The International Community Intervention in Kosovo


Humanitarian and military interventions have been applied the world over to forestall human conflict and suffering. After the events of the 2nd world war, it came to be seen as a possible remedy for the humanitarian crisis the world over. Though seen as a threat to sovereignty, they have come to resolve many conflicts around the world effectively. Owing to the nature of the world’s nations, political unrest and civil wars have necessitated the violation of sovereignty to protect human rights. As a result, political analysts refer to humanitarian interventions as a just war. International law backs some sought of humanitarian interventions depending on the circumstances at play. Military interventions for example were used in Kosovo to avert a humanitarian crisis that was building up in the region. The ensuing standoff called for the response of NATO which intervened with pockets of success.

Humanitarian interventions can be defined as the forceful invasion of another country aimed at preventing extreme violations of human rights to citizens of another country which is done without the prior consent of the targeted country. The role of international interventions is to protect the weak vulnerable who were often innocent from massive loss of lives. As a result, when a humanitarian emergency occurs due to gross humans rights violations, other states are at liberty to intervene to restore sanity in that particular country. This form of intervention also applies to situations where nations foment human rights violations against a group of its citizens.

The purpose of this paper is to argue that international community interventions in Kosovo were important in averting human suffering and the possible spread of the war into the neighboring countries. Despite its shortcomings in Kosovo as a result of conflicting goals by the countries involved, the humanitarian interventions were a necessary evil. This was necessary for the light of the humanitarian crisis that was facing the region in form of the ethnic cleansing that was being perpetrated by the state-sponsored Serbs against Albanians. Though it can be argued that every nation enjoys territorial sovereignty over its boundaries, such a country can forfeit this sovereignty based on humanitarian ground. Critics have argued that such intervention amounts to undermining the world order.

Justification for humanitarian intervention in Kosovo

Kosovo was formerly a province in the Southern part of the former Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY). Human atrocities led to intervention by NATO and the US in Yugoslavia in 1999. The military action was meant to prevent the human atrocities from spreading just like it had happened in the same region in Bosnia and Croatia. The military interventions in Yugoslavia were mainly designed to prevent what was emerging as ethnic cleansing and to save the ethnic Albanians who constituted the bulk of the population in the Serb controlled province from gross human rights violation.

The exercise succeeded in forcing out the Serbian forces from Kosovo and bringing to an end the military repressions and the genocide of Kosovar Albanians by the Serbs. There was a strong feeling among the international community that Slobodan Milosevic was perpetrating crimes against humanity on ethnic Albanians. Heavy bombardment in the province by the government of Milosevic led to the massacre of thousands of civilians and displacement of hundreds of thousands of civilians. This grave violation of human rights was the major justification behind humanitarian interventions by the international community.

Apart from the actual killing, without the military interventions, tens of thousands of other Albanians would have perished and others displaced in the face of a situation that was escalating. By 1999, it was emerging that the Milosevic government was planning to drive Kosovars from the province. The inaction of NATO led to the commencement of state-sponsored ethnic cleansing that begun later in the year. Following the imminent worsening of the conflict, NATO and its allies intervened.

Another justification of humanitarian interventions was to prevent the escalation of the conflict to the neighboring countries. The conflict was threatening to jeopardize the state of security in Europe. It was feared that sympathizers in the neighboring countries would take sides in the conflict resulting in a regional war in the Balkan region. In turn, the war in the Balkan region would affect the rest of Europe in one way or the other just like it happened in the world wars. With such fears in place, it was obvious that the international community would not stay back and watch as the situation deteriorated.

The failure of the peace pact signed during a reconciliatory meeting between Milosevic and his counterparts, the KLA/UCK, legitimized the use of humanitarian interventions by the international community. Earlier experience in Bosnia had laid it bare that Milosevic would not bow to negotiations unless under military pressure. Heavy condemnation from the international community did not bear any fruits to deter Milosevic from perpetrating atrocities against the Kosovars. In addition to these, various diplomatic negotiations by various groups did not work either. However, the threat of military action by NATO and pressure from the Contact Group led to a temporary cessation of hostilities by the president over Kosovo.

