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Europewide Debate Tuesday, 4 May, 1999, 10:48 GMT 11:48 UK
Was the Nato intervention a mistake?
Was the Nato intervention a mistake?
"Even admitting that Milosevic is guilty of many things, Nato has made a major mistake."
German Green MEP Frieder-Otto Wolf

"The consensus within the democratic countries of Nato was that airstrikes were indeed appropriate with all the uncertainties."
British Labour MP Donald Anderson, chairman of the Foreign Affairs select committee

Listen to our debate hosted by Laurence Zavriew . Do you agree with the views of our contributors?

Background ¦ Your reaction ¦ Listen to the debate

The Background:

Kosovo: Special Report
It has been more than a month since the Nato airstrikes began, and despite a considerable display of Western firepower, all indications are that the Yugoslav leadership refuses to yield.

Yet many in the West believed that Slobodan Milosevic would cave in rapidly once the bombs started raining on Serbia.

Since the start of the war, the scale of the refugee exodus - hundreds of thousands displaced, both internally and externally - has threatened to destabilise neighbouring countries.

Talking Point - Europewide
And the plight of the refugees, the very people Nato's intervention was supposed to protect, has appalled the Western public.

So, from a Western European perspective - was the Nato intervention a mistake?

Background ¦ Your reaction ¦ Listen to the debate

Your Reaction:

Intervening may be a mistake - history will judge that but I do know that not to intervene against monstrous thugs like Milosovic and his cohorts at this juncture in time would have been a greater crime against humanity - just wait till the mass graves are discovered.
Pamela Armstrong, UK

After weeks of studying news report after news report from varying sources, I still don't have an understanding of the basis of the war - and I bet the average US citizen knows even less than I. Do we have proof of "ethnic cleansing", or proof of a long-standing dispute-turned-civil-war? The bombing seems to have only made the Kosova situation much, much worse, and is punishing innocent Yugoslav civilians. AND it's costing billions to do it. Such an ill-defined and unsuccessful mission must be a mistake!
Tresa, USA

Bombing is always indiscriminate. I hope the recent nail bombs in London will bring home to some of the 'gung-ho' Nato supporters just what a terrible thing it is to bomb people. Many people in Yugoslavia are (were) just trying to lead normal lives. Many of them opposed Milosevic. How can it be right to bomb them? I agree with the repondent who said this is not a mistake, it is deliberate mass murder.
Andrew Levens, UK

Yes, it is great mistake, because it is a violation of a lot of international laws. This war is led by sick persons, as Clinton, Blair, Solana etc, who want to show their power at small nation and to conquer it. Actually, it is not a war at all, because the war is knight game among two army played by rules of war conventions. This war is led in spite of all conventions and is nothing else than criminal acts of Nato's leaders with disturb mind wishing only to kill and destroy.
Stojan Petrovic, Yugoslavia

Yes, Nato made a mistake. They didn't have solutions then, and they don't have them now. They didn't save anybody and they killed many. Starting bombing they just opened the season of killing. Destroying doesn't solve anything and in all countries blackmail is against the law. Help democracy in the world by using law and order, open minds and goodwill. By not excepting any peace deal without involvement of Nato troops, it's obvious which interests have priority.
A Stiglic, UK

No, it was not a mistake to step in, but it was and still is a mistake to be so inconsequent. We should have dropped bombs already right after Srebrenica happened, and we also should have taken Tudjman to the war crime tribunal for ethnically cleansing the Krajina. It is necessary now to send ground troops at least to parts of Kosovo in order to create a safe haven for the refugees.
Winfried Huehn, Germany

I think Nato's attempt to stop Milosevic was correct. What is wrong is Europe's reluctance to defend its own interests. Does Europe expect the US to fight all its battles? Are we supposed to pay for 3/4 of the cost of the air attack and then send ground troops across the Atlantic? Europe should be calling up 500,000 troops right now. Instead, and as usual, they will complain about the US in one way or another. After this war is over the US should withdraw from Nato and let Europe live with its own decisions or lack of them.
Cliff Richey, USA

