Paech: By attacking Yugoslavia, peace in Europe was destroyed

Ministar odbrane Nemačke Boris Pistorijus odlikuje nemačke vojnike u sastavu Kfor
Source: X/Ministarstvo odbrane Nemačke

The war against Yugoslavia became a terrifying "pilot case" for future wars involving NATO states, violating international law, from Iraq in 2003 to Gaza in 2024, which courts, neither regional nor the International Court, are able to cope with, former Bundestag member and member of the Left Party, Norman Paech notes.

"Since Chancellor Olaf Scholz introduced 'turning point' as a term into his political vocabulary, that word has enjoyed a certain level of popularity. It can be applied in various ways to different crises and events, such as the end of World War II and Germany's surrender on May 8, 1945, the collapse of the Soviet Union on December 31, 1991, the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, or the Hamas attack on Israel on October 7, 2023. It just depends on which national and political perspective you view the event from. From Germany's perspective - as a 'turning point,' it would be more appropriate to consider March 24, 1999, than Scholz's February 24, 2022, because at that time the Bundeswehr participated in the first intra-European war after World War II - NATO's war against Yugoslavia," Paech writes, a former member of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) of current Chancellor Scholz, in an article published on the "NachDenkSeiten" website.

He points out that peace had prevailed in Europe for almost 54 years, despite numerous wars that European states waged outside the continent.

"But, on March 24, 1999, the peace law was violated, followed 15 years later by the second European war of Russia against Ukraine, which, as current Minister of Economy Robert Habeck said, was, in reality, a war led by NATO under 'slavish leadership' of Germany against Russia," Paech emphasizes.

He recalls the breakup of Yugoslavia, which began in 1989 with the abolition of Kosovo's autonomy, followed by the secession of Slovenia and Croatia, and then-German Chancellor Helmut Kohl's statement on July 1, 1991, urging pressure on the European Community to recognize these two republics.

Despite warnings from UN Secretary-General Perez de Cuellar, Germany recognized in December 1991 the two republics that seceded from Yugoslavia, Slovenia, and Croatia, and in January 1992, another 11 member states of the European Community did the same. What de Cuellar feared happened, and as Foreign Minister Dieterich Genscher wanted to prevent recognition - "violence escalated," Paech adds.

He also notes that simultaneously, a propaganda battle began in German media and politics, blaming solely Serbs and Slobodan Milosevic for the spread of violence and pogroms, stating that nothing better describes the warmongering role of the media than the statement from the head of the regional office of the European Community Monitoring Mission in Kosovo ECMM, Bundeswehr officer Dietmar Hartwig, which became public only 10 years later:

"Neither from the observers' reports nor from conversations with leading Kosovo Albanian politicians did I know about massive, not even state-engineered crimes against the population, such as ethnic cleansing from the end of 1998 until the outbreak of the 'NATO war'. However, the media constantly spoke of the unprovoked brutality of Serbian security forces towards the population. At the same time, they remained silent about the KLA attacks on state institutions and the Serbs. The media information I had during my stay in Kosovo and thereafter showed a picture that had nothing to do with reality. Serbian security forces usually reacted only to KLA attacks; they did not react without reason. Especially during the increasing attacks of the KLA on Yugoslav police and military facilities, the Serbian executive showed exceptional restraint."

He also notes that initially the KLA was perceived "as what it was - a terrorist organization," but it "mutated" into the "Kosovo Liberation Army" by no later than 1998.

"In the spring of 1998, the US gave Milosevic the green light to fight the KLA. Then they were invited to the conference in Rambouillet, set them up as representatives of all Albanians, and armed them against the Serbs. The 'peace conference' in Rambouillet was obviously not programmed for peace among peoples and the solution to the Kosovo problem," Paech believes.

He points out that Milosevic was eventually asked to agree to the stationing of NATO troops in Serbia – "an absurd demand that would mean complete submission," and Milosevic had to refuse, thus "providing the desired pseudo-legitimacy for the bombing of Serbia that followed immediately afterward, which NATO had long planned under US leadership."

War without a UN mandate

He points out that politics and media had to stage that "gigantic lie" because NATO's aggression against Yugoslavia on March 24, 1999, was not only the first war in Europe but also the first armed conflict since World War II in which the Bundeswehr actively participated, which was contrary to international law.

