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NATO takes on the Kosovo question

Its goals were lofty and practical: to protect the free world and each other. Attacking one member of NATO meant you had attacked them all. At first, Canada played an important role as a founding member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization during the Cold War. But when the Communist threat died, some Canadians wondered why we were still part of the alliance. As NATO continues to redefine its mandate, Canada struggles to determine its own role.

Acting without the authorization of the United Nations, NATO conducts an intensive bombing raid over Yugoslavia in an attempt to halt attacks on ethnic Albanians in Kosovo. The Kosovo Liberation Army is accordingly disbanded and disarmed. When NATO leaders convene a summit in Toronto, there is much self-congratulation about the success of their latest mission, as shown in this CBC news report. But outside, protesters assemble to criticize the alliance's new, self-appointed role. 
• In 1995, NATO sent troops to Bosnia to guard the peace after a brutal civil war. This mission marked the alliance's first major peacekeeping operation. In March 1999, NATO countries agreed that continuing warfare in Kosovo threatened world security. On March 23, 1999, NATO began a campaign of air strikes on Yugoslavia to deter further attacks on ethnic Albanians in Kosovo. Canada contributed manned RCAF planes to perform strikes. The bombing raids continued until June 10, 1999. For more on the history of this crisis, please visit CBC.ca's Balkan History.

• NATO subsequently organized the Kosovo Force to facilitate the return of thousands of refugees to their homeland. Yugoslavian President Slobodan Milosevic was indicted as a war criminal. As of November 2004, Milosevic's trial was being heard at the Hague.

• NATO's decision to bomb Yugoslavia was highly controversial. In a Globe and Mail column, human rights lawyer Irwin Cotler wrote that the air strikes were a direct violation of the Geneva conventions. He said, "Indeed, several recent NATO bombing attacks have arguably violated the basic principles of international humanitarian law, and haven't been validated by the horrific crimes of Mr. Milosevic or the legality of humanitarian intervention to stop them.  As Mary Robinson, the United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights, recently put it: 'In the NATO bombing ... large numbers of civilians have been incontestably killed, [and] civilian installations targeted on the basis that they are or could be of military applications.'" -- May 18, 1999.

• Journalist and former diplomat Graham N. Green supported the air strikes. In a Globe and Mail column, he wrote that they were a necessary pre-emptive strategy. "The main reason for the bombing remains the need to try to keep the conflict in Kosovo from spreading. Otherwise, a wider war would erupt in Southern Europe and NATO would have to intervene anyway, but in much more difficult conditions and with a much higher probability of allied casualties." -- March 26, 1999
Medium: Television
Program: The National
Broadcast Date: Sept. 21, 1999
Guest(s): William Cohen, Art Eggleton, George Robertson, Rudolph Sharping, Javier Solana
Host: Peter Mansbridge
Reporter: Eric Sorensen
Duration: 2:43

Last updated: July 18, 2013

Page consulted on February 18, 2014

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