The Last War of the 20th Century - Chapter One
February 21, 2008 10:00 | by Jan Marijnissen and Karel Glastra van Loon
The idea for this book was born during the time that NATO war planes were flying daily from military bases in Italy in order to drop bombs on Yugoslavia. The Socialist Party, which was the only political party in the Netherlands to take a stand against Operation Allied Force, organised regular public debates during this time under the slogan 'Better than Bombs'. The huge interest in these evenings, the quality of the contributions from the various speakers, and the concern and commitment of the audiences have been an important source of inspiration for this book. We had at the time, and still have, the impression that the war in Kosovo marked a turning point in thinking in our country regarding the international (legal) order. The government of the Netherlands, a large section of the Dutch political caste, but also an important section of the media and of the population at large appear at the beginning of the new millennium no longer to have very much faith in the international legal order in general, or the United Nations in particular. In its place has come a belief in the potential of NATO as an instrument to bring order to a chaotic world, a world full of conflict, and if necessary to do this by violence. These developments deserve, in our view, critical consideration, and this book attempts to take the initiative in this.
We owe many thanks to the people who allowed us to interview them for this book. They all of them have full diaries, but nevertheless found more time for us than we had dared to hope for. We have tried to render their words as carefully as possible, and to do justice to the nuances and to the context in which they made their pronouncements. Of course none of the interviewees can be held responsible for the standpoints taken by the authors. On the other hand neither are the authors responsible for what the interviewees say, nor are they always in agreement with them. We hope, however, that we have succeeded in clearly distinguishing our own opinions from those of the people with whom we spoke.
Our last war
'This war didn't break out, so much is certain, because of people who could have decided not to conduct it. The violent deed of x numbers of people was caused directly by humanitarian policies." Gyorgy Konrád
The minister's answer reached us via his spokesman and was exactly one line long: "The minister has decided not to cooperate with your book." No explanation was forthcoming. This chapter contains, therefore, no interview with the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the day, Jozias van Aartsen, in which he would have been able to give his views on the most recent war in which the Netherlands actively took part. Van Aartsen was the man who, on 24th March 1999, first made public the news that NATO air-raids on Yugoslavia had begun. This happened in the Dutch national parliament, where a debate was under way which, a day earlier, when the SP had asked for such, had been refused. This refusal, by every other parliamentary group, had provoked such a degree of disapproval and amazement in - amongst other places - the parliamentary press, that the decision was reversed, and the very next day the acute situation in Yugoslavia was put on to the agenda. By then it appeared that the order to make war had already been given. And so it occurred that the Netherlands, for the first time in post-World War Two history had, with its NATO allies, taken part in a war, without the representatives of the Dutch people having been given any opportunity explicitly to express their views. This was a beginning, setting the tone as it did for much that was to follow. War and democracy sit badly with each other - which of course says a great deal about the true nature of war.
It seems to us for a number of reasons sensible, before we give the stage to a range of experts, to dwell for a moment on the question of how politicians in The Hague, at the time of the war, saw the crisis in Yugoslavia in general and the role of the international community in particular. The most important of these reasons is, that much of what will be said in later chapters stands in stark contrast to what is thought and said in Dutch politics. Another reason is that the more time goes by the more the picture of what has ever been asserted about, for example, the motive and goal of the NATO air raids, will depart from what was actually said at the time.
In contrast with the NATO general staff meeting, debates and decision-making in parliamentary democracies are public. That the Minister of Defence during the war in some cases discussed matters on the telephone with every parliamentary group bar that of the SP (During a general meeting of parliament, then Foreign Minister Frank De Grave said, 'Oh, the SP is against everything, I'm not going to waste my valuable time on them.!') we will simply think of as an occupational hazard, a consequence of the narrowing of the field of vision which afflicts many in times of war. In this chapter we will primarily draw on the written reports of the deliberations of the lower house of the Dutch national parliament, the so-called 'Handelingen', the 'Proceedings'.A number of the questions which we had wanted to put to Foreign Minister Jozias Van Aartsen, about the Kosovo war and the new relations in the world which are a consequence of that war we have placed side by side with what can be found in the Proceedings regarding the Kosovo war and the new relations in the world which were a consequence of that war. In the same way we will also allow Defence Minister Frank de Grave and various spokespeople from both governing and opposition parties to have their say.
