I wandered among the refugees, listening to their stories and trying to absorb the scale of the humanitarian disaster they were enduring.
One comment struck me particularly. It came from a 20-year-old Kosovar Albanian girl who said: "I was always told that the West only went to war for land or oil. Yet here is Nato fighting for me."
She was right. In most international conflicts refugees are the by-product of war - its forgotten left-overs. Kosovo was the first war in which the refugees became the purpose of the war.
This simple fact has far reaching consequences for the United Nations and its Charter, based as it is on the inviolability of sovereign States, and through that, on the practice, if not the principle, of non-intervention in internal affairs.
Simply put, the stand taken by the international community against the human rights atrocities that were committed in Kosovo turns this doctrine on its head.
Respect for human rights? Or respect for national sovereignty? If you believe, as I do, that the campaign to reverse Milosevic's policy of ethnic cleansing was just and right, even if there were flaws in its execution, then logically you have to question whether the assertion of domestic sovereignty in the UN Charter can be seen any more to hold.
In essence, what we need to do is to define the circumstances in which the international community has a right - if not a moral obligation - to defend people from oppression, when the oppressor is their own - sometimes even elected - Government.
I would suggest three key tests which in my view should form the basis of a new doctrine for international intervention in the domestic jurisdiction of a sovereign State.
The first two are matters of broad principle - the third is a judgement of practicality:
First, is the State in question acting in gross violation of international law or of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights?
Second, do the consequences of the State's action reach beyond its own borders, for instance by destabilising the region with floods of refugees?
And third, would intervention, if it was undertaken, prove to be militarily and politically practicable?
Such tests, if agreed internationally would do much to promote the transparency of military intervention.
Having defined the circumstances where intervention in the internal jurisdiction of a sovereign State, by or on behalf of the international community, is justified, we must then resolve how, and by whom, it should be done.
In short, who is to police the increasingly interdependent world in which we live?
The United Nations is simply not equipped with the command structure, logistic network, intelligence provision nor even the certainty of troops of adequate calibre, to conduct the most difficult of military tasks. Bosnia showed that all too clearly. For now, we must acknowledge that the UN is under-equipped.
Which means that the main burden of acting to uphold the UN's law will, for the predictable future, fall on regional security organisations - Nato in Kosovo, or Ecowas in Sierra Leone - which, in turn, means one of the UN's tasks ought to be to encourage the cohesion of regional structures.
The other is to ensure that when such alliances act, they do so preferably with the backing of a Security Council resolution, or, if that is unachievable (as in Kosovo), then scrupulously within the body of international law, and potentially its most important text - the UN Charter.
Where regional structures cannot act, then it must be left to coalitions of the willing to do so - subject to the same adherence to international law. The alliance during the Gulf war is an example of this.
Given the inter-play of forces and the effect of the veto on the Security Council, common sense dictates that an absolute requirement for a Security Council resolution would, in some circumstances, be unworkable, as in the case of Kosovo. But it must be, also as in the case of Kosovo, that whatever peace is arrived at after the military action, ought to be enshrined in a UN Security Council resolution and protected by it.
What is clear from Kosovo, Bosnia, Iraq and so many other recent operations, is that we are inventing new doctrines for a new age.
Our future peace will greatly depend on getting this right.Reuse content