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Bulldozing over the law in Kosovo

By Rachel Alexander
Arizona Daily Wildcat
April 16, 1999
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Arizona Daily Wildcat

Rachel Alexander

How ironic.

Clinton, an ardent supporter of the United Nations, is deliberately bypassing the laws set forth in the U.N.'s charter. Article 2 (4) of the charter, declares that states "shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state." The exceptions to this are when a state acts in self-defense or where the U.N. Security Council finds a "threat to the peace, a breach of the peace or act of aggression" and authorizes the use of force. There is no self-defense at issue in Kosovo, since Kosovo is not a state at this point. Nor has the U.N. Security Council authorized the use of force.

The Security Council has made three resolutions on Kosovo - which Serbia has ignored - instructing Serbia to reduce its troops, among other things, but they have not authorized the use of force. This is because Russia and China are on the Security Council and will veto any resolution for force. At this point.

The Clinton administration has tried to work around this by justifying the intervention on humanitarian grounds. Articles 55 and 56 of the U.N. charter requires that "all Members pledge themselves to take joint and separate action" to promote "universal respect for, and observance of, human rights and fundamental freedoms for all." However, if this means the use of force, doesn't that contradict Article 2 (4)? Does humanitarian action really mean bombing and potentially sending in ground troops? The answer is unclear because most legal scholars admit that humanitarian intervention is not yet a recognized principle of international law.

Furthermore, what makes this intervention any more humanitarian than others we have declined to get involved in militarily? At least twice as many people died last January in Sierra Leone than in Kosovo last year. As many people died in a three-day battle between Tamil Guerilas and Sri Lankan government last fall as did in Kosovo last year. In Turkey, 37,000 people have died over the last ten years, but the current administration has refused to do anything militarily there.

Trying to justify military intervention using the peaceful wording of humanitarian grounds leads to naturally absurd outcomes. Hitler's occupation of Czechoslovakia and Mussolini's invasion of Ethiopia were justified on humanitarian terms, characterized as missions to civilize the primitive hordes and end ethnic tensions and violence.

Regardless of whether the United States should poo-poo the United Nations and its laws or not, the United States should not ignore its own laws. Clinton cited his presidential war powers as authorization for the military intervention. The Constitution, as interpreted in the War Powers Act of 1973, states that the president must make any military intervention a joint effort with Congress. Congress passed the War Powers Act over Nixon's veto in 1973 in order to make sure that future presidents did not usurp the constitutional provisions stating that military intervention must be a collective action between the executive branch and the legislative.

Knowing that he would not be able to rally the support of Congress if he had begun the Kosovo intervention with a vote on using armed intervention, Clinton dispatched a small advance contingent into Kosovo before sending over 20,000 G.I.'s as peacekeepers. That way, Congress could not refuse to authorize the intervention, or it would look like they were deserting the troops. Yet sending in those advance troops clearly violated the War Powers Act. Some members of Congress pointed this out, but the Clinton administration pretended not to notice. The Undersecretary of State Thomas Pickering declared that there was "ample constitutional precedent for this type of action." What he really meant was there were ample instances where Congress has ignored the Constitution - and its own fairly recently passed War Powers Act.

At least George Bush adhered to the Act. January 15, 1991, the Senate and House voted on whether to bomb Iraq after Iraq had refused to withdraw from Kuwait. Both houses voted in favor of bombing Iraq, and the bombing began the following day.

With all of the legal authority pointing the other way, why is Clinton so adamant about intervening in Kosovo? Is it because those being killed are white Europeans, and the media's heavily saturated treatment of this particular conflict? Or is it because Clinton is trying to score a win overseas, like President Bush did in Iraq, in order to salvage his reputation and guarantee an Al Gore victory in 2000? The ramifications of this bumbling foreign policy may have a disastrous outcome for those involved, and Clinton may find himself with a worse reputation than the president who was impeached because of his sexual addiction. Where is Jeanne Kirkpatrick when you need her?