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Kosovo independence: Dilemmas on the NATO’s aggression in 1999

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Recent election of Hashim Tachi – a former military leader of the Kosovo Liberation Army (1998−1999), as a President of the Republic of Kosovo by Kosovo’s Parliament opened again a question of the NATO’s military intervention against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (the FRY) in March−June 1999 as a foundation for Kosovo’s secession from Serbia and its unilateral proclamation of a quasi-independence in February 2008.

Kosovo became the first and only European state up today that is ruled by the terroristic warlords as a party’s possession – the (Albanian) Kosovo Liberation Army (the KLA). The aim of this article is to investigate the nature of the NATO’s war on Yugoslavia in 1999 which has as a final outcome the creation of the first terroristic state in Europe – Republic of Kosovo.

Terrorism and Kosovo independence

The KLA terrorists with a support by the US’ and the EU’s administrations launched a full scale of violence in December 1998 for the only purpose to provoke the NATO’s military intervention against the FRY as a precondition for Kosovo secession from Serbia hopefully followed by internationally recognized independence. In order to finally resolve the “Kosovo Question” in the favor of the Albanians, the US’ Clinton administration brought two confronting sides to formally negotiate in the French castle of Rambouillet in France in February 1999 but in fact to impose an ultimatum to Serbia to accept de facto secession of Kosovo. Regardless to the fact that the Rambouillet ultimatum de iure recognized Serbia’s territorial integrity, the disarmament of terroristic KLA and did not mention Kosovo independence from Serbia, as the conditions of the final agreement were in essence highly favorable to the KLA and its secessionist project towards the independent Kosovo, Serbia simply rejected them. The US’s answer was a military action led by the NATO as a “humanitarian intervention” in order to directly support the Kosovo Albanian separatism. Therefore, on March 24th, 1999 the NATO started its military operation against the FRY which lasted till June 10th 1999. Why the UN’s Security Council was not asked for the approval of the operation is clear from the following explanation:

Knowing that Russia would veto any effort to get UN backing for military action, NATO launched air strikes against Serbian forces in 1999, effectually supporting the Kosovar Albanian rebels”.[1]  

The crucial feature of this operation was a barbarian, coercive, inhuman, illegal, and above all merciless bombing of Serbia for almost three months. Nevertheless, that the NATO’s military intervention against the FRY – Operation Allied Force, was propagated by its proponents as a pure humanitarian operation, it is recognized by many Western and other scholars that the US and its client states of the NATO had mainly political and geostrategic aims that led them to this military action.

The legitimacy of the intervention of the brutal coercive bombing of both military and civilian targets in Kosovo province and the rest of Serbia became immediately controversial as the UN’s Security Council did not authorize the action. Surely, the action was illegal according to the international law but it was formally justified by the US’ administration and the NATO’s spokesman as a legitimate for the reason that it was unavoidable as all diplomatic options were exhausted to stop the war. However, a continuation of the military conflict in Kosovo between the KLA and Serbia’s state security forces would threaten to produce a humanitarian catastrophe and generate political instability of the region of the Balkans. Therefore, “in the context of fears about the ‘ethnic cleansing’ of the Albanian population, a campaign of air strikes, conducted by US-led NATO forces”[2] was executed with a final result of withdrawal of Serbia’s forces and administration from the province: that was exactly the main requirement of the Rambouillet ultimatum.

It is of the crucial importance to stress at least five facts in order to properly understand the nature and aims of the NATO’s military intervention against Serbia and Montenegro in 1999:

  • It was bombed only the Serbian side involved in the conflict in Kosovo while the KLA was allowed and even fully sponsored to continue its terroristic activities either against Serbia’s security forces or the Serbian civilians.
  • The ethnic cleansing of the Albanians by the Serbian security forces was only a potential action (in fact, only in the case of direct NATO’s military action against the FRY) but not a real fact as a reason for the NATO to start coercive bombing of the FRY.                                    
  • The NATO’s claim that the Serbian security forces killed up to 100.000 Albanian civilians during the Kosovo War of 1998−1999 was a pure propaganda lie as after the war it was found only 3.000 bodies of all nationalities in Kosovo.
  • The bombing of the FRY was promoted as the “humanitarian intervention”, what means as legitimate and defensible action, that scholarly should mean “…military intervention that is carried out in pursuit of humanitarian rather than strategic objectives”.[3] However, today it is quite clear that the intervention had political and geostrategic ultimate objectives but not the humanitarian one.
  • The NATO’s military intervention in 1999 was a direct violation of the UN principles of international conduct as it is said in the UN Charter that: “All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations”.[4]

