|Updated: 17-May-2000||NATO Speeches|
At the Institut
"Law, Morality and the Use of Force"
Speech by Lord Robertson, NATO Secretary General
Monsieur le Ministre et Cher Ami,
Le sujet choisi pour celles-ci est plus que pertinent. En effet, la question des relations entre "Droit, morale et l'emploi de la force" est fondamentale dans l'environnement de l'après guerre froide, même s'il n'est pas facile d'y répondre. Je vais néanmoins essayer.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Let me be frank. One of the main reasons this is such a hot topic today is because of Kosovo -- and I know that many of the participants in this conference have used Kosovo as a springboard to discuss the wider issues raised by the Kosovo campaign, when it comes to international law, morality and the use of force.
I would like to follow the same model -- first, to discuss the Kosovo operation itself, and then to draw on Kosovo for some thoughts on the future of the international system. And let me warn you -- I will be deliberately provocative, in order to spark a lively debate!
I think there are four essential questions that must be answered. The first one is very simple: was there a sufficient legal basis for NATO's intervention in Kosovo?
From NATO's perspective, the answer is clear ?- yes. The legal case for intervention was very strong. Let me give you just a few reasons.
First, the UN Security Council had called, in successive resolutions, for action to be taken by the Yugoslav Government to preserve regional peace and security -- including, for example, UN Security Council Resolution 1199, in September of 1998, which expressed the international community's concern over the excessive use of force by Serb security forces, highlighted the impending humanitarian catastrophe, and called for a cease-fire by both parties to the conflict.
These resolutions were ignored and the FRY failed to comply. Second, the UN Charter itself calls for action to be taken by the international community to respond to threats to peace and security, and in response to grave humanitarian emergencies. Kosovo was both of these.
And finally, there is an ever-growing body of international law, including of course the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, that require the international community to respond when massive violations of human rights are being committed. Again, this was the case in Kosovo.
From NATO's perspective, diplomacy had been tried, over and over, by the UN, the G-8, the Contact Group and the OSCE. It was tried -- and it failed. Not to have taken action, at that point, would have been to ignore the UN Charter; to ignore the many UN Security Council Resolutions on this issue; to ignore the Universal Declaration on Human Rights.
Nineteen NATO governments agreed. Nineteen Parliaments ratified that decision. And let us not forget that almost every country in Europe supported the operation. So to answer the first question: yes, NATO had a sufficient legal basis to take action in Kosovo.
The second question is equally important, but easier to answer. Was the intervention in Kosovo moral? In my strong view, the only possible answer is yes. Let us not forget the situation in Kosovo as it was, just over a year ago.
By March of 1999, Serb oppression had driven almost 400,000 people from their homes. The UN High Commission for Refugees, and many NGOs, were stating clearly that a humanitarian emergency was impending, and that some kind of response was required.
And let us be clear -- this was not an accident, nor an unintended byproduct of a legitimate operation by Yugoslavia against Albanian terrorists. Far from it. According to the report of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe into the situation before the air campaign, there was strong evidence that the atrocities being committed by Serb forces against the Albanians were organized, systematic, and dictated by a centrally directed strategy.
This was ethnic cleansing -- plain and simple. And ethnic cleansing has very real victims -- the dead, the terrorized and the exiled.
This issue goes to the very heart of our morality. If we had allowed this ethnic cleansing to go unanswered, we would have fatally undermined the basis of the Euro-Atlantic community we are trying to build, as we enter the 21st century.
After all these decades of working towards ethnic tolerance in our own countries, how could we stand aside and allow an entire people be brutalised and terrorized and expelled from their own country, for no other reason than their ethnic origin? In what way could we have claimed to be moral if we had not acted?
So to answer the second question -- yes, the Kosovo operation was moral. Indeed, as the great French playwright Jean Anouilh wrote in Becket, "the only immorality is not to do what one has to do, when one has to do it."
