Frozen Peace


Or, Another (Condensed) Dispatch from the PhD Thesis Front

Prior to s11, the paradigm case for the new wars of the new world order was the Kosovo War in 1999. This is more properly seen as the last act in a drama which began with Milo¡ević’s speech on the 600th anniversary of the battle of Kosovo Posle at the ‘Plain of Blackbirds’ on 28 June 1989, although its origins are traceable much further back in time (this is not to accept the thesis of “ancient hatreds” which has haunted Western discussion of the former Yugoslavia. Rather, many of the ethnic conflicts, just as in Africa, were heightened if not provoked by what the Italian scholar Danilo Zolo calls “imperial mapping”).

Yet we read and hear little these days about conditions in Kosovo or Bosnia. Writing in the prestigious US Journal Foreign Affairs, Edward P. Joseph, former Macedonia director for the International Crisis Group, seeks to remind us of the continuing states of tension, uncertainty and crisis prevailing in the Balkans today. Joseph’s article also appeared in yesterday’s Fin, but it isn’t online.

Joseph writes:

But the region remains fractured and capable of producing turmoil. Of the countries and provinces that experienced serious conflict after Yugoslavia collapsed in 1991–Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, and Serbia and Montenegro–only Croatia is now truly stable (thanks mainly to the mass expulsion of its minority Serb population, with Belgrade’s acquiescence). Elsewhere, ethnic groups in the Balkans continue to eye one another warily. Only recently, with their wars long-since over, have Croatia and Serbia begun a genuine dialogue.

How ought we to understand the fact that the end of war has failed to bring peace to the peoples of the former Yugoslavia? It is here that we can observe that the Kosovo War is truly exemplary of the new wars of the new world order. Because such wars do not result in permanent settlements, but rather various types of occupation, zones of protection and areas where sovereignty is diminished or uncertain, that we can adopt the concept invented by the French security scholar Alain Joxe to describe their outcome “frozen peace”. Absent a political settlement, any let up in military occupation and surveillance is likely to see unresolved conflicts return.

Joseph points to a number of flashpoints. Common to all is the lack of a political settlement. Kosovo is still nominally under the sovereignty of Serbia, but in practice is governed partly by ethnic Albanians, and partly by NATO and the EU. Institution-building discriminates against ethnic Serbians, and a revival of the nationalism symbolically banished from Western attention by Milo¡ević’s arrest and trial haunts Serbia proper. Macedonia is destabilised by the continuing uncertainty in both Kosovo and Albania. In Bosnia, Bosnian Serbs continue to undermine the institutions of the Dayton Accords, and ethnic territorial divisions remain frozen: “Sarajevo once a symbol of Bosnia’s multi-national vibrancy remains populated almost entirely by Muslims.” As Joseph notes, problems “prematurely declared solved” remain and reality “keeps intruding”:

Last March, ethnic riots in Kosovo (sparked by a rumour that Serbs had chased Albanian youths to their deaths) caught international officials by surprise. Some 50,000 Albanians took part in these disturbances, leaving a score dead, hundreds wounded, and a few thousand more Serbs expelled from their homes in Albanian areas.

As the Italian legal philosopher and jurist Danilo Zolo argues in Invoking Humanity: War, Law and Global Order, US policy created the Kosovo Liberation Army, a nasty mix of former Envherist communists and right-wing nationalists, displacing the moderate Democratic League of Kosovo. NATO and EU policy in the former Yugoslavia continues to keep the populations in a state of suspended war, rather than building peace. It is in this sense that according to writers such as Joske and Zolo that what we have in the former Yugoslavia, along with the situation in “sovereign” Iraq, is paradigmatic of the non-Clausewitzian wars of the new world order.

Two main issues arise for world politics and stability from such “humanitarian wars”. The first is the degree to which “humanitarian” war conceals a license for the strong to intervene in the affairs of the weak, without the legal protections which formerly governed the declaration and conduct of war. The second is the quasi-Imperial nature of “frozen peace” which tends to be the outcome of such wars or police actions.

The classic model of war in the modern era was theorised by the Prussian general and strategist Karl von Clausewitz in On War 1 first published in 1832. Clausewitz distinguished between military strategy and political objectives in describing war as “the continuation of politics by other means”. Von Clausewitz also delimited war as a conflict between states seeking to maximise their national interest. His doctrine represents the apotheosis of the limited wars of the 18th century, “cabinet wars” or “dual wars” which patterned after the aristocratic duel, usually had a rather formalised character and had little impact on the populations of the belligerent states. Eric Hobsbawm has argued that the advent of total war in 1914 (prefigured by the Napoleonic Wars and later by the US Civil War and the series of wars waged by Bismarckian Prussia between 1866 and 1870) shattered this understanding of war as governed by law, and massively blurred the distinction between combatants and non-combatants. Arguably, the Great War also represented the demise of the pure form of the Westphalian State System, the international regime symbolised by the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 which ended the Thirty Years War. As well as the mass loss of life in the Great War, the decision to criminalise the Kaiser and the redrawing of the map of Europe in the name of Wilsonian self-determination sought to humiliate if not extirpate the way of life of the losers. The resultant settlement, the Treaty of Versailles, and its institutional counterpart, the League of Nations, were so insecure that Hobsbawm and other historians have rightly seen the period from 1914 to 1945 as one continuous war, sometimes cold, sometimes very hot indeed.