What happened in Kosovo when the NATO started its military campaign was quite expectable and above all wishful by the US’ administration and the KLA’s leaders: Serbia made much stronger military assault on the KLA and the ethnic Albanians who supported it. As a consequence, there was significantly increased number of the refugees – up to 800.000 according to the CIA’s and the UN’s sources. However, the US’s administration presented all of these refugees as the victims of the Serb-led policy of systematic and well-organized ethnic cleansing (alleged “Horse Shoe” operation) regardless on the facts that:

  • Overwhelming majority of them were not the real refugees but rather “TV refugees” for the Western mass media.
  • Minority of them were simply escaping from the consequences of the NATO’s merciless bombing.
  • Just part of the refugees has been the real victims of the Serbian “bloody revenge” policy for the NATO’s destruction of Serbia.

Nevertheless, the final result of the NATO’s sortie campaign against the FRY was that the UN’s Security Council formally authorized the NATO’s (under the official name of KFOR)[5] ground troops to occupy Kosovo and give to the KLA free hands to continue and finish with the ethnic cleansing of the province from all non-Albanians. That was the beginning of the making of the Kosovo independence which was finally proclaimed by the Kosovo Parliament (without national referenda) in February 2008 and immediately recognized by the main Western countries.[6] At such a way, Kosovo became the first legalized European mafia state.[7] Nevertheless, in addition, the EU’s and the US’s policies to rebuild peace on the territory of ex-Yugoslavia did not manage to deal successfully with probably the main and most serious challenge to their proclaimed task to re-establish the regional stability and security: al-Qaeda linked terrorism, especially in Bosnia-Herzegovina but also in Kosovo-Metochia.[8]      

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Members of the U.S.’s sponsored Kosovo Liberation Army in 1999 during the NATO’s aggression on the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia

Dilemmas

According to the NATO’s sources, there were two objectives of the alliance’s military intervention against the FRY in March−June 1999:

  • To force Slobodan Miloshevic, a President of Serbia, to accept a political plan for the autonomy status of Kosovo (designed by the US administration).
  • To prevent (alleged) ethnic cleansing of the Albanians by Serbia’s authorities and their armed forces.

However, while the political objective was in principle achieved, the humanitarian one was with quite opposite results. By bombing the FRY in the three air strikes phases the NATO succeeded to force Miloshevic to sign political-military capitulation in Kumanovo on June 9th, 1999, to handle Kosovo to the NATO’s administration and practically to authorize the KLA’s-led Islamic terror against the Christian Serbs.[9] A direct outcome of the operation was surely negative as the NATO’s sorties caused approximately 3000 killed Serbian military and civilians in addition to unknown number of killed ethnic Albanians. An indirect impact of the operation cost a number of the ethnic Albanian killed civilians followed by massive refugee flows of Kosovo Albanians[10] as it provoked the Serbian police and the Yugoslav army to attack. We can not forget that a greatest scale of war crimes against the Albanian civilians in Kosovo during the NATO’s bombing of the FRY was most probably, according to some research investigations, committed by the Krayina refugee Serbs from Croatia who were after August 1995 in the uniforms of the regular police forces of Serbia as a matter of revenge for the terrible Albanian atrocities committed in the Krayina region in Croatia only several years ago against the Serb civilians[11] when many of Kosovo Albanians fought the Serbs in the Croatian uniforms.    

The fundamental dilemma is why the NATO directly supported the KLA – an organization that was previously clearly called as a “terrorist” by many Western Governments including and the US’s one? It was known that a KLA’s warfare of partisan strategy[12] was based only on direct provoking of the Serbia’s security forces to respond by attacking the KLA’s posts with unavoidable number of civilian casualties. However, these Albanian civilian victims were not understood by the NATO’s authorities as a “collateral damage” but rather as the victims of deliberate ethnic cleansing. Nevertheless, all civilian victims of the NATO’s bombing in 1999 were presented by the NATO’s authorities exactly as a “collateral damage” of the NATO’s “just war”[13] against the oppressive regime in Belgrade.

Here we will present the basic (academic) principles of a “just war”:

  • Last resort – All diplomatic options are exhausted before the force is used.
  • Just cause – The ultimate purpose of use of force is to self-defend its own territory or people from military attack by the others.
  • Legitimate authority – To imply the legitimate constituted Government of a sovereign state, but not by some private (individual) or group (organization).
  • Right intention – The use of force, or war, had to be prosecuted on the morally acceptable reasons, but not based on revenge or the intention to inflict the damage.
  • Reasonable prospect of success – The use of force should not be activated in some hopeless cause, in which the human lives are exposed for no real benefits.
  • Proportionality – The military intervention has to have more benefits than loses.
  • Discrimination – The use of force must be directed only at the purely military targets as the civilians are considered to be innocent.
  • Proportionality – The used force has to be no greater than it is needed to achieve morally acceptable aims and must not be greater than the provoking cause.
  • Humanity – The use of force cannot be directed ever against the enemy personnel if they are captured (the prisoners of war) or wounded.[14]      