The inclusion of the KLA/UCK delegation in the reconciliation process was protested by the Serbian delegation that saw it as a legitimization of Kosovo’s independence from Yugoslavia. It was resolved in the negotiation that Kosovo would be granted some degree of autonomy subject to a referendum that would decide its fate in 3 years. The Belgrade authorities could not reconcile to this fact and as result renewed their military incursion against Kosovars. The ensuing wave of diplomatic efforts that followed was exhausted. It was this renewed violence that made the use of military intervention unavoidable.

Ramesh Thakur of United Nations University said that as the wars in the world today become more brutal and nasty, humanitarian interventions are vital though they must be guided by foundations of the world order. They should not thus be unilateral but collective as the former would amount to a violation of the very rules guiding humanitarian interventions. The increasing sophistication of wars means that more lives will be lost and heavier damage of property done.

The interventions were also informed by the threat of radicalization of Serbs and ethnic Albanians in Kosovo which would deepen the crisis further. The nationalists seemed determined to fight for their course while on the other the Milosevic government had no signs of letting up in their hard-line stance. This would have led to a long costly conflict between the warring sides leading to one of the worst humanitarian crises in modern Europe. As a result, NATO forces were forced to move into action to stop what seemed to be a worsening state of affairs.

The Kosovo humanitarian interventions served as a lesson to the international community that human rights abuses would not be tolerated. The Serbian regime under Milosevic had exercised tyrannical rule for too long to such as the point where the Kosovars resistance against the Serb was justified. The repressions unleashed against them were becoming unbearable making it reasonable for them to stage a war of resistance against the Serbian rule. In essence, what NATO did could be said as assisting a justified course. According to, the humanitarian interventions sought to aid revolutionaries to liberate their country against a tyrannical regime. Soon after the NATO intervention had begun the Serbian forces started a wave of ethnic cleansing across the region. As a result, almost a million people were displaced, about ten thousand lost their lives, many others raped, and some tortured while property worth millions of money was destroyed.

Critics of the humanitarian intervention in Kosovo were only sympathizers of the Serbian regime who could not appreciate NATO’s role in ending the atrocities visited by innocent Albanians. By criticizing the action, it meant labeling the perpetrator as the victim and presenting the rescuer as the bully while the victim failed to feature anywhere in their discussion. This was an unfair form of criticism as it failed to establish the facts on the ground. The mere claim that the atrocities were intensified after the NATO intervention was no reason to warrant cessation of the intervention since that would mean leaving the oppressed at the mercy of the tyrannical oppressor.

Limitations of international community interventions

No system in the world however how good it seems or positive it looks is completely foolproof. International community interventions have had their share of shortcomings. These are obvious from the events witnessed across the world. Various measures taken by different nations in the world to resolve conflicts attest to this. The military intervention by the US and its allies in Iraq and Afghanistan and the US-NATO military incursion in Yugoslavia are major events that exposed the weaknesses of international interventions. A study carried out by the University of United nations concluded that the humanitarian interventions from the international community set a dangerous precedent that could be replicated in other areas of the world as acts of aggression against sovereign states.

The reason for these inherent defects is that the participating powers usually have their interests which are sometimes not humanitarian driven. Their major motivation is usually covert and informed by their need to advance their power and welfare. This tends to alienate their original goals and sometimes worsens the state of affairs in the target nations. In the Kosovo issue, for example, Russia and China could not support the war because of their agenda of spreading their influence in the region at the expense of human rights.

The Western powers on the other hand sought to secure the Balkan region to stamp their authority into the region. This would help them install an authority that is sympathetic to them to stem the spread of the Russian influence. As a result, it would be impossible to have the two read from the same script. On the other hand, there emerged the race for superiority between the USA and the United Nations Security Council that was playing in the background. This covert nature of humanitarian intervention thus makes it very hard to separate humanitarian intervention from aggression.

