Copyright Sociological Research Online, 1999


Martin Shaw (1999) 'The Kosovan War, 1998-99: Transformations of State, War and Genocide in the Global Revolution'
Sociological Research Online, vol. 4, no. 2, <>

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Received: 28/06/99      Accepted:      Published: 30/6/99


This paper outlines an analysis of the Kosovan war of 1998-99 in the light of historical-sociological perspectives on the contemporary state and on war and genocide. It argues that Kosova poses new challenges which threaten to relegitimate war as a means of politics, after the earlier implication of total war with genocide, unless alternative forms of international intervention are developed.

Genocide; International; Intervention; State; War


The Kosovan war of 1998-99 has thrust the problems of war and genocide once again into the forefront of social and political debate. Too much argument has proceeded, however, on the basis of conventional assumptions about states, 'sovereignty' and the viability of war - as an extension of politics in the classic Clausewitzian sense, or as an object of arguments from the just war tradition. The sociological imagination has hardly been apparent in the public argument, although a historical-sociological perspective could have provided a richer grounding for the issues which have been the subject of controversy.

At the end of the 'century of total war', social theory still has a lamentable record of neglect of war. Wars are regular, structural features of modernity, yet they are still treated as abnormal intrusions into the regularities of social life. War has fundamentally reshaped capitalism, the state, technology, culture, and their relationships, as well as being reshaped by these forces, during the last hundred years. Yet the pivotal role of war in modern society, while a rich source of historiography, remains stunted as a topic for social, political and even international thought. We suppose that we can discuss the rights and wrongs of the Kosovan war in terms of the tradition of thinking about just war which predate modernity, without any systematic reflection on the transformations of war (in contrast the Catholic church, one of the major sources of this tradition, questions its continuing relevance).

Where to start? I shall try to summarize in a few paragraphs a rich but marginalized body of work. Modern industrial capitalist society provided, by the end of the 'long nineteenth century' of economic and social transformation, a powerful infrastructure for a new 'mode of warfare'. I use this term, first proposed by Mary Kaldor (1982), advisedly, to suggest that there is a distinct sphere in which the social relations of military power are produced and reproduced, in which - as Clausewitz himself first suggested - all activity tends towards ultimate realization in violent contest.

In general we might assume that the mode of warfare exists in parallel to and in mutual interaction with the mode of production (of material social life) which Marxists posit. (A parallel way of thinking about these issues is the idea of interacting 'institutional clusters' of warfare and surveillance, industrialism and capitalism, proposed by Giddens, 1985.) However the uniqueness of industrialized total war, the mode of warfare which developed in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, is that it expanded to envelop the mode of production and other spheres of social relations. Total war can be seen as growing out of the social relations and technologies of nineteenth-century industrial capitalism, but in the twentieth century it had a considerable tendency to take them over. Production, the state and culture were harnessed to the destructive logic of war. The mode of production was reshaped to feed the war machines of the great imperial states of the mid-twentieth century.

It is in these modern structures of social relations that modern genocide was produced. On the one hand, military logic expanded so that since economy and society produce war, they became also its targets. With the technology of aerial warfare came strategic and then area bombing, designed to obliterate first the economic infrastructure and then the social supports of enemy states. On the other hand, from the political infrastructure of total war came the formidable power of the modern bureaucratic state, with tendencies towards total control of economy and society, which are the principal origins of what we call 'statism'. Add to these the ways in which the social contradictions of total war generated extreme counter-revolutionary nationalist politics, and you have 'totalitarianism', a politics capable of identifying whole social groups as targets of extermination.

The prevailing discourse of genocide has identified the second of these sets of relations, rather than the first, as those in which the phenomenon is produced. Clearly the Holocaust is, as Bauman (1990) argued, a definite product of modernity. We need however to go further in identifying its specifically military origins. Genocide here was the product of Nazism's war against the Jews, in the context of its larger total war against more conventional state enemies. However, the idea of the Holocaust as the prototype of modern genocide, understandably propagated by the victors of 1945, led to the definition of the phenomenon as acts 'committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group' (Kuper, 1981: 32). This also obscured the other kind of genocide in modern war, and thus the extent to which total war as a mode of warfare had genocidal implications. For it can surely be argued that the deliberate destruction of the populations of Hamburg, Dresden, Tokyo and of course Hiroshima and Nagasaki - although framed within different kinds of intentions from those of the Nazis - was also genocidal in a distinct but closely related sense.

It is this idea of the generally genocidal tendencies of modern warfare which E.P. Thompson (1982) developed in his critique of 'exterminism'. In powerful irony directed against reductionist Marxist ideas of imperialism, he designated this 'the last stage of civilization'. Reconstructing his argument within the terms I have used (I have done this more fully in Shaw, 1990), it was an argument that total warfare in its nuclear phase threatened to destroy not merely particular peoples, but worldwide society. There was a clear problem in the development of nuclear weapons, that war threatened to become self-defeating. There was no way in which nuclear war could be fought without the 'mutual destruction of the contending parties' (Marx and Engels' (1848) recognition of impending barbarism seems more relevant to this context of nuclear war, than to the class struggle within which it was framed).

