Defence Mechanism

Questioning the Kosovo War, twenty years later

Twenty years ago, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization saw fit to violate the supposed sanctity of international borders, through a bombing campaign to protect the endangered Albanian-­speaking minority population in the Serbian province of Kosovo. Across the alliance, pundits claimed NATO had successfully applied the emerging “responsibility to protect” doctrine. Perhaps the earlier air bombardment of the Serbian strongman Slobodan Miloševi, which brought Serbia to the table to sign the Dayton Accord in 1995, was a precursor. But the 1999 Kosovo War was the first time NATO leaders alluded to R2P, a concept still in development, to justify their actions.

Serbian troops, apparently not deterred by the lessons of the Yugoslav civil war, began to round up Kosovars in 1998. The failure of the international community to save Rwandans or Bosnians from genocide in the early ’90s plagued the...