This Date's Issues: 3118 •
Johnson's Russia List
31 March 1999
[Note from David Johnson:
1. Reuters: Sebastian Alison, Siberia's beauty dazzles even in winter.
2. Newsday: Dimitri Simes, This Is No Time to Bait the Bear.
3. Ron Laurenzo: re: MT editorial on Yugoslavia/JRL3116.
4. Anthony D'Agostino: Primakov, 1991/1999.
5. Laura Belin: NATO influence on domestic politics.
6. Sean Holloway: Response to JRL 3115/Blundy/Anti-Americanism.
7. Reuters: Patrick Lannin, ANALYSIS-IMF to rescue Russia, ambitions curbed.
8. Noam Chomsky: The Current Bombings: Beyond the Rhetoric.]
Siberia's beauty dazzles even in winter
By Sebastian Alison
NIZHNEVARTOVSK, Siberia, March 31 (Reuters) - So you like brilliant sunshine,
spectacular blue skies, breathtaking scenery, a hotel that rivals the best
anywhere, and top quality cuisine? Perhaps you should consider a trip to
Siberia. The very name smacks of misery, punishment, hardship, and despair.
But its vast landscapes are also a wilderness of astonishing natural beauty,
and a place apart. Siberia is different.
The city of Nizhnevartovsk, four hours flying time and two time zones east of
Moscow is typical of many Siberian cities.
Founded in 1972, it exists to exploit a single natural resource -- oil. With a
population of some 150,000, it is a one-industry town, like many in the vast
Siberian taiga stretching from the Urals mountains to the Sea of Japan.
The city itself is hardly an inspiring place. Like many built in Soviet times,
it consists of a series of large, featureless apartment blocks built with
utility, not beauty, in mind, and has little to distinguish it from a thousand
others in Russia.
Indeed, so alike are many of these cities that their monotony is behind the
plot of a famous Soviet film, ``An irony of fate,'' based on the adventures of
a man who is put on a plane by his friends when drunk, and wakes up far from
He takes a taxi to his address, which of course exists in the ``wrong'' city,
travels through districts identical to those in his hometown, arrives at a
block just like the one he lives in, and does not realise he is in the wrong
place. Russian cities are like that.
NATURE MAKES UP FOR DISMAL CITY
But Nizhnevartovsk is easy to escape. Wilderness starts on the doorstep in
Flying by helicopter at 300 feet (90 metres) above the taiga, the untouched
tundra spreads for ever. Sparse, sturdy pine trees stand out against the snow.
Lakes abound, and are identifiable in winter only by an absence of trees on
Late March is still very much winter in Siberia -- it often snows as late as
June -- and the temperature is an invigorating minus 25 degrees Celsius (-13
Not that that is considered cold. Oilmen from the Tyumen Oil Company, the
region's biggest, working at a field an hour's flight from Nizhnevartovsk said
the temperature had plunged below -50 Celsius (-58 F) earlier this winter.
Down to -43 Celsius (-45.40F), work carries on as normal. Below that
operations switch to standby mode, with only limited maintenance carried out.
By contrast in the brief Siberian summer, the temperature soars to 40 Celsius
(104F), the ground becomes a boggy, swampy hell, humidity is such that even
breathing the damp air is an effort, and mosquitoes unseen outside horror
films abound. Oilmen prefer winter.
Even in the Siberian winter, glorious days are known. Bright winter sun
shining through a clear blue sky at well below -20 Celsius (-4F) creates a
light of unearthly beauty special to the north (Nizhnevartovsk is north of
Helsinki), and shows Siberia at its best.
Nizhnevartovsk stands on the river Ob, one of the great rivers of Siberia
which rises in the Altai mountains near the border with China and flows north
across Siberia to the Arctic Ocean.
The vast river is frozen to a depth of several feet in March, and covered with
a thick layer of snow.
Loose powder snow billowing across its surface in a strong, freezing wind
creates a vivid impression of movement, so the Ob appears to be flowing even
as one walks across it. The river is home to the muksun, a fish greatly prized
as a smoked delicacy.
ANCIENT PEOPLES STILL LIVE NOMADIC LIVES
But Siberia is not just full of natural marvels. It is also the home of myriad
ancient peoples, some of whose cultures have survived, against the odds,
through the Soviet era and still exist today.
On a flight last year from another nearby oil town, Surgut, the helicopter
passed over a ``village'' -- no more than three or four tents -- of the local
Khanty people, one of the ethnic groups still living in the Khanty-Mansiisk
A few thousand of these people still live as they always have, as nomadic
tent-dwellers all year despite the astonishing cold, surviving by hunting
reindeer with dogs, and fishing. An impressive sight on the cusp of the new
One of the region's oil companies, Surgutneftegaz, has opened a museum of the
Khanty people at its office in the town of Lyantor. The display shows the
Khanty have a rich tradition of carving in bone and wood, and in working
But time is catching up with them. In an age of snowmobiles and apartment
blocks, the harsh life is less and less attractive and many Khanty are giving
up and moving to cities.