The problem was widely recognized, of course. Michael Howard (1981) saw it as the possible end of the Clausewitzian idea of war as the pursuit of politics or policy 'by other means' - the means of war no longer fitted any rational political goals. Much of the subsequent history of warfare can be seen as the attempt to avoid this form of redundancy. American nuclear planners in the late 1970s tried to elaborate a strategy of 'graduated response' based on the new technology of 'tactical nuclear weapons'. Thompson saw these attempts as particularly dangerous because the law of escalation, which Clausewitz also identified, would always mean the possibility that 'theatre' war involving 'tactical' weapons would develop into an all-out nuclear missile exchange. For him, the nuclear-conventional difference remained central, and although subsequent developments in technology have complicated matters, it remains a key reference point in any debate. Interestingly, the cruise missiles which (with conventional warheads) have part-destroyed Baghdad and Belgrade were originally outgrowths of this refinement of nuclear strategy.

Clearly, hot wars continued to be fought, but after Korea they were not directly between Cold War adversaries. Instead inter-state wars were confined to wars between great powers and third parties (America-Vietnam, China-Vietnam, Britain-Argentina) and between non-core states (Israel-Arab states, Iran-Iraq). Both great and lesser powers also fought wars against insurgent national-liberation movements, and the vast majority of wars were defined as 'intra-state' even though external intervention was widespread. The Soviet Union used military force repeatedly to repress democratic movements within east-central Europe. Where these conflicts had Cold War implications these were contained. Genocide was seen as arising from the internal relations of states, and in its aftermath wars of 'humanitarian intervention' were actually initiated by the campaigns of Vietnam and Tanzania in Cambodia and Uganda respectively, in the late 1970s.

Thompson's idea that Western and Soviet industrial societies had both become 'exterminist' in their totalities, while highlighting real dangers, also obscured more complex transformations in the mode of warfare. High-technology weaponry accentuated the total-destructive potential of war, but it did not require the total-mobilizing economic, social and political infrastructure of classic total war. Hence states were able to abandon strategic control over economies, retreating from state ownership and direction to regulation and management of markets. States no longer needed welfare to buttress military participation, although they might maintain some of it for social cohesion. Conscription could be wound down or even abandoned. Elite and popular militarisms were differentiated as 'deterrence-science' and 'spectator-sport' (Mann, 1986), although one could argue that 'armament culture' pervaded both (Luckham, 1984). Even before 1989, there was a pervasive demilitarization of society, so that Western society became in a sense 'post-military' (Shaw, 1991), and such a society was no longer prepared for all-out war.

Many features of contemporary warfare and militarism were anticipated in these developments, but Kaldor (1999) is surely correct to argue that there has been a major transformation of war in the 1990s. For her, 'new wars' involve new social relations, political economy and politics of war. Drawing chiefly on the earlier phases of the Yugoslav wars, she emphasizes state fragmentation, new kinds of irregular forces, a demobilized war economy, and wars of identity fought primarily against civilians. New wars combine features of guerilla war and counter-insurgency from previous phases of war. She sees 'humanitarian law enforcement' as the appropriate international response, but examines the ways in which actual 'humanitarian interventions' have become implicated in the new forms of war.

Kaldor's analysis illuminates one side of the contemporary mode of warfare, but two kinds of extension to her arguments are necessary. First, we need a fuller analysis of the relations of violence between the major centres of state power, the Western state and the major non-Western states, which I discussed earlier. How do we evaluate the kinds of war of which they are currently capable? Second, we need to tie the analysis of 'new wars' back into the history of modern warfare which I have discussed in this section. How far can we understand contemporary warfare in terms of the genocidal or exterminist dynamics which we have identified? It is with these questions in mind that I now turn closer to recent events.

Understanding the Kosovan war

Although as I have suggested wars are structurally produced in modern world society, each war is a distinct set of events and casts new light on evolving tendencies in the evolving social relations of state power and war. In this penultimate section I use my general analyses to indicate how we might understand the Kosovan war, and what this war has to say about my general analysis. Before I can talk about Kosova, however, I need to make two specific contextualizations.

First, I discuss the closest precedent for the recent war, the Iraqi wars of 1990-91. Iraq, like Serbia, has proved a persistently unstable centre of state power, initiating the war against Iran from 1981-88, and the genocidal war against Iraqi Kurds in 1988, before invading Kuwait in 1990. The West, having like the Soviet Union tacitly condoned the war against revolutionary Iran, overlooked the use of chemical weapons against the Kurds, and failed to anticipate the Kuwaiti invasion, finally saw its strategic interests and international order threatened, and mobilized with unprecedented strength to reverse the annexation of Kuwait.

Having rhetorically incited Iraqis against their regime, the West was nevertheless unprepared for the actual rebellions of Shi'ites and Kurds in the aftermath of its own defeat of Iraq. The West therefore stood by, allowing them to be fearfully repressed by the remnants of Saddam's forces. There was a huge exodus of refugees, which spilled over into Iran, Turkey and other states. Finally the US, Britain and France were forced - largely by a TV news campaign for the Kurds which I have analyzed (Shaw, 1996) - to make a 'humanitarian' intervention to restore them (but not the Shia people) to their homes.

