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Can Kosovo serve as a model for Syria intervention?
US media say the Obama administration is looking at the 1999 NATO campaign in Kosovo to prepare for a possible military intervention in Syria launched without a UN resolution, an avenue blocked by Russian threats of a Security Council veto.
Despite assurances by US officials that no decision has been made on strikes against the Bashar al-Assad regime, intervention seems imminent with Western leaders lining up to accuse the Syrian president, albeit in a roundabout way, of using chemical weapons.
According to US media, the Obama administration has been taking a close look at NATO's 1999 campaign in Kosovo. Their aim is to work around the legal hurdle of the UN Security Council, where Russia and China can be expected to veto any resolution on military intervention.
The Kosovo conflict refers to the West's 1999 bombing of Serbian targets in Kosovo and Belgrade under the NATO banner, an intervention that lasted 78 days and which was launched without a UN mandate.
Assad as the new Milosevic
Russia, as it does now on Syria, used its Security Council veto to block any intervention against the regime of Slobodan Milosevic, who was also accused of committing abuses in the largely ethnic Albanian province.
The US and its allies had strived to present the intervention as legitimate, in the name of a “right to interfere” in the interest of the protection of civilians.
“The UN charter allows for regional organisations to step in to try and take care of certain conflicts. It doesn’t have to go to the Security Council and in fact, we’ve seen that in the past in Kosovo,” former US diplomat to Syria William Jordan told FRANCE 24.
Article 51 of the Charter affirms “the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations, until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security”.
“Kosovo was an example where the West basically stood up to the Russians and said ‘Fine, we’ll go down another route’,” William Jordan added.
Coalition of the willing
Yet a NATO consensus on Syria might be slow in coming and the operation could be conducted by a coalition of willing countries including the US, France and the UK alongside regional powers. Turkey has already said it was ready to take part without UN approval. Gulf countries supporting the Syrian rebellion could join them.
Another difference is that troop deployments followed air strikes in Kosovo, a scenario that seems unlikely in Syria.
French retired air force general Jean-Vincent Brisset told FRANCE 24: “The preferred option, as used in Iraq in 2003 and in Libya more recently, is to strike at the heart of the regime by destroying a number of command centres and key buildings through surgical strikes.”
He added that strikes at fixed targets do not require troops on the ground.
FRANCE 24’s Washington correspondent Philip Crowther confirmed: “US naval warships are in the eastern Mediterranean. They can launch Tomahawk missiles. That appears to be the most likely action we will see, though there can still be a lot of speculation as to what those missiles would hit in Syria – chemical weapons facilities or other military facilities.”
He added that the option of a no-fly zone “appears to be too difficult to implement at this point and also too expensive”.
“Make the regime pay”
Experts say the psychological value of such strikes may be as important as their military efficiency. “To make the regime pay for using chemical weapons, political targets rather than chemical military facilities may be chosen,” said MEP Arnaud Danjean, who chairs the subcommittee on security and defence of the European Parliament.
Sources present at a meeting between Western diplomats and the Syrian opposition in Istanbul on Tuesday said they expected strikes against president Bashar al-Assad’s forces within days.
Yet a US official told AFP that no intervention would take place until UN chemical weapons inspectors had left the country.
“We must be certain that a UN Security Council resolution is not an option before bypassing the UN framework can be regarded as legitimate,” said FRANCE 24’s international affairs correspondent Cyril Vannier.
“Western powers will then have to build their coalition, because the US will be keen to show that they are not acting alone,” he added.