Nizhnevartovsk, amazingly enough, is endowed with a hotel, the Samotlor, run
by the Tyumen Oil Company, which serves magnificent food and would be
considered excellent in Western Europe or the United States.
In a small town in Siberia its presence is difficult to believe. Travellers
around Russia can always find many things to admire, but hotels in provincial
towns are rarely among them.
But in Nizhnevartovsk the comfort of the hotel, the majesty of the landscape,
and the fortuitous mix of harsh winter cold and brilliant sun can combine to
create a far kinder impression of Siberia than the misery of popular
30 March 1999
[for personal use only]
This Is No Time to Bait the Bear
By Dimitri K. Simes (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Dimitri K. Simes is the president of The Nixon Center. He is the
author of "After the Collapse: Russia Seeks Its Placce as a Great Power."
THE U.S.-LED NATO attack on Yugoslavia has put
relations between Washington and Moscow at their lowest point in more
than 10 years, despite a recent move by the International Monetary Fund
to help reduce Russia's enormous debt. Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny
Primakov's u-turn over the Atlantic-after being informed by Vice
President Al Gore that NATO's bombing of Yugoslavia was imminent,
despite Russian objections-has become a symbol of the decline in the
relationship from what the Clinton administration recently still
described as "strategic partnership." Thus far, Russia's response to the
airstrikes has been vigorous in rhetoric but restrained in substance.
After all, short of threatening a nuclear attack, there is little the
Kremlin can do to stop NATO. Moral outrage is growing across the Russian
political spectrum, however, fueled by Russian television images of
Serbian civilians killed and maimed by NATO attacks. As in Washington,
there is much talk of barbaric aggression and the need for a war crimes
tribunal-but the villain is the Clinton administration, not the
government of Slobodan Milosevic. Unless the conflict is resolved
quickly-something Primakov will seek during today's visit to
Belgrade-there is a real danger that hopes for U.S. engagement with
Russia will be set back for years to come.
"Who cares?" some say. Russia is not quite a serious power anymore;
the debacle in Chechnya demonstrated the pitiful state of its military
and the August, 1998, financial crisis removed Russia from the ranks of
important economic players. But whatever its current problems, Russia
remains the world's largest country, has a population of 147 million,
and boasts significant technological and productive capacity, especially
in the military sphere. More to the point, it has thousands of nuclear
warheads as well. Hardheaded calculation has never characterized the
administration's policy toward Moscow, which has swung from one extreme
to another. At first, the administration tried to make Russia a
strategic partner by embracing the corrupt, inept and semi-authoritarian
Yeltsin regime. Then, when its misguided interference in Russia's reform
process through the International Monetary Fund contributed to the
August financial crisis and the departure of the disgraced radical
reformers from government, the administration quickly shifted gears.
After almost loving Russia to death, the U.S. adopted a policy of
not-so-benign neglect of the former superpower down on its luck.
This combination of triumphalism and pique is not sound policy.
America still has important interests vis-a-vis Russia, starting with
its continued stability. Unable to repay more than $17 billion in
foreign debt due this year–including more than $4 billion supposedly
still owed to the IMF-the Russian government will have to make some
pretty ominous choices unless relief arrives soon. Further hardship for
Russia's suffering population could lead to chaos or even civil war. In
a country with thousands of nuclear weapons and plentiful nuclear power
stations and chemical weapons depots, the consequences of such
developments would be felt far beyond Russia's borders.
Less apocalyptic in the short run-but eventually no less a danger toU.S.
interests-is the prospect that a Russia desperate for money from any
source could, as a matter of policy or a result of deteriorating
controls, become a proliferator of weapons of mass destruction,
technology and conventional arms.
There are quite a few potential customers-ranging from Iran to China
to India to Osama bin Laden-who could collectively provide Russia with
billions of dollars in quick cash.
Last but not least, we must remember that Russia may in fact recover
on its own. The combination of a strong government after Yeltsin, a
pragmatic economic policy, and a modest increase in oil prices could put
the country on the road to recovery much more quickly than the
conventional wisdom suggests. Relying on Russia's continuing irrelevance
is as much a misreading of history as the exaggeration of Soviet
capabilities during the Brezhnev era.
It is disturbing that a recent USIA poll shows that Russian public
opinion-extremely pro-American at the time of the collapse of the Soviet
Union -now views the United States as the greatest threat to Russia
after Chechnya and considers President Bill Clinton the most menacing
international leader after Saddam Hussein. While such Russian
perceptions of the United States will seem preposterous to most
Americans, they can be ignored only at a cost.
Needless to say, once NATO has started its attack, it is important
to do whatever is necessary to force Slobodan Milosevic to capitulate
quickly, before pressure grows in Moscow for Russia to become more
involved. But we must recognize that the air strikes against Yugoslavia
over the peripheral issue of Kosovo are contributing to a dangerous
accumulation of scar tissue on the much more important U.S.-Russian
relationship and that urgent steps are necessary.
A number of the Clinton administration's senior officials
demonstrated a predisposition toward excessive empathy for the Soviet
empire. Today, as if compensating for their lack of backbone in the
past, they seem to lack the common sense to demonstrate magnanimity to
Russia at its moment of greatest weakness. This is a strategic blunder
of monumental proportions that-if not addressed-will cost Americanlives.
