June 13, 2000
What's the point of parliaments? No, really what's the point? I ask this because in Britain, mother of Parliaments, we have managed to plumb the depths of inanity with our new parliamentary Foreign Affairs select committee report (needless to say the Committee is controlled by Labour) on the Kosovo adventure. The verdict was that the bombing was "illegal, but necessary." Yep, I see that going down a storm. I know that breaking and entering was illegal, but it was necessary to steal the jewelry. I know that stealing jewelry is illegal, but it is necessary to fund the drug habit. I know that intimidating jurors is illegal, but it will be necessary to be acquitted.
This report was not the only one to hit the stands in the last week. Carla Del Ponte, the chief prosecutor for the War Crimes Tribunal said that she saw no evidence of war crimes from NATO. I suppose a burning TV station with 16 dead operatives inside doing invidious deeds such as applying makeup was obviously not a war crime. No evidence there then. There is absolutely no connection to the fact that the NATO allies actually pay Ms. Del Ponte's bills. That would be blatant corruption, and our side is not corrupt, oh no. The other report was from Amnesty International, which said that many of the targets NATO chose were in fact, well, civilian. In the measured and reserved tones that one usually finds from Amnesty, they said that as NATO bombed civilian targets this was not part of a war, therefore they were illegal. For once the press got it right when they read between the lines and said "Amnesty accuses NATO of War Crimes."
Now as some of the readers of this column will know, I am not really a fan of international law. That is I don't believe that we should worry about, say, the UN charter on refugees if we want to limit the amount of people coming to your country. Although a believer in free immigration for economic reasons, I believe that who comes into a country really has to be decided democratically. This is different. If we carry out an action in the name of the United Nations, then we should at least have the decency to ask them first. If we are going to call on NATO countries to fulfill their obligations then we should at least ensure that it is covered in the contract. I may want to leave both organizations pronto, but we should at least go through the motions when we do something in their name.
Something is missing from all of this. What Amnesty and the Tribunal could not be expected to look at were the domestic circumstances of the war. This was not the case for Parliament. Surely, the one prerogative that Parliament has won is the right to decide who we will, or won't go to war with. I remember in 1982 when Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands, and hearing the debate on the radio. It was a Saturday, and the fact that parliaments never sat on a Saturday except for grave occasions added to the drama. This was not the case with the Kosovo war. In fact it was unusual for the government even to refer to it as a war. This was odd as the Labour Party have the sort of Parliamentary majority that you weigh rather than count. Added to that the fact that the Conservatives, although uneasy, showed no signs of opposing it and that the Liberal Democrats were more blood thirsty than the Labour Party, there was no chance that the war would not be approved. This makes it even more puzzling as to why no debate was allowed, but it was not and war was never declared, just as in the United States.
Unlike the craven acceptance of reality that Ms. Del Ponte showed, or the carefully documented but fairly dispassionate legalese of Amnesty International, Parliament chose a third way. In parts the report reads like it has been written by different people in turns. For example they say that the infamous Bulgarian spy fiction "Operation Horseshoe" was made up (although they say that it was perfectly innocent), and then that the Serbs were planning the exodus of Albanians. Say what? Then there is the criticism of NATO not bringing up the military annex to the Rambouillet accord until the end of the negotiations, then saying that it had nothing to do with the breakdown of the negotiations. And then there was the best line in wet speciousness that the war was illegal but morally justified, as if breaking the law was not in itself immoral. Overall the committee seemed many times to almost criticise the moral core of this wretched war, and then limits itself
I should not keep carping. The very fact that a committee that was led by such a nonentity as Donald Anderson actually said anything at all about the legal status of the war was remarkable in itself. And the report has enough to recommend itself as a decent collection of testimony and sources, and a fairly decent summation of a moderately anti-Serb view. The fact that it admitted that the war was illegal is in itself a gain, although not as well written or as damning as other reports such as the pamphlet by Mark Littman it does at least have some official sanction. The idea that there was no other choice is belied by the corrupt behaviour of Ms. Del Ponte. However a year on it remains that a war to uphold international law broke it, a war to strengthen democracy bypassed it and most of all this war to restore justice has perverted it.
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