I would like to discuss with you what the Global Action to Prevent War program could have done in helping to prevent the Kosovo crisis, what contribution it still might make to a solution there, and what it could do to prevent future Kosovos and Rwandas.
This is a practical way of reviewing the part of the Global Action to Prevent War program that deals with preventing internal conflict and of eliciting your suggestions to improve the project. And your suggestions are much needed – this is a work in progress and one that is intended to help the practitioner.
The full text of the Global Action to Prevent War program is on our website (www.globalactionpw.org). The purpose of Global Action where it concerns crises like Kosovo is to enhance the capabilities for conflict prevention of the UN, of regional security organizations, the international judicial system and human rights institutions, as well as of civil society everywhere, and to bring them all more fully into a highly active conflict prevention role.
To do this, we envision about twenty individual measures, which I would like to describe briefly. (For clarity, I have numbered them in this paper.)
Please bear in mind that it is unlikely that any of these measures alone could have decisive effect. They have to act together.
To start with, (1) Global Action foresees a specific treaty commitment to admit official human rights monitors immediately on request to the host country and to facilitate their visits.
Most countries have already undertaken numerous human rights covenants. There is no point in pressing for additional ones. What is needed is implementation of existing commitments. We know that acute Serb abuse of the Kosovars has been going on for at least ten years since Milosevic revoked the autonomy of Kosovo in 1989. Yugoslavia is a signatory of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and many other human rights covenants. These commitments are being violated by the Serb authorities.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has an agreed but complicated procedure for admitting human rights observers even when the host government is reluctant. It was invoked in Chechnya after much negotiation. What we are proposing here is a worldwide commitment that will make immediate entry of monitors to check compliance with existing human rights commitments a recognized right.
If human rights monitors had visited Kosovo at the outset of the abuses there and immediately publicized their findings, reporting them to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, to the international courts, and to the Security Council, and had done this repeatedly, this would have inhibited Milosevic.
Many NGO’s and diplomatic observers were in Kosovo observing the remarkable development of non-violent self-government there, but their reports did not get action out of Western governments. This is one of the several missed opportunities for preventing Kosovo.
Remember that the explicit standard for existing human rights covenants, both for the UN and for the OSCE, is that the status of human rights within a given country is not solely a matter of national sovereignty, but a legitimate interest of the international community.
(2) Another of our measures could have had even more effect — an international treaty on minority rights. This treaty would have promoted Kosovar autonomy and protected that autonomy, once granted, against arbitrary change. And its terms would have given the Kosovars status to complain to the international community and places to lodge these complaints – the UN Human Rights Commission, the International Court of Justice, the International Criminal Court, and ultimately, the Security Council. After many years of negotiation, in 1992, the General Assembly adopted a declaration on rights of minorities. We want to go a further step to give the declaration binding treaty power.
(3) We would back this treaty on minority protection by a commitment to teach non-violent conflict prevention and productive intergroup relations in every participating country at every level of education – using the concepts covered in UNESCO’s program for a culture of peace.
(4) Global Action foresees the establishment of a professional mediator corps at the UN, with counterparts in regional security organizations.
(5) To feed into these positions and to provide the trained peacekeepers I will mention later, we also propose that, in UN member states, service in mediation, humanitarian aid, and in peacekeeping, be an accepted alternative to military conscription. Where armed forces are professional and there is no conscription, we ask governments to set up a career public service in these fields and to place these practitioners in senior government positions.
We foresee that a corps of trained mediation professionals at the UN, at the disposal of the Secretary General and Security Council, would collect and analyze information about potential trouble spots and also about proven methods of conflict prevention. They would be sent out individually or in small teams to areas where conflict might develop. Their status would be protected and all UN member states would be committed to receiving them on their territory and facilitating their stay. Small teams could stay on site for months, becoming acquainted with the local population, working with local and foreign NGO’s, trying to bring hostile groups together, proposing solutions, investigating incidents and, if helpful, making their findings publicly known.