If we analyze the NATO’s military campaign in regard to just above presented basic (academic) principles of the “just war”, the fundamental conclusions will be as following:

  • The US’s administration in 1999 did not use any real diplomatic effort to settle the Kosovo crisis as Washington simply gave the political-military ultimatum in Rambouillet only to one side (Serbia) to either accept or not in full required blackmails: 1) To withdraw all Serbian military and police forces from Kosovo; 2) To give Kosovo administration to the NATO’s troops; and 3) To allow the NATO’s troops to use a whole territory of Serbia for the transit purpose. In the other words, the basic point of the US’s ultimatum to Belgrade was that Serbia will voluntarily become a US’s colony but without Kosovo province. Even the US’s President at that time – Bill Clinton, confirmed that Miloshevic’s rejection of the Rambouillet ultimatum was understandable and logical. It can be said that Serbia in 1999 did the same as the Kingdom of Serbia did in July 1914 by rejecting the Austro-Hungarian ultimatum which was also absurd and abusive.[15]    
  • This principle was absolutely misused by the NATO’s administration as no one NATO’s country was attacked or occupied by the FRY. In Kosovo at that time it was a classic anti-terroristic war launched by the state authorities against the illegal separatist movement but fully sponsored in this case by the neighboring Albania and the NATO.[16] In the other words, this second principle of the “just war” can be only applied to the anti-terroristic operations by the state authorities of Serbia in Kosovo province against the KLA rather than to the NATO’s military intervention against the FRY.
  • The Legitimate authority principle in the Kosovo conflict case of 1998−1999 can be applied only to Serbia and her legitimate state institutions and authority which were recognized as legitimate by the international community and above all by the UN.
  • The morally acceptable reasons officially used by the NATO’s authorities to justify its own military action against the FRY in 1999 were quite unclear and above all unproved and misused for the very political and geostrategic purposes in the coming future. Today we know that the NATO’s military campaign was not based on the morally proved claims to stop a mass expulsion of the ethnic Albanians from their homes in Kosovo as a mass number of displaced persons appeared during the NATO’s military intervention but not before.
  • The consequences of the fifth principle were selectively applied as only Kosovo Albanians benefited from both short and long term perspectives by the NATO’s military engagement in the Balkans in 1999.
  • The sixth principle also became practically applied only to Kosovo Albanians what was in fact and the ultimate task of the US’ and the NATO’s administrations. In the other words, the benefits of the action were overwhelmingly single-sided. However, from the long-term geostrategic and political aspects the action was very profitable with a minimum loses for the Western military alliance during the campaign.
  • The practical consequences of the seventh principle became mostly criticized as the NATO obviously did not make any difference between the military and civilian targets. Moreover, the NATO’s alliance deliberately bombed much more civilian objects and non-combat citizens than the military objects and personnel. However, all civilian victims of the bombing of all nationalities became simply presented by the NATO’s authority as an unavoidable “collateral damage”, but it fact it was a clear violation of the international law and one of the basic principles of the concept of a “just war”.
  • The eighth principle of a “just was” surely was not respected by the NATO as the used force was much higher as needed to achieve proclaimed tasks and above all was much stronger that the opposite side had. However, the morally acceptable aims of the western policymakers were based on the wrong and deliberately misused “facts” in regard to the ethnic Albanian victims of the Kosovo War in 1998−1999 as it was primarily with the “brutal massacre of forty-five civilians in the Kosovo village of Račak in January 1999”[17] which became a formal pretext for the NATO’s intervention. Nevertheless, it is known today that those Albanian “brutally massacred civilians” were in fact the members of the KLA killed during the regular fight but not executed by the Serbian security forces.[18]
  • Only the last principle of a “just war” was respected by the NATO for the very reason that there were no captured soldiers from the opponent side. The Serbian authorities also respected this principle as all two NATO’s captured pilots were treated as the prisoners of war according to the international standards and even were free very soon after the imprisonment.[19]

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Crucified Christian (Serb Orthodox) Kosovo after the war by the KLA’s members in power

Conclusions      

The crucial conclusions of the article after the investigation of the nature of NATO’s “humanitarian” military intervention in Kosovo in 1999 are:

