War In The Balkans: Fifty days of bombing in Europe, and the voices of doubt grow ever louder

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The Independent Online
After 50 days of bombing in Europe unprecedented since the Second World War, Nato's Balkan offensive is dividing British opinion and opening new fissures on the political landscape. Many who supported the war on day one are now deeply worried about the failure of the tactics so far. They fear there is no end in sight. Here we present a selection of voices

ROBERT SMITH

Executive director of the UK Committee for Unicef

What has come across all too clearly in the last 50 days is the simple fact that children are the most vulnerable victims in any conflict, with some 500,000 refugee children having already lost their homes and often their relatives and friends. These are the children separated from their families in the earlier waves of refugees and those most at risk of deadly diseases in the camps, often suffering from trauma having lost any sense of stability in their lives. Unicef immunisation, counselling and education programmes are now in place to make sure that the children stay healthy and regain a sense of normality. The impact on children is not restricted to those in Albania, Macedonia or Montenegro. The children of Serbia are affected too. Many of their schools have shut down and makeshift education is starting up in the air-raid shelters where they spend so much of their time. Also affected are the children flown in recent weeks to the UK and other countries. The contrast between their treatment and that which refugees in future can expect is stark. The Asylum and Immigration Bill, now under discussion, in future could lead to the marginalisation of children whose lives are already turned upside down by the time they arrive here. Children have a right to respect and protection.

HAROLD PINTER

Playwright

When the nail bomb went off in Old Compton Street, London, Mr Blair described it as a barbaric act. When cluster bombs go off in Serbian market places, cutting children to pieces, we are told that such an act is being taken on behalf of "civilisation against barbarism". The Nato action is in breach of its own charter and outside all recognised parameters of international law. The United Nations has been treated with contempt. Nato is helping to fulfil one thing and one thing only: American domination of Europe. The true danger to world peace is not "former Yugoslavia" but the United States.

BARONESS WARNOCK

Philosopher

I wish the bombing hadn't started and I don't believe it ought to have done. There was no clear objective at the outset and the situation has now got out of hand. I fear this is typical of the way this government, particularly Blair, rushes into things without knowing what the outcome is going to be. Now that it has started, I think the only objective we could possibly have is to restore some sort of order in the Balkans in general and Yugoslavia in particular. But how that is achieved, I don't know. It is a thousand pities that the Nato forces don't seem to be able to aim their bombs accurately.

GORE VIDAL

Writer

Every time I hear the mindless mantra that the United States, as sole global nuclear empire, is the one indispensable nation, I substitute for indispensable indisposable. How do we get rid of this mangy tiger that we are riding with so little grace? It all began in the cold, Cold War. Nato was the cosa nostra we used to control Western Europe until the Soviet Union folded on us. What to do? Well, first, let's incorporate their provinces into our Nato. That is why we are bombing Yugoslavia where we have no national interest, while Western Europe has none either, other than a fear of being inundated by refugees.

MARTIN BELL

Independent MP and former war correspondent

We had only two choices from the start. One was to stay all the way out of this and leave it to diplomacy. The other was to threaten a full military intervention, including the use of ground troops. Instead, Nato is waging half a war. President Milosevic's position at home, far from being undermined, appears to be strengthened. And the plight of the Albanians in Kosovo, already desperate before the bombing, has been worsened immeasurably as a result of it. Circumstances on the ground can only be changed by boots on the ground. We should still be willing to deploy them there.

SUSIE ORBACH

Psychotherapist

In my experience the conflict is causing a fantastic amount of dismay and has tapped in to feelings of extreme discomfort and helplessness. What I have observed is that people have moved from a feeling of confusion in the early stages, to being behind the effort in week three or four, to feeling this incredible feeling of dismay now. I think it has psychological ramifications in the sense that it is a very unsettling feeling to have your country involved in what now looks like a very dangerous conflict. People are feeling the situation is now much, much worse and very non- strategic.

FLT LT JOHN NICHOL

Gulf War veteran and author

When Milosevic was given his third, so called "final warning" in October last year I wrote in a newspaper, "air strikes alone will not solve this problem" they would be "too little too late". Six months later and 50 days into operation Allied Force I take no pleasure in being proven correct. But what now? If we truly believe in this crusade, and I do not believe that we do, there is only one way to stabilise Kosovo, that is to put men on the ground carrying guns. Sadly, whatever deal is done over the coming weeks will undoubtedly be a fudge, to our eternal shame we have done too little, too late.