When TV reporters told us that the flight of the Kosovan Albanians was an 'exodus unprecedented in Europe since 1945', I thought of this other exodus just the other side of Turkey from Europe, and very similar in its production. The difference was that in Kosova the processes were speeded up: the Kosovans fled from the war against the civilian population which the Serbian state had begun in February 1998. This was the direct cause of NATO's intervention, which in turn accelerated the Serbian terror campaign to the point of wholesale expulsion. The 'humanitarian' issue, together with the question of a political settlement between the Kosovan people and the Serbian state, was at the heart of the war from the start. The nexus of Western responsibility for refugees, which it took journalistic campaigning to establish in Kurdistan, was already manifest in Kosova, although the media strongly reinforced it.

The Iraqi wars raised the issue of genocide in a double sense. Firstly, it was quite clear that the Iraqi state pursued genocidal war against the Kurdish and Shia people (and later against the Marsh Arabs). Secondly, however, it has been argued that Western policies towards Iraq have been genocidal in effect. This is not a simple question. It is clear that the US-led coalition's weaponry, although not as 'smart' as boasted, did allow it to pursue a war which was closely targeted, compared to earlier aerial bombardments such as those of the Second World War and Vietnam. Incidents like the bombing of the Amiriya Shelter, in which 400 civilians were killed due to an intelligence error, showed a genocidal potential: but direct civilian deaths from the bombing, which have been estimated at around 3000, were far fewer than those among Iraqi troops. The case about genocide rests, rather, on the indirect effects of the bombing of infrastructure, together with the effects of subsequent sanctions. This issue is complex: the Iraqi people had been greatly impoverished before 1991, by the war with Iran. Their subsequent further immiseration is not a simple product of UN sanctions but of the way they interlock with the Iraqi regime's own priorities of military and state interests over popular welfare. Nevertheless, given that the latter are known, it can be argued that Western policy deliberately compounds mass suffering.

The second story I want to reflect upon is that of Yugoslavia over the last decade. What is interesting is that Titoist Yugoslavia was actually less 'quasi-imperial', and more genuinely multinational, than for example the Soviet Union or China. It was Milosevic's attempts, first to remake Yugoslavia as a Serbian quasi-empire, and second to carve a greater Serbia out of the other republics, which (combined with Tudjman's project of a Croat state) provoked the wars. The Kosovans were in some senses a second-class nationality in the old Yugoslavia: but it was when Milosevic abolished their autonomy and made them third-class, largely non-citizens that he began the countdown to all the wars of Yugoslav succession which have culminated in the Kosovan war of 1998-99.

This emphasizes the counter-revolutionary nature of Serbian and Croatian war ends: whatever the defects of the old Yugoslavia's multinational constitution, it did guarantee some mutual respect among nationalities and some rights for all citizens. These were brutally overthrown, beginning in Kosova in 1989. (It is in this sense that I compared Milosevic's policies to Franco's attack on the Spanish Republic in 1936, in my exchanges with John Saville and others in the New Statesman, 31 May, 7 and 14 June1999)

The problem with Kaldor's (1999) 'new wars' analysis here seems to me that it understates the extent to which these wars have centred on a continuing crisis of state power. The Yugoslav wars have been dominated by the strategies of state centres, especially Serbia and Croatia, even if many quasi- and non-state actors have also been involved. This is an especially acute case of the general problem of the transformation of state power in what I have called the global revolution. Faced with the challenge of democracy and the need to reinvent the state in Yugoslavia, the principal state elites chose reactionary politics of ethnic rather than civic nationalism, and strategies of coercion rather than consensus. Given the especially fragile inter-republican and inter-communal balance of late 1980s Yugoslavia, this was a recipe for war.

We need then to examine the character of the Yugoslav wars, and especially the Serbian campaigns and Western responses, in the build-up to the Kosovan war of 1998-99. What is new about 'new wars' is that the classically genocidal policy of murderous ethnic expulsion has been transformed from a sub-theme in classical total war, into the main thrust of wars conducted by authoritarian states like Serbia and Croatia, together with their ethnic-nationalist parties and statelets in Bosnia. This can be seen as a degeneration of classic total war. Even for the Nazis, the war against the Jews was only one strand of their war campaign, which developed in the context of their wars against Poland, the Soviet Union and other states. The bureaucratized military mass murder of the Einsatzgruppen and the extermination camps were horrific in their modernist rationality, as Bauman has shown. The majority of the German population were only obliquely and indirectly implicated, however, in a campaign waged under the cloak of interstate total war, mostly in occupied Poland and Soviet territory, against the Jewish populations of those countries rather than of Germany itself. (Only 1 per cent of Germany's prewar population were Jews, and half of them had fled before 1939.)