  • The NATO’s military intervention against the FRY during the Kosovo War in 1998−1999 was done primarily for the political and geostrategic purposes.
  • A declarative “humanitarian” nature of the operation just served as a formal moral framework of the realization of the genuine goals of the post-Cold War US’s policy at the Balkans which foundations were laid down by the Dayton Accords in November 1995.
  • The US’s administration of Bill Clinton used the terrorist KLA for pressing and blackmailing the Serbian Government to accept the ultimatum by Washington to transform Serbia into the US’s military, political and economic colony with a NATO’s membership in the future for the exchange of formal preservation of Serbia’s territorial integrity.
  • The Western Governments originally labeled the KLA as a “terrorist organization” – that is combat strategy of direct provoking Serbia’s security forces was morally unacceptable and would not result in either diplomatic or military support.
  • During the Kosovo War in 1998−1999 the KLA basically served as the NATO’s ground forces in Kosovo for direct destabilization of Serbia’s state security which were militarily defeated at the very beginning of 1999 by Serbia’s regular police forces.  
  • The NATO’s sorties in 1999 have as the main goal to force Belgrade to give Kosovo province to the US’s and EU’s administration in order to transform it into the biggest US’s and NATO’s military base in Europe.
  • The NATO’s “humanitarian” intervention in 1999 against the FRY violated almost all principles of the “just war” and the international law – an intervention which became one of the best examples in the post-Cold War history of unjust use of coercive power for the political and geostrategic purposes and at the same time a classic case of coercive diplomacy that fully engaged the Western Governments.
  • Some 50.000 NATO’s troops displaced in Kosovo after June 10th, 1999 did not fulfilled the basic tasks of their mission: 1) Demilitarization of the KLA as this paramilitary formation was never properly disarmed; 2) Protection of all Kosovo inhabitants as only up to January 2001 there were at least 700 Kosovo citizens murdered on the ethnic basis (mostly of them were the Serbs); 3) Stability and security of the province as most of the Serbs and other non-Albanians fled the province as a consequence of systematic ethnic cleansing policy committed by the KLA in power after June 1999.
  • The US’s reward for the KLA’s loyalty was to install the army’s members to the key governmental posts of today “independent” Republic of Kosovo which became the first European state administered by the leaders of ex-terrorist organization who started immediately after the war to execute a policy of ethnic cleansing of all non-Albanian population and to Islamize the province.
  • The ultimate national-political goal of the KLA in power in Kosovo is to include this province into the Greater Albania projected by the First Albanian Prizren League in 1878−1881 and for the first time realized during the WWII.[20]
  • Probably, the main consequence of the NATO’s occupation of Kosovo after June 1999 up today is a systematic destruction of the Christian (Serb) cultural inheritance and feature of the province followed by its obvious and comprehensive Islamization and therefore transformation of Kosovo into a new Islamic State.    
  • What concerns the case of the Kosovo crisis in 1998−1999, the first and authentic “humanitarian” intervention was that of Serbia’s security forces against the terroristic KLA in order to preserve the human lives of the ethnic Serbs and anti-KLA Albanians in the province.
  • The Balkan Stability Pact for both Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo-Metochia attempted to under-emphasize traditional concept of sovereignty giving a full practical possibility to the UN’s (in fact the West’s) administrative control over these two ex-Yugoslav territories.[21]    
  • The NATO’s “humanitarian” intervention in 1999 against the FRY clearly violated the recognized international standards of non-intervention, based on the principle of the “inviolability of borders” going beyond the idea of “just war” according to which the self-defense is the crucial reason, or at least formal justification, for the use of force.
  • While the NATO declaratively fulfilled “the international responsibility to protect” (the ethnic Albanians) by heavily bombing Serbia and too much little extent Montenegro, bypassing the UN’s Security Council it is clear that this 78-days terror effort was counterproductive as “creating as much human suffer-refugees as it relieved”.[22]                      
  • The fundamental question in regard to the Kosovo “humanitarian” interventions today is why the Western Governments are not taking another “humanitarian” coercive military intervention after June 1999 in order to prevent further ethnic cleansing and brutal violation of human rights against all non-Albanian population in Kosovo but above all against the Serbs?
  • Finally, the NATO’s military intervention was seen by many social constructivists as a phenomenon of “warlike democracies” as a demonstration how the ideas of liberal democracy “undermine the logic of democratic peace theory”.[23]

 

