bouncing ethnicity

Nathan Newman nathan.newman at
Fri Apr 2 08:30:41 PST 1999

-----Original Message----- From: Rakesh Bhandari <bhandari at phoenix.Princeton.EDU> To: lbo-talk at <lbo-talk at>

>What do you make of Barkley's argument that despite evident idealistic
>intentions, NATO intervention is compounding the risk of mass displacment,
>if not genocide, in Kosovo? As in these matters I think we both agree that
>the only a consequentially grounded morality counts, I am most interested
>in your massively informed opinion. Thanks.

Here is my hard-headed "consequential" based justification of the results so far of the bombing - however much it twists my innards. There can be no question the bombing has allowed Milosevic to massively speed up the ethnic clensing that had been happening slowly (but deliberately) before the bombing began.

In one sense, that is precisely the advantage of the bombing. As far as I can tell, Milosevic had been engaged in "frog boiling" the Kosovans; step-by-step selective murder and harassment that had already created hundreds of thousands of refugees but at a pace that was not dramatic enough to register geopolitically. At the same time, Serbian refugees from Croatian violence had been being relocated in the region to help push the Albanian majority out.

Every evidence is that the result we have seen in the last week would have been accomplished over the next few months absent the bombing. This is of course exactly the point most likely to be disputed by some who thought negotiations could bear fruit, but if you believe Milosevic was bent on ethnic clensing, then the advantage of the bombing is that it turned what had been many individual refugee stories over time into a single geopolitical fact of a whole nation seeking refugee status and demanding return of its land. The real danger for the Kosovan Albanians were that they would disappear off the geopolitical stage into a few hundred thousand individual stories, never to be heard of again except in anthropologies of refugee migration and resettlement.

The very fact that the bombing violates the sovereignty of Yugoslavia is precisely the point, since it thereby indelibly marks the legitimacy of the counter-claims of the Kosovan Albanians to their sovereign demands - precisely what most minorities (note the Kurds) never have in the long-term struggle for rights. It is precisely the challenges to Israeli sovereighty through war by its neighbors that have kept Palestinian claims from disappearing under the fog of "sovereignty."

I pray and hope a short-term solution can be found that can settle the war and allow the refugees to return. But if this ends up being a long-term struggle for the Kosovans, the one thing the bombing has assured is a geopolitical claim by the refugees as a people on the international stage. THe Kosovans's fate was not even a factor in the Dayton Accords; what is clear is that in any future settlement for the region, the Kosovans will have a place.

That may be cold comfort right now for refugees today, but then blather about negotiations, when it was clear Milosevic had already deployed and planned this ethnic clensing campaign, is equally cold. There was no good solution here, but there was one solution - namely the bombing - that had the result of marking the sovereign claims of the Kosovans against the violence being used to create "facts on the ground" through the slow but steady displacement of the Kosovans.

In the ideal, Milosevic would have been being pressured from the day the violence began being stepped up in Kosovo; and if war was to be the option, the approach would have better been the defensive deployment of protective troops in Kosovan towns - in a sense, a unilateral implementation of the peacekeeping proposal - with the onus on Milosevic to attack. No doubt the complexity and casualty risks of that approach made the antiseptic bombing option more attractive, which is to NATO's discredit.

But if the choice was bombing or an ineffectual paper agreement that would have left the Kosovans at the mercy of the Serbian military, then the bombing was the better option in the long-run. Or at least that is where the balance of evidence seems to be in a decision where there is no easy answer.

--Nathan Newman

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