By these items there is revealed, as will become evident, a huge idealism, especially from the politicians of the governing 'Purple' coalition of the day (so called because it blended the red of the Labour Party with the blue of the right-wing free market liberals of the VVD) - an idealism that could only with difficulty be reconciled with the loss of belief in the viability of the society to which this same government owed its existence. Yet this was also an idealism which appeared sincere. There seemed to be a desire to cry out, time and again, that surely murderous dictators cannot go unpunished! Something must be done about it! In later chapters we will look into, amongst other things, the selectivity of this outrage and the oversimplification and myths that underlie it. It will also become clear how in military circles the fact was viewed that it was the military apparatus which was selected to be the instrument which would bring these good intentions to fruition For the moment we stand squarely with the words of Rob de Wijk of the Netherlands Institute for International Relations - the institution known as 'Clingendael' - who is one of the experts who will be quoted later. Referring to the government's idealism in foreign affairs, he told us "What leaves me astonished is that if you asked a Dutch politician what he thinks should be done about the senseless violence in our society, he has no answer but to look guilty. But if it's a matter of senseless violence on the world level, then he or she knows immediately what must be done. While you should surely, in my view, recognise that the problem is in that case also an extremely difficult one to solve.'
It is an unpleasant thing to consider, and something which no-one can feel easy about. But the consequences of the conduct of a 'just war' such as was fought in Kosovo are no less unpleasant.
How, at the time, was Dutch participation in the bombing of Yugoslavia justified?
Minister van Aartsen to Parliament, 24 March: 'A decision to deploy military resources is one of the most difficult and gravest with which a politician can be confronted. The shocking human tragedies, as they drive each other forward, leave the government of the Netherlands no other possibility. With all the pain that such a decisions brings with it, I would also say that a humanitarian catastrophe, which is not to be permitted and yet which is unfolding before our eyes, strengthens us in the conviction that the alliance has taken the correct decision. That judgement has not been made lightly, but has been based on belief. More than a quarter of a million Kosovars have taken flight before the unsparing violence of the Yugoslav troops. Innocent civilians are the victims. This cannot continue. It is with the greatest possible regret that the government of the Netherlands must conclude that President Milosevic is not prepared to choose the path which is wide open to him, the path of peace. This path remains open.'
What was the aim of the military operation?
Defence Minister Jozias van Aartsen: 'This military operation has as its political aim to put an end to the Serbian aggression and force the Yugoslav government to return to the negotiating table' What did the spokespeople of the governing parties think of the issue?
Jan-Dirk Blaauw of the VVD (right-wing liberals): 'We are forced to employ military means in order to bring Belgrade to its senses, to prevent a further putting to flight of Kosovars, to stop the destruction of house and home, and to call a halt to the abuse of human rights and humanitarian values in Kosovo.'
Gerrit Valk of the PvdA (labour Party): 'It must be concluded that the international community has really gone to extremes in its attempts to find a solution to the conflict through peaceful diplomatic means. Much to our regret it must be concluded that the diplomatic way has proved a dead end. At the same time, that is the fault of the one who began this conflict, Milosevic.'
Jan Hoekema from D66, a small, centrist liberal party which also participated in the 'Purple' coalition: 'Milosevic must be restrained by violence, as he was also three years ago in the Bosnian war. If not, then there arise penetrating questions as to how far Western intervention policies can and are willing to go. But speculation over this, and even questions to the cabinet, are at this stage relatively fruitless - and even in conflict with the adage that the opponent must be left uncertain over the next step."
As is well-known, the Green Left group in parliament took at the onset of the conflict a step which was as historic as it was controversial. Party spokeswoman Marijke Vos put it this way at the time: 'We support the military intervention by means of air raids, with the primary aim being the protection of the Kosovar population, aimed also at eliminating Serbian aggression and at the resumption of negotiations which must lead to a peaceful solution to the Kosovo conflict. There exists a risk that air action will not lead to the desired result, to putting an end to the aggression. There exists a risk that it will lead to thoroughgoing revenge actions. In that case the international community must take its responsibility and also in this situation do everything to force a halt to the violence. In that situation NATO must be prepared to take further steps, from which nothing must be ruled out.'
