Global Policy Forum

Sovereignty and World Order


Kansas State University Manhattan, Kansas

By Noam Chomsky

Transcribed by James R. Benkard

September 20, 1999

The topic for tonight - "Sovereignty and World Order" - was actually selected over a year ago, maybe more, but the choice was prescient. These have been the catchwords of 1999 - "sovereignty" and "world order" - in very instructive ways.

The concern for sovereignty has gone through two phases. The first phase was in the first part of the year when the focus was on the US/NATO bombing of Yugoslavia, and the second phase is in the past few weeks - in connection with the renewed atrocities in East Timor.

During the first phase there was "extreme exuberance" that we were entering a new era in human history in which the "enlightened states" will use force when they believe it to be just, disregarding old-fashioned concepts of sovereignty and international law. No more restrictive old rules. The "enlightened states" will act on their traditional principles with "the defense of human rights as their mission." Secretary of State Albright proclaimed, reported with awe by the New York Times.

The mission is defined, according to folks like Albright, only for some parts of the world - namely, the "rogue" states. Cuba today. Or Nicaragua, before it was returned to the free world. Or Iraq, since 1990, when Saddam Hussein disobeyed orders, and Iraq became a "rogue state." But not before 1990, of course, when he was a favored friend and ally, and a recipient of massive aid while he was just gassing Kurds, and torturing dissidents, and in fact committing by far the worst crimes of his awful career. For which he was rewarded by an increasing flow of military and other aid by the enlightened states.

Well, that's the first half of the year. We were deluged with ecstatic pronouncements from leading moralists and political figures, scholars, and so on, about this remarkable era that we're entering under the leadership of the enlightened states, no longer encumbered by old-fashioned notions of sovereignty and international law.

The second phase is the past few weeks. The tune changed very radically, as attention shifted to East Timor, where there was a resurgence of the terror and violence and massacres that have been going on for twenty-five years. That's actually the worst slaughter, relative to population, since the Holocaust.

Now, it turns out that the sovereignty of Indonesia has to receive delicate and exaggerated respect in this case, even when there is no sovereignty. Because, of course, Indonesia has no claim to sovereignty in East Timor, apart from the claim that resides in the support given to its aggression by the great powers, in particular the enlightened states, in particular the leader of the enlightened states, the U.S.

So here we have to have very great concern for sovereignty and it turns out that human rights don't matter. We have to put aside our broader mission, established in phase one. We have to ask for the invitation of the invaders before any move can be made, like withholding military aid, because such moves would be intervention in a sovereign state, and we can't think of doing that.

So, suddenly, the picture is exactly the opposite. From total disdain and contempt for sovereignty, in the case of Serbia - which by accident happens to be the only corner of Europe that's resisting U.S. plans for the region - we move to a client state, one of the major mass murderers of the modern period, and in this case concern for sovereignty is so exalted that we have to delicately observe it, even when there's no sovereignty at all.

Well, it's an interesting transition, and it does raise some questions: what happened? What's the difference?

One difference that might come to mind is the one I just mentioned. In one case, the state whose sovereignty doesn't matter happens to be an enemy state. In the other case, it happens to be a client state. That suggests a hypothesis, but let's put it aside for a moment, and ask some other questions.

The first question is - I mentioned that the first half of the year was a period of enormous exuberance about the remarkable new age " well, what was the attitude outside the enlightened states? Incidentally, who are the enlightened states, and how do you gain the rank of enlightened state? What are the criteria for membership in the club?

Well, criteria for membership in the club turned out to be very easy. It's done by definition. You become an enlightened state not by virtue of your record; in fact, the record is declared irrelevant and if anyone were to look at the record, it would hardly provide the right qualifications. It's just true by definition. The United States is an enlightened state by definition. Its attack dog, Great Britain, is an enlightened state as long as it follows orders. And anyone else who enlists in a crusade is an enlightened state. Everyone else is a rogue state. So it's very easy to make the distinction.

What is the attitude outside the enlightened states toward the remarkable new era? Well, outside of the self-defined enlightened states, there was shock and dismay over the contempt shown for sovereignty and international law.

