Robert Skidelsky opposed Nato intervention against Serb counter insurgency in Kosovo from the opposition benches of the House of Lords in 1999. His dissent from the Tory party line cost him his job and put an end to the economist’s brief political career. In the Guardian’s Comment Is Free he argues that hind-sight has proven him right. Skidelsky explicitly equates Kosovo with the subsequent Iraq debacle, seeing in it a precedent for intervention on flimsy evidence, with disregard to international law, which actually caused the situation on the ground to deteriorate.
The first strand of Skidelsky’s argument against intervention at that time, was in fact precisely that it would set up a dangerous and damaging precedent for intervention. Human rights, democracy and self-determination are not legal grounds for going to war against a state unless there is an international consensus as framed and enforced by the UN Security Council. Where human rights abuses are particularly severe, he acknowledges that there may be a moral obligation to act contrary to international law, but Skidelsky’s assessment of the situation in Kosovo in 1999 is based on facts as opposed to the subsequent Nato narrative which has become prevalent.
Skidelsky cites the OSCE’s findings to support his argument. It is widely accepted, but largely overlooked when the intervention is evaluated, that Nato bombing actually caused a dramatic increase in death and expulsion. “The ‘humanitarian disaster’ was in fact precipitated by the war itself” Skidelsky argues. He continues "the term "genocide", freely bandied about by western interventionists, was grotesquely inappropriate at any time”.
The article is circumspect about the effects of the bombing. Kosovan Albanians did accrue some benefit principally by wresting political power and influence from Serbs. However economically all sectors of society have suffered exponentially with employment in Kosovo currently topping 44%. In addition criminality and corruption are endemic and Kosovo has been ‘reverse cleansed’ of half its Serb population since 1999. These effects hardly constitute a net gain.
The war against Serbia was prosecuted on the basis on a ‘pre-emptive strike’ designed to ward off a supposed potential humanitarian catastrophe. Events in Bosnia had hyper-sensitised Europe as to the possible consequences of Serb aggression and the need to actually prove the imminence of such a catastrophe was dispensed with. This furnished George Bush and his neo-con advisers with a direct model from which to rationalise an attack on Iraq, based on an equally flimsy premise. Skidelsky believes that bombing Serbia provided a pretext for developing the doctrine of ‘pre-emptive war’ and “opened the door to the proliferation of unilateral, lawless use of force”.
Furthermore he concludes that in encouraging Kosovo’s Albanians to eschew a possible negotiated settlement based on autonomy, America and her allies fostered “a regressive answer to a genuine international problem: how to hold together multi-ethnic, multi-religious states in a reasonably civilised way”. Skidelsky highlights the opposition to recognising Kosovan independence held by the majority of multi-national states. Nine years after the bombing Kosovo now provides a template for secession, ethnic irredentism and dismemberment.