Two prominent foreign policy experts discussed the moral, ethical, political and military dimensions of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s humanitarian intervention in the Balkans Monday evening.

Professor of Social and Political Ethics at the University of Chicago, Jean Bethke Elshtain, and Michael E. O’Hanlon, senior fellow at the Brookings Institute, said that NATO acted properly.

“We were right not to wait,” O’Hanlon said of NATO’s decision to bomb Yugoslav military targets in 1999. Although he said that the intervention could have been executed more efficiently, O’Hanlon believed that the improved condition of the area indicates the relative success of NATO’s actions. “In retrospect [the intervention] did work,” he said.

Following failed threats against Serbia’s communist party leader, Slobodan Milosevic, NATO began air strikes against Yugoslavia in March of 1999. These measures, however, only further intensified assaults on ethnic Albanians and according to the United Nations, displaced approximately 640,000 individuals. While ilosevic eventually signed a peace treaty on June 3 and the United Nations Security Council later established peacekeeping troops in Kosovo to aid refugees, controversy still exists regarding the nature, justification and success of NATO’s actions.

O’Hanlon directly addressed the most pressing issues regarding the Balkan intervention. Although he said that the ideal intervention would have been the utilization of a strong air strike paired with the deployment of ground troops, he did commend NATO’s efforts. “You judge [the intervention] by the results,” he said.

Since the death toll from the conflict in Kosovo was 10-fold less than that of the Bosnian crisis, O’Hanlon commended NATO’s efforts. If the number of causalities had come anywhere near that of Bosnia’s, he stressed that it wouldn’t have been a success.

The event, presented by both the Center for Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies and the Carnegie Commission on Ethics and International Affairs and Search for Common Ground Macedonia, was the second session of a Balkans forum in February at the university.

Entitled “Humanitarian Intervention in the Balkans: Defining Success in Kosovo,” the presentation drew an audience of approximately 50 people.

Elshtain also discussed the theory behind and justification of the “just war tradition,” a framework that consists of two elements: justification and stipulation. According to Elshtain, the Kosovo intervention was justified because of human rights violations against ethnic Albanians. NATO’s actions additionally adhered to the tradition by practicing non-combatant immunity, or providing protection for civilians.

“Because [the just war tradition] is such a powerful rhetoric, it needs to be deployed with caution,” Elshtain said.

Attendees were invited to participate in a question and answer session. The discussion after the speaker’s presentation, which addressed such issues as moral versus legal obligations of humanitarian intervention and the reasoning behind ilosevic’s choice to cede to NATO.

William Joseph Buckley, editor of the first book to compile opposing viewpoints on the Kosovo conflict by well-known authors, spoke with guests in a reception to promote his compilation of essays. The book, Kosovo: Contending Voices on Balkan Interventions, gathers the thoughts of 100-plus individuals, including refugees, refugee workers and well-known figures such as Slobodan Milosevic and Henry Kissinger.

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