Date: Tue, 30 Mar 1999
From: Ron Laurenzo <email@example.com>
Subject: re: MT editorial/JRL3116
RE: "Sense in Yugoslavia"/JRL3116
I agreed with the main premise in the Moscow Times editorial that
NATO--despite its good intentions--was wrong to bomb Serbia. But I take
issue with the comment that a new round of negotiations would "bring
Yugoslavia back to sense."
There is a disturbing trend in the West to characterize the post-Cold
War bloodshed in Yugoslavia as some kind of dark madness that is alien
to Europe and other "enlightened" civilizations. This is a gross
misunderstanding of what's happening.
You cannot bring people to their senses if they are making rational,
calculated choices, which is what Slobodan Milosevic is doing. The
Serbs, especially the nationalist bunch currently calling the shots in
Belgrade and Kosovo, don't want to live with Muslim Albanians and they
are willing to kill and be killed for this belief. This is nothing new.
Now that they have the chance, they're getting rid of the Albanians, by
murder, rape, intimidation, you name it. Call it horrible, call it
despicable, call it mean or nasty or whatever you want, but there is
nothing "senseless" about it.
Most people, if convinced the guy next door is some kind of monster who
is just waiting for his chance to kill them and sell their children into
slavery, would react the same way--or flee, which Serbs have also done.
The Serbs' fear of all Albanians may indeed by "senseless." But the
ACTIONS that RESULT from that fear--even paranoia--are entirely
For their part, the Albanians have decided they can't live under the
Serbs--no wonder about that--and they, or at least the seccessionists
who are calling the shots on that side, are willing to kill and be
The antagonists have thought out their positions and decided they can do
nothing but fight each other. It's a trajedy, but it's hardly senseless.
It's Realpolitik. In fact, it is a sadly common thread of 5,000 years of
I'm not trying to split hairs or pick on the Moscow Times. But I think
we must stop looking at the Balkans as some kind of alien, morally
retarded backwater. Sure, it's a foreign world to us and there is much
there we don't comprehend, but if we write off Balkan conflicts as
"senseless" we'll never have the motivation to figure out what's driving
passions there--and find our role, if there is one, in calming them.
Tel: 202 662 9716
Fax: 202 662 9744
Date: Tue, 30 Mar 1999
From: "Anthony D'Agostino" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Primakov, 1991/1999
In February 1991, after the air war against Saddam Hussein had been under
way for several weeks and still failing to force an Iraqi surrender,
Gorbachev dipatched Primakov to Baghdad to broker a deal: Saddam would
withdraw from Kuwait in return for the lifting of all UN sanctions. Had
this been permitted to stand, Gorbachev would have been the man of the
hour, peacemaker and defender of the Arabs. Gorbachev saw it as an
assertion of the continuing role of the Soviet Union as a superpower, and
stressed that he did not have to clear any of his acts with the USA. If
his initiative had succeeded, the Soviet Union would have come out of the
Kuwait war with a diplomatic triumph. But Bush, who was not prepared to
accept Gorbachev as the mediator of Mideast affairs, foiled him by starting
and winning the ground war.
Primakov's trip to Belgrade is almost a repeat of 1991, with the same
probing intervention by Moscow. It will likely meet a similar western
response, the rapid start of ground operations, ready or not. But if that
happens this time the best case must be a NATO occupation of Kosovo with
repatriation of some Albanians and the establishment of the KLA as the new
Taliban in Europe.
The old NATO was merely the nuclear defender of Europe from the Soviets.
The new NATO is the ruler of Europe. In 1991 Bush's actions were all
planned and foreseen and there was some attempt to assess the likely
results; this time it is improvised by the hour. So much happens when
emotionalism and sentimental reflexes become a substitute for policy.
Date: Tue, 30 Mar 1999
From: Laura Belin <email@example.com>
Subject: NATO influence on domestic politics
Aleksei Arbatov of the Yabloko faction, an influential member of the
Duma's Defense Committee, claims that thanks to the NATO attacks in
Yugoslavia, anti-American and anti-Western sentiments will dominate the
upcoming election campaigns in Russia (JRL 3116).
I fail to see evidence that NATO policy in Yugoslavia is going to
determine voting behavior in the December Duma elections, let alone
presidential elections scheduled more than a year away. Opinion polls may
show that most Russian citizens disapprove of the bombing, but foreign
policy issues as a rule do not sway electorates nearly as much as
pocketbook issues. With all of Russia's domestic problems, I would be
shocked if eight months from now, citizens decide to use their votes to
send a message on foreign policy. If anti-Western sentiment is a major
factor in the elections, it is more likely to be a reflection of the
continuing economic pain in Russia (which many attribute to Western advice
Arbatov goes on to say that this is the most serious crisis in
Russian-U.S. relations in 30 years. Bigger than the Soviet invasion of
Afghanistan and the U.S. boycott of the 1980 Olympics? More serious than
the dispute in the early 1980s over the deployment of nuclear missiles in
Europe? Let's put things in perspective. Russian officials across the
board denounced NATO bombing in Bosnia in August and September 1995. More
recently, they denounced U.S. and British air strikes in Iraq. There are a
lot of arguments against what NATO is doing, but I doubt it will leave a
lasting mark on Russian-U.S. relations.
