Leading Article: A bad week for peace

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THERE CAN be no peace without justice, but what the International War Crimes Tribunal did in the name of justice last week is unlikely to advance the cause of peace. Nor, for that matter, is it likely to advance the cause of justice. No doubt Louise Arbour, the chief prosecutor, acted from the best of motives, but the timing of the indictment of Slobodan Milosevic - though not the indictment itself - seems to have had as much to do with strategy as with the rule of law.

Milosevic is an evil and brutal man. Now that he has officially been charged with the murder of 340 Kosovans and the expulsion of 740,000 more from their homes, however, Nato spin-doctors will in theory have to remind themselves that he is an alleged genocidal tyrant. In law, he is innocent until proved guilty. This illustrates the difficulties, and indeed lunacies, that must be encountered when international law is invoked in support of what is an undeclared, and probably illegal, war. (The fact that the War Crimes Tribunal is a UN-backed body does not cancel the fact that Nato is acting in defiance of the UN charter.) Meanwhile, the central contradiction remains, and no amount of legal flummery can disguise or abolish it: in fighting to avert a humanitarian catastrophe we are helping to create a humanitarian catastrophe. Now the catastrophe is set to get worse, and all for that sake of "democracy, freedom and the rule of law", to quote the Prime Minister, who writes on page 19 today.

Tony Blair is an honourable, if in this case misguided, man, but the New World Order, on whose behalf he acts, is quite capable of mendacity and humbug. Judge Arbour's work for the War Crimes Tribunal is, of course, independent of the concerns of Nato strategists, but she has been dependent upon significant amounts of information released to her by US and British intelligence sources. In a powerful piece on page 19, Geoffrey Robertson says it is outrageous to describe the indictment as political. In our view, however, it is unthinkable that the timing of this co-operation from the secret services - which was so blatantly withheld from those investigating war crimes by Milosevic and others in Bosnia - was not influenced by wider strategic considerations.

The indictment will almost certainly strengthen Milosevic's determination to fight on. What else can be expected of an alleged war criminal facing a lifetime in jail? Certainly it will make it harder for Nato to do business with the Serb leader (though the agile minds in the State Department and the Foreign Office would no doubt find ways, if it suited them, of reaching an accommodation with an indicted war criminal). Of course, Nato could be gambling on a revolt in Belgrade, but there is no sign that any such thing is on the cards.

So a negotiated settlement looks less possible this week than last. According to the spin from Whitehall, the alliance is being prepared for a ground war. Most newspapers are in a mood for a real fight. Robin Cook's shuttle diplomacy - to Rome, Paris, Bonn - has apparently elicited new levels of support for moves towards an invasion. A possible sign of what lies ahead is that the units Britain has despatched to join what is still officially a "peace-keeping force" include the Paras, Marines and Gurkhas - not troops best known for their house-building and refugee counselling skills.

If Kosovo becomes sufficiently degraded to allow an invasion, the Nato forces will not be Swat teams swooping in to take out individual targets but rather the much blunter bludgeon of undiscriminating large artillery bombardments. A land war will mean more death and destruction. There would not be much left of Kosovo for the refugees to return to, even supposing they wanted to return, which is far from certain. It therefore still seems to us that, short of a push for total victory, of the kind which was unthinkable even in the Gulf War and no doubt would be in this one, the conflict will end with some kind of deal with Milosevic. Either that, or an end too grim to contemplate.

The alternative to going to war over Kosovo was not to do nothing but to continue to negotiate through diplomatic channels. But it has to be said that doing nothing might well have been better than what we are doing now - blustering, threatening, and risking the lives not only of many more Albanians and Serbs but (and in a cause that does involve the national interest) of our own men as well.

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