So, if you go to say, India or Thailand or Latin America, the reaction was pretty uniform: fear. Most of the world's attitude was pretty well expressed by the Archbishop of San Paulo, who asked after the Gulf War: "Who are they going to attack next, and on what pretext?" There was considerable talk throughout much of the world about the need to develop deterrence. Nuclear weapons, or some other deterrent, to defend oneself from the enlightened states, who now apparently feel free to rampage at will, having no deterrent at all.

In fact, if you look across the world fairly generally, I think an accurate description would be that - the more that a state had the capability to use violence at will, the greater was its contempt for sovereignty, that is, for the sovereignty of others. The United States overwhelmingly had far more capability to use violence than any other competitor, and here the exuberance was maximal. And it declines as you move down in power, until you get to the traditional victims.

In fact, the break was very close to what's nowadays called the "North-South" division. That's a euphemism for the distinction between the old imperial countries and their old colonies. In the former colonies, there was shock, fear, and dismay. In the imperial states, particularly in the more powerful of them, enormous exuberance over the end of any barriers to use of violence, such as musty old notions of international law and sovereignty.

That's a pretty general conclusion; I think you'll find an accurate one if you look at commentary around the world, here and elsewhere. And, again, it suggests some hypotheses about what's going on.

This nevertheless requires some further qualifications, because the attitude toward sovereignty in the leader of the enlightened states, the United States " the self-defined leader of the enlightened states, that is - its attitude toward sovereignty was more nuanced than what I just suggested. It's true that for the others, sovereignty can be dismissed with contempt. In other words, we can use force at will, as we believe it to be just, because we define ourselves to be enlightened.

On the other hand, our own sovereignty - and that of our client states - that has to be guarded as a precious treasure. In our own case, the point is obvious. In fact, it's pretty hard to ignore. Just not long ago, for example, the United States refused to accept establishing an international criminal court that would prosecute war crimes and crimes against humanity. And the reason was pretty straightforward, if we accepted the existence of such a court, we would be surrendering our sovereignty. And obviously we can't do that, because our sovereignty is sacrosanct.

That was brazen enough to receive some comment, but what is less noticed is that that's pretty uniform. The United States has a terrible record, one of the worst in the world, in signing and ratifying international human rights conventions - conventions to implement the provisions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. So, for example, in the case of the Convention On Rights of the Child, it's been ratified by every country in the world except two: the United States and Somalia. Somalia didn't ratify it because it doesn't have a government.

And that's fairly general. In fact, it's even worse than that. In a strict sense, the United States has ratified no covenant. The reason is that every one that is ratified, and there aren't very many, has a reservation which says, in effect: "inapplicable to the United States." So some conventions are ratified, not too many, but then doctored to be inapplicable here.

There was an interesting example of that early this year, during the period of euphoria about the new enlightenment. Again, it didn't receive huge headlines, but if you were looking carefully, you noticed that there was a case brought to the World Court charging the United States and the other NATO powers with war crimes. And the World Court turned down the case on technical grounds. Not because the charges were wrong, but on technical grounds. The technical grounds were that the United States presented an airtight legal argument to show that the case could not be brought. And the Court correctly accepted this argument. What was the argument?

Well, the case was brought under the Genocide Convention. World Court rules require that both, all parties to a dispute accept jurisdiction. Otherwise, the Court can't adjudicate. And the U.S. argument was that the United States doesn't accept jurisdiction. Because, even though it did sign the Genocide Convention - after a delay of, I think, about forty years - it signed it with a reservation saying "inapplicable to the United States, without U.S. agreement," which of course is not given.

So, therefore, the United States can't be brought before the Court on these charges, so it doesn't matter what their merit is. And that's a correct argument, so the Court dismissed the case. As I say, that's typical. Sovereignty has to be very carefully protected, like a precious jewel, when it's our own sovereignty. It's only the sovereignty of various enemies that means nothing.