The wars of the Serbian state and its extensions, after Slovenia (1991) which was mercifully brief, were wars waged as much against Croatian and Bosnian civilians as against the Croatian and Bosnian states. (The same can be said for the wars of the Croatian state in Bosnia and the 'Krajina'; the wars of the Bosnian state also contained the same tendency but it was not the dominant theme.) The chief purpose of these wars was to 'cleanse' territory (the term 'ethnic cleansing' or purging, which has Nazi precedents, appears to be a recent Serbian invention and should not be used in scientific analysis). Partly because non-Serbs constituted large minorities or even majorities in the areas Serbian forces occupied, the genocide had not only a bureaucratic character reminiscent of the Holocaust but also a mass character. Virtually all Serbian police and local authorities were directly involved, as well as many civilians (stories abounded of Muslims killed, raped, robbed or evicted by their neighbours). The Serbian state apparatus in Bosnia was almost entirely contaminated, together with a large number of the Serb population. (This process was of course taken to its extreme in Rwanda in which killing was carried out with machetes by large numbers of the Hutu population, led by the Interahamwe militia.)

In response to the Serbian genocide in Bosnia, the Western states, after weak and ineffectual political interventions and the deployment of unarmed monitors, responded to media evidence of concentration camps in 1992 by introducing military forces under UN auspices - not to liberate these camps,or to prevent or reverse genocidal clearances, but to protect humanitarian convoys to besieged non-Serbian enclaves. They avoided direct confrontation with Serbian and other local military forces, to the point that convoys were often blocked and looted and the United Nations Protection Force became known for protecting the UN rather than the local civilians (Rieff, 1995). Airpower was used only in demonstrative 'air strikes', with limited effects, never in a serious campaign as against Iraq. After the fall of various Bosnian-Muslim enclaves in eastern Bosnia, in 1993 the United Nations designated five areas as 'safe havens': but they were never fully protected. Serbian forces continued to threaten them until in 1995, Srebrenica was overrun, leading the most infamous genocidal massacre of the war, in which Dutch UN troops notoriously failed to protect the Bosnian-Muslim victims (Norbert and Both, 1996).

After this shocking demonstration of UN ineffectuality, underlined by the taking of Western soldiers as hostages by Serbian forces, and in the run-up to US presidential elections, President Clinton intervened to broker the Dayton settlement of 1995. It was important, of course, that Croatian and Bosnian forces had also reversed some Serbian gains on the ground. As is well known, Dayton relied on the chief perpetrators of genocide, presidents Milosevic and Tudjman, and it institutionalized the Serbian and Croatian gains through partition even while retaining a loose unitary framework. The settlement gave only limited support to the rights of victims, e.g. a right of return which has had a very limited take-up because it is impossible for people to feel safe in areas controlled by opposed 'ethnic' parties. In the aftermath of Dayton, the main Serbian leaders in Bosnia, Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, were indicted for war crimes, but NATO forces, which replaced the UN in the implementation of Dayton, made no serious attempts to arrest them - although they did subsequently apprehend some important but lesser figures. The West secured a more pliant regime in Republika Srpska, the Serbian 'entity' in Bosnia, only by deploying as president Biljana Plavsic, Karadzic's deputy during the whole period of the genocide (although she subsequently lost out in local Serbian politics).

Truly the Western record in Bosnia was - as James Gow (1998) has put it - a 'triumph of the lack of will', rather than of aggressive US or Western imperialism (the kinds of leftist complaint against NATO which we hear today could hardly have been raised over Bosnia). The messy range of international state organizations, global and Western, seemed incapable of coherent intervention. The pattern of failing Western world leadership, seemingly far more afraid of media-sensitized domestic electorates than of genocidaires in strategically less important non-Western regions, was confirmed in Rwanda in 1994. (This came to be seen, however, as a neglect too far. Several years later, both Clinton and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan have travelled to Kigali to apologize publicly to the Rwandans.)

In neither Iraq nor Serbia, after the wars of the early 1990s, did the West overthrow the genocidist regimes. Iraq's was constrained by UN weapons inspection, sanctions and intermittent bombardment, and Iraqi Kurdistan remained precariously liberated under loose Western aerial protection. The Serbian regime was less tightly bound, although NATO had now occupied Bosnia-Herzegovina and its grip on power was challenged by mass street demonstrations in Belgrade.

Kosova remained a running sore: since Milosevic disbanded legitimate provincial institutions and expelled the 90 per cent Albanian majority of the population from schools, universities and other public institutions, it was run as a quasi-colonial police state. For a decade the Albanian majority ran a parallel political and social system, or as classical Marxists would have called it, a system of 'dual power'. Under the Kosova Democratic League, led by Ibrahim Rugova, they relied on Ghandian passive resistance and avoided confrontation with the Serbian state. This strategy failed, however, to win either concessions from Belgrade or serious attention from the West. By the late 1990s, as the Milosevic regime struggled to retain its hold on power, it renewed repression in Kosova, while a section of Albanian opinion turned to a military form of struggle led by the new Kosova Liberation Army (KLA).

The majority Kosovan strategy in the 1990s paralleled the shifts in strategies of resistance worldwide in the global revolution. In eastern Germany and Czechoslovakia, unarmed social protest led to a negotiated replacement of the Stalinist regimes - a 'velvet revolution'. Even in Romania, the Caucescu regime rapidly gave way, albeit after bloodshed. In South Africa, the African National Congress moved in the opposite direction from armed struggle to mass and electoral politics and, again, a negotiated withdrawal from power. In Palestine, the Palestine Liberation Organization moved in the same direction, if on less favourable terms. Within western Europe, armed organizations of national minorities, like the IRA and ETA, moved in a similar direction. Even Abdullah Ocalan, leader of the PKK (the Kurdish party in Turkey), fled to western Europe in 1998 proclaiming a desire for a similar shift.

