Learning from history
David Chandler is the author of 'Western Intervention and the
Disintegration of Yugoslavia 89-99', in which he argued that: "Western
intervention in the former Yugoslavia has created a vicious circle where
one destabilising intervention has been followed by another as international
institutions have set the framework of fragmentation."
He was a Council of Europe election monitor at the Kosovo municipal elections
on 28/18/01 and has closely studied the mechanics of the administration
of occupied Kosovo. Phil England interviewed him about his new book and
Phil England: Your book Faking Democracy After Dayton1
shows that in Bosnia and Kosovo the elected governments and transitional
councils are in effect puppets democracies there to rubber-stamp the policy
initiatives of the High Representatives and the international community.
Can you outline the problems you see with these protectorates and why
you think this model will not work in Afghanistan?
David Chandler: Many people say that protectorates are too unwieldy. They
argue that the fact that you've got all these different international
bodies involved - the UN, NATO, Council of Europe and the European
Union - has been a problem that's been responsible for the lack
of any progress in Bosnia and Kosovo. How can you work efficiently if
all the members have to agree before you can apply a policy?
But I think there's a more basic problem. At the end of the day,
you can't nation build or impose democracy or a political system
on another country. Any solution has to come from, and be accountable
to, the people that live in that country.
In order to bring society together, there is no point in just having a
vetted, right-on, liberal parliament. It may look very good on paper but
unless these people have any basis in that society, it's going to
be very difficult for them to overcome those barriers and to take some
accountability for policy making and change the political context.
In Afghanistan, America has got the power to dictate exactly who's
going to come to power. Perhaps it will be the old king who hasn't
been there for twenty-eight years and some perfect multi-coloured coalition.
But what they're really concerned with is how to engineer for the
Taliban, the Mujahedeen groups and the Northern Alliance - groups they
don't like politically - not to have too much say in some future
government. They can do that easily, but the chances of that ever cohering
Afghan society or creating a sustainable process of peace building where
there's an exit strategy for international bureaucrats? That's
never going to work.
Look at Bosnia where you have all these discussions about how to minimise
the influence of the nationalist parties and stop people voting on ethnic
lines. 'Maybe if we ban some candidates as being potential war criminals
or sack a few elected presidents for being obstructionist, then things
would be much better.' You can do a lot of imposed engineering, so
that in Bosnia today, the nationalist parties aren't in power at
the state or the entity levels and superficially you might think that's
really good. But then you realise that that's only been the result
of people being kicked out of office or the international community fiddling
how elections are managed.
At the moment the international community run Kosovo and Bosnia without
too much difficulty by imposing what they want. But as long as the political
institutions have no accountability or autonomy for taking decisions that
everyone inside Bosnia can live with it will be artificial.
The lesson is that foreign intervention is destabilising and doesn't
give people the chance to establish a viable political system. Why repeat
a failed process of external meddling in other people's affairs?
PE: They're still selling the idea that although these places are
protectorates, they are in transition. But from your perspective there
is no exit strategy for the UN and no prospect for self-governance in
DC: After six years in Bosnia people are saying, 'Well, we're
going to have to be there for a long time.' Whenever there's
an opportunity to roll back international rule in Bosnia or to bring some
NATO troops out, people say, 'Well it's a matter of principle,
if we were to let people have a bit more power now that would give the
hard-liners more confidence, it would disempower some of the NGOs and
the people we want to support.' And in Kosovo there's an indefinite
mandate for the international community.
Also, because of the moral rhetoric that we fought this war to civilise,
liberate or empower people the international community can't just
leave Bosnia or Afghanistan to govern themselves because the original
legitimacy of the war would disappear. They have to paint these societies
as being totally incapable of governing themselves, as being run by criminals
and warlords, people and governments which are not to be trusted.
My personal view is that until the international community sees the political
sphere as a place for resolving issues and getting people together and
working across political, regional and ethnic divisions and resolving
problems with a degree of autonomy, accountability and responsibility,
then we're never going to progress. At the moment all the international
plans and strategies are about how to avoid the issues and how to feel
PE: In Kosovo, not only have the international community's attempts
to impose democracy failed, the exercise has caused a huge amount of human
suffering and cost a huge amount of money. The 'international community'
have to stump up to rebuild the country that it destroyed and then someone
has to pay for all the staff in the huge bureaucracies that are imposed.
Surely non-intervention is some kind of solution?
DC: I'd agree, but we'd be in a minority of two. Today I was
at this think tank for the UN and democracy2 meeting of policy
advisers. They say, 'Dave, we can't even have that discussion.
It's fair enough to say it won't work or they shouldn't
be there or they shouldn't have bombed Afghanistan to start with,
but from a policy point of view we have to deal with the world as it is.
The reality on the ground is that the UN will be involved whether they
like it or not. What we have to think about is how can we manage it.'