And that extends much more broadly. The United States is practically destroying the United Nations by refusing to pay its legally obligated debts. The debts are required by treaty, but the United States doesn't pay them, because that would be a sacrifice of sovereignty. Why should we allow some organization we don't control to function, at the expense of our own freedom to act? So the U.S. just doesn't pay its debts.

In fact, by the 1990's, U.S. violation of international treaties has become so extreme that the professional society of international law, American Society For International Law, in a recent issue had an article called "Taking Treaties Seriously" - condemning the increasingly brazen U.S. refusal, to adhere to treaty obligations.

The grounds are always the same - they're an interference with U.S. sovereignty, which has to be sustained. The same is true of the World Trade Organization - a particularly interesting case, because it's a U.S. creation. But it does have rules. And the U.S. blatantly violates the rules when it chooses to.

So, for example, the European Union recently brought charges to the World Trade Organization that the U.S. was violating its rules by its quite murderous embargo of Cuba, which violates the World Trade Organization rules because it involves secondary extra-territorial restrictions against other countries. And, of course, it's grossly in violation of international humanitarian law, with its provisions barring food and, even effectively, medicine.

Well, the U.S. responded to that by declaring a national security exemption. The survival of the United States depends on making sure that Cuban children starve or die in hospitals from lack of medicine. So, therefore, we can't accept the authority of the World Trade Organization, our creation, in the case of the embargo of Cuba.

The idea that this is a national security issue is perhaps too idiotic to discuss, but it illustrates the extreme dedication to our own sovereignty - our right to do anything we want - right in the midst of the period when we're hailing the new era in which sovereignty doesn't matter any more, because the enlightened states will lead the world on their mission of preserving human rights.

For years, the attack against Cuba had been justified on Cold War pretexts. Cuba is a tentacle of the evil empire, threatening to strangle us. That was always complete nonsense. The formal decision to overthrow the government of Cuba was made secretly in March 1960, when there was no significant connection between Cuba and the Soviet Union. After the Cold War ended, the attack against Cuba got harsher. These facts alone undermine totally the Cold War arguments, but it's more interesting when you look at the real arguments, which have now been declassified.

When the Kennedy administration took office, one of its first acts was to extend the attack against Cuba. President Kennedy had a Latin American mission, which surveyed the situation in the hemisphere. Its report was transmitted to the President by historian Arthur Schlesinger, and of course it discussed Cuba, and described the threat that Cuba posed to the United States. The threat was, I'm quoting Schlesinger, "the spread of the Castro idea of taking matters into one's own hands" - a serious problem in a region like Latin America, where wealth is very highly concentrated - quoting again: "and the poor and underprivileged, stimulated by the example of the Cuban revolution, are demanding opportunities for a decent living." Well, that's a threat. So you obviously have to defend against it, and carry out terror, an embargo, and invasions and so on, to block the threat.

Incidentally, there was a Cold War element. Schlesinger adds that "Russia is hovering in the background, offering development loans and presenting itself as a model for industrialization in a single generation." So that's a real Cold War issue.

Incidentally, if you think this through, you get a good understanding of what the Cold War was about since 1917. Those models and efforts at independence cannot be tolerated, because they undermine a world system which has to be organized on different grounds. It has to be organized in the interests of the privileged and the wealthy and the powerful, the ones whose sovereignty has to be protected and respected, while everyone else's can be dismissed and ignored.

I should add that the contempt for sovereignty is nothing new in the early part of this year. It just reached extraordinary exuberance as part of the justification for bombing a European country. But contempt for sovereignty is as old as American history.

So, the sovereignty of others is of no account if they're in our way - if they're what are called "rogue" states, meaning not following orders. But our own sovereignty, and that of our client states, and those that join with us, that has to be protected. None of this is new, but, also, none of it matters. It's all, remember, declared irrelevant. It's just facts.

This contempt for others, and for international law, alongside insistence on respecting the sovereignty of clients and, of course, our own sovereignty - this is often expressed in very crude and crass ways publicly - which you should attend to; they're important.

