UN Report: Lessons Learned from Kosovo Conflict

By Susan Jones | July 7, 2008 | 8:07 PM EDT

(CNSNews.com) - The NATO "intervention" in Kosovo points to a profound change in world politics: Sovereignty can be forfeited on humanitarian grounds, according to a United Nations study.

The study - actually a collection of viewpoints -- is called "Kosovo and the Challenge of Humanitarian Intervention." It is billed as "a compendium of authoritative viewpoints" on NATO's assault of Kosovo - the problems presented, the lessons learned, and follow-up steps to be taken.

Here's the dilemma in a nutshell, according to the study: "Is it morally just, legally permissible and militarily feasible" to challenge a nation's sovereignty on humanitarian grounds? That was the challenge presented by the Kosovo conflict.

"To use force unilaterally is to violate international law and undermine world order. Yet to respect sovereignty all the time is to [sometimes accept] human rights violations," the editors write.

"The bottom line question for us is this: Faced with another Holocaust or Rwanda-type genocide on the one hand, and a Security Council veto on the other, what would we do?"

Answering that question, the authors say, "A new consensus on humanitarian intervention is urgently needed."

Suggestions include reforming the UN Security Council, so that veto power is removed in "exceptional circumstances." That way, all that's needed for waging a "humanitarian war" is the support of a majority of states.

The editors note that in the Kosovo conflict, Russia and China opposed (vetoed) military intervention in Kosovo, something that prevented the Security Council from acting - so NATO decided to intervene on its own. More NATO-style actions with less UN involvement mean less order and less justice in our global community, the study warns.

"Organization like the UN ...need to be willing and able to confront these catastrophes [cases where states kill their own people] wherever they occur," the study says. "Humanitarian intervention must be collective, not unilateral. And it must be legitimate, not in violation of the agreed rules which comprise the foundations of world order."

The study, released at UN headquarters in New York, was produced by the United Nations University (UNU) in Tokyo. UNU Press plans to publish a book based on the study later this year.