In all these cases, however, the success of shifts in revolutionary strategy depended on a combination of an actual or potential shift on the part of established state elites, together with international political pressure (primarily from the West). In Serbia, however, such an evolution has hardly seemed plausible: the regime defeated the democratic opposition and increasingly depended on the extreme nationalist Radical party - whose leader, Vojislav Seselj, led paramilitary extermination squads during the Bosnian war. Western pressure on the regime, until recently, was minimal and ineffectual. The shift in Kosovan politics from Rugova to the KLA had many regressive aspects, notably providing Milosevic with a rationale and a pretext for extensive burning-out of Albanian villages. But it was also a highly understandable response, given the impasse of passive resistance. Ultimately, in the classic logic of militarized revolutionary struggle, it can claim success of a kind because it has helped force NATO to expel the Serbian state from Kosova, despite the large losses of Albanian lives involved.

While we are right to criticize, we should not therefore be too quick to condemn the KLA. Whatever murky dealings, shady alliances and vengeful killings of Serb civilians it has been involved in, these are hardly likely to be worse than those of many other 'liberation' movements. We might take the revelations about the ANC's record, in the South African Truth and Reconciliation Committee's report, as a relevant contemporary comparison. The role of the Communists in the Spanish civil war, or for that matter in Tito's own movement, would be interesting historical standards. And there is no doubt that the KLA has represented a real focus of popular struggle, in circumstances where the Serbian state and the 'international community' allowed many Albanians to reach the plausible conclusion that only military struggle would work. There are some signs, too, that in the light of NATO's victory, KLA leaders understand the need to adapt, by switching like many other armed movements to a more 'democratic' political struggle.

How, then, should we understand and evaluate the recent war? To think that NATO could have simply stood aside, and treated this as a war within a 'sovereign' state is simply na´ve for many reasons. Given the location of the Balkans, war there is never easy for western Europe and hence the US to ignore. Given the previous history of the post-Yugoslav wars, war in Kosova was always likely to have spillover effects in Montenegro, Macedonia, Albania and of course Bosnia where there remains a sizeable NATO force. Given the interest of Western media, non-governmental organizations and the International War Crimes Tribunal in Kosova, mounting atrocities would prove impossible to ignore. Given the perceived lessons of previous 'appeasement' of Milosevic, NATO leaders could not endlessly ignore the provocatively mounting tide of burning and slaughter which grew even when OSCE monitors were spread over the province.

All the evidence is not that NATO was thrusting to impose its domination on Kosova, let alone on Serbia, and thus violate Yugoslav 'sovereignty', but that it avoided this course for too long and is still clinging to the remnants of this policy even today. It was partly because Kosova was technically a province of Serbia, that the West largely ignored the suppression of its people over many years. After open war broke out early in 1998, the West prevaricated, and even in the autumn still preferred an illusory accommodation with Milosevic. Even when this agreement was clearly broken, the West looked for non-military means of intervention.

The Rambouillet accords have been much excoriated on the Western left, and even Noam Chomsky has held up the proposals of the Serbian parliament as a serious alternative (New Statesman, 11 June 1999). The deeply textual approach to politics revealed in these criticisms neglects the fact that there is no evidence that Milosevic seriously sought a settlement, which could easily have been achieved if he had begun a withdrawal of his troops from Kosova. He preferred to stay himself in Belgrade and actually accelerated the burning and killing during the talks. Given the regime's record, it is far more plausible to believe that the Serbian regime chose to escalate the war against Kosovan civilians, despite the risk of armed conflict with NATO. This was precisely because NATO was still, at Rambouillet, making substantial concessions to Yugoslav sovereignty over Kosova and above all because Milosevic did not believe NATO was preparing for a serious war.

And of course the overwhelming evidence is that NATO was not. NATO did not prepare for a serious war, comparable to the build-up to wholesale aerial bombardment followed by ground invasion of Kuwait in 1990-91. Indeed NATO explicitly ruled out an intervention on the ground - which everyone agrees was absolutely stupid even if this was not intended - so that Milosevic knew that his forces could act with great impunity in Kosova. NATO's air campaign was expected to a last a week or two at most: it was a strategy of 'air strikes', largely demonstrative in intent, closer to the use of airpower in Bosnia than to that in the Gulf. Far from America dragging Europe into war, US leaders were largely responsible for the fudged agreements with Milosevic over the previous year, for ruling out ground forces, and for the restricted nature of the air campaign.