So, for example, Dean Acheson, who was a highly respected statesman, and one of the creators of the postwar world, and a senior advisor to the Kennedy administration; in 1962, at the time when the plainly illegal embargo of Cuba was instituted, gave a public defense of it before the American Society of International Law. And in that defense, he pointed out that the propriety of a U.S. response to a challenge to its "power, position, and prestige" is "not a legal issue." So, no questions of international law arise when the prestige, position or power of the United States is at stake. Because we're above all that.

He said international law has its "uses." Its "uses," he said, are to "gild our positions" with pleasant verbiage when conditions permit us to do so. But other than that, if our own prestige, power or influence is at stake, international law is irrelevant.

The United States didn't invent that position, of course. Every country in the world, including Andorra, would take the same position if they could get away with it, but the United States happens to be able to get away with it. That's what it means to be the biggest thug on the block. You can get away with such things. And you can also get away with self-adulation for your magnificence, in being an enlightened state, carrying out all sorts of wonderful missions.

An even more dramatic example, and one that would be taught in every school in a society that valued freedom, was the reaction of the United States - public reaction - when a case was brought against the United States at the World Court by Nicaragua, in 1985. The United States refused jurisdiction.

The World Court nevertheless condemned the United States for what it called the "unlawful use of force," in other words war crimes, against Nicaragua. It ordered the United States to desist and to pay substantial reparations. Of course, that was dismissed with the usual contempt. The war was immediately escalated, and reparations we won't bother talking about.

But what's interesting in this connection is the reasons. The State Department legal advisor gave the official reasons why the U.S. would not accept the World Court judgment. The reason is, that "the members of the United Nations cannot be counted on to share our views, and often oppose the United States on important international questions. Hence we must reserve to ourselves the right to decide when Court rulings apply, and will not accept compulsory jurisdiction by the Court over any dispute involving matters essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of the United States, as determined by the United States."

In this case, the issue within the domestic jurisdiction of the United States was Washington's war against Nicaragua; what the Court condemned as the unlawful use of force. Well, as I say, that should be taught in school. Everybody should know that by heart. And, in a society which valued its freedom, it would be known.

Also known would be the declarations of [former] Secretary of State George Shultz, who was regarded as 'Mr. Clean' of the Reagan administration, explaining this. What he said is the following: "negotiations are a euphemism for capitulation if the shadow of power is not cast across the bargaining table." And he condemned those who advocate "utopian, legalistic means like outside mediation, the United Nations and the World Court, while ignoring the power element of the equation."

Those remarks are not without precedent in modern history; you can think of a few examples. They were delivered at the moment of the U.S. bombing of Libyan cities; Tripoli and Benghazi, killing many civilians. Incidentally, that was the first bombing in history which was planned and executed for prime-time television. It was very carefully timed so that it would begin right at the 7 PM Eastern Standard Time, which was when the three television channels had their major news programs. And by sheer accident, they all happened to have their crews in Libya - where, of course, they are all the time - so that they could film the exciting events as they happened and then give the administration the first hour of control over television news, to give it a proper spin. You're somehow not supposed to notice this. It just kind of happened.

Well, all of these, again, are things that are worth knowing, teaching. And they tell us a lot about the U.S. attitude towards sovereignty - its own sovereignty. Sovereignty of others is treated with the same contempt that it has been since the 1770's.

So, to take an example which is almost trivial by comparison with the full record: it's just a year now since the United States - the Clinton administration - decided to destroy half the pharmaceutical supplies of a poor African country, killing nobody knows how many thousands or tens of thousands of people. It's conceded that it was just a kind of a random act of violence, but that's all right. Because what does their sovereignty matter? It's our sovereignty that matters. That's during the period of enlightenment - the first phase.

Well, let's go to the second phase. Here we see that it's not only the United States that has this august position in which sovereignty has to be treasured, but also client states. So, Indonesia, for example.

Indonesia has one of the most brutal and murderous records of the modern period; but, as they renewed the atrocities in East Timor this year, their sovereignty had to be very delicately respected - even though it does not exist. Remember, their sovereignty in East Timor is comparable to that of Saddam Hussein's in Kuwait, or of Nazi Germany's in occupied France. Exactly that amount of sovereignty exists, which is none, but it has to be respected - treasured, in fact.

