Kosovo: war without bloodshed?

The conflict over Kosovo of 1999, however horrible in humanitarian terms, offers a unique opportunity to study attitudes on the use of military force. It differed considerably from earlier situations, either that of traditional interstate war, like the Gulf conflict of 1990-1991 or from traditional peacekeeping operations.1 The failure of international negotiations to bring about an end of the violations of human rights in Kosovo presented NATO with a persuasive motive to decide to carry out its earlier threats to the government of Milosevic despite the absence of a formal UN mandate, to punish it for the persecution of the Kosovars, and to persuade it to change course and withdraw its forces. On March 24, 1999, NATO launched its first ever offensive operation with a salvo of air-strikes against Yugoslav military targets. It would take three months to finally force the Serbian government to yield to Western demands. The conflict was over when Russia abandoned its support for Serbia and Serbian President Milosevic agreed in June to the terms imposed on his government by the allied NATO coalition.

One may argue - as the critics tend to see it - that the conflict over Kosovo in 1999, and the military actions undertaken by NATO and its allies in that context, was merely the last typical war of the 20th century. Others, however - including NATO itself - argued that it was an entirely new kind of war, indeed the first of the 21st century. In the former view it was only the most recent manifestation of the traditional struggle over power and influence in the Balkans, over spheres of interest and competing claims of identity and nationhood; in the latter definition, it was the first example of a new and rather different kind of international use of force, being not aimed at protecting or furthering traditional national interests, but at protecting people and their fundamental rights. In this section we examine the reactions of the public to this conflict, on both sides of the Atlantic.2

The assumption by politicians about how the public would react to the use of force played an important if not overwhelming role in their decisions on whether and how one should act militarily. Given this concern, it is not surprising that many polls were held to assess the public's views. From the pollsters' viewpoint, it is probably not far from the truth to say that in the Kosovo war we saw the first manifestation of some sort of 'world opinion' (Rusciano, 1998).3 It is no mystery that governments and political elites in the countries involved in the military operation reacted rather differently to the event (Weymouth and Henig, 2001) and this is reflected in the domestic political debates in these countries as well and consequently in their public opinions.

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