It was the West's reluctance for any serious intervention - legal or political as well as military - which meant that when it was forced into a stronger intervention it took the brutally one-sided form of massive aerial bombardment. If the West had intervened to secure a peaceful resolution of Yugoslavia's breakup, or shown at Osijek or Vukovar in 1991 that it was not prepared to tolerate military aggression against civilians, the whole decade might have been different in Yugoslavia. But far from having an overriding need to dominate the Balkans, the West believed that its interests were much more fully engaged in the Middle East and the Soviet breakup. If the West had not condoned Serbian genocide in Bosnia, even at Dayton, Milosevic would have less reason to believe that he could get away with it in Kosova. If NATO had actually arrested Karadzic and sent him to The Hague, Milosevic might have taken the War Crimes Tribunal more seriously. If even last autumn Clinton had been less keen for diplomatic fudge, or if this spring there had been a determination to impose a just political settlement, coupled with the threat of serious forces on the ground in Kosova, Serbian forces would have been much more likely to withdraw.

It is precisely because NATO did not prepare to intervene seriously, but preferred demonstrative 'air strikes' that Milosevic was able to escalate his war against Albanian civilians from a partial campaign to a far more extensively murderous expulsion of the majority, in late March and April 1999. This was clearly genocide on the international legal definition, and could have been largely successful had NATO not in turn escalated its campaign - it could have amounted to a permanent destruction of the Kosova Albanians as a people.

As in Bosnia, the genocidal war implicated a large number of Kosovan Serbs. They were a small minority, less than 10 per cent of the province's population, and the police, paramilitaries and local officials (as well as a significant number of Yugoslav soldiers) were recruited overwehlmingly from their numbers. It may be unrealistic therefore to think that many Serb civilians can remain in the aftermath of the genocide, however evenhanded NATO is in upholding law and order and even if the KLA recognizes that there are innocent and even good Serbs who actively aided Albanians during the terror.

We need then to look at the character of NATO's campaign, as it evolved. The West's exaggerated respect for Yugoslav sovereignty, partly because of the political problems it caused with non-Western states like Russia and China, was a core (but not the only) reason for its failure to intervene effectively earlier in the Kosova war. Much nonsense has been written about NATO's failure to secure direct UN authority for its actions: it is quite clear that this was a result of the perception that Russia and China would use their anachronistic vetoes in the Security Council to prevent any real intervention.

The West had throughout, however, the support of a large majority of both the Council and the General Assembly, unanimous backing from the European Union including its neutral members, and considerable worldwide political support. The real criticism of Western political strategy in 1998-99 is that it did not mobilize this political support to prepare a serious military intervention on the ground in Kosova, with the aim of directly ending Serbian terror and protecting the majority population. It is arguable that faced with an ultimatum to withdraw or face such an invasion, especially if that had been given early (in spring 1998), before Milosevic had a chance to reinforce his position, he would have been much more likely to give way.

The West did not do this, because it wished to avoid 'real' war, i.e. war in which its own soldiers' lives were at risk, at almost all costs. Although this was a common inclination of NATO governments, there is no doubt that its most important source was Washington. It was the Americans, in the light of domestic political considerations, who insisted on this position throughout (long after Blair, for example, began to press for a ground campaign). Far from wishing to use their military might to impose a solution, US leaders saw their interests as too small to risk a single GI. The still-pervasive 'Vietnam syndrome' coupled with Republican hostility made Kosova seem a risk too far for Clinton.

Although American leaders generally saw Kosova as a European problem, and their interests as only weakly engaged, once Milosevic failed to back down at Rambouillet, and then in response to the initial airstrikes, their interests were engaged in the sense that NATO's and America's credibility were at stake. Kosova became a serious war for the whole Western state, and it engaged the full might of its airpower. When that was not enough, and the scale of the genocide and refugee problems became apparent, NATO escalated airstrikes into a full-scale aerial bombardment. This was the kind of war for which strategic planning throughout the Cold War had prepared America, and it was relatively cost-free in American lives.

Serbia's genocidal war was already well under way by Rambouillet. NATO's preference for airpower rather than direct intervention in Kosova not only meant that there was no immediate way of halting it - it actually created the conditions in which Milosevic had the greatest freedom and incentive to escalate his campaign. This was certainly foreseeable in a general sense and undoubtedly constitutes the major charge against NATO: it culpably disregarded the possible consequences of its strategy for the Kosovans.

Against this, NATO has now belatedly succeeded in what became its main aim, to expel the Serbian state from Kosova and begin to reverse, so far as possible, the effects of the genocide. For the victims of Milosevic's war and their political spokespeople, this has undoubtedly justified NATO's campaign. It was this prospect that led me to conclude that, once NATO had begun its intervention, it was better that it concluded successfully than that it collapsed and gave victory to the genocidists. On balance, it seems to me that this judgement has been vindicated.

I say this despite the huge destruction of infrastructure inside Serbia and the loss of life which has occurred. Clearly, highly sophisticated weaponry not only saved American and other Western aircrew's lives, but enabled precision targetting which did minimize Serbian casualties. We need to treat all figures with great caution. Serbian sources (including Milosevic himself) have claimed fewer than 600 military and only around 1000 civilian casualties: the former especially is almost certain to be an underestimate. It is difficult, however, to escape the conclusion that - here considerably more than in Iraq - the 'revolution in military affairs' has enabled terrifying military power to be used at relatively small direct and immediate cost in human life, certainly by historical standards.