The official U.S. position has been that it is their responsibility - Indonesia's responsibility - to keep order in East Timor, the country that they have conquered and where they have massacred maybe a third of the population. "It's their responsibility, we don't want to take it away from them."

I'll come back to the details of this, but that remained the U.S. position right through the period in the last few weeks, when it became impossible to ignore the level of the atrocities, and when the Clinton administration, in fact, was finally compelled by domestic pressure, and particularly by Australian pressure, international pressure, to make some pretty minor moves. Clinton did finally have to make a few indications to the Indonesian generals that this wasn't nice, and that sufficed for them to reverse course totally - which shows the latent power that has been available throughout.

Incidentally, this continues while we're talking. While we're talking, there are hundreds of thousands of people who were driven up into the hills in East Timor, where they're apparently starving to death, as far as anyone knows. There happens to be a country that could easily carry out airdrops of food. And we know which one it is. It has the logistic and technical capacity to drop food to people starving to death in the mountains, where they've been driven by forces armed and trained by the United States, and supported by the United States.

You don't see it happening. In fact, you don't even notice anybody talking about it. Because it's out of the question. Remember, our mission is to defend human rights - but not when human rights are being trampled on in a horrendous fashion by a client state that we've been supporting in its atrocities and massacres for twenty-five years; here, and also in other places.

So there's no talk about the Air Force dropping food to starving refugees. The Air Force is quite capable of destroying civilian targets in a country whose sovereignty doesn't matter. There, we can -apply pinpoint bombing, destroy civilian targets, and so on - it's fine. But we"re not capable of dropping food to starving people. That's not ancient history, like last week, that's today. Well, sovereignty is granted by the United States and denied by the United States. These are among the prerogatives of power, and the flatterers at the court have to explain to us why this is all noble and elevated.

Well, what's the attitude of the United States and other self-defined enlightened states towards human rights? Same answer. "Might is right." Examples are legion; I'll just keep to 1999. Let's take East Timor. I'll just quick give you a brief review of some of those "sound bites and invective" that you're not supposed to know about, according to the guardians of doctrinal purity.

In December 1975, Indonesia, a US-supported state, client state, invaded the territory of East Timor, on which it had no claim whatsoever. The invasion was carried out with U.S. arms, which by treaty with Indonesia can be used only for self-defense. The U.S. secretly expressed the hope that the invasion would be carried out quickly, without too much attention to the fact that U.S. arms were illegally being used.

The U.S. did declare an arms embargo, because there was a lot of protest, but violated it at once by sending new arms under the cover of the embargo, including vitally needed counter-insurgency equipment. The Security Council of the United Nations acted. It condemned the invasion unanimously, and ordered Indonesia to withdraw at once. But that had no effect, and the reason why it had no effect was explained by the U.S. Ambassador - again, in words that would be memorized by anyone who valued the freedom that they enjoy, and who has an interest in world affairs, international law, and human rights. And this is not some right-wing reactionary. This is Daniel Patrick Moynihan, liberal Senator from New York, who was then UN Ambassador. He wrote his memoirs a few years later, in 1978. And in the memoirs, he explains why the Security Council was ineffective. What he says is that "the United States wished things to turn out as they did, and worked to bring this about. The State Department desired that the United Nations prove utterly ineffective in whatever measures it undertook. This task was given to me, and I carried it forward with no inconsiderable success."

That's frank, and open. He also was aware of the nature of his success. He goes on to say that in the next few months, about 60,000 people were reported killed - about the same percentage of the population as the numbers that Hitler killed in Eastern Europe during the Second World War. That"s his comment, not mine. And then, he says, well, after that the matter disappeared from the press, so that the whole thing was successful.