The only parliamentary group which did not support the air raids, as is also well-known, was that of the SP. Spokesman Harry van Bommel: 'According to our firm convictions these air raids are illegal and irresponsible. To begin with there is no UN resolution which authorises the use of violence against Serbia, which puts the Security Council out of the game. Air attacks will in the short term make the situation of the refugees worse. The departure of OSCE observers as a result of the attacks has accelerated and facilitates the Serbian offensive, or so it appears. If the air raids do not lead in the short term to an agreement - and that is extremely uncertain - a humanitarian catastrophe of unprecedented dimensions threatens. On what does the government base its faith that air raids will lead to signing? If this signature does not follow, what then?'
What should have happened then, in the SP's view?
Van Bommel in the same parliamentary debate: 'Peace in Kosovo can be achieved only through a political agreement. The parties must therefore return to the Rambouillet negotiating table, not in order to reach an agreement with NATO, but in order to reach an agreement between the ethnic Albanians and the Serbs. Other than has been the case to date, these parties must negotiate with each other directly. Only in that way can, in our view, a solution be arrived at which is also capable of lasting.'
So, at the beginning of the war, lay the cards, and they would remain largely unchanged, despite the fact that the war would last a great deal longer than anyone anticipated. A number of MPs from the Green Left and a single Labour MP (Thanasis Apostolou - not coincidentally someone who through his Greek origins took rather a different view of the actual nature of the conflict in Yugoslavia) might gradually have begun openly to speak out against the NATO actions, but of some importance to parliamentary history, never mind the course of the war, this turned out not to happen.
What strategy did NATO have in mind in order to achieve the desired goals?
Minister van Aartsen: 'It is NATO's view that the Yugoslav military must be hit so hard that its capacity to continue the present offensive will be greatly reduced and further humanitarian misery prevented.'
Defence Minister Frank De Grave: 'The targets of the air raids are military targets: anti-aircraft defences, command centres, means of communication and military installations. This should underline the fact that NATO is conducting no actions against the civilian population of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, but that the actions are directed at the achievement of the political aims of the international community. We, the international community, assume from this that these NATO activities will lead to President Milosevic being prepared to resume diplomatic negotiations.'
Was there then amongst the governing parties no doubt at all over the correctness of the decision which they had taken?
PvdA parliamentary leader Ad Melkert on 30th March, 1999, speaking to Parliament: 'We are experiencing amongst ourselves an attitude which is extremely self-critical, asking ourselves every day actually whether what is happening there can work, whether ends and means stand in a good relation to each other and whether we will eventually achieve what we want. We are also critical of the instruments used. After all, what is at the moment happening to the population of Serbia itself is also enormous. We are for this reason fixed on making a real distinction between the Serbian population and the Serbian regime.'
And how did this critical attitude relate to the triumphalism of the NATO spokesmen during the first week of the bombings?
Ad Melkert: 'We heard yesterday the NATO spokesman continually express his satisfaction over the achievement of the military goals; what these goals are also, because it is not always possible for us to follow everything in each phase. I would like to ask the government to say something about that, in particular how the phasing (i.e. of the NATO attacks - authors' note) is actually foreseen. But it is more a question of expressing satisfaction over the achievement of military goals and at the same time to keep quiet about the enormous harm to people and to the environment which was coupled with it. For supporters it is of the greatest importance that this aspect should be given consistent expression.'
And were there also doubts about the effectiveness of the chosen strategy?
Ad Melkert: 'Can we call our strategy successful now that Rambouillet as things stand is not yet signed and the humanitarian crisis meanwhile is indeed taking place, while the avoidance of such was the reason why this action was begun? The posing of this question is of course easier than giving an answer to it.'
Was it then worth considering putting a stop to the air raids, as the SP had urged?
Eimert van Middelkoop from the small Christian party the GPV happened to frame the answer to this most eloquently: 'Anyone who argues now for an end to be put to the NATO actions would be immediately responsible for the situation which would then exist. Well, you don't need much of an imagination for this. The programmatic genocide of Milosevic in Kosovo would proceed even more quickly. You have to accept that. Those who have learned to look into the mirror of God's law know human failings. However, one pious word is hardly sufficient now that we have looked the depth of human evil in the face. Sometimes human beings are like beasts.'
