F-117 Stealth Fighter attempts ground control from 15,000 feet

This final entry proves more complex than the others, but no less interesting.  To start, it is good to remember the basic rules for the use of force under our modern international legal system.  It is settled international law that States may take action against foreign governments (1) as an act of individual or collective defense or (2) as carrying out a valid Security Council directive.  With regard to Kosovo, however, the United States is not acting in defense of itself or of another State, and no Security Council pronouncements specifically authorize the current bombing campaign.

However, we hear the term "humanitarian intervention" tossed around.  To be fair, this constitutes a burgeoning area of law under which use of force may be justified without Security Council approval.  The problem is, though, that no one can define precisely when it's warranted.  Serbia is fighting a civil war, and international law has always allowed incumbent governments to handle insurgencies as they see fit.  Civil wars often degenerate into bloody, brutal affairs.  General Sherman understood this during the American Civil War when he carried out "total war" against civilians as well as soldiers.  How can we possibly argue that "humanitarian intervention" gives us carte blanche to intervene in internal conflicts whenever CNN shows us their brutality?  Wouldn't this destroy the concept of national sovereignty upon which our system stands?

The most common retort is that Milosevic is committing genocide.  The prohibition against genocide has indeed become a "peremptory norm" of international law, and no State may engage in it.  So, the argument goes, if humanitarian intervention is not justified here, when would it be?  Again, this contains a mistake.  "Genocide" entails the attempt to destroy a people in whole or in significant part.  The people in question here are ethnic Albanians.  Milosevic has not set out to destroy ethnic Albanians the world over.  He doesn't even want to kill a major portion of them within Serbia.  If he had wanted to do this, we wouldn't be seeing such a huge flood of refugees; rather, they'd all have been carted off to death camps.  Milosevic wants to maintain the geographical area of Kosovo as part of Serbia, and he desires the expulsion of ethnic Albanians from it.  Although he has certainly behaved in a despicable and murderous way to achieve his objectives, this does not mean that he has violated international law.

If humanitarian intervention can proceed in settings short of genocide, where do we draw the line?  Every day, people are oppressed by non-democratic governments, often much more brutally than in Serbia.  To claim the right to intervene vitiates the international norm that governments, so long as they hold effective control over their territory, are legitimate.  Perhaps China, one day much stronger than it is now, will claim the right to take action against the U.S. in order to curtail our internal wealth disparities, something China considers a violation of human rights.

Another thing to be wary of is the charge that Milosevic has violated the laws of war.  This is absolutely untrue because, as mentioned earlier, the laws of war apply to international conflicts.  Protocols I and II to the Geneva Conventions aim to regulate more than merely international wars, but the vast majority of nations (including the U.S.) has not signed onto them.

CNN and Foxnews

Text of the Genocide Convention of 1949

For libertarian views on Kosovo, see Cato Institute

For a conservative view on our strategy in Kosovo, see Heritage Foundation

For a smattering of liberal views of the Kosovo quagmire, visit the Brookings Institution