References

[1]S. L. Spiegel, J. M. Taw, F. L. Wehling, K. P. Williams, World Politics in a New Era, Thomson Wadsworth, 2004, 319.
  [2]A. Heywood, Global Politics, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011, 320.
 [3] Ibid., 319.
  [4]J. Haynes, P. Hough, Sh. Malik, L. Pettiford, World Politics, Harlow: Pearson Education Limited, 2011, 639.
  [5]The 1244 UN Security Council Resolution on June 10th, 1999. The KFOR’s basic responsibilities were:
1)    To protect aid operations.
2)    To protect all Kosovo population.
3)    To create a stable security in the province in order that the international administration can function normally.   
  [6]This recognition of the self-proclaimed Kosovo independence from a democratic country of Serbia with a pro-Western regime, basically gave victory to the Albanian Kosovo radicals of the ethnic cleansing after June 1999. The Albanians from Kosovo started their atrocities against the Serbs immediately after the Kumanovo Agreement in June 1999 when the KLA returned back to Kosovo together with the NATO’s occupation ground troops. Up to February 2008 there were around 200.000 expelled Serbs from Kosovo and 1.248 non-Albanians who have been killed in some cases even very brutally. The number of kidnapped non-Albanians is still not known but presumably majority of them were killed. There were 151 Serb Orthodox spiritual and cultural monuments in Kosovo destroyed by the Albanians in addition to 213 mosques built with financial support from Saudi Arabia. Before Kosovo independence was proclaimed, there were 80 percent of graveyards which were either completely destroyed or partially desecrated by the Albanians. On Kosovo right to independence, see [M. Sterio, The Right to Self-Determination under International Law: “Selfistans”, Secession, and the Rule of the Great Powers, New York−London: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 2013, 116−129]. On secession from the point of the international law, see [M. G. Kohen, Secession: International Law Perspectives, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006].
  [7]T. Burghardt, “Kosovo: Europe’s Mafia State. Hub of the EU-NATO Drug Trail”, 22-12-2010, http://www.globalresearch.ca/kosovo-europe-s-mafia-state-hub-of-the-eu-nato-drug-trail/22486.
 [8] J. Haynes, P. Hough, Sh. Malik, L. Pettiford, World Politics, Harlow: Pearson Education Limited, 2011, 588.
  [9]On the “just peace”, see [P. Allan, A. Keller (eds.), What is a Just Peace?, Oxford−New York: Oxford University Press, 2006].
  [10]According to the official Western sources, even up to 90 percent of the Kosovo Albanian population became refugees during the NATO’s military intervention. Therefore, it should be the largest displacement of the civilians in Europe after the WWII. Nevertheless, all of these Albanian refugees are unquestionably considered to be “expelled” from their homes by Serbia’s security forces and the Yugoslav army.
  [11]For example, in the “Medak Pocket” operation on September 9th, 1993 there were killed around 80 Serbian civilians by the Croatian forces [В. Ђ. Мишина (уредник), Република Српска Крајина: Десет година послије, Београд: Добра воља Београд, 2005, 35] in which Kosovo Albanians served too.
  [12]The “partisan” or “guerrilla” war is fought by irregular troops using mainly tactics that are fitting to the geographical features of the terrain. The crucial characteristic of the tactics of the partisan war is that it uses mobility and surprise but not direct frontal battles with the enemy. Usually, the civilians are paying the highest price in the course of the partisan war. In the other words, it is “war conducted by irregulars or guerrillas, usually against regular, uniformed forces, employing hit-and-run, ambush, and other tactics that allow smaller numbers of guerrillas to win battles against numerically superior, often heavily-armed regular forces” [P. R. Viotti, M. V. Kauppi, International Relations and World Politics: Secularity, Economy, Identity, Harlow: Pearson Education Limited, 2009, 544]. With regard to the Kosovo War in 1998−1999 the reconstruction of the Albanian guerrilla strategy is as following:
“…a police patrol is passing a village, when a sudden fire is open and some policemen killed and wounded. The police return the fire and the further development depends on the strength of the rebellious unit engaged. If the village appears well protected and risky to attack by the ordinary units, the latter stops fighting and calls for additional support. It arrives usually as a paramilitary unit, which launches a fierce onslaught” [P. V. Grujić, Kosovo Knot, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: RoseDog Books, 2014, 193].      
  [13]The “just war” is considered to be a war that has a purpose to satisfy certain ethical standards, and therefore is (allegedly) morally justified.  
  [14]A. Heywood, Global Politics, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011, 257.
  [15]М. Радојевић, Љ. Димић, Србија у Великом рату 1914−1915, Београд: Српска књижевна задруга−Београдски форум за свет равноправних, 2014, 94−95.
  [16]For instance, Albania supplied the Albanian Kosovo separatists by weapons in 1997 when around 700.000 guns were “stolen” by the Albanian mob from Albania’s army’s magazines but majority of these weapons found their way exactly to the neighboring Kosovo. The members of the KLA were trained in Albania with the help of the NATO’s military instructors and then sent to Kosovo.    
  [17]R. J. Art, K. N. Waltz (eds.), The Use of Force: Military Power and International Politics, Lanham−Boulder−New York−Toronto−Oxford: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2004, 257.
  [18]В. Б. Сотировић, Огледи из југославологије, Виљнус: приватно издање, 2013, 19−29.
  [19]On the NATO’s “humanitarian” intervention in the FRY in 1999, see more in [G. Szamuely, Bombs for Peace: NATO’s Humanitarian War on Yugoslavia, Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2013].
  [20]A Greater Albania as a project is “envisaged to be an area of some 90.000 square kilometres (36.000 square miles), including Kosovo, Greece, Macedonia, Serbia and Montenegro” [J. Haynes, P. Hough, Sh. Malik, L. Pettiford, World Politics, Harlow: Pearson Education Limited, 2011, 588].
 [21] R. Johnson, “Reconstructing the Balkans: The effects of a global governance approach”, M. Lederer, P. Müller (eds.), Criticizing Global Governance, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005, 177.
  [22]A. F. Cooper, J. Heine, R. Thakur (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Modern Diplomacy, Oxford−New York: Oxford University Press, 2015, 766.
  [23]J. Haynes, P. Hough, Sh. Malik, L. Pettiford, World Politics, Harlow: Pearson Education Limited, 2011, 225.

