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NATO’s Military Intervention in Kosovo from the Prism of Morality in International Relations. (Part 2)

Theoretical Framework

Third Party Intervention has been gaining currency in the international arena since the end of Cold War and especially after the NATO’s military intervention in Kosovo. The entry of a third party may change the structure of the conflict and, depending on the capacities of the intervention; it can also alter the power balance and the parties’ behavior (Ramsbotham, Woodhouse, & Miall, n.d.) .

Before proceeding with the application of the different theories of Morality in International Relations to the Kosovo case, we first need to comprehend the two issues briefly.

1. Understanding Statism

Walzer superimposes the rules of domestic society to international relations while giving the theory of Statism. According to this states are analogous to individuals in the domestic societies and enjoy same rights and privileges in the international arena as individuals within their countries. Walzer contends that the states derive their rights to non-intervention and territorial integrity from the individuals, who compose the political community within that country (Doppelt, 1978). And the right to sovereignty and territorial integrity is analogous to the individual’s right to an autonomous process of social development. Falling short of calling Aggression an anathema in the international arena, Walzer goes on to say –

“Aggression is remarkable as it is the only crime that states can commit against others; everything else, as it were, is a demeanor.” (Walzer, 1977)

A crime against other states in the form of aggression can lead to a situation of anarchy in the absence of a central authority. In his book Just and Unjust Wars, Walzer categorically states that only an act of aggression can be responded by military force. He even severely restricts the occurrence of a preemptive or preventive war. His backing of a nearly absolute right of a state to non-intervention is based on the principle of self-determination of people, even if the country is ruled by authoritative governments. As per him the free institutions imposed by an external power denies a people the right to self-determination. Self-determination according to the political philosopher is the right of a people “to become free by their own efforts” if they can. Foreign intervention according to him tips the domestic balance of forces in a decisive way and a long-term intervention would be a danger to the freedom.

The only time, Walzer says, a state forfeits its right to non-intervention “when it turns savagely upon its own people”. “When people are being massacred, we do not require that they pass the test of self-help before coming to their aid. It is this very incapacity that brings us in,” elaborates Walzer. He enlists the Nazi Holocaust against Jews and the Pakistani government’s “systematic slaughter” against its own (Bengali) people in the then East Pakistan in 1971 as the fit cases calling Humanitarian Intervention. In this exception he does not let other motivations of the intervener’s in between the moral justification of the intervention as long as they are not getting in way of the intervener’s objective of helping the people.

2. Understanding Moral Cosmopolitanism

Cosmopolitanism talks about global distributive justice. The members of the present world order share the responsibility of the human rights violations caused by the order. Charles Beitz supports these arguments and seeks reformation of the unjust institutions of the state. In his book Political Theory and International Relations, Beitz challenges the basic assumption of Walzer’s statism. Arguing that the state comprises of men ‘enamoured’ with power, the state cannot be analogous to individual men who forms the domestic society.

In response to Statism, Beitz says that “only those states whose institutions satisfy the appropriate principles of justice can legitimately demand to be respected as autonomous sources of ends” i.e. the right to non-intervention (Beitz, 1979). Unlike Walzer, Beitz argues that a state enjoys right to non-intervention as long as it respects human rights.

Statism, Cosmopolitanism and NATO’s Military Intervention in Kosovo

NATO’s decision to intervene in Kosovo has been a controversial one. It violated the international law of respecting the sovereignty of a state and along with it the multilateral military offensive against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was without a mandate from the United Nations. More so it also flouted its own charter that stated that NATO was an alliance for “defensive” purposes and none of its weapons will ever be used except in self-defence. Even as Serbian Military action was not a direct attack on any of the NATO member states, the alliance chose to launch offensive air strikes (Yost, 2007).

So, the US authorities had built up a case against the Milosevic regime in Yugoslavia for its human rights violation, for failing to accede to the Rambouillet international Peace accord and an imminent danger of genocide.