Debates in the Dutch parliament, as can be seen from Ad Melkert's contribution cited above, would like to be seen as spirited and of high calibre. Which is to say that the speakers appear to base their words on a reality which does not exist at all outside of the Binnenhof and of which you are inclined to ask yourself whether they actually believe in it themselves, or whether they choose to believe, temporarily, in this non-existent reality because from a political viewpoint it is expedient to do so. Did the Labour parliamentary leader really expect the Minister of Defence, at his urging, to sound the alarm at NATO in order to remind them of the importance of issuing honest information on damage to Serbian civilian targets? And, should he do so, that NATO would listen to him? As a result of the support within Dutch society? We have our doubts. In the same way, we do not believe that the spokespeople for the different parliamentary groups were personally persuaded that in reality everything had been done to find a political solution to the conflict. The documents which formed the basis of the Rambouillet negotiations, to name just one aspect of this, were made public just after the debate was held from which the above quotes were taken. And how these negotiations panned out precisely remains to this day unclear, and probably always will.
The fine words about the 'the path which is wide open, the path of peace' were therefore nothing more than that: fine words. And there would also, in the weeks which followed the outbreak of war, be no shortage of fine words. Take the following quote from a debate held on 7th April, just after the Rambouillet documents had been made public via the Internet. From these documents it appeared, amongst other things, that agreements had been made in Rambouillet ( at least with the Albanian Kosovars, who had signed under great American pressure) over the future status of Kosovo, which would for the time being remain an autonomous province within the Yugoslav republic. In view of the Serbian violence which had, since the beginning of the bombings, burst forth in full intensity, it seemed that there was, however, no other real option for the Albanians. In other words, the Rambouillet document, and certainly the Albanian signature at the bottom of that document, must in fact be seen as a dead letter. But not for the Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs.
Van Aartsen on 7th April, in Parliament: 'Factually the situation is far removed from the situation during the Rambouillet negotiations. The principles and starting points of Rambouillet are and remain, however, the guidelines which we must follow hereafter. It's a simple matter of the democratic rights of the Kosovars and respect for the people in Kosovo. These elements remain, and will remain tomorrow, unsolved. The negotiations in Paris are stuck on the fact that President Milosevic's negotiating delegation did not want to accept ground troops from an international force on Yugoslav soil. On this point the talks went awry."
Jan Marijnissen, chair of the SP parliamentary group, in the same debate: 'You say that Kosovo must remain under the jurisdiction of Yugoslavia. Since Rambouillet there are of course two things which have happened: the UCK is undiminished in its support for separation, but at the same time hundreds of thousands of people have been traumatised. The question is, to what extent does it remain realistic to wish that these people will be able to go there under conditions of autonomy? And if you believe that Kosovo must remain an integral part of Yugoslavia, how does this fit with the other final declaration of Rambouillet, in which is stated that three years after the signing, a final agreement would be concluded "on the basis of the will of the people"? This is, in other words, a disguised sort of referendum, which would automatically still involve separation from Yugoslavia.'
Van Aartsen: 'This element has, for the Kosovars, alongside the international ground troop force, been an important element in agreeing to Rambouillet. It would be a step in the wrong direction if we were now to decide on a political solution with Kosovo outside of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. If we should declare this at the present time it could have effects in the whole of the Balkans.'
Marijnissen: 'But doesn't that conflict with this final declaration, in which it is stated that the population of Kosovo after three years will determine how the definitive agreement will look? Or have I misunderstood this?'
Van Aartsen: 'It is important to keep that in mind as an element for the future. That possibility has been created. That is the political section of the Rambouillet agreement, against which the negotiating delegation from Yugoslavia at the time had no objection. It ran aground on the military section of the agreement. The negotiators have always said that the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia must accept both the one, the military section, and the other, the political section. I can however not look into the minds of the Federal Republic's negotiators. I don't feel like doing so, either, but probably they made a point of the military section because the possibility can't be excluded that they also had problems with the political section. But they said that they were willing to accept the political section."
Marijnissen: 'Including, therefore, the specification that the majority of the Kosovo population will determine after three years how the definitive accord will look?'
Van Aartsen: 'That was the political section of the Rambouillet agreement.'
Later in the book we will return a number of times to the implications of 'Rambouillet' and to the question of how these negotiations turned out.
In the same debate of 7th April the question of the progress of the air campaign, which in the meantime had been intensified, and which raised ever more questions about the relationship between the stated ends and the chosen means, was gone into at some length.
