Categories: Archive

NATO’s Military Intervention in Kosovo from the Prism of Morality in International Relations (Part 1)

A Ground for Discussion (Introduction)

The Military intervention in Kosovo by the inter-governmental military alliance NATO is an important chapter in the discourse on the issue of the Third Party Intervention. The decision has been one of the widely debated military interventions in the history of International Relations as it lacks a sound grounding in laws and was the first intervention on “Humanitarian Grounds” and the “Right to Protect” and without an authorization from the United Nations (Falk, 1999). But this two parts article seeks to analyse the collective decision of the then 19-members of NATO to exercise the military option in Kosovo conflict through the prism of Morality in the International Relations.

In the run-up to this decision, the US authorities had used various historical metaphors to describe the situation at hand and to stir the international community including the UN into action on Humanitarian grounds. The four pertinent metaphors employed by the US Government – including by President Bill Clinton and his administration officials in their speeches – to garner support for its decisions have been the Holocaust (the genocide committed by Nazi against the European Jews), Munich (the 1938 Munich Conference, where the western democracies failed to stand up to Hitler and the Balkan Powderkeg[1] (Paris, 2002) and the lessons learnt from the inaction during the Bosnian crisis (Yost, 2007). Ultimately, the NATO used these reasons to push for a military intervention in the Kosovo on Humanitarian grounds.

The moral scrutiny of Humanitarian Intervention is relevant as aims at the maximizing the human beings’ welfare. One school of thoughts calls for restricting the occurrence of war as military force brings with it horrific human sufferings (Walzer, 1977) and second contends that humanitarian intervention is ‘morally desirable’ as it saves innocent people from the clutches of abusive authorities (Beitz, 1979). Both strains of thoughts take the preservation of human life and its quality as ultimate goal.

So the NATO’s claims of Humanitarian Intervention will be scrutinized under the Theories of Statism and Cosmopolitanism explained through the writings of Michael Walzer and Charles Beitz respectively. The two viewpoints are important when the world is debating how sacrosanct is the territorial integrity and political sovereignty of a country and under what circumstances the country forfeits these rights. In his book Just and Unjust wars (1977) Walzer considers a country’s right to territorial integrity and political sovereignty completely inviolable and any aggression tantamount as crime (Doppelt, 1978). Walzer makes a case for disregarding the right to Sovereignty of a country if there are grave human rights violations like “enslavement or massacre” (Walzer, 1977). Beitz’s Cosmopolitanism, in direct challenge to the Statism, makes states subject of the external moral scrutiny on its treatment of its citizens and; makes citizens and not states as the basic unit of international principle of morality (Beitz, 1979).

The moral assessment aims at finding answers to when, why and under what conditions humanitarian intervention has moral sanction and if the NATO’s military intervention in Kosovo fits the bill.

Stage-Setting for NATO’s military intervention in Kosovo

Located in the South Eastern Europe Kosovo contained several elements of classic conflict. The intractable tussle between the Kosovo’s Albanian and Serbian population left it ethnically divided. Also the animosity had an aspect of contested territory, as Kosovo had important historic and religious sites important to Serbian national identity (Mccgwire, 2000)(Posen, 2000). The conflict became more complex with the issues of the human rights violations in Kosovo and the sovereign rights of Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. The culmination into the NATO intervention was also interesting as the military alliance entered the war on the side of Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) that was earlier blacklisted as a terrorist organization by the US.

Kosovo conflict hit headlines in the 1990s and has its genesis as a  fight  for  autonomy  against  the  Yugoslav  government  and  then spiraled  into  an  ethnic  conflict  and  Kosovo’s  quest  for  independence [2]. The US and its allies in Europe were seized of the Kosovo conflict, which has been raging for few years and as all attempts to broker peace between the rebelling force KLA and the ruling dictator Slobodan Milosevic had failed.

By mid-1990s mass Albanian protests were mounting against Milosevic government which were dealt with high-handedness. KLA’s attacks against the state authorities were also on the rise. In January 1999 took place Racak massacre of which Serbs were accused of. In the massacre 45 civilian Albanians were allegedly killed by the Serbian forces in a Kosovian village of Racak. It has shaped NATO’s resolve of intervening in the Kosovo conflict.

The massacre was followed by the Rambouillet Talks in France[3] (Weller, 1999). On 18 March 1999, Albanian, American and British delegations signed the accord, however, the Serbian and Russian delegations rejected it. The main point of contention besides the increased autonomy to Kosovo, has been the last minute inclusion of the provision giving the NATO troops access to the whole of Federal Republic of Yugoslavia for the purpose of transportation and basing of the troops (Posen, 2000)[4].

After the failing of the Rambouillet Talks, events unfolded fast. On 22 March Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) withdrew its international observers from the region and on 24 March, NATO commenced its 78-days long pounding of Yugoslavia under the operation codenamed “Operation Allied Force”. NATO leaders expected that the use of air power will put a quick end to the humanitarian crisis and stall an imminent genocide in Kosovo.