Yes, it's stupid and tragic mistake! And the worst thing - it has divided the World for "equal and more equal", this action has turned over the World to that "unforgettable" time of cold war. Where we are going to? Nato wasn't a favourable in Russia - now it's enemy. The Red patriots are on "the horse" and chance to find in few years "Russian Milosevic" on the top highly increased. Yes, it is not the best human feeling, but for most of people "my country is my country", Nato action awakened imperial mentality. Besides, what are the achievements of that barbaric bombing?
Stas A, Russia

The hope of Nato is that the Serb leadership will crack under the bombs. Did Britain crack during the blitz? Did Germany surrender because of Hamburg or Dresden? Did the bombing of Hanoi win the Vietnam war? Nato has turned a civil war into a War of national survival for the Serbs. My advice is: Find a diplomatic solution or risk another Vietnam and the paralysis that brings.
John Reid, Australia

I think it's imperative that the international community takes strong action against governments who feel they can commit atrocities within their borders with impunity. For this to succeed, however, we must have the resolve to do what is necessary to accomplish our goals. Unfortunately, it will take more than just bombing.
Douglas Schwer, USA

It is easy to compare Nato intervention with fixing a broken china urn with a 20 kg Blacksmith Hammer!! They intended to detain humanitarian catastrophe. Result is the worst one since WWII. They intended to stabilise region. The whole world is destabilised and leaded to the very edge of WWIII with all this nukes around. They destabilise my country for at least 10 years...
Vladimir, Yugoslavia

If we didn't step in against the Saddams and Adolfs of this world then what hope do we have for the future. I will fight for the freedom of my children's children today not when it suits world opinion. Thousands are being slaughtered by SLOB just like the Jews by Adolf. Your children could be fighting their sons in 20 years if you don't stamp out the cancer now. Nato is our only hope. Everybody has a right to live in peace regardless of the background he had no choice in. Religion should never be used to justify murder in any form. In this case an eye for an eye is justified. You know it makes sense no matter how hard it is to swallow.
Andy Simpson, Northern Ireland

The protection of human beings in distress must be a worthwhile objective. Just because we are not consistent in applying this doctrine, does not make the Serbian intervention wrong or immoral. Even had we been certain beforehand that the probability of failure was total, it would have still been a worthy human venture. Of course, economically and politically it was not a matter of sound judgement, but does man live on bread alone?
R A Vassallo, UK

Who has the right to play with people and their lives like this? If there is a god all the people who are doing this to Serbians one day will be taken in front of justice and be punished.
Dragan Ilic, Yugoslavia

The bombing has proven to be a terrible mistake. There are so many lives that will be lost on both sides. The refugees will be living in the camps for years because most of Kosovo has been bombed and burned. No one will know who did greater damage, the Serbs or Nato. Nato is supposed to be the good guys but they are killing so many civilians by mistake. It is disgusting!
Ana, USA

Yes, it is a mistake. In our country for last 35 days about 1000 civilians were killed. Yesterday (04.27.99) Nato forces killed 16 civilians in small town called Surdulica among them ten were children from 3 to 10 years old. About 20 bridges were destroyed so far. I am living in Belgrade. I have small son (four years old), every day and night we have to go to the shelter. He is frightened. You can imagine how terrible is such a life. Don't forget that we are in Europe. Nato is returning to the medieval age.
Sanja, Yugoslavia

We should not forget how the west stood by and let the Germans begin eradicating the Jews before the Second World War began. Give Nato time. Sooner or later Milosevic will capitulate, or else he will have no country left and the Kosovars will at least have been avenged.
George A Furse, USA

The hope of Nato is that the Serb leadership will crack under the bombs. Did Britain crack during the blitz? Did Germany surrender because of Hamburg or Dresden? Did the bombing of Hanoi win the Vietnam war? Nato has turned a civil war into a War of national survival for the Serbs. My advice is: find a diplomatic solution or risk another Vietnam and the paralysis that brings.
John Reid, Australia

