No Good Way Out

  In the past two weeks, NATO has had to do a lot of apologizing. First, it apologized for a bombing mistake that killed 87 Kosovar Albanians. It then apologized for mistakenly hitting the Chinese embassy. Last Wednesday NATO had to apologize again, this time for hitting the residence of the Swedish ambassador to Yugoslavia. And just last Friday, NATO apologized to the Swiss for accidentally bombing their ambassador's residence. These tragic mistakes illustrate what happens when our policymakers naively believe that a little bombing can be used surgically to bring a tyrant to his knees. Remember, they said it would just take a couple of days of bombing. But war is not so simple as that, and the disaster in Kosovo illustrates why we must relentlessly press for a distinctively Christian voice in foreign policy. Before entering any armed combat, we need to press our leaders on the hard questions—like whether America has any interest at stake. Or, even more important, whether the conflict squares with classic Just War Theory, which requires, for example, that there is good likelihood of success, and that the suffering being alleviated is greater than the suffering caused by the war itself. How does the war in Kosovo stack up against the requirements of Just War Theory? By any reasonable measure, Operation Allied Force falls short. Instead of protecting the Kosovars, the war has produced hundreds of thousands of refugees. Instead of destabilizing President Slobodan Milosevic or reducing the Yugoslav army's ability to wage war, it has diminished our own by dangerously reducing our stockpile of weapons. Small wonder our leaders are looking for a way out. And how do we get out of this mess? Option one, of course, is a ground war—an option few people outside NATO have any stomach for. Besides, what happens if we were to conquer Yugoslavia? How long will it take to rebuild the country, how long will we occupy it, and how much will it cost? Are we responsible for establishing some democratic regime there? Because of these tricky questions, our leaders are pressing for option two: to work for a political settlement allowing us to get out while saving face. But this option would require us to negotiate with Milosevic, a man we have labeled a war criminal. Besides, any agreement is going to legitimize Milosevic's bloody regime. To be brutally honest, there simply is no good way out. But that doesn't mean that nothing good can come out of this experience. Kosovo ought to teach Americans why we need to develop a well thought-out, morally sound post-Cold War foreign policy. Today our leadership is acting largely on a liberal sentimentalism that views foreign policy as a kind of social work. According to this view, we should intervene militarily only when we don't have any interest at stake so no one can say that our motives are anything other than pure. This is foolish. We should be intervening when American interests are at stake and when the cause is just. I'm not recommending a policy of isolationism. I am saying we need a foreign policy that demands moral justification whenever military force is employed to achieve political goals. Kosovo has been a mistake, but it's one we can learn from if it teaches what questions we ought to be asking before we send missiles raining down on a faraway country. And if we don't learn from our mistakes, then the occasional bomb that goes astray will be the least of our problems.


Chuck Colson



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