The OSCE already does valuable work of this kind. Our proposal is that the work be intensified and be carried out by trained professionals with a reputation for institutional neutrality. Today, the Secretary General sends out small missions of this kind, but he has neither permanent professional personnel nor adequate funds for this function. A small group of mediation professionals could also be assigned to the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague to permit it to undertake a more proactive conflict prevention role.
These professional mediators in the field could warn UN Headquarters if there is a real possibility of armed violence. (6) They could also alert the Conflict Mediation Panel of the General Assembly that we propose. This open-ended committee of General Assembly members would be a less formal, more flexible conflict prevention group than the Security Council. It would not be subject to the veto and could set its own agenda by majority vote.
In this case, the General Assembly Conflict Mediation Panel would send a team to Kosovo composed of UN representatives from various countries. It would hold on-site hearings, publicizing them if it seems desirable. In the Panel’s sessions in New York, as many as possible of them public sessions, it would invite Kosovars and Yugoslav diplomatic representatives, and perhaps some officials from Serbia, to tell their side of the story, and to listen to the Panel’s advice on what to do. It would be the obligation of this Panel to give the UN and the world public comprehensive, balanced information on the disputed issue and to propose possible solutions.
One of the problems of conflicts like that in Rwanda and Kosovo is that, although government officials are often aware of these conflicts at an early stage, they do not publicize their reports. Media coverage in these early stages is often sporadic. As a result, the conflicts often hit an unprepared world opinion only when they are at an advanced state and organized killing has already begun. To give civil society a chance to do its job, it has to be brought in early. The same goes for governments in other areas and for national legislatures that may have to decide on aid, sanctions, or peacekeeping operations.
In this case, the work of the professional mediators and of the Conflict Mediation Panel would alert the international community, along with NGO’s and publics in major UN member states, to the Kosovo problem. The media would intensify its coverage of Kosovo, and the political opposition in Yugoslavia would have grounds early on to question the actions of their government in Kosovo.
(7) An important feature of our proposal is a reformed Security Council, expanded in membership and restricted in use of the veto through an informal understanding among the permanent members of the Security Council.
We suggest that this reformed Security Council should make a deliberate decision to undertake a highly pro-active role in conflict prevention and should make the commitments in professional backup and financing needed to carry out this role.
In the Kosovo case, backed by information from the Mediation Corps, whose personnel would serve the Council as professional staff for this program, and by information from the General Assembly’s Conflict Mediation Panel, the Security Council would invite the Yugoslav government to appear before it in a series of hearings to explain its policy in Kosovo. The Council would present the reasons for its own concern over the situation. It would give its advice to the Yugoslav government on treatment of the Kosovars and offer its assistance, both in personnel and money, to carry out this advice. In proposing this procedure, we are thinking also of other unresolved internal conflicts like those in Sudan and Sri Lanka. In the case of Kosovo, if the problem continued, the Council would invite the Yugoslav government to appear before it again and would warn it of the probable future consequences of its anti-Kosovar practices. It would point out to the Yugoslav government and the world public that the problem in Kosovo was becoming a threat to international security.
This activity by the Security Council would prepare the road to further Council action, including the possibility of full negative publicity, the use of emissaries to Yugoslavia’s leaders, carefully selected economic sanctions, of preventive deployment of a peacekeeping force if the Yugoslav government is prepared to agree, or as a last extreme measure, of peace enforcement. The international community would be alerted at each step.
(8) We believe the Security Council and the main UN member states should move step by step toward an agreed concept for humanitarian intervention based on the idea that governments are entrusted with stewardship of the welfare of their people, especially their human rights, and are accountable for their conduct of this stewardship, and that when this stewardship is misused or abused in an extreme way, the international community should be prepared to intervene in some form.
The Council would decide in the individual situation whether this is the case and what action should be taken. Actual practice of the Security Council is moving toward this concept. A clear statement of it would have advantages for member state governments and publics.
We are proposing that civil society be closely linked to this process by (9) formal liaison with the UN Secretariat and the Security Council and regional organizations and with a biennial conference of NGO’s working on all aspects of the conflict reduction field, with participation of the Secretary General and the presidents of the General Assembly and Security Council, to discuss field experience, good and bad methods and improved liaison at all levels.