In the same issue of JRL, a somewhat hysterical article in The Russia
Journal argues, without any supporting evidence, that "NATO's strikes
against Yugoslavia have provided Zyuganov with support where it was not
expected. Foreign policy issues are now making up for what domestic
problems failed to provide."
Even if a large part of the Russian electorate did make up their minds
based on foreign policy issues, I don't see why the KPRF would be the main
beneficiary of such behavior, as opposed to, say, Yurii Luzhkov (who has a
history of speaking up for "Russian interests" and has been a consistent
supporter of Belgrade) or Aleksandr Lebed (who will claim that he knows
how to stop wars).
St. Antony's College, Oxford
Date: Tue, 30 Mar 1999
From: Sean Holloway <SHolloway@mfkren.com>
Subject: Response to JRL 3115/Blundy
I don't often do this, but I
felt that Anna Blundy's article on Anti-Americanism in JRL 3115 deserved a
response. Understand you can't publish it, but I just had to spout off and
let you know that western/Russian relationships are not all like Ms. Blundy
First, maybe it's just me, but the foreigners I know never talked up the
West as Ms. Blundy implies. Even when experiencing severe homesickness,
there was always a concerted effort to make sure any talk about the West was
truthful and without dream-world qualities she describes. Many times a
reference to your perceived problem in the West will unintentionally result
in an ever-worsening discussion about which country has it worse, often
times similar to the Monty Python sketch of old men discussing how bad
things were in their childhood which devolves into a contest to one-up the
Additionally, while I realize that you cannot refrain from making some
generalizations simply due to space constraints often faced, I found Ms.
Blundy's article to imply the following: 1) Americans are the root of all
evil and are responsible for this backlash of Anti-Americanism due to their
"my way or the highway" approach and empty promises of a market economy; and
2) Russians are the victims of the American businessman's treachery. The
first point is highly debatable and casually sweeps under the rug the
plethora of other reasons why the present situation is so dire, many
unrelated to the evil Americans' appearance in Russia. From this, I assume
that the present situation would have been drastically different without the
foreigners' presence somehow "spoiling" things.
Yes, many Russians bought into the ideas the foreigners brought with them,
but the last time I checked, many ills plaguing the country are being
perpetrated by Russians themselves. Capital flight, asset stripping at
companies, graft, corruption - the list goes on - are activities in which
some Russians are guilty of just as some foreigners are guilty of doing
anything for a quick buck or patronizing attitudes. This is the reality of
the situation, and to parcel out larger amounts of blame onto one group
quite nicely gives an inordinate amount of influence to foreigners.
Asserting that Russians are solely victims is just as patronizing and
offensive behavior as the foreigner who complains how hopeless Russians are
at management, accounting and work in general. From Ms. Blundy's article, I
get the impression that Russians are helpless, weak-minded children before
misguided adult parents from the West who listened to everything which was
said -- not exactly a nice characterization of your intellectual
capabilities by any means. Recently my landlords' friend, a genial woman of
50 or so, gave me an extremely insightful two-hour lecture on just how the
market economy and market-like mechanisms should have been applied in
Russia. It was a fascinating meld of ideas, and certainly much more than
I'd expect from Ms. Blundy's Russians.
While not wanting to imply "my Russian friends and acquaintances are smarter
than yours", I do wonder about whom she regularly associates with. The
Russians I know are smart, hard-working, and savvy in what I would call a
very western way, and many of them are still employed because they occupied
*higher* positions in their companies than foreigners or were simply smarter
and saw the August 1998 crisis way before their foreign counterparts. Thus,
many took preventive and preemptive steps by finding new jobs before the axe
was dropped, while many more found other jobs shortly after that which were
often more of a horizontal move than an up/down vertical move. Of course,
some are still without employment, but it's certainly not as if the country
has ground to a complete halt.
It certainly is true that most of the Russians I know are passionately
against what the US is doing in Yugoslavia and are convinced it wouldn't
happen if Russia were as strong as the USSR, but I have not heard or
experienced any of the Anti-Americanism Ms. Blundy talks about. I have been
in extremely lively debates, but no one has ever made a comment deriding me
for simply being an American or asserting that all of Russia's present
problems are originate in the West. None of my friends argue that the West
"made Russia agree give up (her) weapons" or engage in knee-jerk reactionism
which results in writing off any western idea. Instead I have heard
numerous arguments, the breadth of which is quite astounding, as to what
went wrong in Russia and why, how Russia could affect the present situation
both domestically and internationally, and acknowledgement that the Yugoslav
crisis is much deeper than an "us versus them" battle. All also agree that
the crisis should not be allowed to affect future Russia/US relations.