Nato's bombing campaign is a tragic mistake. Three flaws of logic have been blatantly apparent since the beginning of this crisis:
(1) telling a country that if they don't sign a 'peace agreement', then they will be bombed is not negotiation.
(2) No attempt was ever made to tie the methodology of the campaign to the objectives. If the objective is to stop ethnic cleansing, which was being performed by a few guys driving a jeep into a village to force people from their homes, then how are laser-guided missiles going to stop this?
(3) No alternative plan was created, in the event that the bombing campaign failed. Now the bombing continues, after most of ethnic Albanians have fled, apparently just to punish Milosevic. Punishment is not a justification for bombing.
John Williams, USA

It was not a mistake. The mistake was not taking action sooner. I don't think it is possible to negotiate with someone who allows the murder and rape of his own people.
len Mazzitelli, Belgium

No, it was not a "mistake". It was, and is, mass murder, deliberate destruction of a defenceless nation, deliberate poisoning of the environment, probable starting of world war three, and demolition of all hope for a bright future. The gallows was made for even those who perpetrate far far lesser "mistakes" - and the gallows should welcome not only Clinton and Albright and Blair and all their many evil accomplices, but also the bomber pilots who blew the trains and the Albanians and the refugee camps and the tv studios and the chemical and water plants and towns and cities, car factories, etc. Remember, you've established that following orders is no defence.
Wolf, USA

It is easy to say "It was a mistake". What would have been your constructive answer to the ethnic cleansing? I am surprised by the gentleman from Israel; he has a very short memory of the holocaust, it seems.
C.A.C, Canada

The actions in Kosovo are still justified. The problem, as I see it, is that Nato underestimated Mr. Milosevic. The Nato nations expected him to fall if not in days then certainly in a couple of weeks, but the campaign did not get off to a good start, and was not assisted by the weather. This allowed the Serb Army to dig in. However, Ethnic Cleansing continues and the reports of Massacres come more frequently. We cannot abandon the Kosovars now - There is no point starting something and not finishing it.
The only answer now is a ground force, I am afraid, be it a peacekeeping one under the auspices of the UN or a protection force under the NATO banner. The countries of Nato also need to help the displaced people more. The British Governments 20m is pitiful, and should be increased at least 10 fold. We also need to house more refugees. The Balkans have always been difficult, and continue to be.
Andy Thompson, UK

It became clear very early on in the campaign that the bombing campaign wasn't having the desired effect. Certainly, the West had to take some kind of action, but once this became obvious it should have been prepared to send in ground troops. Milosevic is never going to "invite" a Nato peace keeping force into Kosovo. There can only be 3 outcomes - either the bombing goes on indefinitely, Nato sends in ground troops anyway, or NATO is forced into negotiations. I think that only the ground troops option will enable to Kosovo Albanians to return home.
Charles Medd, England

History talks: Actions like these in Europe did not solve any problem. Things are getting from bad to worse. Think about the legality of the Nato aggression, it's non-existent.
Takis Grammatikakis, Greece

Every bomb is a mistake. Every bomb against Milosevic, but not UPON the head of Milosevic is a horrible mistake.
Italo da Roma

Nato intervention is necessary because the same measures taken more than 50 years ago to end WW II are necessary. Serbians think that they are in the right and want to eliminate Kosovars as Hitler wanted to eliminate the Jews.
Paul, Singapore

Are we punishing Serbs because they couldn't get rid of Milosevic?
John, Greece

PLEASE STOP THE BOMBING! It is not the proper way for solving problems. Lots of people died because of the Nato. People must know that bombs don't ask if you are a Serb or Albanian. We are all victims.
Dejan, Yugoslavia

What's next? More of the same - only more so! We went in with good intentions, and maybe a good cause, but ending it is going to take years, and in the end what good has it done?
Dan Ludlow, UK