TIMOTHY GARTON ASH Historian and fellow of St Antony's College, Oxford

I have spent the last few days near the Kosovo frontier, talking to expelled Kosovars, British troops, Western diplomats and bewildered Macedonians. This has strengthened two feelings in me through the 50 days. The first is incredulity that the most powerful, technologically sophisticated military alliance in the world can be making such a hash of things. How could they imagine that this thing would be won by air power alone? How could they hit the Chinese embassy by mistake? The difference between computer war games and war has been demonstrated for all to see.

My second feeling is even stronger: that, having started, we have to see it through. As you talk to the expellees you are left in no doubt that we precipitated (though we did not cause) their expulsion from Kosovo and so have a basic duty to create the conditions in which they can return. Anything else would be a victory for Milosevic, turn Macedonia into a permanent crisis zone, undermine Nato's credibility and encourage dictators everywhere. If we can achieve the necessary international protectorate by negotiation, with the help of the Russians, that will be marvellous. But I doubt it. I think we should long since have started building up the ground troops. I smell a dreadful scent of fudge in the air with both sides claiming victory, half the expellees never returning and Milosevic still in power. And the man I would blame for that - the person I am most angry with - is William Jefferson Clinton.

JONATHAN SACKS

Chief Rabbi

I support the Nato intervention in Kosovo and I pray that it succeeds. But when it's over, all the problems will still remain. Serbs and Albanians will still need to live together, each respecting the freedom of the other, each willing to move beyond the hatreds of the past. It can only come from a long, patient effort of education. When will we learn that peace doesn't grow from the barrel of a gun? It's born in the human hearts, and its seeds are planted in the stories we teach our children.

THE DALAI LAMA

Buddhist leader

The original intention of the war was humanitarian. I think it began because of genuine concern and sympathy for human rights violations on the Kosovo people. But the very nature of violence is that it is unpredictable. There is a chain of violence, a karma of violence. This is exactly what is happening now. The original intention was to limit violence, but now it is a difficult situation. Basically, I'm against the use of violence anywhere, any time.

COLONEL BOB STEWART

British Commander, Bosnia, 1992-93

That Nato was forced to start bombing in the first place clearly demonstrated a failure of politics. The Ministry of Defence and Nato obviously believed it would be over quickly. It wasn't. Moreover, the purpose of bombing was to save the Kosovo Albanians, which was inappropriate and a failure. The only way to protect people in such a situation is with soldiers on the ground. The Kosovo Albanians are either out of the country, dead or hiding in the hills. Nato has no real options left: either it continues bombing or it stops. If we stop, Milosevic has cleansed Kosovo: he remains in power and is unlikely to be brought before a war crimes tribunal. He has recognised that we have a lack of resolve and is exploiting that.

LT-COL TIM SPICER

Security consultant

So far the aim hasn't been achieved - genocide is almost complete and Milosevic is still in power (with little sign of removal). Rambouillet has not been signed. Most Kosovans, except the KLA, have left.

Why? No war has ever been won by air power alone. Wars are won by combined arms effort. The only effect of the air campaigns has been to unite the Serbs against a common enemy. What next? Of course a diplomatic solution is the best answer, providing it is not a fudge, the plan must be revised to regain the initiative. This must include a ground plan to take control of Kosovo to allow the refugees to return. This will involve Nato fighting their way in and must include support to the KLA, in spite of the criticisms of that organisation. Milosevic must not be allowed to divert Nato by deception.

THE RT REV RICHARD CHARTRES

Bishop of London

Even though the situation has been radicalised by the violence, I can understand why the Government is still persuaded by the undesirability in such a volatile part of the world of altering the international borders of Kosovo. Now is the moment for spelling out our hopes for the future of Kosovo. Our own Prime Minister has insisted on the need to act in defence of the growing consensus on the inviolability of human rights and to act in a way that is transnational. The nature of conflict has changed, and it is clear that the practice of diplomacy must also develop. There is a need to look at reform of the UN. If it is true that the Security Council is paralysed by its present structure, thenthere must be pressure for change, led by the governments of the democratic world.

RUTH LEA

Head of the Policy Unit, Institute of Directors

I have opposed the Nato campaign from the start. It upsets the post- war consensus on the rules governing international relations. The UN charter lays down unambiguous ground rules for conduct between sovereign states. If nations seek to destroy the sovereignty of other states, they are violating the charter. Despite this fact, Nato is bombing the sovereign state of Yugoslavia. Its motive is to protect Kosovar Albanians' individual rights. But in doing so it is effectively changing the rules of international engagement. The international community should have treated the horrors perpetrated within Yugoslav borders as a civil war and, as in the tragedy of Rwanda, provided humanitarian aid. At least that would have been consistent.

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