Up to this point in time, the worst anti-western comment (if it could be
perceived this way) that I've heard revolves around how bad the National
Hockey League would be without the Russians -- I'm still waiting to hear the
ANALYSIS-IMF to rescue Russia, ambitions curbed
By Patrick Lannin
MOSCOW, March 30 (Reuters) - The International Monetary Fund seems set to
rescue Russia again but times have changed. Instead of backing a clear
economic plan the Fund is simply staving off disaster, analysts said on
New cash seems likely after Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov on Monday struck a
deal with IMF head Michel Camdessus, although the amount depends on talks with
a Fund mission due in Moscow next week. Figures of up to $5.0 billion have
Analysts said the money would keep Russia in a holding pattern of drift,
preventing bankruptcy over its $140 billion of foreign debt until a new
political landscape emerges after parliamentary elections this year and a
presidential vote in 2000.
"The IMF are making a political-economic decision that they are going to try
and keep Russia as close to normal economic conditions as possible, leading to
the presidential election," said Roland Nash, an economist at finance house
"That is different from before because then they had a set of economic
principles, pushing Russia in a certain economic direction. That intention has
faded to keeping Russia more or less going towards economic normalcy," he
The IMF last bailed out Russia in the summer of 1998, when a package of over
$20 billion was scraped together.
Talking to a government packed with reform-minded people such as Sergei
Kiriyenko, Boris Nemtsov and Boris Fyodorov, the IMF's idea was to provide a
macro-economic confidence boost, funding further structural reforms and
keeping the rouble stable.
But the package failed to overcome the twin onslaught of market nervousness
and the belligerence of the Communist-led Duma lower house, which stalled on
passing emergency measures.
Now the rouble is off nearly 75 percent and annual inflation is at 100
percent, although monthly figures have been slowing.
The bank system is a mess and the domestic debt market was hollowed out to a
shell of its former self after a restructure.
The political complexion of the government has also radically shifted. It is
now led by former KGB chief and diplomat Yevgeny Primakov and an older
generation, which is more inclined to rely on the control of the state than
Market reforms as a whole have been discredited in the eyes of many Russians
and the IMF's role increasingly questioned.
"I see it (the economy) in a catatonic state, oscillating between vague market
reforms and more controls, exchange controls and capital controls and so
forth," said Thierry Malleret, chief economist at Alfa Bank.
"It is in a state of tremendous uncertainty because no one has a clue on the
direction over the next few months," he said.
The current government's methods are not those the IMF usually likes, because
it tends to solve economic problems such as the devaluation of the rouble by
using administrative measures such as capital controls.
But it has brought stability when the prospects immediately after the crisis
looked very bleak and it has not unleashed the hyper-inflation which many
It has also brought political stability in a situation when the Communist-
dominated Duma and President Boris Yeltsin were in continuous confrontation.
But what comes next is anyone's guess.
The variations of the December Duma elections are as-yet unfathomable while
the presidential vote of 2000 will mark the formal end of the era of Boris
Yeltsin. A successor is unclear.
"It is a difficult call to make. You tell me what the politics are going to be
and I'll tell you what the economy is going to be like," Nash said.
The Current Bombings: Beyond the Rhetoric
By Noam Chomsky
March 30, 1999
There have been many inquiries concerning NATO (meaning primarily US)
bombing in connection with Kosovo. A great deal has been written about the
topic, including Znet commentaries. I'd like to make a few general
observations, keeping to facts that are not seriously contested.
There are two fundamental issues: (1) What are the accepted and applicable
"rules of world order"? (2) How do these or other considerations apply in
the case of Kosovo?
(1) What are the accepted and applicable "rules of world order"?
There is a regime of international law and international order, binding on
all states, based on the UN Charter and subsequent resolutions and World
Court decisions. In brief, the threat or use of force is banned unless
explicitly authorized by the Security Council after it has determined that
peaceful means have failed, or in self-defense against "armed attack" (a
narrow concept) until the Security Council acts.
There is, of course, more to say. Thus there is at least a tension, if not
an outright contradiction, between the rules of world order laid down in
the UN Charter and the rights articulated in the Universal Declaration of
Human Rights (UD), a second pillar of the world order established under US
initiative after World War II. The Charter bans force violating state
sovereignty; the UD guarantees the rights of individuals against oppressive
states. The issue of "humanitarian intervention" arises from this tension.
It is the right of "humanitarian intervention" that is claimed by the
US/NATO in Kosovo, and that is generally supported by editorial opinion and
news reports (in the latter case, reflexively, even by the very choice of
The question is addressed in a news report in the NY Times (March 27),
headlined "Legal Scholars Support Case for Using Force" in Kosovo (March
27). One example is offered: Allen Gerson, former counsel to the US mission
to the UN. Two other legal scholars are cited. One, Ted Galen Carpenter,
"scoffed at the Administration argument" and dismissed the alleged right of
intervention. The third is Jack Goldsmith, a specialist on international
law at Chicago Law school. He says that critics of the NATO bombing "have a
pretty good legal argument," but "many people think [an exception for
humanitarian intervention] does exist as a matter of custom and practice."
That summarizes the evidence offered to justify the favored conclusion
stated in the headline.