It's difficult to argue for the principles of democracy, sovereignty
or even international law, when there's no respect for them and when
there's no real social force in society or even internationally that
can put them into practice.
The UN is not acting out of choice in a sense. There's no way that
Bush and Blair will want to take responsibility for the mess that they've
made in Afghanistan. It wasn't a great place beforehand but after
who knows how many weeks of war, everything's going to be totally
screwed up. So they're very lucky that they've got this new
rejuvenated UN with new priorities that's so desperate for a role
in the world that they're going to take on the job of administration
The UN aren't looking forward to it but they know that if they don't
do it they won't get any money from America. The only role that the
UN can play today is hand-maiden to NATO and America. They're not
playing their old role any more so the whole situation is desperate.
The old UN approach was to be fairly neutral, let people negotiate their
own peace agreements, perhaps put in some blue helmets to man a peace
line but to respect sovereignty. The UN's Brahimi Report (written
by Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN special envoy who is advising on Afghanistan)3
said that that doesn't work because it doesn't solve the problem.
Take Cyprus or other places where you've had partition or you've
let people get on with it, you've still got partition and Blue Helmets
manning a police line. What these people argue is that protectorates don't
just stop the war but also stop the causes of war.
But I think that even the policy makers are beginning to recognise that
this new approach doesn't really solve the problem either. And I
think that's the real nut that we've got to crack, to explain
why these protectorates are even less likely to work than the old style
PE: You say that the turning point with Kosovo was when the local conflict
was turned into a humanitarian issue and that that created the justification
for military intervention4. There was this phoney document
that the Germans were supposed to have had called "Operation Horseshoe."5
And Racak was a set up in a sense6. To what extent did NATO
force through the military intervention in Kosovo before all the political
and diplomatic means had been exhausted?
DC: People would argue that the Rambouillet meetings weren't really
face to face talks between the Serbs and the Albanians and that the American
state department wrote the agreement, in the same way as the US state
department wrote the Dayton Agreement for Bosnia. They'd argue that
the US forced the agreement separately on the parties, and the decision
to make it a military intervention rather than a diplomatic one was taken
by America. I'm not privy to the higher echelons of American planners
and why they thought the war worthwhile. Whether they thought they would
win it easily and whether they thought it would look good or whether it
was another mechanism for putting pressure on Milosevic. But it's
true that all the diplomatic possibilities weren't pursued.
Look at Afghanistan - no diplomatic niceties bothered with remotely.
That just shows, in our unipolar world America doesn't have to go
through that anymore. If you want to start a war, preferably against a
state that's unable to defend itself, and if you can dress it up
in the humanitarian liberal rhetoric of today, you're going to get
mass support for it.
In Kosovo it was wrong for the Albanians to think that because the Americans
were bombing the Serbs that everything would be hunky-dory. It's
true that Kosovo was historically one of the most poor and run-down regions
and maintaining law and order has always been difficult. Tito's policy
of levelling the country economically didn't really work. So the
origins of the conflict lie partly in historic divisions and partly in
a failure of socialist management policies of economic development.
But I think the real problem in Kosovo has been the fact that instead
of negotiating and working through a solution, people have been encouraged
to fight a war that they knew they couldn't win, but they hoped to
draw in the international community. When that happens it encourages people
to refuse to negotiate with their neighbours because you rely on the international
Unfortunately the only people that are going to be able to rebuild Kosovo
are the people that live there and to do that you're obviously going
to have to build relationships with countries around you - like Serbia - whether
you like it or not.
Very few Serbs remain in Kosovo. The few that remain were too scared to
go the polls and boycotted the municipal elections because they didn't
respect the international protectorate. There were Serbian representatives
on the Transitional Council, although sometimes they'd refuse to
attend. In reality the protectorate has overridden even UNSC resolution
1244 which gives respect for Yugoslav sovereignty. When I was there, outside
the polling stations there were American flags and Albanian flags. Pretty
strange for somewhere that is still supposed to be part of Yugoslavia.
Ethnic Albanians have voted in elections so far because they thought it
would symbolise a move towards independence. But as the years go by I
think you'll see lower turnouts as people realise the farce that
these elections are under the protectorate framework.
In Kosovo they have their first provincial elections in November. So you
will have the same two tier system that you have in Bosnia where you have
an elected government and above them an international administration.
PE: In Kosovo and Bosnia, the organisation responsible for the "democratisation"
programme is the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe
(OSCE). I don't think many people would know who they are, where
they came from and why they exist. But a huge organisation nevertheless.
And you've looked at them very closely in your work and you've
even worked for them as a monitor in various elections.
DC: The OSCE are an intergovernmental organisation that was set up during
the Cold War, I think in 1975, with the Helsinki Agreement. The idea was
to put pressure on Eastern Europe around human rights and then there'd
be an opening with economics and trade. So it was a Cold War body but
the secret of the OSCE's success was that it never had a formal mandate.
