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Ashamed to be a Canadian

by Michael Bliss


National Post

Friday, March 26, 1999
Page A18,

Canadian aircraft have bombed targets in Yugoslavia. Our country has committed acts of war against a sovereign European nation. We and our NATO allies are attacking a country that has not attacked us or any other country. We are not acting under the sanction of the United Nations or any other font of international law. We, in fact, are acting in direct contravention of the UN Charter. Nor has Parliament authorized our government to make war on Yugoslavia. What in the world is happening to us?

NATO is trying to save lives in Kosovo; it is waging war in order to bring peace to the Balkans, we are told in good Orwellian doublespeak. It's true that a civil war is raging in a province of Yugoslavia, as the government of the country tries to suppress an armed insurrection. Led by the United States, NATO has insisted that the fighting in Kosovo stop, and has developed a peace plan that would involve stationing tens of thousands of foreign troops on Yugoslavian territory. The Yugoslav government will not agree to the terms of this foreign interference in what it deems a domestic matter. So it is being pounded into submission.

Having no brief for Slobodan Milosevic and his policies, I hope that he and other Yugoslavian leaders decide that the cost of resisting NATO assaults is too high, that they return to the table, and that the fighting, by all parties, ends quickly and permanently. But even if that most desirable outcome takes place, the world is going to pay a serious price for such a Kosovo settlement. The price involves what we have done to NATO and what we are doing to the rule of law. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization was created in 1949 as a defensive alliance for mutual protection against Communist aggression. Canada was a founding member of NATO because we believed such an alliance was obviously in our national interest. Without ever having to fire a shot, NATO did help protect us through the remainder of the Cold War. After the Soviet Union collapsed, there was no obvious role for NATO to play, and from a Canadian point of view a case could be made for winding down the military role of the grand alliance.

Instead, NATO is making war on a sovereign country to try to enforce its view of how that country's internal affairs should be arranged. It is acting as a kind of international police force, making the rules as it goes. It does not have the sanction of the UN for attacking Yugoslavia, only instructions from its members' governments. A military alliance created for purposes of defence against an obvious potential enemy has appointed itself global enforcer.

Is this what Canadians believe NATO should be doing? Canada has always and only used its military in accordance with well-understood principles of international law. We declared and fought a just war against Nazi Germany. We fought under the UN flag in Korea and in the Gulf War. We made a point of staying out of the undeclared war in Vietnam; we made a point of not taking military action against Cuba in the 1962 missile crisis or supporting American efforts to overthrow Castro. We have always been proud of our support for the rule of law in international affairs. Now we are complicit with our NATO allies in tearing up the rule of law in the name of an allegedly higher principle.

That higher principle is not nearly as clear as that American leader of vision and integrity, Bill Clinton, suggests. It was not clear that the rebellion in Kosovo threatened other Balkan states. Only if the Albanian rebels succeeded, either in winning independence or in persuading other countries to widen the war, would the Balkans be enflamed. Yes, much blood was being shed as Serbs suppressed the Albanian revolt in Kosovo -- just as it has been shed putting down rebellions in Russia, Turkey, the United States, and Canada, among many other countries.

Now that NATO has intervened, of course, much more blood is being shed, the war has been enlarged, and if the Russians decide to intervene the peace of the world might be threatened.

And the rule of law in the affairs of nations has been seriously undermined. The strong intervene where and when they choose. Today it's NATO attacking Yugoslavia; tomorrow it might be Iraq attacking Kuwait again, or Russia, or China, or whoever has big guns and superficial moral certitude.

It's unprecedented and disheartening that Canada should be part of a retrograde movement toward international anarchy. We should disengage our forces from NATO and begin to ask why we continue to be part of NATO.

Where is Parliament? Why isn't it debating these great issues of war and peace? Why are we risking Canadian lives and why are Canadians killing Yugoslavians?

When I heard the news about our fighter planes attacking Yugoslavia I felt ashamed to be a Canadian. What bitter irony, to think about Canadians' past enthusiasm for bringing war criminals to justice. Well, we have joined their game. Maybe there is good reason to bring Madame Justice Louise Arbour home.

Michael Bliss teaches history at the University of Toronto.

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Last revised: March 30, 1999