Danilo Zolo, 'Invoking Humanity: war, law and global order'

IssueDecember 2002 - February 2003
Review by Trevor Curnow

In this book, Danilo Zolo offers “an interpretation of the `humanitarian war' waged by nineteen NATO countries against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in the spring of 1999”. In so doing, he paints a depressing (but perhaps unsurprising) picture of political manoeuvrings, hypocrisy and double-dealings that are enough to get the word “humanitarian” a bad name. The fact that it takes place against the background of the genuine suffering of the people of Kosova serves only to make it all even worse.

At the heart of Zolo's analysis lies the tension between the sovereignty of nations and the universality of human rights. He argues that the USA-led NATO alliance used the camouflage of the latter to ride roughshod over the former. No one comes out of the book particularly well. The USA uses NATO for its own hegemonic purposes. Its allies do little to restrain it when they do not actively support it. The UN strikes a largely supine pose. Respected thinkers such as Jurgen Habermas provide intellectual comfort. The Hague Tribunal is a puppet of NATO. The UC,K (Kosovan Liberation Army) is little better than a bunch of brigands.

That there were serious problems in Kosova is acknowledged, and some useful background to the conflict is provided. However, the NATO “cure” for these problems is shown to be of dubious benefit to those on whom it was imposed. Thousands of refugees have been created, ethnic cleansing has not stopped (although roles have been reversed), the militants have gained the upper hand in Kosovan politics, and new regional instabilities have been created. Worst of all, perhaps, many of those whose rights were meant to be defended by the war were instead killed by it. Zolo pointedly contrasts NATO's relative indifference to the deaths of the innocent (virtually guaranteed by fighting the war from the air) with its concern to accord due process of law to those it regarded as guilty. However, even the justice meted out by the Hague Tribunal is compromised by its undue closeness to the USA and granting of virtual immunity to NATO: impartial it isn't.

It is Zolo's contention that the war in Kosova was thoroughly and cynically illegal from start to finish, amounting to little more, in his judgement, than an act of international terrorism. Of course, most would allow that the law can be over-ridden by moral imperatives on occasions, but he reveals the hollowness of the loud appeals to higher principles in this particular case. It is difficult to read this book without coming to the conclusion that the whole Kosova affair was a sordid and sorry one. Anyone interested in this topic should get hold of it.

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