War and peace

Clearly Noam Chomsky's reputation does not derive from his understanding of cause and effect ("Is this really a grand Nato victory?", 14 June). Citing the increased outflow of refugees from Kosovo after the bombing campaign began on 24 March, he glibly asserts: "So the 'huge air war' precipitated a sharp increase of ethnic cleansing and other atrocities." This conveniently ignores the question of what eventual level of murder, rape and pillage Milosevic's forces might have inflicted, unhindered save by pockets of KLA resistance, had the Nato campaign never begun.

We can never know for certain. But we can make an educated guess. Chomsky cites Nato's estimate of 200,000-300,000 pre-bombing refugees within Kosovo; a similar UN estimate is that 230,000 Kosovar Albanians had been displaced from their homes by autumn 1998. Demonstrably, ethnic cleansing was well under way by 24 March, and there is nothing to suggest it would have stopped there but for the bombing. Indeed, the Serbs' sickening misdeeds during the Bosnian conflict illustrate the scale of the horrors which might have followed in Kosovo. Whatever challenges of reconstruction and healing may lie ahead , there is no reason to suppose that a longer, slower purge by Serb forces and militias would somehow have resulted in less suffering.

Joel Donovan
London SW15

Ian Hargreaves (Media, 14 June) says no one could accuse the British press of lacking diverse opinion. I could. Significantly, when the bombs began falling on Belgrade on 24 March virtually all of Fleet Street backed Nato's attacks. Soon afterwards most newspapers called for ground troops to be sent in to eject Serb troops from Kosovo. The Independent on Sunday was the only one which dared to be critical of Nato's intervention throughout; the Sun proudly "came out" as the sole newspaper to oppose ground action while remaining firmly behind "our boys" in the air. Otherwise the pro-war consensus held firm.

Hargreaves highlights the armchair generals "who thundered that no air war could humble Milosevic". But the war party contained two wings: those backing the air campaign and those, such as the Prime Minister and virtually all the Fleet Street editors, who constantly called for ground action. Those who for various reasons opposed Nato military intervention in Yugoslavia and thus offered real diversity were marginalised throughout the media.

The critics were not usually opposed to the war: they merely wanted it to be fought more efficiently.

Richard Keeble
Senior lecturer in journalism
City University, London EC1

In a single issue (14 June) you featured an editorial and three articles on Kosovo, but not one of them took up the key matter of the future relations of the international community and the Kosovo Liberation Army.

The KLA has become the Kosovars in arms, an authentic people's army; and there is no gainsaying their objective, an independent Kosovo, whatever any agreement might or might not say.

Unless the powers treat the KLA as equals and partners, not as neo-colonials, there will be endless horrors stored up for the future. Kosovo has been continually conquered, exploited and betrayed ever since the triple Roman invasion 2,000 years ago. If it happens again it will be nothing new, but this time there will be no excuse and Kosovo will not accept it. Can there be some rethinking before we contrive another disaster?

Peter Cadogan
London NW6

Your editorial on the Balkan war (14 June) was spot on. The NS has been a rare beacon of sanity over the past 70-odd days.

As you rightly note the test is now on for a war which was supposed to have been fought initially not to bash Milosevic or improve the status of Nato, but for humanitarian reasons.

That begs the question of what the Nato socialists will have to say about the trial of the Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan, who faces death for leading the fight against the Turkish state which has been making Kurds refugees and worse for many years. The slight problem for the humanitarians here is that Turkey is a member of Nato and participated in the Balkans.

Keith Flett
London N17

This article first appeared in the 21 June 1999 issue of the New Statesman, Better to shop than to vote