It is true that the Charter contains no express provision for the taking of humanitarian action by member states. Nor does the North Atlantic Treaty of 1949, which is essentially a treaty of mutual assistance against armed attack.
The thrust of the UN Charter is towards maintaining peace and security among nations, achieving international co-operation and encouraging respect for human rights. A producer of that co-operation is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948.
The preamble to the Declaration refers to "disregard and contempt for human rights [that] have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind", a cap that does seem to fit President Milosevic rather well.
The Declaration requires that member states of the United Nations have "pledged themselves to achieve, in co-operation with the United Nations, the promotion of universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms". It is that that Nato is doing.
Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty does permit the use of armed force to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area, and the intendment seems wide enough to cover Nato's present initiative in Yugoslavia.
That initiative can also be seen as the application of a concept of rescue in the customary international order and its specific target of ethnic cleansing may provide a useful precedent for action to protect, for example, nomadic people and the indigenous inhabitants of the rain forest.
In Kosovo the die is cast and the time for debate is over; what is called for now is resolute pursuit of the chosen course and gratitude to those who are risking their lives for its implementation.
R C H BRIGGS
Salisbury, WiltshireReuse content