Remember what happened after the end of WW1? The allies crippled Germany and left it with nothing but hate against the allies. The Germans rebuilt their country with the hate against the people who gave them their pain and destruction and thus we have WW2 because of that. Look at the war in the Balkans, isn't NATO crippling Yugoslavia? The hate against NATO by the Yugoslavians would be unforgettable. The hate for NATO by the Russians is also dangerously increasing. Please stop the strikes NATO if you believe in peace then help the refugees that have fled Kosovo for Milosevic has succeeded in his Ethnic cleansing, all the Albanians have fled from Kosovo. Accept defeat and help those in need...
Chris Markl, Canadian resident of Switzerland

NATO hoped to break down Yugoslav military in a couple of days. When they realised they couldn't do it, they are now looking for a justification using pictures of refugees and trying to persuade their nations that their air campaign is to prevent humanitarian catastrophe. Obviously they are having problems with media presentations and large civilian casualties. NATO would like to stop now. But how? They have to admit defeat and threaten even the existence of the organisation. They would be very glad to work out a compromise where they would appear as winners and let the Yugoslavs have it their own way in Kosovo. TAKE IT OR LEAVE IT!
Mikica Vulovic, Serbia

All the WW2 evidence is that bombing itself does not crush enemy morale. Not even city bombing targeting civilians has that result anytime fast. So what were NATO leaders thinking. That the public will remain indefinitely mesmerised by the magic of planes taking off from carrier decks. And after Rwanda, whatever made them think you need major arms to carry out genocide.
A. Bikash Roy, US / India

A mistake? A most resounding YES. Kosovo presents NO threat to US national security and it is purely an internal affair between the Serbs and the Kosovar Albanians. How would the US have liked it had other countries intervened when we were waging an unjust war against the Native Americans? NATO cannot and should not be a "Mary Poppins" of the world, bringing good cheer to those less fortunate. NATO began as a military alliance and needs to stay that way. If it is no longer necessary for NATO to be a military alliance, then it should be disbanded.
Adam Carlo, USA

NATO action is an unlawful action under the international law. Before the bombing of Yugoslavia has started, the official NATO standpoint was that the attack is supposed to punish Yugoslavia because it did not sign the peace agreement. After the aggression has started, the NATO tried to explain its action by preventing the humanitarian catastrophe. It is obvious that NATO aggression triggered the total war in Kosovo and humanitarian catastrophe as well. NATO should stop the aggression, rather than to accumulate more firepower in the region. Political negotiations, not bombing, will solve the problems.
Branislav Maric, Yugoslavia

There was a recent study done on the court system in the U.S. about legal cases that were eventually, sometimes years later, reversed because the initial conviction was achieved by corrupting the process of prosecution with such illegal tactics as withholding exculpatory information (like propaganda). The study calculated the tremendous cost to the system of these miscarriages of "justice" both in time and money concluding that it was ultimately a monstrous waste. This is what is happening in Yugoslavia, a war created by propaganda. Ultimately it will prove a tremendous waste to which tyrants are practised at achieving.
Austin , USA

I believe the right course of action was taken at the correct time. Milosovic, refused to listen to the pleas of International diplomats. The whole point of Nato's existence is to put in check the actions of aggressive dictators like Milosovic. I for one was not under any misapprehension that the action would be lengthy. Furthermore, the Russian Government should stop complaining about Nato's intervention - they could if they had the will, seize the opportunity to secure a diplomatic solution even now. I still hold some hope they could become the heroes of the hour.
Alex Lia, UK

It is very interesting how time and circumstances can start to shift attention from a core matter of "principles" to fears and expectations related to "side effects". The core issue is responding unanimously to stop ethnic-cleansing whatever it takes.
Alfonso Gonzalez M, Mexico

It was not a mistake, it was most carefully planned, but the objectives are not those stated. Nato doesn't give a damn about the inhabitants of Kosovo, "Serb" or "Albanian." There is another agenda, perhaps to draw the Russians into the affair at a time when they are weak ... who knows ? Whatever, over the years I have watched my country do many bad things but this is the first time I have really been ashamed of being British.
Bruce Hooker, France