Goldsmith's observation is reasonable, at least if we agree that facts are
relevant to the determination of "custom and practice." We may also bear in
mind a truism: the right of humanitarian intervention, if it exists, is
premised on the "good faith" of those intervening, and that assumption is
based not on their rhetoric but on their record, in particular their record
of adherence to the principles of international law, World Court decisions,
and so on. That is indeed a truism, at least with regard to others.
Consider, for example, Iranian offers to intervene in Bosnia to prevent
massacres at a time when the West would not do so. These were dismissed
with ridicule (in fact, ignored); if there was a reason beyond
subordination to power, it was because Iranian "good faith" could not be
assumed. A rational person then asks obvious questions: is the Iranian
record of intervention and terror worse than that of the US? And other
questions, for example: How should we assess the "good faith" of the only
country to have vetoed a Security Council resolution calling on all states
to obey international law? What about its historical record? Unless such
questions are prominent on the agenda of discourse, an honest person will
dismiss it as mere allegiance to doctrine. A useful exercise is to
determine how much of the literature -- media or other -- survives such
elementary conditions as these.
(2) How do these or other considerations apply in the case of Kosovo?
There has been a humanitarian catastrophe in Kosovo in the past year,
overwhelmingly attributable to Yugoslav military forces. The main victims
have been ethnic Albanian Kosovars, some 90% of the population of this
Yugoslav territory. The standard estimate is 2000 deaths and hundreds of
thousands of refugees.
In such cases, outsiders have three choices:
(I) try to escalate the catastrophe
(II) do nothing
(III) try to mitigate the catastrophe
The choices are illustrated by other contemporary cases. Let's keep to a
few of approximately the same scale, and ask where Kosovo fits into the
(A) Colombia. In Colombia, according to State Department estimates, the
annual level of political killing by the government and its paramilitary
associates is about at the level of Kosovo, and refugee flight primarily
from their atrocities is well over a million. Colombia has been the leading
Western hemisphere recipient of US arms and training as violence increased
through the '90s, and that assistance is now increasing, under a "drug war"
pretext dismissed by almost all serious observers. The Clinton
administration was particularly enthusiastic in its praise for President
Gaviria, whose tenure in office was responsible for "appalling levels of
violence," according to human rights organizations, even surpassing his
predecessors. Details are readily available.
In this case, the US reaction is (I): escalate the atrocities.
(B) Turkey. By very conservative estimate, Turkish repression of Kurds in
the '90s falls in the category of Kosovo. It peaked in the early '90s; one
index is the flight of over a million Kurds from the countryside to the
unofficial Kurdish capital Diyarbakir from 1990 to 1994, as the Turkish
army was devastating the countryside. 1994 marked two records: it was "the
year of the worst repression in the Kurdish provinces" of Turkey, Jonathan
Randal reported from the scene, and the year when Turkey became "the
biggest single importer of American military hardware and thus the world's
largest arms purchaser." When human rights groups exposed Turkey's use of
US jets to bomb villages, the Clinton Administration found ways to evade
laws requiring suspension of arms deliveries, much as it was doing in
Indonesia and elsewhere.
Colombia and Turkey explain their (US-supported) atrocities on grounds that
they are defending their countries from the threat of terrorist guerrillas.
As does the government of Yugoslavia.
Again, the example illustrates (I): try to escalate the atrocities.
(C) Laos. Every year thousands of people, mostly children and poor farmers,
are killed in the Plain of Jars in Northern Laos, the scene of the heaviest
bombing of civilian targets in history it appears, and arguably the most
cruel: Washington's furious assault on a poor peasant society had little to
do with its wars in the region. The worst period was from 1968, when
Washington was compelled to undertake negotiations (under popular and
business pressure), ending the regular bombardment of North Vietnam.
Kissinger-Nixon then decided to shift the planes to bombardment of Laos and
The deaths are from "bombies," tiny anti-personnel weapons, far worse than
land-mines: they are designed specifically to kill and maim, and have no
effect on trucks, buildings, etc. The Plain was saturated with hundreds of
millions of these criminal devices, which have a failure-to-explode rate of
20%-30% according to the manufacturer, Honeywell. The numbers suggest
either remarkably poor quality control or a rational policy of murdering
civilians by delayed action. These were only a fraction of the technology
deployed, including advanced missiles to penetrate caves where families
sought shelter. Current annual casualties from "bombies" are estimated from
hundreds a year to "an annual nationwide casualty rate of 20,000," more
than half of them deaths, according to the veteran Asia reporter Barry Wain
of the Wall Street Journal -- in its Asia edition. A conservative estimate,
then, is that the crisis this year is approximately comparable to Kosovo,
though deaths are far more highly concentrated among children -- over half,
according to analyses reported by the Mennonite Central Committee, which
has been working there since 1977 to alleviate the continuing atrocities.
There have been efforts to publicize and deal with the humanitarian
catastrophe. A British-based Mine Advisory Group (MAG) is trying to remove
the lethal objects, but the US is "conspicuously missing from the handful
of Western organisations that have followed MAG," the British press
reports, though it has finally agreed to train some Laotian civilians. The
British press also reports, with some anger, the allegation of MAG
specialists that the US refuses to provide them with "render harmless
procedures" that would make their work "a lot quicker and a lot safer."