If the Security Council is blocked from action by vetoes, then resort should be made to the General Assembly by shifting action to the Conflict Mediation Panel or, in extreme cases, through the Uniting for Peace resolution used in the Korean War and in the big Congo peacekeeping operation of the 1960’s, when the Soviet Union paralyzed the Security Council with vetoes. These proposals for a General Assembly Conflict Mediation Panel, for a proactive role for the Security Council, and for resort to the Uniting for Peace procedure are not “future music.” They could be invoked today.
(10) This is a logical point to mention that the Global Action project foresees the establishment of universal membership regional security organizations in each major region, each with conflict prevention capability. When intervention is carried out by a regional security organization, the Security Council should give its approval.
We do not know the long term future of NATO. It may merge with OSCE or both may finally be absorbed into the European Union structure. But, according to our approach, NATO’s membership would have to become universal and NATO would have to recognize the authority of the Security Council.
(11) We propose in the Global Action program that all newly concluded treaties should provide for referral of disputes to the International Court of Justice for adjudication, giving the court a more active role in conflict prevention. These activities need not be limited to interstate disputes: Under the minority rights treaty we propose, the UN Human Rights Commissioner and the Kosovar community in Yugoslavia would both have status to bring complaints to the Court.
(12) We also assume effective operation of an International Criminal Court and authority under its procedures for the Kosovars to inform the court’s prosecutor at an early stage that abuses of their human rights are taking place. Effective operation of the Criminal Court will mean that the Court’s existence and practices would have a deterrent effect on actions and practices like those of the Yugoslav government against the Kosovars. We believe other aspects of the Global Action program will also have deterrent effects.
(13) The Global Action program foresees the existence of full-time UN volunteer peacekeeping forces, a brigade in each major geographic region, with the capacity to call on member states for backup forces. (14) These units would be financed by the proceeds of an international tax, possibly on airline tickets, levied by member state legislatures.
If the Yugoslav government was prepared to accept the force, the Security Council could propose preventive deployment of this force in Kosovo, stating an emergency was beginning to emerge. If the Yugoslav government refused, the Council could call for further steps, including carefully articulated economic sanctions and the use of military force under Chapter 7.
In contrast to the present situation, these pre-financed peacekeeping troops would be ready to move on a few hours notice. (15) They would be backed by a standing UN police force composed of volunteer personnel who could also take on the job of maintaining order in Kosovo. There are many occasions, including Kosovo, where inviting in a police force poses much less of a challenge to national sovereignty than an outside peacekeeping force and could therefore be more acceptable to the host country and to the Security Council as well. UN-directed police personnel have been deployed in Haiti and the OSCE has also done so in Bosnia.
If either of these forces had already been available, they might have provided a vital component for a negotiated solution of the Kosovo problem. In fact, I have been proposing that a United Nations peacekeeping force be substituted for NATO troops as an international peacekeeping force for Kosovo. A proposal to do this could bring about earlier agreement to end the Kosovo crisis than may be achieved otherwise.
We are talking here of a more powerful Security Council and regional security organizations. To limit the possibility of abuse of power and to enhance accountability of these organizations, we want to (16) institute on a step-by-step basis the practice of judicial review of Security Council decisions by the International Court of Justice.
What about the opposite problem from that of arbitrary action, the question of political will? Would governments and institutions really act to use this improved international security system?
We believe so. First, authority in the system we are describing would be widely dispersed. There would be many separate decisionmakers: NGO’s, human rights officials, UN officials and representatives and governments. Above all, the potential victims themselves would have a much louder voice.
What about timely decisions by regional security institutions or the UN Security Council to send peacekeepers? The issue of political will might become critical at this point.
(17) As one measure to deal with this issue, Global Action proposes that the president of the General Assembly or his representative should participate in meetings of the Security Council to report on Assembly views and keep the Council engaged — and also accountable.
