This paper examines the humanitarian intervention undertaken by the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) in the Yugoslav province of Kosovo between 24 March and 10 June 1999. Following an examination of the wider ideological and historical background to the Kosovo crisis, it establishes three postulates: first, despite Brussels’ attempts to justify its illegal violation of the sovereignty of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia as a moral necessity – in view of Belgrade’s ethnic cleansing of the Kosovar Albanians – it is fair to suggest that more traditional realpolitik reasons were equally if not more important drivers of the decision to attack. Second, the paper shows that despite the great faith placed by NATO in its capacity to wage a high-technology air campaign blending lethality with accuracy, thereby keeping casualties to a minimum, in reality the bombing contributed directly to the suffering of both Kosovars and Serb civilians, while not significantly degrading the Serb war machine. In short, the air campaign was dubious both strategically and morally. Third, the paper argues that because relatively widespread scepticism about NATO war aims and campaign strategy undermined Brussels’ credibility, its propaganda, whilst technically sound, was not at all persuasive as far as the Serb and some elements of the Western public were concerned. The paper ends by highlighting two important wider implications of the Kosovo campaign for Singapore. First, it argues that while the international community is embracing the idea of humanitarian intervention as a global norm, the current lack of agreed-upon criteria for evaluating its appropriateness for specific contexts implies the danger of abuse by powerful states bypassing the perennially enervated United Nations. Second, the largely American-dominated Western media – rather than being the purportedly impartial fourth estate of the liberal imagination – can, as Kosovo clearly demonstrates, act as the de facto rhetorical arm of their governments. It is in Singapore’s interests, therefore, to contribute to the development of objective criteria for determining the situations under which intervention for humanitarian reasons is legally defensible, while the influence and power of the Western media suggests that Singapore must retain a strong capacity to compete with the transnational media giants in shaping and regulating popular perceptions.
Last updated on 17/11/2014