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Election Monitoring in 2018: What Not to Expect

Alina Toporas

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This year’s election calendar released by OSCE showcases a broad display of future presidential, parliamentary and general elections with hefty political subjecthoods which have the potential of transforming in their entirety particularly the European Union, the African Union and the Latin American sub-continent. A wide sample of these countries welcoming elections are currently facing a breadth of challenges in terms of the level of transparency in their election processes. To this end, election observation campaigns conducted by the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), the Council of Europe, the Organisation for American States (OAS), the United Nations Electoral Assistance Division, the National Democratic Institute, Carter Center and even youth organisations such as AEGEE and Silba are of paramount importance in safeguarding the incorruptibility of election proceedings in fraudulent and what cannot be seen with the naked eye type of fraudulent political systems, making sure elections unfold abiding national legislation and international standards.

What exactly does an election observation mission supposed to accomplish?   

An election monitoring mission consists of operational experts and analysts who are all part of a core team and are conducting their assignments for a period of time varying between 8 and 12 weeks. Aside from the core team experts and analysts, there can be short-term or long-term observers and seconded observers or funded observers. Joining them, there is usually a massive local support staff acting as interpreters and intermediaries. Generally, an election observer does not interfere with the process, but merely takes informative notes. With this in mind, it is imperative of the observer to make sure there isn’t any meddling with votes at polling stations by parties and individual candidates; that the people facilitating the election process are picked according to fair and rigorous benchmarks; that these same people can be held accountable for the final results and that, at the end of the day, the election system put in place by the national and local authorities is solid from both a physical and logical standpoint. Oftentimes, particularly in emerging democracies, the election monitoring process goes beyond the actual process of voting by extending to campaign monitoring.

In practical terms, the average election observer needs to abide by certain guidelines for a smooth and standardised monitoring process. Of course, these rules can vary slightly, depending on the sending institution. Typically, once the election observer has landed in the country awaiting elections, their first two days are normally filled with seminars on the electoral system of the country and on the electoral law. Meetings with candidates from the opposition are sometimes organised by the electoral commission. Talking to ordinary voters from builders to cleaners, from artists to businesspeople is another way through which an election observer can get a sense of what social classes pledged their allegiances to what candidates. After two days in training and the one day testing political preferences on the ground, election day begins. Since the early bird gets the worm, polling stations open at least two hours earlier than the work day starts, at around 7am. Throughout the day, observers ask voters whether they feel they need to complain about anything and whether they were asked to identify themselves when voting. Other details such as the polling stations opening on time are very much within the scope of investigation for election monitors. Observers visit both urban voting centres and rural ones. In the afternoon, counting begins with observers carefully watching the volunteers from at least 3 metres away. At the end of the day, observers go back to their hotels and begin filling in their initial questionnaires with their immediate reactions on the whole voting process. In a few weeks time, a detailed report would be issued in cooperation with all the other election observers deployed in various regions of the country and under the supervision of the mission coordinators.   

Why are these upcoming elections particularly challenging to monitor?  

Talks of potential Russian interference into the U.S. elections have led to full-on FBI investigations. Moreover, the idea of Russian interference in the Brexit vote is slowly creeping into the British political discourse. Therefore, it does not take a quantum physicist to see a pattern here. Hacking the voting mechanism is yet another not-so-classic conundrum election observers are facing. We’re in the midst of election hacking at the cognitive level in the form of influence operations, doxing and propaganda. But, even more disturbingly, we’re helpless witnesses to interference at the technical level as well. Removing opposition’s website from the Internet through DDOS attacks to downright political web-hacking in Ukraine’s Central Election Commission to show as winner a far-right candidate are only some of the ways which present an unprecedented political savviness and sophistication directed at the tampering of the election machinery. Even in a country such as the U.S. (or Sweden – their elections being held September of this year) where there is a great deal of control over the physical vote, there is not much election monitoring can do to enhance the transparency of it all when interference occurs by way of the cyber domain affecting palpable election-related infrastructure.

