Central Europe Review: politics, society and culture in Central and Eastern Europe
Vol 0, No 32
3 May 1999

Andrew Stroehlein E U R O P E   A T   W A R:
Doing Nothing Would Be
Complicity to Genocide

Andrew Stroehlein

In this column over the past few weeks, I have supported NATO's attempts to stop the genocide in Kosova. I have received quite a number of e-mail responses on this subject, most taking issue with me. My support for NATO's efforts in Yugoslavia and my call for a ground-war has been called hawkish warmongering and worse. Tellingly, not one of the critics ever seems to mention a solution to the real problem at hand: how do you stop genocide in progress?

Before getting down to the details of "how," one should keep in mind the "why." The real issue in Yugoslavia is not the NATO bombings but the long-running genocide. Not one critic of NATO intervention ever seems to offer a plan to stop the brutal mass-murder in Kosova at the hands of the armies and paramilitary forces under the control of Belgrade politicians.

I read simplistically attractive arguments supporting isolationism, shocking accounts of NATO's horrific blunders in specific bombing strikes and sloppy essays of transparently primitive anti-Americanism. But I do not ever get a sense that the critics have any practical plan to stop Belgrade's institutionalised mass-murder.

Serious criticism involves a suggested practical alternative. Flimsy arguments that "we should have solved this through political means" say nothing. Remember that Milosevic has only ever been willing to come to an agreement with the West on one occasion - at Dayton - that is, only after NATO bombing in Bosnia.

One can argue that bombing is not the best method to stop the genocide - and I have supported a massive ground invasion from the beginning - but one cannot argue that doing nothing is best.

The critics are generally not pro-Milosevic lunatics, and often the points they raise, especially about the growing ineffectiveness of bombing alone, are well worth reading. What worries me are the isolationists and the "well every coin has two sides" professional polemicists and fence-sitters. They are more disturbing, because they are often the same people who, when there is some horrible slaughter abroad, ask why the world isn't doing anything about it.

Preventing genocide is right; to stand by and do nothing is criminal. This is not simple hyperbole, as Article III(e) of the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (adopted by the UN General Assembly on 9 December 1948) states complicity in genocide is a punishable act. To have the power to stop a heinous crime and yet stand by and do nothing - that seems too much like complicity in my book.

Bring it back to the neighbourhood... You hear blood-curdling screams from your neighbour's house every night. The wife appears in the shops with black eyes and a limp. Two of their kids haven't been to school for weeks. Yet, you reason that you should not get involved, because it's not your family and not your house.

Such a view is as short-sighted and impractical as it is inhuman.

Andrew Stroehlein, 3 May 1999


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