And it did, indeed, disappear from the press, and was quite successful, but the fighting didn't stop. Only the reporting stopped. What happened after that is the Carter administration took over - the human rights administration - and provided a new flow of arms to Indonesia, which it immediately used to escalate the attack to near-genocidal levels. The people had been driven to the mountains; the Indonesian army using new arms - jet planes, napalm, and so on, supplied by the human rights administration " to carry out a massive attack to drive the population down to Indonesian control -- or as the Carter State Department put it, a large part of the population has moved "to areas where they could be protected by the Indonesian Government."

It's at that point that the church and other sources in East Timor, tried to get the world to recognize what was going on. It's at that time that the figure of 200,000 killed, which is now widely accepted, was presented by the church as a plausible estimate. At that time it was denied, now it's conceded.

And so it continues. It continues right up until the present. There was a moment of hope early this year. In January the Indonesian interim president proposed a referendum in which the people of East Timor could decide between independence and autonomy. The Indonesian army reacted at once by stepping up atrocities. They sent new units of their elite special forces units - Kopassus units, which are trained and armed by the United States, and are famed for their atrocities in East Timor and elsewhere. They were sent to East Timor; they organized what are called "militias" - paramilitary forces, consisting to a large extent of Indonesians, according to the Timorese Nobel Peace Laureate Jose Ramos Horta, which immediately started carrying out large-scale terror.

There was very little reporting of it here but it was going on - it was building up; and everybody knew what was coming. The United States temporized; it wouldn't do anything, it refused to react. In fact, I should say that throughout this whole period, arms and training for the Indonesians continued. Indeed, in 1997-98 government-licensed commercial arms sales to Indonesia increased by a factor of five. Training exercises - the Pentagon has just announced, about a week ago, that training exercises continued until August 25th - about five days before the referendum. This was called training in "humanitarian training and disaster relief." Orwell couldn't have said it better.

What happened next? Right in the middle of the pre-referendum escalations, in April, when atrocities were really peaking, the United States did send a military mission. The head of the Pacific command, Admiral Blair, was sent to talk to General Wirranto, the Indonesian chief of staff; in theory, to tell him to call off the massacres.

It turned out, what he actually told him was that the U.S. would continue to provide assistance and support. This was revealed recently by Alan Nairn, an independent journalist who's done a fantastic job there, and elsewhere, and in fact has been in an Indonesian jail recently, without any report here - finally released, probably under mostly Congressional pressure.

So Admiral Blair went to give this message just shortly after one of the really ugly massacres - the killing of about sixty people in a church in which they had taken refuge. A brutal murder, just one of many.

Well, what happened? The population, in a remarkable display of heroism, went to the polls. And despite large-scale terror, intimidation, killings, tens of thousands of people driven into the hills to hide, almost 99% of the population braved it and voted overwhelmingly for independence.

The reaction to that was steps to virtually wipe the country out. In the next couple of weeks - we're now in early September - nobody knows how many people were killed - thousands, tens of thousands. And maybe half the population, or more, was expelled from their homes - just huge atrocities. Finally, as I mentioned, the United States was compelled to take a stand; to register an objection, at which point the Indonesians called it off - meaning they could have done that all along.

Well, to its credit, the New York Times ran an op-ed about this. Give credit where credit is due. On September 15th, an Indonesia historian, John Roosa, who was an observer at the elections, wrote a good op-ed, in which he pointed out the truth. He said, "given that the pogrom was so predictable, it was easily preventable," but Clinton "dithered" and "refused to discuss" sending peacekeeping forces." That's true. That's exactly what was going on all this year, as the Australians got more and more furious at U.S. refusal even to consider a peacekeeping force.

Those who have some historical memory would know that this is a replay, an ugly replay, of almost exactly what happened twenty years ago. Twenty years ago, after a huge massacre in which hundreds of thousands were killed, finally Indonesia agreed to allow members of the Jakarta diplomatic corps to make a brief visit to East Timor - they felt secure enough to allow some in. One of them was Carter's ambassador - Ambassador Masters. Ambassador Masters witnessed a disaster which those who were with him compared to Cambodia.