This is not to provide any simple justification for airpower. For a start, it is not airpower alone which has won. On the ground, NATO relied on the KLA, as it had relied on the Croatian and Bosnian armies in 1995, and the prospect of a real shift towards a NATO ground intervention may also have been important. And airpower, while greatly refined from its hugely indiscriminate character in the Second World War and Vietnam, remains an inherently undiscriminating form of force. Even if we accepted the exaggerated claim of some NATO sources to 99 per cent accuracy, it is clear that the consequences of even a small number of mistakes were horrific for Kosovan refugees and Serbian civilians alike. Law cannot truly be enforced in a just manner from 15,000 feet.

Moreover, there is a huge destruction of infrastructure, much of which went considerably beyond the bounds of clearly military and political targetting. NATO has claimed to have destroyed most major military and many other state and economic structures, together with 40 per cent of Serbian military hardware in Kosova. The bombing has brought considerable suffering to large numbers of Serbians. The present danger is that the indirect effects of the bombardment will lead to a deterioration of the conditions of life, especially towards the winter. It is if NATO fails to secure Serbian civilians against life-threatening consequences of the bombardment, especially as winter approaches, that accusations could once again arise of genocidal consequences in the West's own actions. Western leaders seem to be getting hold of this issue only in rather confused ways, just as they seem to be uncertain as to how to facilitate political change inside Serbia.

To move from the character of the war to that of the peace in Kosova itself, the balance is mixed. There are clearly some major benefits. Kosova was liberated relatively quickly, before the conditions of the 'internally displaced' people, living without adequate food in the mountains, turned into an absolute catastrophe. Conditions are being created for the majority of the population to return, to rebuild their lives and homes: with several months to go before the winter, some elementary reconstruction can take place, and the prospect of leaving the Kosovans permanently in refugee camps recedes. Politically, a NATO protectorate offers the best hope for the emergence of some form of Kosovan self-government, with some protection for the remaining Serb minority. In terms of international justice, the indictment of Milosevic, the main author of all the Yugoslav wars, and the swift access of investigators to the sites of the massacres, are important.

On the other hand, the secondary compromises NATO made in order to secure a relatively orderly Serbian withdrawal, and to keep Russia onside, are questionable. The political fudge leaves Kosova in a no-man's-land between vestigial Yugoslav 'sovereignty' and a full democratic and international settlement. Allowing the perpetrators of monstrous crimes to leave Kosova without any kind of investigation, and indeed to commit further atrocities along the way, was an undoubted setback for justice, even if it helped shorten the war.

Conclusion: towards a peaceful global order?

Let us try to draw some general lessons from this horrific experience. Kosova confirms yet again that in today's world, authoritarian state power is still capable of producing genocidal war. Not only has the growing worldwide democratization of state power failed to produce general peace, but the strains produced by global-democratic revolution are in some senses the source of wars such as those in Yugoslavia. On the one hand, the promise of global-democratic order raises the hopes of suppressed nationalities, leading them to challenge centralized authoritarian power. On the other, the challenge of democracy is partly what stimulates authoritarian rulers to reinvent themselves as popular nationalists, exaggerating the quasi-imperial forms of their rule. Kosova also confirms, depressingly, that global order is insufficiently developed to offer oppressed groups the prospect of a peaceful appeal to international institutions as a way of overcoming local authoritarianism. The KLA's semi-victory could give a new lease of life to militarized forms of struggle, if these are seen to pay where peaceful resistance fails.

The Kosova war has other sorts of uncomfortable political lessons. It threatens to give a new plausibility to high-technology aerial bombardment as a means of enforcing international order and justice. That this kind of war is, even at its most sophisticated best, an extraordinarily blunt and dangerous instrument, with appallingly destructive consequences, is in danger of being overlooked because of the undoubted rightness of the cause in which it has been used.

More positively, the war has forced some neglected issues of international order, not just in Kosova itself, to the fore. Serbia has at least been neutered as a regional threat, and although the internal political situation is not immediately promising it seems likely that the regime has been weakened. Macedonia, Montenegro and Albania have not collapsed and the leverage their regimes have obtained could help them to emerge from the twilight zone, and escape being the sites of the next rounds of Balkan wars. Similarly, although Bulgaria's and Romania's economies have been seriously weakened, they too may have gained leverage which will hasten their integration into European institutions. The prospect of some sort of Balkan settlement within Europe has been enhanced.

The war has tested more general features of world order. On the one hand, the unity of the Western state survived an important test. A state conglomerate with a large number of governments, each accountable to separate electorates, might be thought to be inherently unstable. However this crisis confirmed that, although each government played a different political game over the war within its national context, a large multinational bloc of state power could be mobilized as a coherent force. I do not mean to suggest a Chinese wall between military power and 'domestic' politics: the conflicting political requirements of the NATO and frontline governments were certainly important constraints on military action. But overall the major lesson is clearly that, despite the complicated political networks involved, the West functioned as an effective centre of state power in Kosova, as earlier in Iraq.

The West also demonstrated an internal coherence beyond NATO and the formal military alliances. A striking political evolution manifested in the conflict was the interplay of the various networks of the Western state - with the European Union, the Group of 7 and even the European neutrals playing key political roles. As in Iraq, too, the West attracted a broader coalition of major and minor states to its military operations - states looking to play a role in K-For include not only Partnership for Peace members, European neutrals and Arab states, but also Argentina. The congruence between the political objectives of NATO and both elite and popular opinion in the Muslim world is worth noting, too, in view of some of the wilder speculation about a 'clash of civilizations'.