"The allies deliberately did not seek a mandate from the UN Security Council because they expected a certain veto from Russia and China. Everyone involved was fully aware that their actions violated international law, especially the government with Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder (SPD) and Vice Chancellor Joschka Fischer (Alliance 90/The Greens) in Berlin."  Several months before the attack on Yugoslavia, German diplomat Hans Arnold warned: "If NATO countries... were to use military force against Yugoslavia without a UN mandate, they would not only commit a flagrant violation of international law but would undoubtedly open the door to further violations of international law... No end could justify this means," Paech continues.

He also recalls the statement of the former Ambassador to Belgrade and former chief of staff to the chancellor, Horst Grabert, that "everyone involved... knows that this action is contrary to international law and is only imperfectly camouflaged."                                                   

"However, the German government and media tried to suppress public protest against the aggressor's war, even with false facts (massacres in Rugova and Racak, the Pristina concentration camp, the horseshoe plan...) and constructions (humanitarian intervention). It took 15 years until Gerhard Schroder, now the former chancellor, openly admitted that this war violated international law at the time."

He quotes Schroder's statement to a television and "Die Zeit" newspaper - "Germany bombed a sovereign state together with NATO without a decision of the UN Security Council. To conduct military conflict without a decision of the Security Council constituted a violation of international law."

"The NATO aggressor war has never received appropriate judicial review, either in the Yugoslavia Tribunal or later in the International Criminal Court in The Hague. The lawsuit by the victims of the NATO airstrike on the Varvarin bridge, in which ten people were killed and 30 injured, was dismissed by the Federal Court of Justice (BGH) in the third instance because international war law does not recognize any claims for compensation between individual victims and a foreign state, and a claim based on official liability will not be considered because the Bundeswehr did not violate international law."

A tribunal in Berlin

Paech also notes that on June 2, 2000, the then-chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte appeared before the UN Security Council and justified the termination of the investigation against NATO by stating that the commission examined the allegations against the Western alliance and concluded that they could not be considered criminally relevant and decisive. On the same day, the International European Court opened an investigation at the Protestant Church of the Holy Cross in Berlin.

"Several hundred participants came from more than 20 countries to hear the charges against the heads of state and government from 19 NATO countries and their armies, as well as numerous experts and witnesses from the war zone. The twelve-member panel consisted of members from eight European countries. On June 3, 2000, it announced its verdict, declaring the accused guilty of serious violations of the international legal order due to their 78-day aggressive war on the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. The attack clearly violated the absolute prohibition of the use of force under Article 2(4) of the UN Charter regarding the prohibition of aggression in UN General Assembly Resolution 3314 of December 14, 1974, as well as the prohibition of violation of territorial sovereignty under Article 2(4) of the UN Charter in relation to the Declaration on Friendly Relations and Cooperation between States in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations, UN General Assembly Resolution 2625 of October 24, 1970. Since there was no attack by Yugoslavia on any NATO member, and the UN Security Council did not authorize the attack, NATO leadership had to construct a justification it believed it found in the so-called humanitarian intervention. Ministers Fischer and Scharping in particular fiercely argued for the thesis of humanitarian intervention with highly dubious and fabricated evidence of a humanitarian catastrophe," he adds.

He also points out that the civil war that erupted in Kosovo between the separatist units of the KLA and the Yugoslav police and army resulted in significant loss of life on both sides, the destruction of homes and cities, and the displacement of Albanians as well as Serbs, Croats, Roma people, and members of other ethnic groups, and serious violations of human rights, but the legal commission was not convinced that it constituted a humanitarian catastrophe.

Even in the case of the humanitarian catastrophe of 1998 and 1999, the Tribunal did not see it as legitimizing humanitarian intervention without the mandate of the UN Security Council.

He also recalls the decision of the Tribunal, after examining the jurisprudence of the International Court of Justice (ICJ): "In the practice of states establishing customary international law and according to the great opinion of the theory of international law, humanitarian intervention is not recognized as an institution allowing an exception to the absolute prohibition of the use of force. What the International Court of Justice (ICJ) said in its judgment of June 27, 1986, on humanitarian intervention in the case of Nicaragua against the United States still applies. The use of force cannot be an appropriate method for monitoring or ensuring respect for human rights. Regarding the contested measures, it should be noted that the protection of human rights, strictly a humanitarian goal, is incompatible with mining ports, and destroying oil refineries... The Court concludes that the argument based on respect for human rights arising from Nicaragua cannot provide any legal justification for the conduct of the United States. Contrary to the claims of some, nothing has changed in this state of international law to this day."