As regards the Security Council’s capacity to act in a timely way without veto, we believe that the five permanent members, in their own self-interest of saving the Council from the cold war oblivion it would otherwise suffer and of preserving their own international influence as members of a functioning Council, may ultimately agree informally among themselves to restrict use of the veto. This restriction could be very limited, ad hoc, or general. Resort to the Conflict Mediation Panel of the General Assembly or to the Uniting for Peace procedure are possible alternatives.
In addition, we are suggesting that (18) the Secretary General of the UN should be given authority by Charter amendment or decision of the Security Council to deploy a peacekeeping military or police force of limited size for conflict prevention only. For the deployment to continue beyond 30 days, it would have to be confirmed by the Security Council.
Speaking more generally, when we raise the issue of political will, we are talking about education. A large part of what we call political will is learned behavior. (19) The Global Action project foresees an intense education program for political leaders at all levels, government officials, military officers and NGO’s on recognition of the signs of possible conflict and the logic of determined early action to prevent conflict.
For Kosovo, we know the lesson already: the costs of failure to intervene early in the Kosovo crisis include the costs of the current NATO military campaign, the costs of caring for the refugees, the costs of an international force, the costs of rehabilitating Kosovo, as well as possibly Serbia, a total which will probably exceed $50 billion for all NATO countries for the next two years.
Governments do not like to take early action. By and large, they believe that most incipient crises will dissipate and that there will be no need to incur the political and economic costs of action to cope with them. That is one lesson they draw from experience. That lesson is wrong in the field of internal conflict. Here, governments have to learn that when certain indicators are present, it is a necessity to pay for the insurance policy of early preventive action. Doing so will save more lives and it will be cheaper to pay these insurance costs than to risk the heavy costs of waiting.
Using round figures, the maximum cost of applying all the measures proposed by Global Action for Kosovo and described in this paper would perhaps have been $400 or $500 million — excluding the standing peacekeeping brigades, $100 million — as contrasted to the loss of life and uprooting of thousands of lives and costs of at least $50 billion in the belated action now going on.
This lesson about the need to act early can in fact be learned. A whole generation of Westerners went through World War II and came out with one lesson – the danger of allowing the human and material resources of Europe to fall under hostile hegemony. Without real hesitation, they followed that lesson into the cold war. Debate during the cold war was mainly about the methods.
To cite another example, in the century between the end of the Napoleonic Wars and World War I, the British political class learned the lesson of early warning and early intervention and acted on these lessons scores of times. Sometimes the objective was laudable, sometimes not, but the point is that this kind of alertness can be learned.
That is the kind of political understanding and political will that must ultimately arise with regard to prevention of conflict. It must be part of the training of every NGO, legislator, diplomat, and soldier on the planet to recognize and react to these symptoms early on. It is a central part of the job of supporters of Global Action to help to carry out this educational task with their political leaders and government officials.
This description covers only that part of the Global Action program aimed at reducing the outbreak of internal war. Global Action’s program of conflict prevention is backed by a systematic program of transparency on all the components of military power, confidence-building, and conventional disarmament to prevent interstate war and big power war — a necessary complement.
Let me draw a conclusion from these comments: This list of preventive measures is not and cannot be complete. We need the help of everyone who has ideas on this issue and of the many experienced workers in this field. Please give us your suggestions and help us make the Global Action approach better.
Our argument is not that any single one of the 18 or 19 measures I have described today would have prevented the Kosovo disaster.
It is that, working together, these measures, combined with the widespread conviction that armed conflict can in fact be prevented, and combined with insistent pressure from civil society – from all of us — can be a powerful force in drastically reducing the outbreak of armed conflict and in preventing future Kosovos.
This is the main subject that the United Nations and world civil society should be working on in their preparations for the agenda-setting Millennial forums next year – and this is the subject that we at the Hague Peace Appeal conference should be thinking of today.
* Jonathan Dean is an adviser on International Security Issues for the Union of Concerned Scientists, Suite 310, 1616 P Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036, 202-332-0900 FAX: 202-332-0905, Global Action to Prevent War.