This leads us to the third question, one that is certainly being asked in some capitals around the world today. Was Kosovo a precedent for NATO? Or put another way: Is NATO becoming the policeman of the world, using military force at will in defence of its own concept of morality?
The answer, from NATO perspective, is very clear: a resounding no. Kosovo
did not mark NATO's mutation into a crusader for universal values. All
our nations cherish a predictable international order. They also all value
highly their own sovereignty.
And let me be very blunt: two permanent members of the Security Council refused to sanction military action to uphold the very resolutions they had subscribed to. I think it is news to no?one here that they did so because of their own domestic political concerns -- and as a result, prevented the Security Council from carrying out its mandated responsibilities for maintaining global peace and security.
Last but not least, there was also, from NATO's perspective, a very practical security requirement to prevent this crisis from spreading.
Kosovo sits at a very strategic point -- between Europe, Asia and the
Middle East. Just south of Kosovo are two NATO Allies, Greece and Turkey;
to the north, new NATO members in Central Europe. And all around Kosovo
there are small countries struggling with the transition to democracy
and market economy.
For all these reasons, NATO had no choice but to take action. But this
was a unique combination of humanitarian, legal, political and strategic
considerations, very unlikely to repeat itself in future. So to be clear
-- no, Kosovo did not set a precedent for the Alliance.
The main questions, and perhaps the thorniest, are interrelated. Put simply: Is the nature of conflict changing and is State sovereignty absolute? Both of these questions have implications for the use of force in the 21st century.
I do not claim to have the final answers to this question -- nor would I trust anyone who claimed to! But let me offer, if I may, a few observations.
First -- yes, the nature of conflict is changing. More and more conflicts are taking place within states, rather than between them. During the Cold War, there were an average of about ten internal conflicts ongoing every year, be they civil wars, state collapse, or massive state oppression of minorities. Over the last decade, that number has grown to twenty-five intra-state conflicts per annum.
Second: today, more than ever, civilians are the victims of conflict.
Casualties from armed conflict have doubled in the past 10 years. About
one million people around the world lose their lives in conflict every
year. And whereas during the First World War, only five percent of the
casualties were civilians, today that figure is closer to eighty percent.
Do these changes in the nature of conflict have implications for the use of force, and for international law? Of course.
I believe the Secretary General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, put it well in his recent speech to the Millennium Assembly in New York. He said that "we must protect vulnerable people by finding better ways to enforce humanitarian and human rights law, and to ensure gross human rights violations do not go unpunished. National sovereignty offers vital protection to small and weak states, but it should not be a shield for crimes against humanity. In extreme cases, the clash of these two principles confronts us with a real dilemma."
This dilemma is made even starker when states perpetrate violence against their own people. International conventions have traditionally looked to states to protect civilians -- but today, states are sometimes the principal aggressors against the very citizens humanitarian law requires them to protect.
There will be no easy answers to this dilemma, no new framework for international affairs that will instantly guide us in the right direction. But I do know that we must examine very closely the international system that developed over the past fifty years or more, to see where it is still applicable, and where it needs adjustment to better meet the requirements of the international community. Where the existing set of rules and procedures and customs serve to protect people, they should be preserved, and even strengthened. Where they are outdated, or where they serve to cause more suffering than they prevent, they must be re-examined. It is that simple.
Ladies and Gentlemen, balancing law, morality and the use of force is not the job of one conference, or a summit meeting. It is an ongoing, organic process, that reflects and even guides the inevitable changes in the international system. But if we have a sense of direction or of fundamental purpose, this process will serve us well -- preserving the security of states and of individuals.
Kosovo demonstrated that we do have a compass to aid direction: our shared values. And, more than that, we also have the instruments to promote and defend these values. This is cause for real hope, at the dawn of a new century. Real hope that we will be able to continue to guarantee the safety of our future generations.
Mesdames et Messieurs, merci de votre attention.