These remain a state secret, as does the whole affair in the United States.
The Bangkok press reports a very similar situation in Cambodia,
particularly the Eastern region where US bombardment from early 1969 was
In this case, the US reaction is (II): do nothing. And the reaction of the
media and commentators is to keep silent, following the norms under which
the war against Laos was designated a "secret war" -- meaning well-known,
but suppressed, as also in the case of Cambodia from March 1969. The level
of self-censorship was extraordinary then, as is the current phase. The
relevance of this shocking example should be obvious without further comment.
I will skip other examples of (I) and (II), which abound, and also much
more serious contemporary atrocities, such as the huge slaughter of Iraqi
civilians by means of a particularly vicious form of biological warfare --
"a very hard choice," Madeleine Albright commented on national TV in 1996
when asked for her reaction to the killing of half a million Iraqi children
in 5 years, but "we think the price is worth it." Current estimates remain
about 5000 children killed a month, and the price is still "worth it."
These and other examples might also be kept in mind when we read awed
rhetoric about how the "moral compass" of the Clinton Administration is at
last functioning properly, as the Kosovo example illustrates.
Just what does the example illustrate? The threat of NATO bombing,
predictably, led to a sharp escalation of atrocities by the Serbian Army
and paramilitaries, and to the departure of international observers, which
of course had the same effect. Commanding General Wesley Clark declared
that it was "entirely predictable" that Serbian terror and violence would
intensify after the NATO bombing, exactly as happened. The terror for the
first time reached the capital city of Pristina, and there are credible
reports of large-scale destruction of villages, assassinations, generation
of an enormous refugee flow, perhaps an effort to expel a good part of the
Albanian population -- all an "entirely predictable" consequence of the
threat and then the use of force, as General Clark rightly observes.
Kosovo is therefore another illustration of (I): try to escalate the
violence, with exactly that expectation.
To find examples illustrating (III) is all too easy, at least if we keep to
official rhetoric. The major recent academic study of "humanitarian
intervention," by Sean Murphy, reviews the record after the Kellogg-Briand
pact of 1928 which outlawed war, and then since the UN Charter, which
strengthened and articulated these provisions. In the first phase, he
writes, the most prominent examples of "humanitarian intervention" were
Japan's attack on Manchuria, Mussolini's invasion of Ethiopia, and Hitler's
occupation of parts of Czechoslovakia. All were accompanied by highly
uplifting humanitarian rhetoric, and factual justifications as well. Japan
was going to establish an "earthly paradise" as it defended Manchurians
from "Chinese bandits," with the support of a leading Chinese nationalist,
a far more credible figure than anyone the US was able to conjure up during
its attack on South Vietnam. Mussolini was liberating thousands of slaves
as he carried forth the Western "civilizing mission." Hitler announced
Germany's intention to end ethnic tensions and violence, and "safeguard the
national individuality of the German and Czech peoples," in an operation
"filled with earnest desire to serve the true interests of the peoples
dwelling in the area," in accordance with their will; the Slovakian
President asked Hitler to declare Slovakia a protectorate.
Another useful intellectual exercise is to compare those obscene
justifications with those offered for interventions, including
"humanitarian interventions," in the post-UN Charter period.
In that period, perhaps the most compelling example of (III) is the
Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia in December 1978, terminating Pol Pot's
atrocities, which were then peaking. Vietnam pleaded the right of
self-defense against armed attack, one of the few post-Charter examples
when the plea is plausible: the Khmer Rouge regime (Democratic Kampuchea,
DK) was carrying out murderous attacks against Vietnam in border areas. The
US reaction is instructive. The press condemned the "Prussians" of Asia for
their outrageous violation of international law. They were harshly punished
for the crime of having terminated Pol Pot's slaughters, first by a
(US-backed) Chinese invasion, then by US imposition of extremely harsh
sanctions. The US recognized the expelled DK as the official government of
Cambodia, because of its "continuity" with the Pol Pot regime, the State
Department explained. Not too subtly, the US supported the Khmer Rouge in
its continuing attacks in Cambodia.
The example tells us more about the "custom and practice" that underlies
"the emerging legal norms of humanitarian intervention."
Despite the desperate efforts of ideologues to prove that circles are
square, there is no serious doubt that the NATO bombings further undermine
what remains of the fragile structure of international law. The US made
that entirely clear in the discussions leading to the NATO decision. Apart
from the UK (by now, about as much of an independent actor as the Ukraine
was in the pre-Gorbachev years), NATO countries were skeptical of US
policy, and were particularly annoyed by Secretary of State Albright's
"saber-rattling" (Kevin Cullen, Boston Globe, Feb. 22). Today, the more
closely one approaches the conflicted region, the greater the opposition to
Washington's insistence on force, even within NATO (Greece and Italy).