Defence Minister Frank de Grave: 'The right balance between ends and means continues to be sought. The goal has of course come more sharply into focus as a result of the actions of Mr Milosevic. As we said last week, attacks have been stepped up. That is aimed in particular at hindering as much as possible an increase in the Serbian engine of destruction. There is now a possibility of emphatic attacks directed at the concentration of troops in Serbia. Apache helicopters should also be involved in this. This is happening expressly in order to increase the chances of eliminating military units in Kosovo.'
And how did the bombing of Yugoslav cities such as Belgrade and Novisad fit into the strategy?
De Grave: 'That took place with the political aim of making it clear to Milosevic that the negotiating table was his only option. At the same time more operational targets were bombed in order to prevent the functioning of their capacity in Kosovo. This involved, certainly, airports, railway lines, road junctions, logistical means of transport and communication. We are also seeing that happening and find it correct and responsible. The power station which provides Belgrade with electricity was not listed as a military target. But power stations which have great significance for the functioning of the engine of war certainly do represent military targets."
And so the hard reality of the conduct of war slowly sank into the minds of Parliament, which was doubly true for the MPs of the Green Left, who quickly turned out to be divided over the positions taken. Marijke Vos in her evaluation of the Kosovo crisis: 'The (Green Left) group was in accord over the fact that in March military intervention was justified in order to prevent the threatening genocide. In addition we were therefore of the opinion that, after the bombings, further actions would have to be taken, in case it proved impossible to stop the violence and protect the people purely through air action. In this respect we were thinking of actions on the ground aimed at saving human lives. Then it turned out that was neither ready nor prepared to offer such protection on the ground, and that was enough for Farah Karimi to withdraw her support. For Ineke van Gent, the fact that the air raids did not protect people and the situation simply deteriorated was enough of a reason to withdraw her support.'
Still more painful was the situation for the Green Left as it became ever clearer that not only was the war going to last much longer than originally thought, but that NATO had begun to give an increasingly broad interpretation to the notion of 'military targets'. On 12th April, for example, a railway bridge was bombed, an action which also resulted, passim, in the destruction of a passenger train, with the deaths of at least ten passengers. And on 23rd April it turned out that a television station in Belgrade could also be a military target. Sixteen civilians died in the attack. Both incidents led to media uproar.
Members of Parliament did not allow them to pass unremarked, moreover. On 28th April Gerrit Valk, speaking for the Labour Party, opened the debate on the situation in Kosovo as follows: 'Chair! Today sees the beginning of the sixth week of bombing, a depressing result. This should, however, give no occasion for doubting the correctness of the mission. NATO is bound to continue the actions until Belgrade is ready to yield. Stopping the actions, without NATO's demands being complied with, would mean disaster for the region, the consequences of which are incalculable. It would be to bow definitively before dictatorship and terror. NATO's attacks on the Serbian television have been heavily criticised. The Serbian television would also not be my first choice of target, but we must indeed consider that the Serbian television has nothing to do with journalism. It is a pure instrument of power and one of the pillars on which the present dictatorship rests. Moreover, the Serbian television has contributed to the creation of a climate in which ethnic cleansing could take place.'
Marijke Vos's contribution was much more critical. 'I conclude with great concern that, insidiously, ever more often civilian targets are being hit, including a TV station,' Vos said. 'And when I hear President Clinton say, during the NATO summit, "We will win this war," then I ask myself if what we're dealing with hear is an attempt by NATO to boost its prestige. I have great difficulty with a position which is leading to such far-reaching escalation. We are asking ourselves whether it is really necessary to bomb all bridges in the North on the Novisad road. Meanwhile chemical factories are being destroyed. None of these targets is, in our view, a military-strategic target. For us, the limit could be reached at any moment.'
Yet Minister van Aartsen showed himself unimpressed by the criticism, defending the attack on the TV station in the following words: 'At this stage of the conflict there can be no question of half measures. We must at certain moments make ourselves completely clear. It is obvious that the TV station forms part of the propaganda machine and also of the war apparatus of President Milosevic and that it therefore belongs to the relevant infrastructure which must be destroyed in the rest of Yugoslavia. Everything which contributes to distorting the worldview of the Yugoslav population - which is here certainly the case - falls under the title 'infrastructure' and lends support to the system. That is why we supported this operation as well.'
A motion from SP member of Parliament Harry van Bommel, asking the government to argue within NATO for an end to be put to the bombing, won no support outside of the SP, other than that of Green Left MPs Ineke Van Gent and Farah Karimi, and Labour's Thanasis Apostolou. A motion from Marijke Vos, requesting the government to argue within NATO that no more bombing attacks would be made on the Serbian media, won support only from her Green Left colleagues. The 'limit' to which she had referred was never reached. The majority of the Green Left's MPs continued to support the war to its end.