Invoking the memories of Adolf Hitler’s Holocaust against the Jews in German, then US President Bill Clinton said in his statement announcing the air campaign in Kosovo, “What if someone had listened to Winston Churchill and stood up to Adolf Hitler earlier? How many people’s lives might have been saved?”[1]

Taking a leaf out of the Bosnian conflict, Clinton went on to add, “We learned that if you don’t stand up to brutality and the killing of innocent people, you invite the people who do it to do more of it. We learned that firmness can save lives and stop armies.” It was also projected as the duty of the democratic US to stand up against the brutal Milosevic’s regime. The fear of the conflicting spilling into other European countries also loomed large (Yost, 2007).

The cautions of the US and other European Countries were reflected in the UN Security Council’s Resolution. Even as the UNSC authorization was lacking, the Kosovo conflict was categorized as an international crisis and a threat to regional peace and security, rather than internal matter of a country (Wedgwood, 1999).

In the absence of a ‘conscience-shocking’ violation of human rights or an imminent danger of it, Statism prohibits Humanitarian Intervention, as an intervention done to stop a lesser crime would inflict death and destruction associated with military force. However, the NATO members and the UNSC repeatedly expressed their alarm at “impending humanitarian catastrophe”. The Racak Massacre in January 1999 and the increased use of force by the Serbian troops against Kosovars after the failed Rambouillet Talks did point at an impending danger of ethnic cleansing or genocide. So applying Statism in the light of these facts would deny the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia the right to non-intervention and would justify the NATO’s Humanitarian Intervention.

Also the US and other European Countries were alleged to have hidden motives as fighting Russia for influence in the Eastern Europe would also not discount the humanitarian grounds of intervention under Statism.

The Milosevic-led Yugoslavian government did not enjoy the confidence of the Kosovars seeking greater autonomy that spiraled into a movement for freedom. On this count, Statism would prohibit a foreign state or alliance to intervene in Kosovo as Walzer stresses on a people’s right to self-determination to be free.

Milosevic’s regime is not likely to stand Beitz’s Cosmopolitanism’s scrutiny based on just institutions. The large scale exodus of Albanian refugees from Kosovo pointed towards an abusive State authority and therefore will have no moral claim to non-intervention. Under Cosmopolitanism it is the moral obligation of the member states of the international community to halt the tyranny of another state.

The Yugoslavian government’s rule can be classified as a tyranny against the Kosovars and Kosovars revolt against is seen as the resistance to the tyranny. So NATO’s intervention has been termed as assistance to a victimized population seeking freedom and not a unilateral decision as against the wishes of the people (Teson, 2009).


Even as the NATO’s Humanitarian intervention had a feeble support from the then international law, its grounding on the aspect of moralism was strong. Both strains of Moralism support the NATO’s case for intervention in Kosovo on the side of the Albanians, but, the two theories still fail to address the extent of human rights violations that will make humanitarian intervention permissible. This leaves a huge room for the states to use the provision for their own selfish motivations.

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] President Bill Clinton’s statement on 23 March 1999, a day prior to the air strike is available at and the one made on 25 March 1999, a day after the air strikes were launched is available at: . Both the statements make it morally imperative for the US to end the tragedy of gigantic proportions.


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.

Garamone, J (1999). Clinton Makes Case for Kosovo Intervention. U.S Department of Defense. Retrieved from

President Clinton, B (1999). America’s Clinton Statement: Stabilising Europe. World, BBC News. Retrieved from:

Ramsbotham, O., Woodhouse, T., & Miall, H. (n.d.). Ramsbotham_et_al._third_parties.pdf.

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 Law, 93(4), 828–834. Retrieved from

Yost, D. S. (2007). NATO and the anticipatory use of force. International Affairs, 83(1), 39–68. Retrieved from

Image: ‘Dragaš Bag, Kosovo, Autumn 2001‘ by Cuito Cuanavale, released in Flickr under Creative Commons License 2.0 (CC BY 2.0).


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