One advantage of the classic modern war was that it was embedded within a reciprocal recognition of the right of states to exist. Or, if a state were conquered, its administration would be remodelled. The concept of occupation or a state of exception where administration and politics and military strategy become hopelessly and tragically intertwined did not exist. Thus, the outcome of war was usually (at least in the case of the European powers) a negotiated outcome which did not seek regime change or the radical reshaping of the polity and social structure of the defeated nation/s. This is no longer the case.

While the first Gulf War enjoyed legitimacy in international law because of its authorisation under the Charter of the United Nations, the Kosovo war only enjoyed an ex post facto legitimacy under a putative “emerging customary norm” of humanitarian intervention. International law traditionally recognised only states as subjects. The institution of the norms surrounding the Nuremberg Trials first introduced into international law the notion that citizens of states might also enjoy rights and have mandated duties under international law. Much in the tradition of Immanuel Kant’s idea of a “perpetual peace” and a cosmopolitical right, international law now recognises an idea of right which trumps the doctrine of non-interference in the internal affairs of another state. Yet, the Kosovo War was manifestly illegal under international law from the absence of a right of NATO to intervene in a non-defensive manner outside its territory, to the absence of a right of the “international community” to sanction a state for its behaviour towards its subject people.

One could also examine the actual motivations for the Kosovo War, as Zolo does. However, this is an area of controversy, and not necessarily germane to an examination of the implications of humanitarian war. What must be recognised though is that as a humanitarian police action, the Kosovo War failed both to protect victims of human rights abuses and ethnic cleansing during the war and in restoring civil peace and a democratic political order in its aftermath.

The difficulty with a humanitarian right of intervention is the classic question “who decides?”. Most politicians would claim justice and right to be on their side. The International Court at the Hague has no jurisdiction unless a state agrees to accept its jurisdiction in a particular case. The War Crimes Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia expressly stated it lacked jurisdiction to determine the justice of the war, and despite being an international body, has refused to investigate NATO’s actual conduct of the war (the ius in bello) as well as its justice (the ius ad bellum). Bypassing the UN Security Council leaves it a matter for a more powerful state to determine the justice of a war of intervention, and in effect to legitimise its conduct through victory. None of the conditions suggested by legal philosophers and jurists for a humanitarian intervention (and most of the suggestions are eminently sensible as well as practical) have been embodied in any authoritative instrument of law.

What we are left with is trust in the intentions of the humanitarian powers as Madeleine Albright, Clinton’s Secretary of State claimed:

As to the use of force, Kosovo teaches us what we should have known anyway. It is true, force is sometimes necessary to face evil and protect our interests, but, as before the Kosovo war, it is not wise to formulate generalising hypotheses to establish how and when to recur to the use of force. In case of future crises, the sum of past experiences will find specific factors, characteristic of a specific place or time, on the other pan of the scales.

Flawed as the Security Council of the UN may be, its processes at least bring to bear both a realistic politics and also an existent justification in international law. Leading advocates of a cosmopolitical right, such as J¼rgen Habermas, Noberto Bobbio and David Held have to concede that the institutions which would judge the legitimacy of humanitarian war do not exist. As Habermas wrote in his 1999 article for Die Zeit, ‘Bestialit¤t und Humanit¤t. Ein Krieg and der Grenze zwischen Recht und Moral’:

The borderline between law and morals will be inevitably blurred, as it was, in fact, in the war for Kosovo. Faced with a blocked Security Council, NATO could not help appealing to the moral validity of international law i.e. to norms which are not actually applied and upheld within the international community. The sub-institutionalisation of the right to universal citizenship finds expression in a gap between the legitimacy of peacekeeping interventions and their effectiveness… NATO has been able to successfully oppose the Yugoslav government precisely because it acted without a legitimisation it would certainly have been denied by the Security Council.

Just as there is an absence of political resolution of the conflict in constructing a political process within zones of the exception such as Kosovo and Bosnia where rather military strategy and administration interweave, so too is there an absence of political justification for the case for humanitarian intervention. There is no doubt that gross abuses of human rights ought to attract some sanction. However, it seems unlikely that in the absence of agreed upon norms of international law and a judicial body to arbitrate on them (and it is unrealistic to expect powerful states to accede to the rulings of such a hypothetical body in any event), the mere assertion of humanitarian motives by latter day Gladstones such as Tony Blair ought to suffice to justify and legitimise what after all is an act of war. The need to give such justification politically rather than in a self-defined realm of ethics would expose the interests of the state in a democracy to legitimate political contestation.

Kant believed that the citizens of a democracy would rarely go willingly to war. It seems now that they are not allowed the political choice because their leaders get to determine the rights and wrongs of an issue in their own hearts and consciences. This is fundamentally anti-democratic. Nor are the peoples of Kosovo, Bosnia or Iraq free to build their own political institutions or resolve their differences politically. Rather they are caught in a “frozen peace” imposed on them through war that never resolves itself. There is nothing wrong with a humanitarian intent, but one must always be sceptical of particularistic motives hiding behind the assertion of a universalist ethic.

As the epigraph to Zolo’s book eloquently puts it:

Here one is reminded of a somewhat modified expression of Proudhon’s: whoever invokes humanity is trying to cheat.

  1. Vom Kriege[]

About Mark Bahnisch

Mark Bahnisch is a sociologist and is the founder of this blog. He has an undergraduate degree in history and politics from UQ, and postgraduate qualifications in sociology, industrial relations and political economy from Griffith and QUT. He has recently been awarded his PhD through the Humanities Program at QUT. Mark's full bio is on this page.
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2024 years ago

it is certainly remarkable how this region has been allowed to slip off the map of our imaginations. thanks, Mark.