What came next was described in testimony at the United Nations by one of the leading Indonesia historians in the world, Benedict Anderson, an American historian on Indonesia. He testified that Ambassador Masters delayed "for nine long months," refusing to request humanitarian aid even internally in the State Department, until the Indonesian generals gave him a "green light" - saying that they felt secure enough to allow the Red Cross in, and to allow humanitarian aid in. In other words, just what happened again in the last couple of weeks " the same story, repeated.

Well, all of this, unfortunately, happens to be rather typical of the attitude towards human rights, as do the reasons. As a senior western diplomat in Jakarta, Indonesia, said, "Indonesia matters, East Timor doesn't."

It was explained in more detail in a front-page story by two Asia specialists of the New York Times, who pointed out, accurately, that the Clinton administration had to make a calculation - in which they compared, on the one side, the importance to U.S. of a resource-rich country of a couple hundred million people, from which we make enormous profits, and on the other side, a poor, impoverished country of 800,000 people. Well, you make that calculation, with their values, and it's pretty obvious how to react.

It was put more graphically by high American officials, who said, in East Timor, "we don't have any dog in that race." In other words, it doesn't matter what happens there. Then just a few weeks ago, they changed their tune. They said, yeah, we do have a dog in the race. A big dog - namely, Australia. Australia's making a fuss, and they matter. So now we have a dog in the race, so we have to change.

What about the population of the country, who have been tortured and massacred, with our aid, for twenty-five years? They're not even a small dog. Well, that's the way human rights really work.

Just go back the first phase of the year. Last April, right in the midst of this euphoria about the grand new era and so on, there was an anniversary - the fiftieth anniversary of NATO, in Washington. Widely reported. It wasn't a joyful anniversary, because the meeting was under the somber cloud of ethnic cleansing in Kosovo - and therefore, you know, a lot of gloom and concern about ethnic cleansing. You have to admire the commentators, journalists and others - who were able somehow to overlook the fact that some of the worst ethnic cleansing of the 1990's was within NATO. Not across its borders, but within NATO. Namely, in its southeastern corner.

In Turkey - NATO member, under the jurisdiction of the Council of Europe, and the European Court of Justice, which regularly hands down condemnations for ethnic cleansing and other atrocities - eight of them last year. And that was no small affair. Way beyond Kosovo: two to three million refugees, about 3500 villages destroyed - seven times Kosovo. Tens of thousands of people killed - Kurds. All far beyond Kosovo even after the bombing, let alone before the bombing.

How did it happen?

Well, it happened thanks to the Clinton administration. The Turkish government uses approximately 80% U.S. arms. The atrocities mounted through the 1990's, after the Turkish government rejected in 1992 a peace negotiations offer from the Kurdish rebels, and the Clinton administration sent an increasing flow of arms. In fact, Turkey became the leading military importer in the world. And this is advanced armaments - like jet planes, and napalm, and so on. And you look through the record, and any imaginable kind of atrocity was carried out.

All of this right within NATO, right in the 1990's - actually, continuing now - ignored at the NATO anniversary meeting and, in fact, throughout. Do a database search on the press. If you don't want to bother, don't do it. What you'll find is: essentially nothing - because this is a huge atrocity, huge ethnic cleansing, terror, torture, everything you can think of; but carried out by the enlightened states. In fact, by the leader of the enlightened states, within NATO " so therefore it doesn't merit comment. Right at the moment when we are supposed to be overwhelmed with compassion for the victims of ethnic cleansing in an enemy state - namely, in Kosovo. Finally, let"s take a look at that case.

Now we're back to the peak example, the one we're supposed to look at - the atrocities in Kosovo. There's a kind of a mantra that's repeated over and over, which says that in the case of Kosovo, for once we did the right thing. Sure, we've done all sorts of bad things here and there, but here we did the right thing. We acted on our principles and values; we acted completely altruistically - in a total break with history. The United States acted completely altruistically to defend human rights, and that's why we had this wonderful euphoria about the new era.

