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02 May 1999

KOSOVO IS EVERYWHERE ------------------------------By: Sai Wansai

Its seems, these days, Kosovo conflict has powerfully produced a galvanic
effect on the traditional ethnic conflict resolution approach and the 
principle of the right to self-determination. Some conflicts are as 
intense as Kosovo, some to a lesser degree, and some are brewing, i.e., 
conflicts waiting for eruption. 

The fact that the NATO has begun to bombard the rest Yugoslavia or 
the Serbian military machinery and its infrastructure is a turning point 
seen from international norms formally accepted by existing nation states 
and the United Nations. 

All along, the notions of "territorial integrity", "sovereignty" and 
"non-intervention" have been established norms which no one thought of 
questioning seriously. But NATO's bombardment within the context of 
Kosovo has changed all of this. It is now clear that the notion of 
"humanitarian intervention" has taken a front seat, at least where Kosovo 
is concerned, and seems in this context, more important than the hitherto 
accepted norms of "territorial integrity", "sovereignty" and 

It could and has been argued that the Kosovo intervention is against 
"moral principle and obligation" on the part of NATO and western power, 
when there are many more conflicts raging around the world. But given 
that NATO/US intervention has thrust to the forefront the notion of 
"humanitarian intervention" and the right of self-determination, it could 
be seen as a giant step forward in trying to remedy the problem of ethnic 
conflicts and oppressed non-state nations, unrepresented peoples and 
minorities -- religious, linguistic or otherwise.


According to Dan Smith, in "The State of War and Peace Atlas", 43
ongoing armed and open conflicts can be counted, as of 31st December 
1995. Of these, the majority falls into the category of ethnic conflicts, 
while a lot of latent conflicts are brewing, waiting for eruption. 

The UNPO (Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization) based in The 
Hague, which started out with a handful of members now fields 50, as of 
1997. In the Asia Pacific region alone, the organization claims 15 
members. They are Aboriginals of Australia, Acheh/Sumatra, Bougainville, 

Chittagong Hill Tracts, Cordillera (Philippines), East Timor, Eastern 
Turkestan, Karenni State, Mon, Nagaland, South Moluccas, Taiwan, Tibet, 
West Papua and the Shan States. There are still a lot more unrepresented 
nations and peoples outside the UNPO, such as the Tamil in Srilanka, 
Kashmiri and Assamese in India in the region, just to name a few.

Of the conflicts raging in Asia Pacific region, the ethnic conflicts in 
Burma (Shan States, Karenni State, Karen State and Mon State), Indonesia 
(Acheh, East Timor, South Moluccas and West Papua), and China (Tibet and 
Eastern Turkestan), are all comparable to the Kosovo conflict where 
"crime against humanity" is concerned.

In this connection, the Kosovo conflict has highlighted the question of
"legitimacy", at least, in two areas. One is within the international 
arena and UN forum, and the other, the ethical or moral point of view. 
That is, those opposed to the NATO bombardment of rest Yugoslavia argue 
that without the approval of the UN, i.e., the Security Council, there 
can be no legitimacy regarding NATO's actions. But others -- comprising 
a majority -- banking their argument on "moral obligation" and 
"humanitarian intervention" sees that NATO involvement as justified. 


Now let us look at the first argument of not being legitimate, due to the 
lack of UN endorsement... Western power knew in advance that the 
resolution to push for the involvement of NATO in Kosovo conflict would 
never be endorsed. The Russian and the Chinese would definitely veto it. 
Given such consideration, on the part of the West or NATO, it is 
understandable that it opted to bypass the Security Council and go it 
alone. There are of course other pressing problems for the West apart 
from having to uphold the high moral ground regarding genocide, ethnic 
cleansing, population transfer and other human rights violations 
committed by the Serbs on the Albanians or Kosovars. These are fear of 
the instability within the region; the threat of a Palestinian-like 
refugee problem which the West would have to shoulder, and the draining 
of the resources in this regard. Although these are hard facts which the 
West could ill afford to ignore, it is the sense of "moral obligation" 
and "humanitarian consideration" that has pushed the West and NATO for 
such involvement.

Again, the question of "legitimacy" could be viewed in a different light,
rather than the traditional or conservative point of view. The issue of 
the legitimacy of the states and governments is outlined in the UNPO 
Statement On Self-Determination as below:

States exist for the sole purpose of fulfilling three fundamental tasks: 
(1) to protect the population of the state; (2) to promote the economic 
, social and cultural welfare of that population; and (3) to represent 
the interest of that population externally, that is, internationally. 
Where a state or a government does not fulfill these functions over a
period of time, but instead represses or even kills the people it is
supposed to protect; destroys their culture, economically exploits them; 

or represents other interests other then those of the people, then that 
state or government lacks legitimacy in respect to the whole population, 
or to that section of population which it oppresses.