War is a dirty business- even a 'clean' war such as the air campaign against Yugoslavia, which was conducted via the most advanced bombs which humanity had ever produced and which cost the life of not a single allied soldier. Early in the war a Dutch F-16 pilot even painted the contours of a MIG fighter jet on to his own plane, expressing his pride in having brought down just such an enemy machine. But the longer the war went on the fewer reasons NATO had for such bravura. Great excitement was provoked, for example, when on 14th April two NATO pilots mistook a convoy of fleeing Albanians for Serbian combat troops. The bombardment, conducted with great precision, cost the lives of at least sixty-four innocent civilians. Also painful were the numerous stray rockets which landed in residential neighbourhoods, just next to a hospital, on a tobacco factory, or even over the border in Bulgaria. The resultant so-called collateral damage was deeply regretted by NATO and the Dutch government, but must it was said be put on Milosevic's account, as it was he after all who, 'with a telephone call to NATO headquarters' could end the war, as Minister Van Aartsen expressed it. . In answer to written questions Van Aartsen put it in the following words: 'The government regrets the cited occurrences (attacks on a block of flats in Novi Pazar and a bridge at Varvarin which claimed civilian lives - authors' note), but notes that despite extensive safety regulations the presence of civilians in the vicinity of a target can never be wholly excluded. It cannot therefore be ruled out that incidents will continue to happen in which unintended civilian victims occur.'
Yet incidents also occurred which were more difficult to blame on Milosevic, and which - if you are not already satisfied by the declarations above - continue to pose questions. So, for example, there appeared on 15th May the following story in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, a respected American daily:
In Yugoslavia, as in every other land, children wake up on a weekend morning ready to play. They check the sky and, if it's free of clouds and F-15s, head out into the neighborhood. They play ball, kick sticks and hunt through the grass for bits of treasure. Lately they've been stumbling upon some especially alluring objects - bright orange-yellow things the size of soda cans, and shiny spheres the size of tennis balls. The kids snatch them up. They explode. The kids lose an arm, an eye, or a life.
This scenario is made possible by NATO, which has been scattering the colorful trinkets across Yugoslavia for weeks. The soda-can things are CBU-87 and RBL755 bomblets, while the bright little balls are ATACMS bomblets. None of them is meant for children, of course. They're unexploded submunitions - the little bombs inside of cluster bombs.
The article continues with an explanation of the effectiveness of the cluster bomb. According to NATO it is an exceptionally effective weapon, because it can devastate a large area in one blow. The cluster bombs first explode above the ground, releasing two hundred shells. These shells then splinter once more into perhaps three hundred fragments of steel, shooting out at high speed on all sides. The sixty thousand shards which are in this way released are distributed over the length of four football pitches , doing their destructive work throughout this area. The average of five percent which is the proportion which does not go off is a calculated 'occupational hazard', so associated with the use of this weapon that, according to NATO, it is used only against major military targets such as airports and armoured divisions, targets around which the risk of 'collateral damage' is as far as is possible excluded. In contrast, for example, to chemical weapons, cluster bombs are not explicitly forbidden, which is to say that in no treaty do the words 'cluster bomb' occur. Peace activists and human rights organisations are, however, campaigning for bans to be included in two important relevant treaties. Firstly, an addition from 1979 to the 1949 Geneva Conventions bans the use of weapons or methods of warfare which cause 'superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering'. This protocol also forbids 'indiscriminate attacks', amongst which are included methods of warfare the effects of which cannot be limited to military targets. This general definition is further refined, banning attacks in which 'incidental loss of civilian life, and injury to civilians' are likely to occur. The use of cluster bombs in residential neighbourhoods, certainly where the bombs are dropped from great heights as was the case in Yugoslavia, leads unerringly to just such a risk.
The second treaty that could and should be applied to cluster bombs is a convention against weapons which result in unnecessary suffering, excessive injury or 'indiscriminate effects'. Although this treaty is principally aimed at landmines, weapons designed to explode when touched or closely approached, it could quite easily be declared that it also applied to cluster bombs, which, with a 'permitted' percentage of unexploded sub-bombs of five percent, are bombs which have de facto the same destructive effects as mines.
