|A CONVERSATION WITH...|
May 31, 2000
MARGARET WARNER: And with me are the authors of two new books on the
Kosovo war. Michael Ignatieff is the author of "Virtual War: Kosovo
and Beyond." And Tim Judah, the author of "Kosovo: War and
Revenge." Welcome, gentlemen.
TIM JUDAH, Author, "Kosovo: War and Revenge:" Well, what I mean by that is that the bombing campaign, which lasted 78 days, was something which began because western leaders thought it was going to take three days or a week. There wouldn't have been a bombing campaign if anyone had imagined in their remotest dreams-- or nightmares, I should say-- that it was going to last 78 days. But because of that, because they thought it would be three days or, at worst, a week, it had a sort of loop effect, that Slobodan Milosevic, the Yugoslav President, the Serbian leader, thought that he could call NATO's bluff, could risk a bombing, because he thought, "well, three days or a week, that's something that I can withstand." There were many more human errors, but I think those are the... that's the most central, important one.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, you call this a virtual war. Explain what you mean by that.
MICHAEL IGNATIEFF, Author, "Virtual War: Kosovo and Beyond:" Well, the war was real, as horribly real as war always is, to the people and citizens of Belgrade. To the Kosovo Albanians massacred by the paramilitaries, this is as real as it gets. It's death that makes war real. But to us, to the western alliance nations, to the spectators, people watching this program, it was a virtual spectacle; it existed only on television. One of the things about it as a war, which I think is historically unprecedented, is we transferred all of the mortal risk of death to the other side. It was a war fought under two basic rules: Zero casualties for our side, and as low a level of collateral damage as we could -- the first war that I can think of where we fought 78 days, 40,000 missions or something and not a single combat casualty. The issue that the book raises is an American President has been given a new technology, this precision-weapons technology that allows him to strike any target, anywhere in the world, in next to real time, with almost perfect chance of accuracy. This means that the threshold at which an American President can engage military force is going down. The risks of engaging are going down-- no casualties on the American side, very little collateral damage. If military violence can be used more easily, how do we keep it under control? That's the issue in the book.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you see any evidence, though, that this would make the west or western democracies more cavalier about going to war?
MICHAEL IGNATIEFF: Well, I think, as it played out-- and Tim... This is what makes Tim Judah's book such an interesting one-- is that it's a story of mistakes, miscalculations. And when you net out the Kosovo thing, almost everybody who went through it thinks, "we're not going to go there again, because we almost lost." I mean, I think the western alliance is aware in the marrow of its bones how close we came to military defeat, despite having total omnipotence in the air, total domination with this new precision technology. The precision technology could not stop ethnic cleansing on the ground, could not prevent the mass expulsion of the Kosovar people. We were faced in a curious way with having the omnipotent means that proved to be impotent in certain crucial respects. So that while the new technology is lowering the risk of using political violence, there are a number of other factors that are making... increasing the risk on the other side, so things are balancing out. But it's still an area of risk. And the chief issue, Kosovo was fought in the media spotlight. There was people like Tim Judah, there were people like me all over the thing, trying to focus the attention of western electorates on what was going on. But there are a lot of conflicts where we can use precision technology and nobody would be there to see. We've got an Iraq air operation right now. Do the American people know that they're bombing Iraq right now as I'm talking to you? They don't, because the media isn't there. So that's a virtual war, where there's no democratic control, surveillance over the use of military violence. So these issues of democratic control over a force that's easier and easier to use I think are going to be with us for a long time.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you think... I'll read you a quote from your book. You talked about the hypocrisy of our willingness to kill in the name of our values but not to die for them. And of course the stated purpose of this was a humanitarian purpose. Are you saying that it was fundamentally dishonest, unethical?
MICHAEL IGNATIEFF: No. I think the problem is different. No responsible military commander, no responsible American President wants to risk American lives or anybody else's lives needlessly. If we can accomplish a human rights goal of zero casualties, so much the better. I think the problem is different. We preach human rights ends, and then we practice such risk- averse means, that we can't actually accomplish those ends. That is to say, we did win, but 15,000 Kosovars were massacred and slaughtered. We couldn't stop that. Brave American pilots were upstairs at 15,000 feet watching people going from house to house with machine guns and knives and couldn't stop the ethnic cleansing. If you take these risk-averse means to accomplish human rights ends, you can't accomplish human rights ends. That's the problem.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you agree with that? I mean, what does the Kosovo conflict say about the west's ability to intervene militarily in these humanitarian wars, or these wars for humanitarian causes, the kind of doctrine that both your prime minister and our President enunciated during the war?
