By Jason Purcell

The thing about loony, war-hungry, nationalist-government-leading semi-dictators is that they’ll push the limits of decency until someone (or some strategic military alliance of western powers) pushes back. Slobodan ilosevic would have unabashedly continued to violate international standards of human rights if the U.S. and its allies hadn’t followed through on their threat of air strikes. At first glance, you might not like the idea of U.S. cruise missiles leveling Serbian munitions depots and military bases – but you should.

An honors student at the Adolf Hitler school of diplomacy, ilosevic is almost finished with the core curriculum. Not so long ago he and his cohorts carried out the “ethnic-cleansing” of all the minorities within reach of his brutal regime. And, early last week, the nationalist legislature of Serbia (read: ilosevic’s cheerleaders) yelped in support of continued “struggle” in Kosovo (read: slaughter of Kosovars). Crazy, huh? But where did Milosevic come up with this stuff? The answer: history.

In the years leading up to World War II, Hitler tested how far he could push the pacifist western powers before provoking an all out conflict. He remilitarized the Rhineland (against the provisions of the Versailles Treaty) and no one stopped him. Encouraged by international self-denial, he took over Austria, then the Sudetenland, then all of Czechoslovakia. See a pattern? ilosevic will tout Serbian sovereignty and shoot ethnic-Albanian separatists until NATO’s military has finished showing him that international law and human rights do mean something. “But Jason,” you ask, “what about the Russians? Aren’t they opposing NATO air strikes? Aren’t they undertaking combat readiness?” Ah yes, the Russians.

Like a pot reaffirming the kettle’s right to be black, the Russians have become spokesmen for those sovereignty-loving Serbs. In fact, the Russians are both protector and mentor for Milosevic and his rogue regime. The Russians used grape shot against separatist civilians in Chechnya (a weapon which uses shrapnel as mass projectiles to mow down – or maim – a large number of targets) and managed to keep international reaction more or less muted. Russia, Serbia, Iraq et al. believe in sovereignty as strongly and unconditionally as your average Nazi believed in the Führer. Human rights, schmuman rights. Who cares anyway?

We do. But sometimes we care too late.

The U.S. has had a bad habit of getting involved in this kind of situation way too late in the game. (The Kurds in Iraq were suffering long before the U.S. and her allies set up no-fly zones). You see, it all goes back to the 1930s. World War II could have been nipped in the bud if the great powers of the day had stopped Hitler from rolling his first tank into the Rhineland.

Now, it ain’t easy being a superpower. Being the most powerful and wealthy nation on earth carries with it the burden of enforcing the international laws and standards that we ourselves fought so hard to create. We must set a precedent for disciples of Hitler, Hussein and Milosevic; violate international law and internationally recognized human rights and expect a visit from NATO’s finest precision bombers. Attacks against Serbia, in addition to stopping the slaughter of Kosovars, also deter future leaders from taking the path of reckless disrespect for human life. (Sure, international politics is a good deal more complicated that this articles makes it appear. But the basic concepts are clear, universal, and hard to refute.)

So we’ve got to set a precedent while we can. One day, when the U.S. has gone the way of Rome or of Alexandrian Greece, some other power will need an example of military intervention on behalf of humanity in order to keep the world safe. Sure, none of us may be around when that happens, but the decisions our nation has made will be. And in this moment of national decision, I believe that we have decided well.

Jason Purcell is a sophomore in the School of Foreign Service.

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