Although he notes, that an indictment for aggression/aggressive war under the Rome Statute before the International Criminal Court (ICC) was not yet possible at that time, as the offense was activated and prosecuted in July 2018, the Tribunal could have investigated the warfare of NATO countries through numerous witnesses and experts who testified about the strategic plan to expand attacks on civilian objects such as hospitals, villages, or RTS.

"The often-repeated attacks could not be defended by the guarantee of 'unintended collateral damage,'" Paech is convinced, adding that negotiations revealed that the war efforts seemed to have been planned to inflict damage on the civilian population to force it to overthrow President Milosevic's government.

This warfare clearly violates key provisions of the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and the Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions of 1977, Paech notes, and he highlights the particularly serious violation of international law, the use of depleted uranium and so-called cluster bombs.

"It is reported that NATO dropped about 31,000 bombs on Yugoslavia, leaving 10 tons of depleted uranium on the ground. It is now undisputed that the use of both types of weapons constitutes a serious violation of the Additional Protocol and the Geneva Protocol on the Prohibition of Asphyxiating, Poisonous or Similar Gases, and of Bacteriological Methods of Warfare of 1925. Both types of weapons are also subject to the prohibition of indiscriminate and particularly cruel weapons in accordance with the Additional Protocol," this German politician points out, with the observation that it has long been "unclear and puzzling" how Carla Del Ponte could have stopped the investigations at the Yugoslavia Tribunal given the clear facts and evidence of serious war crimes.

However, in 2021, she published a slim book titled "I Am Not a Hero" in which she solved the mystery and admitted that she was prevented from investigating:

"When I requested documents in Brussels, NATO did not cooperate. Your Secretary-General referred me to individual member states. Then it was suddenly said that the documents were destroyed. A lie..."

Similarly, she had a similar experience at the Rwanda Tribunal, where she also served as the Chief Prosecutor. When she wanted to expand the investigation into war crimes against the local Hutus to include the Tutsis, Britain and the United States made it clear to her that it was not appropriate, and Del Ponte had to stop the investigation, Paech emphasizes.

New NATO strategy

He also points out an event that largely went unnoticed during the bombing of Yugoslavia but was supposed to have crucial importance for NATO's conduct of war in the years to come. Namely, on April 24, 1999, NATO countries met in Washington to make a decision on a new strategy.

"Originally aimed at retrospectively justifying the war against Yugoslavia, it gave itself a mandate to intervene worldwide in crisis situations affecting the interests of the alliance.

At the same time, however, it changed NATO's tasks, which until then had been strictly limited to defending the alliance's territory under Article 5 of the NATO Agreement. The gathered heads of state and government believed they could agree on this significant expansion of NATO's tasks. In particular, Chancellor Schroder and his Foreign Minister Fischer believed there was no need to involve the Bundestag. This was only a nuisance to the SPD faction in the German Bundestag, which filed a lawsuit with the Federal Constitutional Court against the federal government, arguing that such a major change in the NATO treaty would require the consent of the Bundestag in accordance with the Constitution. However, the court largely followed the government's ideas about the primacy of the executive branch in foreign and military policy matters. There is no clear willingness among NATO countries to formally amend the treaty; there is no clause that provides for ratification, for example, when new members are admitted," Paech writes.

He also states that the expansion of the Alliance's security policy access to "crisis response operations" is just "further development of the NATO treaty, which cannot be interpreted with certainty as necessary to accept the implicit intention to change the treaty as a contradiction to the existing content of the treaty or as its expansion."

Using Morgenstern's logic, the court decided: "However, it cannot be concluded from all of this that there has been an objective change in the NATO treaty. The given substantive provisions can be understood as further development and reinforcement of the openly formulated provisions of the NATO Treaty."

From all of this, Paech concludes that the war against Yugoslavia has become a daunting "pilot case" for future wars involving NATO states - "an irresistible combination of the latest weapon technology, imperial pretensions to power, and lawless violence":

"The courts, from regional to the International Court, are unable to cope with the civilizational threat in the current situation. A series of wars that violate international law from Iraq in 2003, through Libya in 2011, to Gaza in 2024, are based on the contradiction between highly developed codes and norms of international law and courts whose political adaptation does not allow the application of these laws."