The West in danger

Nato's failure in Kosovo could make China the world's next superpower, says Anthony Daniels
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We are now nearly two months into the bombardment of Serbia - war isn't quite the right word for an armed conflict in which the soldiers of one side are not exposed to any danger. Endless destruction has been wrought, of course, but no discernible progress has been made towards the achievement of our goals: always supposing we ever had any, that is.

This lack of progress does not mean, however, that the bombardment has had no consequences, far from it. The world has become vastly more dangerous and volatile than it was two months ago. We did not mean to bomb the Chinese embassy, but we did; we did not intend to destabilise the world, but we did.

The greatness of a great power depends not merely on money and military might, but on reputation. It is in part a confidence trick. That is why it is so destructive to squander a reputation on adventures lightly entered into. And the failure of the United States, abetted by several quite powerful countries, quickly to overcome little Serbia, unaided by any other country whatever, would be risible were it not so ominous.

The war has demonstrated to the world that the United States is unable or unwilling - which in military terms amounts to the same thing - to sacrifice men in the furtherance of its policy. Such a power is not much to be feared. Real wars cannot be fought on computer screens alone. This would be true even if smart bombs were smarter than the politicians who unleashed them.

Alas, not every government and not every people is as tender in its concern for the lives of its soldiery as the American. There are countries in the world for whom the loss of a million men would occasion less concern than the capture of three GIs in Macedonia occasioned in America. China is one such country: the bombardment of Serbia may be the nodal point at which China supplants the United States as the greatest military power in the world. America may not always have been loved, but it will soon be missed.

No doubt Russia will have noticed the inability of the United States to defend Western Europe. It would be a great mistake to find comfort in the present poverty and chaos of Russia: for it is not as other European powers are. Mere poverty has never, since Peter the Great's time, reduced Russia's ambition (and often its ability) to be a great power. It remains a highly militarised society, upon whose debility it would be unwise to rely; and with the exposure of Nato as weak, vacillating and cowardly, Europe is as defenceless as a newborn babe.

In any case, intentionally or not, Mr Blair's doctrine of progressive, humanitarian war is deeply subversive of British military morale. Soldiers fight for the defence and interests of their country, not for the moral equivalent of Esperanto. It is best if they have right on their side, of course, but rectitude alone is not enough.

A British army officer stationed in Macedonia recently told me quite openly that he knew no British interests were at stake in the conflict: indeed, Mr Blair has gloried in the fact, for it is one of his principal proofs that this is a just war. The officer told me that he would fight if ordered to do so, but his willingness to die for another man's moral enthusiasms was not, I should imagine, long to be presumed upon. The French soldiers in Macedonia felt much the same. If Mr Blair's doctrine prevailed, therefore, we should soon be without any army worthy of mention at all.

The conflict has exerted a mysteriously corrupting effect upon our media of mass communication, no doubt partly because of misplaced patriotism. I do not mean by this that there has been any central censorship or any attempt to suppress contrary views. But highly intelligent and well-educated Macedonians told me that they found the experience of watching Serbian television and CNN or the BBC eerily similar: they were watching propaganda, not information. And having lived under a communist dictatorship they were, of course, exquisitely sensitive to the ways of propaganda. So at long last the theory of moral equivalence comes to have a little substance.

The refugee camps I visited in Macedonia (which contained more than 90 per cent of all such refugees in camps in that country) were full of young Kosovan men of military age. To have taken photographs of the camps without including young men would have required selectivity to the point of outright falsification. Yet such photographs were produced and published: they smack of a post facto justification of a policy already known to have gone disastrously wrong. They are apologetics, not reportage.

The conflict has furthered the sentimentalisation of public life in this country: it has elevated feeling over forethought in the decision of policy. Individuals are, of course, at liberty to mess up their own lives by choosing sensibility over sense, but politicians have no such luxury. Strength of feeling is no substitute for clarity of thought, and a politician who ruins the lives of millions with the best of intentions is not much to be preferred to the one who does it from sheer malignity. Moral theology and politics are different.

In the circumstances, the emotion expressed by political figures on visiting the camps (especially when there is a photo opportunity), and the failure of the media to expose the effrontery of it, is both disgusting and disturbing. For the German foreign minister, Mr Fischer, said on 6 April that he deeply regretted now that he did not take Mr Milosevic seriously when he told Mr Fischer early in March that, if attacked, Serbian forces could empty Kosovo in a week. If a man with Milosevic's record is not to be listened to with attention, who on earth is?

If a doctor nowadays operated on a patient on a kitchen table, and had made no provisions for complications that might arise, he would be held - and rightly so - to have been not merely negligent, but criminally so. It would be no defence that his only intention was to save the patient. What are we to say of politicians who have done precisely this on an incomparably larger scale, and what are we to say of a society that has largely failed to notice it, or if it has noticed it, has reacted hardly at all?

The conflict has landed us with genuine moral obligations to millions of people where we had none before: for we are co-responsible, with our former ally Milosevic, for the devastation of their lives. But these obligations will only grudgingly be met, if at all, opening us to charges of hypocrisy and parsimony. On the other hand, if we were to be too generous, ugly resentments would likely be stirred in the home population. At any rate, we have created, or helped to create, a large number of permanent migrants.

It has taken considerable ingenuity to devise a policy from which there is no honourable exit. To have invaded Serbia properly, with a meticulously prepared ground force, might not have been the right policy, but it would have been coherent and would have had a definite, achievable goal. In the long run it would have cost less in money, if not in men. It would not have had the corrosive moral effect that treating Serbia as if it were a Nintendo game has had.

Foreign policy cannot be driven by humanitarian considerations alone - by what one might call the tyranny of demanded pity. Every time we hear of some potential disaster, are we to go in with all bombs flying? Far from furthering the cause of humanitarianism, this inept conflict has set it back. There are occasions when military intervention can prevent, or foreshorten, catastrophe (though post-intervention arrangements are always problematical). A few hundred marines, for example, could have ended the Liberian civil war, in which up to a quarter of a million people lost their lives. This is not to say that anyone had a positive duty to end it in this fashion: merely that it could have been done, and perhaps it would have been better had it been done.

But choosing how and when to intervene is a matter of judgement, not of doctrine. It is precisely judgement that has been so singularly lacking in this escapade. There can be no foreign policy in pursuit of universal human rights, at least not without permanent war and the displacement of half the world's population.

If we cannot make Kosovo safe for the Kosovars, how can we make the world safe for, say, freedom of expression? We can defend our own freedom, and hope that our example spreads; but we cannot usher in the reign of liberty, least of all with cluster bombs. Soft hearts are more to be feared than hard heads.