However, as the airstrike commenced Yugoslavian forces increased their crackdown on Albanian civilians, making millions of people refugees in the process (Teson, 2009) who took shelter in the contiguous European Countries (Wedgwood, 1999) .

NATO’s objectives of the air campaign, in turn, were enlisted in a statement issued at the Extraordinary Meeting of the North Atlantic Council held at NATO on 12 April 1999 and were reiterated by Heads of State and Government in Washington on 23 April 1999[5]. They were –

  • a verifiable stop to all military action and the immediate ending of violence and repression;
  • the withdrawal from Kosovo of the military, police and paramilitary forces;
  • The stationing in Kosovo of an international military presence;
  • the unconditional and safe return of all refugees and displaced persons and unhindered access to them by humanitarian aid organisations;
  • the establishment of a political framework agreement for Kosovo on the basis of the Rambouillet Accords, in conformity with international law and the Charter of the United Nations.

All the reasons behind the NATO’s intervention – officially stated and strategically implied – can be encapsulated using the Pillar’s method as follows

FIGURE 1: Various Reasons Triggering Nato’s Intervention Encapsulated Using the Pillar’s Method. Source: Own source.

The next part  will focus on the theoretical frameworks, as well as analysing the factros that led to NATO’S intervention in Kosovo, in the light of the abovementioned theoretical frameworks. More importantly, the main core of the next part will rely on the issue of NATO’s intervention morality and the question about it.

Author Biography

Ritu Sushila Krishan has been a Journalist working in India for 8 years, and for better part of her stint she has been covering defence and strategic issues along with social conflicts. Presently she has been pursuing her Masters degree from Willy Brandt School of Public Policy and interests herself in conflicts revolving around religion.


[1] Balkan Powderkeg refers to the region before World War I, when overlapping territorial claims made it a highly contested region in Europe.

[2] For a summary of the Kosovo conflict read

[3] The copy of the draft can be accessed at

[4] This clause reads as follows: “NATO personnel shall enjoy, together with their vehicles, vessels, aircraft, and equipment, free and unrestricted passage and unimpeded access throughout the FRY including associated airspace and territorial waters. This shall include, but not be limited to, the right of bivouac, maneuver, billet, and utilization of any areas or facilities as required for support, training, and operations.”

[5] The official statement is available on the NATO website



Beitz, C. (1979). Political Theory and International Relations. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Doppelt, G. (1978). Walzer’s Theory of Morality in International Relations. Philosophy and Public Affairs8(1), 3–26.

Falk, R. (1999). Kosovo, world order, and the future of international law. American Journal of International Law93(4), 847–857. Retrieved from

Mccgwire, M. (2000). Why did we bomb Belgrade? International Affairs76(1), 1–23. Retrieved from

Paris, R. (2002). Kosovo and the metaphor war. Political Science Quarterly117(3), 423–450. Retrieved from

Posen, B. (2000). The war for Kosovo: Serbia’s political-military strategy. International Security24(4), 39–84. Retrieved from

Teson, F. (2009). Kosovo: A Powerful Precedent for the Doctrine of Humanitarian Intervention. Amsterdam LF1(2). Retrieved from

Walzer, M. (1977). Just and Unjust Wars. United States: Basic Books.

Wedgwood, R. (1999). NATO’s Campaign in Yugoslavia. American Journal of International Law93(4), 828–834. Retrieved from

Weller, M. (1999). The Rambouillet Conference on Kosovo. International Affairs75(2), 211–251. Retrieved from

Yost, D. S. (2007). NATO and the anticipatory use of force. International Affairs83(1), 39–68. Retrieved from


Image: ‘Fleeing Kosovo‘, by Cliff. Released under Creative Commons 2.0 (CC BY 2.0) License.


Published by

Recent Posts

TTIP: A Much Needed Platform for Renewed Prosperity or A Threat to Sovereignty and Democracy?

What is TTIP? TTIP stands for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, and represents the…

2 years ago

The Great War. Part II

The second stage: 1871 – 1890 Sedan, 1870. The guns are silent now, the soldiers…

2 years ago

Holocaust Denial as a Legal Issue in Europe

Emilie Mendes de Leon reflects on Holocaust denial as racist speech in Europe and explains the…

2 years ago

The Iran Nuclear Deal: Diplomatic Triumph or Ticking Time Bomb?

The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) agreed to in Vienna on July 14th 2015 by…

2 years ago

Genetically Modified Food and the Second Green Revolution

Mervyn Piesse, Research Manager, Global Food and Water Crises Research Progarmme - Genetically Modified Food…

2 years ago

Biodiversity: An Integral Part of Food Security

Mervyn Piesse, Research Manager, Global Food and Water Crises Research Programme - Biodiversity: An Integral…

2 years ago