Sketching ideational terrains seems like a fruitful exercise in imagining worst-case scenarios which call for the design of a comprehensive pre-emptive approach for election fraud. But how do you prevent election fraud? Sometimes, the election observer needs to come to terms with the fact that they are merely a reporter, a pawn which notwithstanding the action of finding oneself in the middle of it all, can generally use only its hindsight perspective. Sometimes, that perspective is good enough when employed to draft comprehensive electoral reports, making a difference between the blurry lines of legitimate and illegitimate political and electoral systems.

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Can Europe successfully rein in Big Tobacco?

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Photo by Mateo Avila Chinchilla on Unsplash

In what looks set to become the ‘dieselgate’ of the tobacco industry, a French anti-smoking organization has filed a lawsuit against four major tobacco brands for knowingly selling cigarettes with tar and nicotine levels that were between 2 and 10 times higher than what was indicated on the packs. Because the firms had manipulated the testing process, smokers who thought they were smoking a pack a day were in fact lighting up the equivalent of up to 10, significantly raising their risk for lung cancer and other diseases.

According to the National Committee Against Smoking (CNCT), cigarettes sold by the four companies have small holes in the filter that ventilate smoke inhaled under test conditions. But when smoked by a person, the holes compress due to pressure from the lips and fingers, causing the smoker to inhale higher levels of tar and nicotine. According to the lawsuit, the irregularity “tricks smokers because they are unaware of the degree of risk they are taking.”

It was only the most recent example of what appears to be a deeply entrenched propensity for malfeasance in the tobacco industry. And unfortunately, regulatory authorities across Europe still appear unprepared to just say no to big tobacco.

Earlier this month, for instance, Public Health England published a report which shines a positive light on “tobacco heating products” and indicates that electronic cigarettes pose minimal health risks. Unsurprisingly, the UK report has been welcomed by big tobacco, with British American Tobacco praising the clear-sightedness of Public Health England.

Meanwhile, on an EU-wide level, lawmakers are cooperating too closely for comfort with tobacco industry executives in their efforts to craft new cigarette tracking rules for the bloc.

The new rules are part of a campaign to clamp down on tobacco smuggling, a problem that is particularly insidious in Europe and is often attributed to the tobacco industry’s own efforts to stiff the taxman. According to the WHO, the illicit cigarette market makes up between 6-10% of the total market, and Europe ranks first worldwide in terms of the number of seized cigarettes. According to studies, tobacco smuggling is also estimated to cost national and EU budgets more than €10 billion each year in lost public revenue and is a significant source of cash for organized crime. Not surprisingly, cheap availability of illegally traded cigarettes is also a major cause of persistently high smoking rates in the bloc.

To help curtail cigarette smuggling and set best practices in the fight against the tobacco epidemic, the WHO established the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) in 2005. The first protocol to the FCTC, the Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products, was adopted in 2012 and later ratified by the EU. Among other criteria, the Protocol requires all cigarette packs to be marked with unique identifiers to ensure they can be tracked and traced, thereby making smuggling more difficult.

Unsurprisingly, the tobacco industry has come up with its own candidates to meet track and trace requirements, notably Codentify, a system developed by PMI. From 2005 through 2016, PMI used Codentify as part of an anti-smuggling agreement with the EU. But the agreement was subject to withering criticism from the WHO and other stakeholders for going against the Protocol, which requires the EU and other parties to exclude the tobacco industry from participating in anti-smuggling efforts.

The EU-PMI agreement expired in 2016 and any hopes of reviving it collapsed after the European Parliament, at loggerheads with the Commission, overwhelmingly voted against a new deal and decided to ratify the WHO’s Protocol instead. Codentify has since been sold to the French firm Impala and was rebranded as Inexto – which critics say is nothing but a front company for PMI since its leadership is made out of former PMI executives. Nonetheless, due to lack of stringency in the EU’s draft track and trace proposal, there is still a chance that Inexto may play a role in any new track and trace system, sidelining efforts to set up a system that is completely independent of the tobacco industry.

This could end up by seriously derailing the EU’s efforts to curb tobacco smuggling, given the industry’s history of active involvement in covertly propping up the black market for cigarettes. In 2004, PMI paid $1.25 billion to the EU to settle claims that it was complicit in tobacco smuggling. As part of the settlement, PMI agreed to issue an annual report about tobacco smuggling in the EU, a report that independent researchers found “served the interests of PMI over those of the EU and its member states.”

