The Centre for Peace in the Balkans
US Foreign Policy: The Law of the Few
Analysis, February 2008
On Sunday, February 17, 2008, ethnic Albanian authorities unilaterally declared Kosovo’s independence from Serbia.
This move has been encouraged and welcomed by the United States. As justification for this move, they utilize the
premise that Serbia has somehow forfeited its right to its historical province because its former president,
the late Slobodan Milosevic, allegedly oppressed "Kosovars" for two decades.
This is the US’s explanation for the region’s instability. So, the only logical way to stabilize the
region -according to their logic- is to fulfill a secessionist group’s desires by bypassing the UN framework
for achieving statehood, and carving up Serbia against its will.
Looking strictly at international laws, unilaterally declaring independence is an act that violates a number of UN Charters,
resolutions, and acts, not to mention the sovereignty and constitution of Serbia, an ‘internationally recognized’ member of the UN.
The United Nations was originally created so that there would be a consensus around the world on how to deal with issues
that were sensitive and sometimes controversial. The UN was meant to ensure that a small number of powerful countries
would not be shaping the world according to their own strategic and political interests. It is true that this international
body does not always function flawlessly. However, within this body, countries agree to disagree on certain issues,
while pursuing a solution that can be equitable to all.
Unfortunately, as the Soviet Union dissolved and Russian influence weakened in every aspect, the world witnessed the
United States bending and -at times- blatantly disrespecting and/or ignoring International Law.
They would also ignore allies within their own NATO alliance if it was convenient in achieving their goals.
For example, when the UN did not approve the bombing of Yugoslavia, the US did it under the auspices of NATO.
When neither the UN nor NATO agreed to the invasion of Iraq, the US dreamed up the "Coalition of the Willing".
Since the US courts did not provide a legal basis to detain people, the US government created the notorious
Camp Delta in Guantanamo Bay, which fell outside the jurisdiction and protection of US law. This time around,
the US government and its allies give recognition to a separatist group, despite the fact that such a recognition
does not follow international law; they then maintain that this trampling of the law does not set a precedent
for lawlessness, and insists that other separatist groups should not look to the Kosovo example because it
is a "one off, and not applicable to other regions."
Does the Law really work that way? The main foundation of a democratic society is that everyone is equal before the law.
The numerous examples of legal violations by the US are overwhelming and well documented.
Why do we look the other way when the US twists and breaks international laws?
Even worse, why have we often blindly followed their policies?
Part of the explanation is that we, the public and the media, want to believe what the US government is telling us.
We wish to believe that our governments are the "good guys" and that we always act to defend what is moral.
We believed what we heard about the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. We watched refugees pour out of
Kosovo after the bombs began to fall during the 1999 NATO bombing campaign, and then accepted and parroted the reason
that we were bombing was to stop "ethnic cleansing". How did we forget that the original reason the US government
gave for attacking Serbia was the Serbs’ refusal to sign the Rambouillet Peace Accords by the appointed deadline
(never mind that under international law, any agreement signed under threat of force is null and void)?
We trusted the stories (later proven false) that as many as 100 000 to 200 000 civilians were missing and
presumed killed in Kosovo. It seems that the higher the number of reported victims, the less likely we are to
believe those figures grossly inflated; after all, in whose interest is it to lie to us?
However, to quote Lawrence Martin of The Globe and Mail, "The United States and Britain demonize an enemy with fraudulent accusations.
They play the gullible media, Canada's included, like a violin" Looking back a couple of years after the conflict,
defence minister Art Eggleton acknowledged that the propaganda coming out of the Pentagon was extraordinary.
But the Chrétien Liberals, on close terms with the Clinton Democrats, weren't about to buck the White House on Kosovo,
as they would [Bush] on Iraq. The allies were all on board for an attack, making it extremely unlikely that
Canada would be the odd one out."
To paraphrase Goebbels, "A lie repeated a hundred times becomes the truth." We should understand that this principle
is used by all governments to gain our consent, and should not be so easily fooled and persuaded.
We should know better than to be fooled because there were no WMD in Iraq, and there was no genocide in Kosovo.
To further quote retired Maj-Gen. Lewis MacKenzie (commander of UN troops during 1992 Bosnian civil war),
"Those of us who warned that the West was being sucked in on the side of an extremist, militant,
Kosovo-Albanian independence movement were dismissed as appeasers. The fact that the lead organization spearheading
the fight for independence, the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), was universally designated a terrorist organization and
known to be receiving support from Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda was conveniently ignored."
Why was this information ignored? If we are to safeguard our democratic principles and integrity, we must never
become blind believers, but always be questioners.
George W. Bush is already on record warning that countries that aren't with him are against the U.S.
Twenty years after the end of the Cold War, we see the world polarized between those who follow and those who question.
By recognizing Kosovo, the US is further alienating the world’s biggest countries -Russia, China and India- while
putting close nations such as Canada and Spain in a very difficult position. If they do not follow US policy,
they risk angering a powerful trading partner. However, if they do, they might regret creating such a precedent with such a decision.
Russia’s concerns about such a route to independence, and their unwillingness to recognize its legitimacy is dismissed
with the argument that Russia is "a traditional ally of Serbia", that it fears the secession of its own disputed
territories, and that it is merely attempting to play a power card to prove that it retains some relevance.
Asked about the timing of the declaration and whether there was any effort to smooth things over with Russia,
Bush said: "We worked with the European nations. This strategy was well-planned."
The EU does not recognize countries. It leaves that up to its individual members. Spain, Greece, Romania, Slovakia,
Bulgaria and Cyprus have criticized the effort to make Kosovo independent and refused recognition.
The media presents these refusals dismissively: as the refusals of unimportant "weak" nations, or nations living in
fear of their own separatists. Here in Canada, we have a situation that could arguably end up similar to Serbia’s.
Continuing a policy of ignorance and "the law of the few", Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion asserts that what is applicable for
Kosovo cannot be applicable for Quebec: if Quebec’s parliament declared unilateral independence, that would not be the
same as when Kosovo’s parliament did it. My question is, is the law not equal for all?
Twenty years before the outbreak of World War I, Otto von Bismarck forecast that "If there is another war in Europe,
it will come out of some damn silly thing in the Balkans." Hopefully, polarizing the world on this issue will not
lead to more conflicts. The only way to achieve stability is if all nations can believe the law is impartial,
and that all can expect to be treated equally before it. Woodrow Wilson once said that "the equality of
nations upon which peace must be founded if it is to last must be an equality of rights; the guarantees exchanged
must neither recognize nor imply a difference between big nations and small, between those that are powerful and
those that are weak. Right must be based upon the common strength, not upon the individual strength, of the nations
upon whose concert peace will depend. Equality of territory or of resources there of course cannot be; nor any other
sort of equality not gained in the ordinary peaceful and legitimate development of the peoples themselves.
But no one asks or expects anything more than an equality of rights."
The final point revolves around "the tipping point". A famous experiment involved a lone student staging an epileptic fit.
When there was just one person next door listening, that person rushed to the student’s aid 85% of the time.
But when subjects thought that there were four other people also overhearing the seizure, they came to the student’s
aid only 31% of the time. This shows how people diffuse responsibility when in a group. We can sit around and do nothing,
thinking that someone else is going to defend our United Nations, its charters, acts, and laws. Or, we can act to
preserve equity, stability, and the rule of international law, by voicing and acting on our belief: "my Canada includes Quebec,
and I am against any independence of Kosovo that violates the United Nations Charter".