NCCD Disarmament Times - The Kosovo Crunch for Disarmament

An occasional newsletter on disarmament progress in New Zealand and abroad, published by


Volume 2, No. 1, May 1999

The Kosovo Crunch for Disarmament


Does disarmament really lesson the risk of war? What about Kosovo?


In Europe war is being used to intervene in a dispute inside a country‘s clear sovereign borders.

Here are some of the agreements and treaties and principles which seem to have been violated:
* UN Charter Article 2 (use of force against a sovereign states is banned unless the Security Council gives permission, or it is in self defence.)
* NATO Charter which says it will not use force unless one its members is attacked.
* Helsinki Accords (1975, OSCE) which guarantee the frontiers of the states of Europe and allow only peaceful change.
* 1988 Vienna Convention on Treaties which bans the use of force to make one side sign (in this case sign the Rambouillet Agreement‘ this year). There is one major reason given why NATO has said it had to start bombing:
* UN Universal Declaration on Human Rights bans the oppression of individuals by states (and, therefore, it is argued, allows humanitarian intervention‘).


Do we need to re-write all treaties and international law to incorporate the principles of human rights, of humanitarian relief, and of self-determination? Are these principles more important than national borders? Obviously NATO (which includes the USA) feels that we should re-write the treaties; and that humanitarian principles are so important that full-scale bombing is permitted to enforce them. Do New Zealanders feel the same way? Do these principles outweigh national sovereignty? If so, who is to take on the role of enforcer?


The alternative enforcers are:
* The USA as super-power, with its military; * NATO, ANZUS, SEATO and other regional military alliances;
* The United Nations with a standing military force
* The United Nations without a standing force * The International Court of Justice
* The International Criminal Court

The first three are military methods of enforcement; the second three have to rely on other methods. The first three rely on armaments, the second three do not. The first three give little scope for disarmament except by very slow and incremental steps agreed (and enforced at home) by all parties. The second three also involve agreements by all parties, less sovereignty, and a willingness to comply voluntarily with UN or international court orders.


It is clear that that voluntary agreement to international law without military enforcement is by far the best system. It would do away with the need for huge armament expenditure, and some international agency could take on an International Policeman‘ role. With general disarmament in place such an international policing force could be lightly and inexpensively armed. How does one get voluntary agreement to international law? And how, in particular, to international law that prohibits the persecution of minorities and even allows the creation of new states when a minority can prove they want one? How does one get voluntary agreement to the disarmament which would go with that? Slowly. In particular by seeing that long-term benefits come from voluntary limits to sovereignty; and from abiding by international law.


International laws are already agreed, do limit sovereignty, but have brought security in their fields. This security is of a sort which we seldom notice but nowadays could not do without:
* Treaties regularise: latitude and longitude; international time; postages; the radio spectrum and telecommunications (including satellites, the internet, global navigation aids...); international civil aviation; the sharing of meteorological data; international intellectual property rights (copyright);
* The law of the sea is fundamental to trade; the Antarctic treaty protects its delicate environment; endangered species are protected and also natural heritage areas;
* Chemical and biological weapons have conventions banning them; weapons of mass destruction and those which are excessively injurious (e.g., blinding lasers) are banned; nuclear weapons are banned in space; the testing of nuclear weapons is banned ... New Zealand is party to 800 multi-lateral inter-national treaties and 600 bi-lateral agreements! Treaties are more of a success than a failure.


To bring about new international agreements which will make wars obsolete will require large investment in time and the use of the best brains; but these must be in diplomacy, and trade and every sort of international contact, not in arms and military build-ups. New Zealand is in a unique position as a country well known for its nuclear disarmament and its push for international courts and treaties, to make large investments in diplomacy, international law and in assisting the UN and other international agencies.


After the humanitarian tragedies and economic catastrophes have been seen to, there will be time to discuss the new world order the Kosovan crisis has brought about. In the meantime, whilst the war continues to kill people, consider these rather hidden disarmament issues:

1. DU weapons. Depleted Uranium is an ultra-heavy metal which helps shells penetrate armour; but then it burns up into radioactive dust which, if inhaled, causes death, radiation sickness, chromosome damage and thus deformities in children. Reports are mounting of the use of DU in cruise missiles and aircraft cannon in Yugoslavia by NATO.

2. Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Iraq, were high-tech wars with enormous expenditure and enormous numbers of people killed by bombing and rocket and strafing attacks. Were the gaols of the attackers achieved?

3. Ethnic conflicts do not end with the end of the war. Consider Ireland; consider East Timor; consider Kosovo where the ethnic/religious changes forced on Serb and Albanian people by the Turks in the 14th century still result in killing. The end of the Kosovo crisis, which ever way it goes, will not end the hatred and the will to kill.

4. The Kosovo Liberation Army is armed with small weapons looted by Albanians when their political system collapsed, then smuggled across the border.

5. The USA and NATO countries were given warning of trouble in the mid 1980s and these flared first in 1996. The non-violent movement under Ibrahim Rugova was not supported. The Dayton conference in 1996 when Milosevic agreed to peace in Bosnia specifically excluded Kosovo.


All in all the crisis is a classic case of short-sighted penny pinching on crisis prevention. The world needs more: 1. collecting impending crisis information beforehand; 2. preventative diplomacy at top levels; 3. aid and assistance to non-violent politicians; 4. supporting grassroots conflict resolution by locals; 5. the disarming of irregulars with generous buy-back schemes;

6. liberal aid and assistance to poor economies... and so on.

The result of ignoring the warning signs is an extraordinarily expensive military intervention, mass displacement, the destruction of an economy, and cruel loss of life.

With more crisis prevention (the cheap option!) the re-writing of treaties to allow military intervention will be less urgent, perhaps even unnecessary; and continuing general disarmament can make a major contribution.

References used in this NCCD Disarmament Times:

DU Weapons: The current use of DU in Kosovo and in Yugoslavia is confirmed in a NATO announcement 30-3-99; in a speech in the British House of Commons by Tony Benn MP, 31-3-99; by International Action Centre NY which says Warthog planes are carrying DU ammunition, 1.4.99. See further on

Kosovo warnings: Brief account in Centre for Defence Information (Washington DC), The Weekly Defence Monitor, April 15, 1999. See also

For a time-line of the conflict in Kosovo see in an article called Kosovo Spring.

There is a considerable amount of information on this topic available on the PMA website

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