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KOSOVO IS EVERYWHERE
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.
UNREPRESENTED NATIONS AND ETHNIC CONFLICTS AROUND THE WORLD
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.
THE LEGITIMACY FACTOR AND INTERNATIONAL INTERVENTION
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
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 DOUBLE STANDARD IN WESTERN INTERVENTION
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
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.
A PRAGMATIC APPROACH: THE RIGHT OF NATIONAL SELF-DETERMINATION
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.