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
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
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
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.