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WRI statement on Kosov@ and NATO

The War Resisters' International, an international network of more than 70 pacifist groups in more than 30 countries, including the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and Croatia, condemns the NATO bombing and the hypocrisy of NATO governments in mounting this war.

The original rationale for threatening military action was to make Milosevic sign a peace agreement. This fatally misreads Milosevic and the mood of the Serbian people after years of nationalist propaganda. Far from undermining Milosevic, this allows him to tap into the Serbian and Yugoslav traditions of heroic military defence.

Now, the current rationale is that the bombing is to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe. Already at the time of writing, it is clearly precipitating an even greater disaster - and with the evacuation of the OSCE verification mission and foreign relief workers and expulsion of foreign journalists, there are now even fewer ways to respond.

NATO has been using the conflicts in the former-Yugoslavia to redefine its role, pretending to be the world's police force. To this end, it pursues its own institutional interests - against those of non-military intergovernmental bodies, such as the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the United Nations - and it decides on military action according to its own organisational logic. It is selective about which 'crimes' it seeks to redress and what counts as a 'humanitarian catastrophe'.

Far from weakening the Milosevic regime, and protecting Kosov@ Albanians, the NATO bombings are already having disastrous - and predictable - consequences. In Kosov@ itself, it is now 'open season' for Serbs - be they police, military, paramilitary or armed civilians - against the entire Albanian population and its institutions. In Serbia proper, the Belgrade regime has already moved against anti-war voices, such as Radio B92.

The governments that make up NATO displayed very little active interest in supporting nonviolent efforts by Kosov@ Albanians throughout the nine years in which they refused to take up arms in response to Serbian repression and violence. Indeed, they consented to the exclusion of Kosov@ from the Dayton accords. On those occasions when foreign governments did acknowledge that the wholesale violation of 90 per cent of the population of Kosov@ was anything other than an 'internal affair' of Serbia, it was to offer assurances that they did not even try to live up to. For eight years the Albanians of Kosov@ persisted in their strategy of refraining from violence and concentrating on maintaining their social cohesion and institutions such as parallel schools. Their nonviolent struggle using strikes, boycotts, peaceful demonstrations and alternative institutions was largely ignored by the world.

Instead of a world order based on NATO breaking international law to pursue military action, War Resisters' International works to strengthen nonviolent methods of dealing with conflict. We have worked against the militarism of the Milosevic regime; we have worked through the Balkan Peace Team to promote dialogue between Serbs and Albanians; and we have worked to increase awareness of the variety of nonviolent methods of social struggle that can be deployed in such situations. A more understanding response to the Kosov@ Albanian population on the part of the governments now prepared to bomb Serbia, Kosov@, Vojvodina and Montenegro could have made a decisive difference. Unfortunately, this was not forthcoming. Their decision-making is dominated by short term considerations of power-politics and 'military reality'. The 'criminal' they now want to bomb to the negotiating table is the man they erected into the 'guarantor of the Dayton peace'.

The mission of the OSCE 'verifiers' was too little, too late. Hastily improvised, poorly prepared, and with a mandate that was inadequately articulated, the OSCE verifiers succeed in de-fusing some flashpoints, they were beginning to build some cooperation with civil society groups, but they could not stem the rising tide of violence. Rather they increasingly were verifying that an atrocity had been committed. Nevertheless, their deployment was infinitely preferable to the NATO's bombings.

NATO does not exist to protect populations condemned to live under criminal regimes. How can it when its own members include countries like Turkey, whose methods against the Kurds are equally horrific? NATO's military strategy in Kosov@ is not designed in the interests of the population, but rather to minimise the risks to NATO's own soldiers - whatever the consequences for those who are now hostage to Serbian vengeance. NATO's new strategy seems to be a test for new weapons systems in a large scale attack against a Central European country, first use of US Air Force B-2 Bombers, first active battle participation of the German Air Force since Second World War, military integration of new NATO members into the military command to European NATO headquarters. NATO's attack on Yugoslavia is a first precedent of the new NATO strategy, which will be passed in April. In this strategy NATO explicitly stresses its 'right' to intervene everywhere in the world on its own right, without the need of being mandated by the UN or other intergovernmental bodies.

In the immediate circumstances, WRI calls for a halt of the NATO air strikes and calls on its members to organise vigils and other demonstrations against NATO at appropriate embassies or War Ministries or at air bases. We call on the soldiers of all countries taking part in this attack to refuse to participate in this war.

In the medium term, we will try to work alongside our friends in the anti-war groups in Serbia and with people in Kosov@ trying to create a just peace.

In the longer term, WRI redoubles its commitment to promote civilian responses to conflict - in particular the development of nonviolence as a means of waging social struggles and the use of methods of nonviolent conflict resolution and dialogue.