A humanitarian war is generally defined as the trans-boundary use of military force for the main purpose of protecting citizens undergoing abuse from their government, either directly, or by allowing and aiding extreme mistreatment (Heinze 8).
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The invasion of Kosovo by NATO military forces in 1999 is widely perceived by many as the almost perfect example of a humanitarian war given that it is the first war to have been declared on humanitarian grounds (Bacevich and Cohen 79).
It is therefore the best war to analyze and investigate to find out if the use of force can be justified as a humanitarian war.
In March 1999, the forces of NATO under the command of General Wesley Clark of the US army invaded Serbia and attacked Serbia’s military forces with the aim of rescuing innocent civilians from a brutal campaign of ethnic cleansing (Badsey and Latawski 135).
As much as the war was staged based on genuine humanitarian concerns, it is widely acknowledged that, as a legal matter, NATO indeed violated chapter seven of the UN Charter by using force without authorization from the UN Security Council (Segell 210).
Article 2(4) of the UN Charter prohibits the use of force on humanitarian grounds although there are exceptions included in the Charter which allow for the employment of force. As noted by Malone (30), chapter seven of the Charter allows for force by any member of the UN in situations that threaten international security and peace.
Article 51 also allows for the use of force if it is for the purpose of self-defense. NATO’s use of force did not satisfy any of the above conditions.
This therefore implies that when the war is examined from a legal perspective, the use of force in the invasion was as a matter of principle, in breach of international law and therefore was unjustified (Wilson 49).
The invasion was even criticized by China and Russia, though they lost the vote to stop the invasion (Rushefsky 142), and after the invasion, NATO was accused of falsifying genocide charges so it could find the excuse to engage in the war.
Be that as it may, by examining the invasion from a moral perspective, the illegality of the war can be challenged.
To determine whether the use of force was justified morally, one has to examine whether or not a humanitarian emergency existed before the intervention by NATO forces, and whether a humanitarian crisis would have taken place, perhaps over a number of years had the situation been left to continue without intervention.
A close examination of the situation in Kosovo results in an affirmative answer for both considerations. This is so because tensions between the communities in Kosovo and Serbia were present for a lengthy time period in the 20th century and at times, these tensions culminated into wars (Totten and Parsons 441).
Just before the invasion, the administration of President Milosevic was accused of carrying out cruel acts against innocent citizens (Ham and Medvedev 17).
There were reports of mass killings and numerous refugees seeking solace from the oppression they were being subjected to by the Serbians and this clearly indicated a humanitarian emergency.
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At the rate at which the seriousness of the situation was escalating, had NATO had not intervened, there is high chance that many more in innocent civilians would have ended up being refugees and at work been killed by the Serbs.
This therefore leads to the conclusion that the invasion of Kosovo through the use of military force by NATO, though unjustified under international laws, was justified on moral grounds.
Bacevich, Andrew and Cohen, Eliot. War over Kosovo: Politics and strategy in a global age. New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 2001.
Badsey, Stephen and Latawski, Paul. Britain, NATO, and the lessons of the Balkan conflicts, 1991-1999. London, Taylor & Francis, 2004.
Ham, Peter and Medvedev, Sergei. Mapping European security after Kosovo. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2002.
Heinze, Eric. Waging humanitarian war: the ethics, law and politics of humanitarian intervention. New York, NY: SUNY Press, 2009.
Malone, Linda. International Law. New York, NY: Aspen Publishers, 2008.
Rushesfsky, Mark. Public policy in the United States: at the dawn of the twenty-first century. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 2002.
Segell, Glen. Disarming Iraq. London: Glen Segell Publishers, 2004.
Totten, Samuel and Parsons, William. Century of genocide: critical essays and eyewitness accounts. London: Taylor & Francis, 2008.
Wilson, Stephanie. Effectiveness, Legitimacy, and the Use of Force in Modern Wars: The Relentless Battle for Hearts and Minds in NATO’s War Over Kosovo. Berlin: VS Verlag, 2009.