Yes, with hindsight, it was a grave and tragic mistake which is only being compounded daily. The unfortunate thing is that the intentions were good - diplomacy backed by military force to stop ethnic cleansing - but it was not thought through - "Not Altogether Thought Out" as the cartoon said. I just fear that the same bumbling that got us in, will go on to get us out, The civilians are paying the price, while NATO is too squeamish to take risks. I say stop bombing and go back to the table before more lives are lost.
Alison Anderson. USA

We can see at least four bad consequences of this action. The bombing has triggered a new wave of executions, 1000 times stronger than before. Milosevic has become a national hero and the democratic opposition was stifled. It destroyed the atmosphere of trust between Russia and West, increased the tension in Central Europe. Dear friends, do we want fascists, taking power in Moscow? At the end, why should we break the international law, kill people, trying only to punish the guy? If he is the criminal, some appropriate international institutions will judge him. In this case nobody will call us aggressors, and we will not stay at the threshold of the Vietnam-like war. There are about 100 dictatorships in the world. Should we bomb all these countries?
Andre Feldstein, USA

No it was not a mistake and for one reason. If it weren't for American resolve and prodding Europeans would fall back into barbarism, which after all is the natural state of affairs on your continent. How many Europeans have died at the hands of Europeans just this century?
Sill Eboy, USA

No mistakes here... I suggest to all that oppose Nato's actions to step outside the secure worlds they live in and insert themselves into the shoes of the Kosovar Albanians. A people who have lost not only their homes but also their dignity and self worth. All of which are arguably worse than death itself. Living under a dictatorship without freedoms is nothing short of a living death. And for those who are expatriates from Serbia or Yugoslavia living in democratic safety, ask yourselves why you left these wonderful countries in the first place. It is one thing to remember your heritage it is another to let it blind you from the truth. The truth shall set you free.
Shawn Ahlers, USA

STOP THE BOMBING! What had my late friend Goran (age 25) to do with Milosevic. He was just a video technician on the night shift at the 3rd floor in the main building of Serbian TV on the night of the Nato attack. The building is destroyed. Goran's body was found this morning (27.04.). The Serbian TV program was restored in just 6 hours after the attack. What had Nato bombing achieved in this case, beside 10 dead and 9 more disappeared?
Nikola Laketic, Yugoslavia

Nato should have first got authorisation from the UN. Everything that the UN have strived for for the last 50 years has been destroyed.
Richard Mayled, UK

There are many reasons as to why Nato intervention was a grave mistake. Numerous International laws were broken by Nato for which it will have to answer to one day. It has worsened the humanitarian disaster. It has destroyed the infrastructure of a sovereign nation while that nations military has only been scratched. I fear that this intervention (Led by the USA) will destabilise Europe economically and militarily. This intervention will only create a power shift from the Serbs to the Kosovar Albanians, but the Balkan vendetas will continue. This intervention had started long before the bombing ever began. How else could one explain the arms flowing in to the KLA while there was an arms embargo against Yugoslavia. It appears to me that the only winner in this intervention will be the USA as it will undoubtedly be selling and restocking the EU's spent arsenal.
Alex Zlatanovic, Canada

No, this action by Nato was not a mistake. The only mistake was that Nato hadn't acted sooner to stop this inhumane cleansing of an innocent people. The sooner the world is rid of Milosevic on the political front, the better. No one likes a dictator.
Ben Wassell, England

Yes. It was very much a mistake. It is just another example of misplaced pride in delusion. What right does any nation have to bomb another, that too on the pretext of safeguarding human rights?
Bharat, India

Perhaps the people who seem to so abhor the military action trying to stop the genocide would like to go to Serbia and change places with the Kosovars in the concentration camps, rape camps, slave mines and refugee columns? They clearly support the above.
John Edwards, England

The Alliance action in Yugoslavia was late but necessary. We should continue to destroy the military machine entirely. You can only afford to be a pacifist if you are on the safe side of the gun. Where on earth would Europe be now if Hitler had won, the thought is sobering. Where would Kosovo be if Milosevic was not stopped now. All power to Nato, continue and finish the job.
Chris Hunt, UK

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27 Apr 99 | Europe
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