Another possible shortcoming of the humanitarian intervention by NATO was that it undertook the intervention without authorization of the United Nations Security Council. Although it was based on humanitarian grounds, it was a violation of the Security Council’s resolutions as the due procedure was not followed. The Netherlands had mooted the idea of the use of armed force in defense of human rights in a meeting of the Security Council. The use of military intervention against Yugoslavia was however never discussed. This failure to raise the issue on the table during the meeting was of course expected because of the veto powers of the nonwestern nations. The idea of military action would face an obvious blockade from Russia and China which would not be concerned with human rights but the expansion of their sphere of influence in the region.

NATO’s support for Kosovo Liberation Army which was allied to Albania is a case in point over the covert operation of NATO against Serbians. By siding with one faction, the group was seen as fanning conflict rather than providing humanitarian support to the oppressed. The US and other Western powers are known to have backed the Yugoslavian disintegration for their interest while on the other side Russia did not. The NATO and US interest seems to have been motivated by the desire to disband the socialist system in Yugoslavia.


The states of the world are built around strong non-interventionist ideology with a strong attachment to their sovereignty. This complicates the humanitarian intervention by the international community. It is evident from this discussion that the humanitarian crisis facing Kosovo called for urgent humanitarian interventions. State sovereignty can be forfeited if a country is seen to violate human rights against its citizens. The human atrocities visited by the Serb administration on the ethnic Albanians led to mass killing, torture, rape, and wanton destruction of poverty. The nationalist stance of the Albanians of course did not warrant such a response. Indeed, various mediation efforts attempted by the then international commonality did not bear any fruits. This called for a rethinking of strategy by NATO which became a precursor to the humanitarian intervention that led to the cessation of hostilities.

It can thus be argued that since the effort to resolve the conflict diplomatically failed, the use of force was justified as the last resort. Thus, Yugoslavia in another sense invited the predicament it found itself in. The military action served to warn tyrannical regimes that gross violations of human rights and ethnic cleansing would not be tolerated anywhere in the world. Critics have argued that since the attack lacked the mandate of the United Nations Security Council, it lacked legitimacy. However, it is common sense that the veto powers of the United Nations Security Council members would not allow it to pass. The self-interest and desire of China and Russia would lead to a blockade of humanitarian interventions.

Works cited

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Chossudovsky, Michael. The Globalization of Poverty and the New World Order. 2nd Edition, Shanty Bay: Global Outlook, 2003.

Daalder, Ivo H. and O’Hanlon, Michael, E. Winning ugly: NATO’s war to save Kosovo. Brookings Institution Press, 2000.

Domagala, Arkadiusz. Humanitarian Intervention: The Utopia of Just War? The NATO intervention in Kosovo and the restraints of Humanitarian Intervention, SEI Working Paper No 76, Sussex European Institute, 2004

Hehir, Aidan. Kosovo, Intervention and State building: The International Community and the Transition to Independence. London. Routledge

Holzgrefe, J.L and Keohane, Robert, The humanitarian intervention debate’, in: Holzgrefe, J. L. and Keohane, Robert (eds.), Humanitarian Intervention. London: Cambridge University Press. 2003.

Sloboda, John and Abbott, Chris, “The ‘Blair doctrine’ and after: five years of humanitarian intervention” 2004. Web.

Stone, Brendan. The U.S.-NATO Military Intervention in Kosovo Triggering ethnic conflict as a pretext for intervention. Global Research, 2005.

Tesón, Fernando R. “Kosovo: a powerful precedent for the doctrine of humanitarian intervention.” Amsterdam Law Forum, Vol.1, No 2 (2009). Web.

The United Nations University. “Kosovo crisis legacy: nations can forfeit sovereignty”, UNU Press. 2010. Web.

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