The United Nations and NATO became involved in the Balkan conflicts when reports of ethnic cleansing and concentration camps began to circulate in 1992. Although the UN’s role was essentially humanitarian, UN peacekeeping troops were soon on the ground in Croatia and Bosnia. NATO was called in when the UN decided that more than mere peacekeeping was required. Gradually NATO assumed a new post-Cold War role as the attack arm of the UN.
By 1999, the US was openly calling the tune in the Balkans. Amid harrowing reports of massacres in Kosovo, particularly the badly-faked Racak ‘massacre’, the Clinton administration unilaterally imposed the Rambouillet conference as the means to end the conflict. Then they deliberately set down terms for agreement that were so draconian and unreasonable the Serbs could not possible accept them. When the Serbs duly rejected the terms on offer, NATO launched its 92-day ‘humanitarian’ bombing of Serbia without seeking approval from the UN or anyone else.
Under the terms of the UN Charter this was starkly illegal: blatant aggression against a sovereign state, explicitly outlawed under Chapter II of the Charter.
NATO, originally set up as a defensive alliance, had no status under international law or the UN Charter to launch a bombing campaign against Serbia. Nor could it claim authorisation on the basis that it was acting on behalf of the Rambouillet conference. Its only hope was that American and European backing would be enough to prevent any legal challenge. But as NATO exacerbated its offence by committing a series of war crimes, including the use of cluster bombs against civilians and the targeting of non-military targets, it may find that the world can have a long memory.