TIM JUDAH: Well, Michael Ignatieff is of course quite right, and other points that he raises in his book is... are because you intervene for human rights issues and humanitarian catastrophes in one region, for example, Kosovo, that it begs the question, well, what about other areas? What about the Chechynas, for example? And is it hypocritical to intervene in one place and not to intervene in another place like Chechnya because the Russians have nuclear weapons? I don't think it is. I think that we have to be realistic about it, and if you can intervene, if it's possible to do so, well so much the better. But it doesn't mean that you should just sit aside because... everywhere because you can't intervene everywhere.
MARGARET WARNER: But what about the conflict that Michael just pointed out, that if you're going to go into these causes for which you assume the public, your public, is not willing to lose tens of thousands of lives, you're going to go in in this sort of halfway, virtual way, this risk- free way, which in the end doesn't really do the job but does a lot of destruction?
TIM JUDAH: Well, there are also risks of not intervening. I think that one of the things which motivated western leaders is what I think you might call the Srebrenica factor. I don't know if people will remember the Bosnian Muslim town which fell in the summer of 1995, and the Bosnian Serb army promptly massacred 6,000 or so Muslim men and boys. I think it was that fear that that was about to happen all over again, which helped push western leaders to war, because they were terrified that it was going to happen all over again, and then they would get the blame, well, for not having intervened. And people would have said, "well, you didn't learn the lessons of Bosnia. We saw what happened before. Why didn't you do something?" So it's an appalling dilemma, and we might well see it again. What happens if there's a war in Montenegro this year? It's quite possible. Well, should we intervene? Should we not? It's going to be a hard one to call.
MICHAEL IGNATIEFF: I think the simple issue here that Americans have to focus on is that almost every American I talk to said-- I'm a Canadian, just to make it clear...
MARGARET WARNER: Who lives in London.
MICHAEL IGNATIEFF: ...Who lives in London. But almost every American I talk to says, "Why is this always our business? Why do we have to go in and do the heavy lifting when people are threatened with massacre, genocide, or human rights violations around the world?" The simple answer is that no other military power in the world has the logistical, technological capabilities you do. Then the question is how you ration that rationally, so that you're not everywhere, so that your army isn't spread out in 1,000 garrison operations all over the place, how we focus it and frame it according to a set of criteria where we get clear grounds for intervention. But the idea that some Americans have is that we can just say, "it isn't our business," isn't just... It is just not a credible policy. Because it's clear to me in the next... The next President of the United States is going to have something come across his desk where, you know, hundreds of thousands of people are in mortal peril, imminent danger of being exterminated or expelled or killed, and there will be a demand for intervention, and we simply must devise combat-credible ways of doing that. The only way we've got at the moment is going in by air. My book is saying, if you go in by air, there are only certain things you can do. We've got to now take the next step and devise some set of combat-capable ground deployments that allow us to rescue human beings, because in the end, this is a country that does believe in certain kind of values. If you proclaim those values, you eventually have to stump up the military capability to back them up. And I think Kosovo teaches us that. I'm glad we intervened, but we didn't do the job we promised we would do, in my judgment. And the next time, the next intervention is going to be tougher, and we're going to have to have the right military strategy to do that. And my view is we don't have that strategy at this hour, and we need it.
MARGARET WARNER: What do you think the chances are that the next such conflict that comes across the next President's desk will again be in the Balkans?
TIM JUDAH: I think it's... It may even happen before you have a new President. It could happen any time in Montenegro. So I think it will be an appalling dilemma when it happens. If a civil war breaks out in Montenegro, in part fomented by Belgrade and the government of Montenegro-- which, I should say, is the only remaining republic within the federal republic of Yugoslavia-- it's going to be a very hard one to call.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you see it that way?
MICHAEL IGNATIEFF: I do. And intervening in a civil war, Serb against Serb, Montenegrin against Serb, 750,000 people in a strategic area of the world that most Americans have never even heard of or been to or visited, the trouble is that if we don't contain that, it'll simply destabilize everything that American troops have tried to achieve in Bosnia, everything we're trying to achieve in Kosovo. This is one of these cases where it's not merely a question of, do we intervene, but when... If we intervene, are we willing to stay the course? This really is a case of in for a penny, in for a pound.
MARGARET WARNER: And we're in for a penny certainly. Thank you both very much.
MICHAEL IGNATIEFF: A pleasure.