On 12th May Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland, and at the time United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, paid a visit to the small town of Nis in South-Eastern Serbia. Five days earlier the market and hospital of Nis had been attacked with cluster bombs, and fifty people had died. On 31st May Robinson produced a comprehensive report on this devastating NATO attack, for which there had been no obvious military target. Taking our lead from this report the SP asked ministers Van Aartsen and De Grave whether they stood by their earlier assertion that cluster bombs were deployed only against major military targets and from a height where they could be accurately brought to target. We also asked the two ministers if they were of the opinion 'that it is a legitimate military strategy to use cluster bombs against or in the vicinity of civilian targets.'
The answer stated that 'The government is aware of the report from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Ms Robinson. This report does not alter the government's judgement over the deployment of cluster bombs.'
A similarly lame answer came shortly afterwards, after the end of the war, to questions from SP Member of Parliament Harry van Bommel. Taking his lead from a World Wildlife Fund report which discussed the 'large amounts of toxic chemicals and oil that leaked into de Danube-river as a result of the bombing', and noting that the Danube provided drinking water for some ten million people in five different countries, he asked whether the taking of such risks in relation to the environment and public health belonged in a legitimate military strategy. The answer from the two ministers ran, translated verbatim, as follows: 'NATO's air raids have always been aimed at targets which form part of the infrastruture which Milosevic put in place in order to conduct his campaign of oppression.' Period.
And even when, after the end of the war, it turned out that the cluster bombs had killed dozens of people including returning refugees (amongst them children) as well as soldiers of the KFOR peacekeeping force, the ministers did not feel called upon to look any more closely into the legitimacy of the use of such destructive weapons. 'NATO has,' they stated, in choosing its weapons always carefully weighed the military importance against the risk of collateral damage.'
It remains only for us to deal with the course of the war itself. On 11th June this was discussed in Parliament for the first time, and although no-one appeared in the mood to strike a wholly triumphal tone, the feeling that the fight was at last won was nevertheless dominant.
Labour's Gerrit Valk put his feelings into the following words: 'The moment for which we have all longed has arrived. The fight has ended and the beginning of a solution to the Kosovo conflict is within reach. It may be observed that without western intervention this would never have been the achieved. Refugees will soon be able to return and will know themselves to be protected, now and in the future. And that is an extremely good thing.'
Jan-Dirk Blaauw of the VVD: 'During the air raids we engaged the government in an intensive dialogue, out of which each time the correct conclusions could be drawn. Joyfulness is, however, not appropriate. After all, it lasted a very long time and we know, furthermore, all about the many refugees and victims, when one would be one too many. Naturally, the relief was greatest for the Green Left. Marijke Vos: 'After almost eighty days of war the violence has stopped and there is the prospect of peace, and that is something for which we can only be extremely glad. But those who now talk of victory ignores the untold suffering by which it was brought about..' Finally Minister Van Aartsen expressed it thus: 'Now, seventy-eight days after the beginning of the military conflict and of the actions, it may be confirmed that the consistent, resolute and credible performance of NATO has led to the acceptance by Yugoslavia of the demand that all Serb units be withdrawn from Kosovo and an international force under NATO leadership be allowed into Kosovo. And the Socialist Party? Did the SP go back on its earlier standpoint? No. Harry van Bommel: 'We have always judged the cure worse than the . We hold to this opinion. The provisional balance of accounts is in fact a sad one. There are as many as close to a million refugees outside Kosovo and hundreds of thousands inside Kosovo. There has been large scale destruction in Kosovo and other parts of Yugoslavia. And lastly there is instability throughout the region. In this situation there are certainly no winners.'
Jan Marijnissen is leader of the Socialist Party of the Netherlands (SP)
Karel Glastra van Loon was a novelist and journalist, closely associated with the SP, who has died, at the age of only 43, since this book was published in the original Dutch. His best known work in English was The Passion Fruit
Please note: This book is based on De Laatste Oorlog, written almost a decade ago. Since its writing, Karel Glastra van Loon has died, and the tapes he made of the interviews cannot be located. Where these interviews were orignally conducted in English, this means that they have had to be retranslated back from the Dutch. We have obviously attempted to reproduce the speakers' words as faithfully as possible, but nevertheless apologise to them for the inevitable changes of wording, which we trust have not affected the substance of what they had to say.