In the end, it is also possible to argue that, as in Iraq, the dependence of the major non-Western states, above all Russia and China, on the West was also confirmed. Yeltsin's dangerous bluster about a 'third world war' dissolved into the minor publicity coup of the entry into Pristina, a phyrric victory if ever there was, as the small Russian force was forced to admit its dependence on NATO for the most basic of supplies. Russia was, in the end, concerned mainly with symbols, and settled (albeit reluctantly) for the role of diplomatic and military fig-leaf for NATO. It now appears that it will now supply only 3,500 of the envisaged 10,000 troops, and these too will need to be funded by NATO. Similarly, despite both elite and popular anger in China at the bombing of its embassy, the Chinese did not veto UN ratification of NATO's victory, but sat alone in abstention.

Despite this acquiescence, the clear political divergence of Russia, China - and India - from the West over Kosova indicates limits to Western power. Structurally, these have two dimensions. First, while the extension of Western power in central and southern Europe, the Middle East, Africa and (for that matter) Latin America is likely to be more or less accepted, its scope in the former Soviet area and in central, south and east Asia will be much more restricted. Second, while the UN remains a focus of legitimate authority for both the West and the major non-Western states, its role is likely to remain fundamentally contested. The articulation of the global layer of state institutions with the dominant Western centre of state power will continue to be a central source of uncertainty in the global state.

The seriousness of these divergences arises from the fact that, if my earlier analysis is at all correct, the transformation of power in the major non-Western states is likely to be one of the most intractable areas of global political change. China's political evolution, above all, remains fundamentally uncertain. How, in the coming upheavals, can human rights be protected across these vast areas? How can the relationships between the forces of global-democratic transformation in the non-Western and Western regions be developed? What are the roles of the Western state and the global layer in these processes? What are the relationships between military, political, legal and social forms of state power?

Critical international theory has often been preoccupied with civil society as a source of progressive agency in social change; I agree to the extent that (while civil society also contains reactionary tendencies), the chief loci of global-democratic change are outside the state. However the transformation of state power is a sine qua non for any stable implementation of the ideals and demands of civil society. State transformation must involve simultaneous internationalization and democratization. There can be no mechanical transfer of national democratization into international harmony, within an unreformed international system. Global institutional development must go hand in hand with democratic and social transformation within states.

These questions are absolutely central to questions of war and peace. On the one hand, the strengthening of the framework of legitimate global institutions is essential if conflicts between major non-Western states, like the India-Pakistan standoff, are to be contained short of major war. They are also central if conflicts between the West and these centres are to be managed without a Kosova war writ horrendously larger. On the other hand, the simultaneous development of frameworks of global authority and national or local democracy is the only way to avoid repetitions of Kosova. The danger is, I have argued, that the war may have re-legitimated both militarized revolution and the use of war as a means of global power-projection by the West.

If we want to avoid these conclusions, we need to propose alternative ways in which both local democratic struggles may be validated, and alternative modes of what has been called intervention so that genocidal wars will not go unchecked. The defence of the international status quo, mounted curiously by many in the international left, is no answer. To defend the split between 'sovereign' and 'international' realms condemns oppressed groups to state terrorism, while making a mockery of international institutions as their proclaimed ideals of human rights are undermined by the vetoes of authoritarian regimes.

If we want to avoid more Kosovas, we need to develop international institutions so that oppressed groups, including nationalities, can appeal to higher levels of authority against authoritarian local regimes. If we want to control secession from juridical state entities, we need to provide political and judicial frameworks within which both secessionist movements and established state authorities must act. If we want to limit the arbitrary exercise of military power, not only by authoritarian states but also by the West, we need to develop frameworks within which it can be legitimately used on behalf of global authority, to prevent further genocides.

This argument could be interpreted as a simple reiteration of the many worthy schemes for global government which have been elaborated throughout modernity, up to the recent proposals for 'cosmopolitan democracy' by Held (1995) and others. It is more than that because I have tried to root this analysis in an understanding of the historical development of state, revolution and war. I do not accept that we are moving into a 'post-statist world order' (Falk, 1997) in which a loose framework of 'governance' - even 'governance without government' (Rosenau and Czempiel, 1994) - will suffice for global order. On the contrary, I have tried to show how development of the Western state and of the global layer of state institutions are intertwined, and how the interrelations of both with global-democratic movements are crucial.

For all the imperfections of Western and perhaps particularly American state power, there is no prospect of a peaceful, just or democratic world order which does not depend substantially on mobilizing the unrivalled resources, authority and institutions of the West. To recognize this is not to celebrate; on the evidence of recent events as well as the last decade as a whole, in Kosova, Yugoslavia and indeed the rest of the world, the Western state remains still weakly and erratically engaged in problems of world order. In this sense, the global-democratic forces in society - as well as academic critics - need to maintain pressure on Western state institutions, for durable global political and social reforms as alternatives to war.


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