Well, it's not a truth of logic. I mean, it's a question of fact; so therefore facts ought to be relevant, so let's have a look at them. Well, there's a standard version of this. Repeated last week by the main foreign affairs specialist of the New York Times, Thomas Friedman, who says that the U.S. intervention in Kosovo made a crucial difference - it halted ethnic cleansing, and therefore it was legitimate.

There's only one problem with that statement, which is repeated over and over again: the facts are the exact opposite, uncontroversially. The massive ethnic cleansing was a consequence of the bombing, not the cause of it. There is no dispute about this. Simply take a look at the record of registered refugees across the border. Kosovo wasn't a pleasant place the year before, by any means " though unfortunately, comparable to many other places in the world - but the massive ethnic cleansing came after the bombing.

The bombing started on March 24th. At that time, the UN High Commission on Refugees, which takes care of refugees, had no registered refugees. The first ones were about three days later. On April 1st, a week after the bombing, it started giving its first daily reports on expulsions - and thereafter it went up to the numbers you know about - six, seven hundred thousand.

Furthermore, it was predictable. In fact, according to the U.S. commander - NATO commander, U.S. General Wesley Clark - it was "entirely predictable." That was his words as the bombing started. What he said is that it is "entirely predictable" that the bombing is going to cause a radical escalation in atrocities - for pretty obvious reasons. When you bomb people, they don't throw flowers at you. They respond. And they don't respond where you're strong - they respond where they're strong. So they don't send jet planes to bomb New York City. They respond on the ground, where they're strong - escalating the atrocities.

Furthermore, General Clark went on to say that the NATO operation - I'm quoting him - "was not designed as a means of blocking Serb ethnic cleansing." Well, that's true. It couldn't have been, because the worst ethnic cleansing, by far, was stimulated by the bombing. It was a consequence, not a cause.

Furthermore, although the atrocities were predicted and predictable, there was no preparation for them. In fact, worse than that, shortly before, the United States had proceeded to defund the UN High Commission on Refugees, which is responsible for taking care of refugees. They had to cut their staff sharply in January because of U.S. refusal to pay dues.

So not only did the United States and Britain refuse to make any preparations for predictable carnage, they proceeded to de-fund the organizations which would have to take care of the refugees that were going to be generated - predictably, according to the commander - by the bombing they were carrying out. Well, put all that together, and it increases the criminality of Clinton and Blair by quite a substantial measure.

And that only scratches the surface. We have no time to go into further details, but I really urge you to take a closer look - you can find the facts easily enough. They're not obscure. And what they reveal is that even in this single chosen case, it is totally impossible to believe a single word of the exalted rhetoric - let alone in all the other cases that aren't discussed, like the ones I've been talking about.

In fact, if you look a little bit further in history, you'll find that all of this is completely familiar. It's a kind of a tragic - or worse, maybe obscene - replay of what was going on a century ago. Just a century ago, there was the same talk about how the enlightened states must bring civilization to the backward people of the world, and must disregard sovereignty or anything else, because they have their mission of bringing civilization, Christianity, and human rights. As the U.S. proceeded to do in the Philippines, to take just one example.

Well, we know exactly what the consequences of that were. We don't have to wait to see; we have a century of history to show how that enlightenment was brought to the world. Is there any rational reason for expecting this phase of it to be any different? Most of the world doesn't think so. Outside the self-defined enlightened states, there's plenty of fear and concern over the revival of some of the worst days of European imperialism and the arrogance and self-adulation that went along with it.

For people like us - that is, relatively privileged people in quite free societies - none of this is inevitable. Terrible crimes are committed if we allow them to be committed. It's as simple as that. We're not talking about things happening on Mars, or crimes being committed by Attila the Hun, but crimes being carried out by forces that are, in principle, under our control, if we want to control them.

We're not confronting laws of nature. These are questions of will and choice. We can't undo the past, but at the very least, we can face the present. We can choose to look at it honestly, to learn lessons from it, and to use those lessons to affect the future.

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FAIR USE NOTICE: This page contains copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Global Policy Forum distributes this material without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. We believe this constitutes a fair use of any such copyrighted material as provided for in 17 U.S.C § 107. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.