intervention in Kosovo and the first Gulf War a legal perspective
The 1999 war in Kosovo and
the 1990 Gulf war are eerily similar yet according to international law they
are completely different. Legally the first gulf war was justified and American
intervention in Kosovo was deemed illegal. What makes war, conflicts, and
interventions legal and illegal.
Kosovo War (March 24, 1999 – June 10, 1999) Until 1989, Kosovo
had an ethnic composition of (90% Albanians and 10% Serbians) with the status
of an autonomous province within the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.
In 1989, Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic removed the autonomy of the
region and placed total control within the Serb minority. The decades long
tensions between the Kosovar Albanians and the Serbs escalated into open hostilities
which led directly to war1. NATO operations
spearheaded by the United States intervened in Kosovo to restore stability in
the region. The Kosovo War, consisting of only air attacks, much like the modern-day
interventions and conflicts Western powers find themselves in to this day.
During the seventy-nine days of aerial bombardment, NATO forces dropped thousands
upon thousands of bombs which demolished houses, industrial plants and roads.
While NATO and international observers estimated that five hundred people were
killed, the Yugoslavian government approximated the civilian loses within the
range of 1,200 to 5,700. The immediate reactions of NATO’s victory in Kosovo
were mixed. Despite the presence of peacekeeping corps, the situation in the
postwar Kosovo was violent and chaotic with Kosovar Serbs seeking refuge due to
Albanian revenge killings. 2
The Gulf War or Operation Desert Storm (17 January
1991 – 28 February 1991) was the combat phase of the overall conflict, waged
by coalition forces from thirty-five different nations spearheaded by
the United States against Iraq in
response to Iraq’s earlier invasion and annexation of Kuwait. Iraq’s brazen invasion of sovereign Kuwait was a
result of Saddam’s exhausting prior war with Iran and need for Kuwait’s oil resources.
The initial conflict to expel Iraqi troops from Kuwait began with an aerial and
naval bombardment on the 17th of January much like the previous US aerial
intervention, this continued for five weeks. Which was followed by the iconic
ground assault on 24th of February. The coalition forces have won a
decisive victory, who liberated Kuwait and advanced into Iraqi controlled
territory. The coalition ceased its advance. Who accomplished the main goal of
liberating Kuwait and did not want to appear as the aggressor in a prolonged
conflict. However, Saddam’s Iraq will continue to be a thorn in the side of the
United States’ interests and allies in the Middle East until the second Gulf
War in 2003. 3
The backdrop to both conflicts are similar. One factor would be the intense
antipathy between the respective leaders in each conflict. The former U.S.
President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Madeline Albright were fed
up with former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. In the Iraqi conflict,
similar patterns are visible between President Bush and Saddam Hussein. Another
important similarity was how international action was delayed in both Kosovo
and Iraq. Regarding Kosovo there was several weeks of ethnic clashes between
KLA forces and Yugoslavian government troops. With Iraq’s occupation of Kuwait
this has lasted seven months. All this bloodshed, and conflict has dominated
western media who were reeling from the fear and paranoia of the cold war. All
the while the gears of diplomacy failed, the public wanted to see an end to
this needless loss of life and stagnation of economic productivity.
The legality of NATO’s bombing campaign of the
Federal Republic of Yugoslavia has been questioned by multiple
parties. The key basis declaring the legality is international law, an
expansive and abstract set of rules. Additionally, this intervention is also
bound by other charters and principles such as the NATO and the UN,
both of which were created in accordance with pre-existing international
regulations. Various pieces of legislation have been cited to prove or disprove
the legitimacy of NATO and American Intervention.
Supporters of the NATO bombing of
Yugoslavia argued that the bombing ended the ethnic cleansing of Albanians
in Kosovo, and that it facilitated the downfall of Slobodan Miloševi?’s Yugoslavian
government, which they saw as being responsible for war crimes, and human
Others see the actions as of murky legality.
Some opponents of the bombing have argued that NATO targeted non-military
buildings, resulting in civilian deaths and injuries.
While NATO did not have the backing of the Security Council to intervene
in Yugoslavia, nor claims an attack occurred against an opposing state, it
argues that its actions were consistent with the UN Charter, claiming that
the UN Charter prohibits unprovoked attacks only by individual states but legally
approves of such actions if carried out by military coalitions of several
states such as NATO. The issue remains whether the member states of NATO, the
U.S. and the European powers, violated the UN Charter by attacking a fellow UN
member state without the Casus Belli of an attack on them and without the
approval UN Security Council.4
NATO described the conditions
in Kosovo as a threat to regional stability. Resulting, NATO and the coalition to
legitimatize its interests in the internal affairs of Kosovo, which would
affect the stability of the whole region.
NATO has justified its intervention in Kosovo under Article 4 of
the NATO protocols, which allows involved parties to consult together whenever
political independence or security of any of the parties is threatened. Because
the NATO actions in Kosovo were taken after consultation of all the active
members. Critics argued that would require a NATO member political independence
or security to be threatened and require the reaction and intervention of all NATO
Regarding the legitimacy of the first Gulf War against Saddam Hussain’s
invasion of Kuwait.
The legal perspective isn’t entirely clear however it is generally considered
legal by the international community. Former President George Bush’s
administration relied on Security Council Resolution 678, which authorized
using “all necessary means” to evict Iraq from Kuwait6.. Arguments against the coalition’s
intervention against Iraq did not fall within the authority given by Resolution
678 and that the Security Council violated the UN’s Charter by giving Member
States too much authority in interpreting the resolution.
On the 29th of November 1990 the
Security Council passed Resolution 678 which gave Iraq until the 15th
of January 1991 to withdraw from Kuwait and empowered states to use “all
necessary means” to force Iraq out of Kuwait after the deadline. The
Resolution requested Member States to keep the Council informed on their
decisions. This was the ultimate legal authorization for the Gulf
War, as Iraq refused to withdraw or comprise7.
legal case regarding the first Gulf War is much more apparent than NATO’s
intervention in Kosovo but one would have to argue is legality and
justification in armed conflict all reliant on UN and NATO charters and the
authorization of the security council? International law is abstract and at
times conflicting, however the aim is too established international consensus
and prevent conflict however conflicts can be justified with the very Charters
who purpose is to prevent conflict.
1 “Comparative Analysis of the Wars in
Kosovo and Iraq.” epsusa.org. epsusa, n.d. Web. 16 Jan. 2018.
Ivo, and Michael O’Hanlon. 2000. Winning Ugly NATO’s War to Save Kosovo.
Washington DC: Brooking Institution Press.
Storm: Ground War by Hans Halberstadt
4 Kaplan, William; Donald Malcolm McRae; Maxwell Cohen (1993). Law, Policy and International
Justice: Essays in Honor of Maxwell Cohen. McGill-Queen’s Pres
5 Boggs, Carl (2001). The End of Politics: Corporate Power and the
Decline of the Public Sphere. Guilford Press
CHARTER art. 2, 4.
7 Murphy, Sean D. (1996). Humanitarian intervention: The
United Nations in an evolving world order. University of Pennsylvania Press