France had called for a UN Security Council resolution to authorize
deployment of NATO peacekeepers. The US flatly refused, insisting on "its
stand that NATO should be able to act independently of the United Nations,"
State Department officials explained. The US refused to permit the
"neuralgic word `authorize'" to appear in the final NATO statement,
unwilling to concede any authority to the UN Charter and international law;
only the word "endorse" was permitted (Jane Perlez, NYT, Feb. 11).
Similarly the bombing of Iraq was a brazen expression of contempt for the
UN, even the specific timing, and was so understood. And of course the same
is true of the destruction of half the pharmaceutical production of a small
African country a few months earlier, an event that also does not indicate
that the "moral compass" is straying from righteousness -- not to speak of
a record that would be prominently reviewed right now if facts were
considered relevant to determining "custom and practice."
It could be argued, rather plausibly, that further demolition of the rules
of world order is irrelevant, just as it had lost its meaning by the late
1930s. The contempt of the world's leading power for the framework of world
order has become so extreme that there is nothing left to discuss. A review
of the internal documentary record demonstrates that the stance traces back
to the earliest days, even to the first memorandum of the newly-formed
National Security Council in 1947. During the Kennedy years, the stance
began to gain overt expression. The main innovation of the Reagan-Clinton
years is that defiance of international law and the Charter has become
entirely open. It has also been backed with interesting explanations, which
would be on the front pages, and prominent in the school and university
curriculum, if truth and honesty were considered significant values. The
highest authorities explained with brutal clarity that the World Court, the
UN, and other agencies had become irrelevant because they no longer follow
US orders, as they did in the early postwar years.
One might then adopt the official position. That would be an honest stand,
at least if it were accompanied by refusal to play the cynical game of
self-righteous posturing and wielding of the despised principles of
international law as a highly selective weapon against shifting enemies.
While the Reaganites broke new ground, under Clinton the defiance of world
order has become so extreme as to be of concern even to hawkish policy
analysts. In the current issue of the leading establishment journal,
Foreign Affairs, Samuel Huntington warns that Washington is treading a
dangerous course. In the eyes of much of the world -- probably most of the
world, he suggests -- the US is "becoming the rogue superpower," considered
"the single greatest external threat to their societies." Realist
"international relations theory," he argues, predicts that coalitions may
arise to counterbalance the rogue superpower. On pragmatic grounds, then,
the stance should be reconsidered. Americans who prefer a different image
of their society might call for a reconsideration on other than pragmatic
Where does that leave the question of what to do in Kosovo? It leaves it
unanswered. The US has chosen a course of action which, as it explicitly
recognizes, escalates atrocities and violence -- "predictably"; a course of
action that also strikes yet another blow against the regime of
international order, which does offer the weak at least some limited
protection from predatory states. As for the longer term, consequences are
unpredictable. One plausible observation is that "every bomb that falls on
Serbia and every ethnic killing in Kosovo suggests that it will scarcely be
possible for Serbs and Albanians to live beside each other in some sort of
peace" (Financial Times, March 27). Some of the longer-term possible
outcomes are extremely ugly, as has not gone without notice.
A standard argument is that we had to do something: we could not simply
stand by as atrocities continue. That is never true. One choice, always, is
to follow the Hippocratic principle: "First, do no harm." If you can think
of no way to adhere to that elementary principle, then do nothing. There
are always ways that can be considered. Diplomacy and negotiations are
never at an end.
The right of "humanitarian intervention" is likely to be more frequently
invoked in coming years -- maybe with justification, maybe not -- now that
Cold War pretexts have lost their efficacy. In such an era, it may be
worthwhile to pay attention to the views of highly respected commentators
-- not to speak of the World Court, which explicitly ruled on this matter
in a decision rejected by the United States, its essentials not even
In the scholarly disciplines of international affairs and international law
it would be hard to find more respected voices than Hedley Bull or Louis
Henkin. Bull warned 15 years ago that "Particular states or groups of
states that set themselves up as the authoritative judges of the world
common good, in disregard of the views of others, are in fact a menace to
international order, and thus to effective action in this field." Henkin,
in a standard work on world order, writes that the "pressures eroding the
prohibition on the use of force are deplorable, and the arguments to
legitimize the use of force in those circumstances are unpersuasive and
dangerous... Violations of human rights are indeed all too common, and if
it were permissible to remedy them by external use of force, there would be
no law to forbid the use of force by almost any state against almost any
other. Human rights, I believe, will have to be vindicated, and other
injustices remedied, by other, peaceful means, not by opening the door to
aggression and destroying the principle advance in international law, the
outlawing of war and the prohibition of force."
Recognized principles of international law and world order, solemn treaty
obligations, decisions by the World Court, considered pronouncements by the
most respected commentators -- these do not automatically solve particular
problems. Each issue has to be considered on its merits. For those who do
not adopt the standards of Saddam Hussein, there is a heavy burden of proof
to meet in undertaking the threat or use of force in violation of the
principles of international order. Perhaps the burden can be met, but that
has to be shown, not merely proclaimed with passionate rhetoric. The
consequences of such violations have to be assessed carefully -- in
particular, what we understand to be "predictable." And for those who are
minimally serious, the reasons for the actions also have to be assessed --
again, not simply by adulation of our leaders and their "moral compass."
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