Letter: Nato's blind, savage assault

NATO LAUNCHED its bombing campaign against Serbia in direct contravention of UN Charter Article 2(4) on the grounds that humanitarian concerns imposed a moral imperative which superseded the legal obligation for states not to threaten or use force against another sovereign state.

The Government made it clear at the time that these air strikes were intended to bring President Milosevic swiftly to sign the Rambouillet agreement. The limited nature of such air strikes made it seem less serious that no debate was held in Parliament or vote taken on this course of action. After 53 days of bombing, the destruction of the entire civilian infrastructure of Serbia, the resort to cluster bombs and unguided weaponry, the environmental catastrophe that is unfolding in the region, the deaths of at least 275 civilians and the maiming of thousands more, the moral integrity of this campaign is looking as slender as its legal status.

"We could not stand by and do nothing" is the slogan frequently invoked to justify the most savage bombing campaign in Europe since the Second World War. Intervening in the internal affairs of another sovereign state without UN authorisation is illegal; doing so at 15,000ft is both cowardly and immoral; continuing to bomb when it is clear that the campaign has united even dissident Serbs behind Milosevic is an act of barbarism and folly that will tarnish the name of both the United Kingdom and the United States, and undermine the rule of international law for decades to come.

A crime against humanity is now being answered by a crime against civilisation perpetrated by liberal democracies. How can we affirm our common humanity by dropping cluster bombs on market places and hospitals, missiles on bridges and buses, trains, embassies and television centres? The moral principle of double effect means that one cannot escape the known secondary consequences of a course of action. If I drop bombs, however smart, on a heavily populated country I must take responsibility for the death and destruction that will inevitably follow as surely as if I drunkenly drive a car at 160mph down a crowded high street.

In the name of humanity and of the Christian civilisation whose millennium we are about to celebrate, let us stop the bombing.