful resolutions were rejected as unacceptable, with suggestions from DoD and State, that such talk borders on aiding and abetting the enemy. Is it not peculiar that no U.S. media have yet conducted an interview with the ethnic Albanian leader Dr. Ibrahim Rugova? Rugova, of course, seeks an end to the bombing and the beginning of negotiations with Belgrade. Of course, those who do criticize or even question the Administration's latest propaganda-laden press conferences are characterized by Pentagon spokesman Kenneth Bacon or Secretary of State Madeleine Albright as "giving comfort to the enemy." Robert Novak was accused by Bacon of "slurring the U.S. military" because he referred to the "dumb" bombs dropped by B-52s as an "anti-population" tactic. U.S. Secretary of State Albright and British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook insist that all NATO is unified behind an intensified bombing campaign and that the campaign will prevail in bringing Slobodan Milosevic to his knees. But the European media are full of accounts indicating that much of NATO is edging away from the U.S./British point of view on war to the bitter end.

These principles do not constitute a checklist. But they do offer, Mr. President, a basis for a system of moral consideration and constraint regarding the use of force. NATO fails this criteria across the board. Surely, somewhere during your education at Georgetown you must have come across a truth of moral theology that holds one may not commit an evil in the name of greater good.

Peter Signorelli