America is going to war in a place called Kosovo and the media by and large have treated the issue as something that requires no significant national debate. On ABC’s This Week with Sam and Cokie on June 14th, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott was asked a grand total of two questions about NATO’s pending decision to intervene, to risk American lives over the conflict. Lott’s answers, which were in favor of intervention, were indistinguishable from the policy of the Clinton Administration.
Panelist George Will asked a simple question: What’s the American interest there and how important is it? Lott never answered the question about America’s interest there. Instead, he said it had global implications and that America ought to be prepared to act. Asked whether American troops ought to be used, Lott talked about the seriousness of the situation and said that we can’t wait forever.
These pitiful answers to serious questions were largely ignored because George Will had prefaced the question by saying that ethnic cleansing was taking place in Kosovo. That is guaranteed to get a politician to endorse some kind of action for any reason. Politicians don’t want to appear soft on human rights violations. But the human rights violations in this case are taking place on both sides. If the Yugoslavian government is guilty of ethnic cleansing, the Kosovo Liberation Army has been guilty of waging terrorist attacks. Senator Lott and the Administration both want the U.S. to get involved right in the middle of this.
On what basis? How does the U.S. or NATO justify intervening in a conflict in a foreign country? The international community agrees that Kosovo, where the violence is taking place, is a part of the country of Yugoslavia. Therefore, it should be an internal matter. On that level it’s comparable to America’s civil war. Even if we were dealing with two separate countries, how does NATO justify a decision to intervene? The NATO charter, article 5, says NATO is obligated to come to the defense of its member states. NATO recently admitted three new members, Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, but Kosovo isn’t one of them.
It’s true that the recent Senate vote on NATO expansion included a reference to “other missions” for NATO. It said that NATO can engage in these “other missions” when there is a consensus among its members “that there is a threat to the security and interests of NATO members.” Is this vague formulation the basis for NATO’s actions on Kosovo? If so, it may be the case that NATO can intervene anywhere in the world for almost any reason. If this is the case, when why should the Congress retain its constitutional right to declare war and make the rules and regulations for the Armed Forces?
We warned in an earlier Media Monitor that the debate over NATO expansion wasn’t being taken seriously by the major media. Now we are seeing the result of not getting the public and the press involved in a major debate over foreign policy. It’s not too late to start the debate before Americans lose their lives.