Given the industry’s sordid history of efforts to prop up the illicit tobacco trade, it’s little surprise that critics are still dissatisfied with the current version of the EU’s track and trace proposal.

Now, the CNCT’s lawsuit against four major tobacco firms gives all the more reason to take a harder line against the industry. After all, if big tobacco can’t even be honest with authorities about the real levels of chemicals in their own products, what makes lawmakers think that they can play a viable role in any effort to quell the illegal cigarette trade – one that directly benefits the industry?

Later this month, the European Parliament will have a new chance to show they’re ready to get tough on tobacco, when they vote on the pending proposal for an EU-wide track and trace system. French MEP Younous Omarjee has already filed a motion against the system due to its incompatibility with the letter of the WHO. Perhaps a ‘dieselgate’ for the tobacco industry might be just the catalyst they need to finally say no to PMI and its co-conspirators.

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Bureaucrats’ Crusade: The European Commission’s Strategy for the Western Balkans

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The European Commission set a target date of 2025 for some of the Balkan countries to join. However, Brussels sees only Serbia and Montenegro as actual candidates. The door formally remains open to Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo and Macedonia, but these countries have been put into a grey zone with no time frames and road maps. They have been put on hold with no tangible prospects for membership, left without any explanation of what makes them less valid candidates than Serbia and Montenegro, with these two being as poor, illiberal and undemocratic as the remaining four.

With a dose of instant cynicism, one might conclude that Serbia and Montenegro have been rewarded for their military aggressions on Bosnia and Kosovo, and Serbia’s permanent pressures on Macedonia, whereas the latter ones have been punished for being the former’s victims. However, a more careful look at the population structure of the four non-rewarded countries reveals that these, unlike Serbia and Montenegro, have a relative excess of Muslim population. So far, there have been dilemmas whether the European Union is to be regarded as an exclusive Christian club, bearing in mind the prolonged discriminatory treatment of Turkey as an unwanted candidate. After the European Commission’s new strategy for the Balkans, there can be no such dilemmas: the countries perceived by Brussels bureaucrats as Muslim ones – regardless of the actual percentage of their Muslim population – are not to be treated as European.

The resurrection of this logic, now embodied in the actual strategy, takes Europe back to its pre-Westphalian roots, to the faraway times of the Crusades or the times of the Siege of Vienna. It also signals the ultimate triumph of the most reactionary populist ideologies in the contemporary Europe, based on exclusion of all who are perceived as „others“. It signals the ultimate triumph of the European ineradicable xenophobia. Or – to put it in terms more familiar to the likely author of the strategy, the European Commissioner for European Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, Johannes Hahn – the triumph of Ausländerfeindlichkeit.

Now, what options are left to the practically excluded Balkan countries, after so many efforts to present themselves as valid candidates for EU membership? There is a point in claims that some of their oligarchies, particularly the tripartite one in Bosnia-Herzegovina, have never actually wanted to join the EU, because their arbitrary rule would be significantly undermined by the EU’s rule of law. It is logical, then, that the tripartite oligarchy welcomes the strategy that keeps the country away from the EU membership, while at the same time deceiving the population that the strategy is a certain path to the EU. Yet, what about these people, separated into three ethnic quarantines, who believe that joining the EU would simply solve all their political and economic problems, and who refuse to accept the idea that the EU might be an exclusive club, not open to them? What are the remaining options for them?

They cannot launch a comprehensive revolution and completely replace the tripartite oligarchy by their democratic representatives. Still, they can press it to adopt and conduct a multi-optional foreign policy, oriented towards several geopolitical centers: one of them may remain Brussels, but  Washington, Moscow, Beijing, Ankara, Tehran, and others, should also be taken into account. For, a no-alternative policy, as the one which only repeats its devotion to the EU integrations without any other geopolitical options, is no policy at all. In this sense, the presented EU strategy has clearly demonstrated the futility of such a no-alternative approach: regardless of how many times you repeat your devotion to the EU values, principles and integrations, the EU bureaucrats can simply tell you that you will never play in the same team with them. However, such an arbitrary but definite rejection logically pushes the country to look for geopolitical alternatives. And it is high time for Bosnia-Herzegovina’s people and intellectual and political elites to understand that Brussels is not the only option on the table, and that there are other geopolitical centers whose interests might be identified as convergent with the interests of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Still, all of them should first demonstrate the ability to identify the interests of Bosnia-Herzegovina, which means that they should first recognize it as a sovereign state with its own interests, rather than someone else’s proxy.

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