State sovereignty must answer to principles of human rights

Your complacency about Kosovo (Editorial, 10 May) will go down as one of the least heroic episodes in the New Statesman's history. You misrepresent the nature of the war and its politics. "The war was launched . . ." you write; but Nato did not begin it. There have been "atrocities" in Kosovo, you say; this is an utter failure of understanding, in the face of the most complete genocide in Europe since 1945. Slobodan Milosevic is not "personally responsible", you say, because "ethnic groups in the region show no signs of co-existing in peace" and there was previously war in Bosnia. Yet ethnic groups co-existed in peace for 45 years until Milosevic (yes, he) began wars of "cleansing" in Croatia and Bosnia. You want to "re-state the international principle that the proper occasion for war is when international boundaries are breached". What about the international principle that all states have a duty to prevent genocide?

Your tidy separation of "internal" and "international" went out with the Holocaust. In our world, state sovereignty must answer to global principles of human rights as well as retaining legitimacy with the people. On both criteria, Milosevic has wiped out what little authority Serbian rule in Kosovo possessed. The Kosovars have rightly appealed for international support; it is to Russia's and China's shame, not Nato's, that the UN could not respond.

Your quaint belief that this is an "internal" matter is shared by the 674 academics and writers, led by Bourdieu, Said and Chomsky, who also write about the war without mentioning the word "genocide" (Letters, 10 May). Like you, they seem more worried by Nato's misconceived and bungled intervention than Serbia's planned, murderous expulsion of a whole population. As Melanie McDonagh's excellent article ("Why partition is no good for Kosovo") in the same issue shows, both editorial and letter simply do not answer the realities of this war. The old anti-Americans march hand in hand with the Old Statesman: we look for more from Britain's premier journal of left opinion.

Martin Shaw
Professor of International Relations and Politics
University of Sussex, Brighton

This article first appeared in the 17 May 1999 issue of the New Statesman, The NS Essay - A culture of pretence