Viewed from this perspective, we could presume that serious violators of 
"human rights" should be denied "legitimacy" and proper action taken 
against such regimes. Like it or not, Kosovo conflict is exactly the case 
in point and it has gladdened all the oppressed peoples and worried all 
the dictatorial regimes and multiethnic states.

The anti-intervention camp seems also to base its arguments on the West's 
double standard, pointing to the of the West and United Nations to the 
genocides which had taken place in the past in Cambodia and Rwanda. The 
international community had turned its back on such pressing issues, thus 
allowing such tragedies to unfold without undertaking preventive and 
protective measures.

Professor Chomsky in a recent interview (CBC RADIO April 16, 1999) said: 
"One thing is that any kind of turbulence in the Balkans is what's called 
in technical terms a crisis, that means it can harm the interests of rich 
and powerful people. So if people are slaughtering each other in Sierra 
Leone, Colombia, Turkey or wherever, that doesn't effect rich and 
powerful people very much, therefore they are glad either to just watch 
it, or even contribute to it, massively as in the case of Turkey or 
Colombia. But in the Balkans it's different, it can effect European 
interests and therefore US interest, so it becomes a crisis." 

In this respect, Russia, China and Burma have been the loudest in 
criticizing the NATO involvement in Kosovo. While the Russian has sent 
its warships into the Black Sea and threatened a third world war, the 
Chinese has called for the modernization of its armed forces to counter 
the NATO threat, and Burma simply lashed out at the "big neocolonialist 
countries" for interfering in the internal affairs of the small nations.

Regardless of all such allegations, the new breed of western democratic
leaders, such as Clinton, Blair, Schroeder, Solana and most of NATO top 
brass are determined, it seems to keep the pressure on Milosevic and his 
military machine. Perhaps when German Chancellor Schroeder declared 
recently that "...we are under a moral obligation to contain the ongoing 
human catastrophe - to stop the killings and deportations", he might 
have has been proclaiming a new, revolutionary -- and a much more 
reasonable, rational, and ethical -- international stance. The Chinese 
were reportedly very surprised that the West has gone to war to uphold 
its "moral values". The first attack of its kind on a sovereign state, 
and one in Europe, on top of that.

Given such circumstances, it is fair to conclude that "humanitarian
intervention" has, in effect, taken the front seat within the Kosovo
context and it is highly likely that it might possibily continue to stay
there for the time to come. Hopefully, this trend will widen its sphere 
to the other crisis areas where the intensity and priority are no less

important than the one going on in Kosovo.


The "right to self-determination" is part and parcel of the universally 
accepted set of "human rights". Besides, denying the right of national
self-determination and as well the perpetration of human rights violations 
in the name of "national unity" by states and governments have only 
created more ethnic conflicts than resolving them. 

It is high time that we advocate a pro-change stance, re the resolution 
of ethnic conflicts raging around the world. In addition, it should be 
noted that not all ethnic groups striving for self-determination are 
determined to only opt for "total independence" (i.e., secession). The 
right of self-determination allows a people to choose its own political 
status and to determine its own form of economic, cultural and social 
development free of coercion. The exercise of this right can result in a 
variety of different outcomes ranging from political independence to 
forms of autonomy or association, to full integration within an existing 
state. In this regard, it is most important to take into account the fact 
that no two situations are alike and it must be dealt separately with 
respect to historical sensitivity and the will of the peoples involved in 
a pragmatic manner. 

Multiethnic states with democratic institutions and high political
participation of all social stratas should not be overly concerned with 
such development or consider it as harmful. For as far as the 
international norms regarding "humanitarian intervention" is concerned, 
it would be only applicable to states with serious human rights records. 
And since, democratic multiethnic states have peaceful and political 
means of resolving conflicts occurred, there would not be any need to 
fall back on or make use of humanitarian intervention. Besides, they also 
are vested with "legitimacy" which no one could deny.

Only the states with serious human rights records would be stripped off
their "legitimacy", which would, in turn, pave the way for "humanitarian
intervention", as is the case of rest Yugoslavia within the Kosovo 

As it now stands, it seems that there are a number of Kosovo-like 
conflicts around the world still waiting to be addressed and untangled. 
Hopefully, the spirit of "humanitarian concern" and the political will to 
implement it will prevail, not only in Kosovo. Otherwise, the West runs 
the risk of being labelled "Western-centric" where moral obligation to 
humanitarian catostrophes are concerned.
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