It was very much an informal series of conferences. With the end of the
Cold War it was bodies that weren't tied to the UN Charter or Cold
War mandates saying you couldn't interfere in politics and sovereignty.
One of the OSCE initial big things was a series of conferences around
minority rights where it was agreed that Western powers had the rights
to monitor minority rights situations in Eastern Europe and a whole new
network and mechanisms of regulation. It was worked out in a very one-sided
way - obviously neither the Basque question nor the Northern Ireland
question was a concern of minority rights, all the minority rights questions
were in Eastern Europe. It was always a problem to phrase it in a universal
language and then in the small print say these national questions aren't
counted because of violence, or because they are indigenous minorities.
Now they've developed a whole way of regulating the political process
so you'll see the OSCE monitoring elections and the media in various
states. In Bosnia and Kosovo the OSCE don't just monitor the elections,
they set them up, they make the laws and regulations and the same with
the media as well.
PE: The OSCE was accused of meddling in the Belarus elections last month.
You were a monitor at the elections and wrote a piece on that7.
There was also a piece in the Guardian on the US manipulation of the Belarus
elections ("Operation White Stork") and the fact that and that
it was modelled on what they did to get Kostunica into power in Belgrade8.
At a Committee for Peace in the Balkans public meeting recently, Ann Mahon
MP was warning that NATO now has Belarus in its sights. The US through
the National Endowment for Democracy has been manipulating foreign elections
quite some time, quite systematically9. Covert funding and
election management seems to make a mockery of pretensions of encouraging
DC: There's a load of different so-called 'democracy' approaches.
One traditional one is to fund political parties or independent newspapers
or give them campaigning advice which on one-hand is a fairly traditional
meddling approach. You could be generous and say, well at least there's
an element of democracy about it because they argue that there should
be a level playing field, that in these "transitional states"
the governing party owns all the press, they've got all the publicity
and all the rest of it.
With Belarus, the US Embassy and the OSCE permanent mission played a big
role in getting an opposition candidate together who they thought could
do a Kostunica. They persuaded the main five opposition groups to unite
behind one candidate. But it was the candidate that they didn't want
to unite behind - Goncharyk - who they saw as being a Trade Unionist
and maybe he could win a few votes from President Lukashenka. But all
that happened was that it undermined the choice for Belarussian voters.
Also, once the international community gets behind one party or one faction,
their policies become much more geared to the international community
than to the electorate. In Belarus it was hilarious in a way that as soon
as they knew they had international backing from the opposition they weren't
really worried about winning the election. They just complained that the
elections weren't really fair, they were fraudulent and tried to
get the international community in to overturn the result and appoint
their person. On the day of the elections when the other candidates were
out campaigning, Goncharyk was at the Hotel Planeta talking to parliamentarians
from the OSCE and the Council of Europe as opposed to the electorate.
So that approach failed and I think it was very detrimental to democracy
PE: What is the point you are making in your new book about the connection
between human rights and international interventions?10
DC: A lot of interventions today are based on protecting the rights of
other people. Once you call an issue a human right what you're saying
is that this right is so important that it should be policed, monitored
or administrated independently outside the sphere of politics, democracy
and accountability. An international institution can act for the rights
of people in Kosovo but the people in Kosovo have no say over what is
done in their name. At the same time, the British public have no say over
what the government does in their name. The government says, 'We're
not acting on your behalf, we're acting on behalf of other people'.
So these universal rights are very different from political rights because
they don't have a lot of accountability attached to them. So no matter
how much the international community might screw up a situation with political
intervention, military intervention and then protectorate style intervention,
it's never their own fault. That's why these policies are repeated.
Quite often the slippery concept of human rights gives power to the already
powerful. It's giving the US and other Western states more power
to intervene in smaller states in other parts of the world outside of
a framework of international law, outside of a framework of the equality
of political sovereignty - and to create a new, pre-1945, pre-UN framework.
By throwing away that Cold War framework we are very much entering the
framework of might is right.
The more we see the end of international law and the end of respect for
sovereignty the more conflict we'll see where people will be intentionally
trying to bring in the international community because they'd rather
have a protectorate than face a democratic mandate or negotiate from a
position of weakness. Some people might argue that it's a license
for minorities who want to separate but at the end of the day, it's
the major Western powers that decide which campaigns they're going
to support and which countries they're going to undermine. I worry
that there's going to be more Kosovos, Bosnias and Afghanistans,
wars allegedly fought for the protection of human rights and dressed-up
in the liberal terminology of empowerment and we're basically going
to go back to an old colonial era of enslavement - a few independent
rich and powerful states while everyone else is going to be dictated to.
Clinton, Bush and Blair love going in on a white charger saving the victims,
but there's very little thought given to what happens afterwards
to the consequences. It's very short-termist. The lesson we've
seen time and time again is that the international community isn't
really concerned with human rights in Kosovo or Afghanistan. They're
either concerned with their geostrategic interests or, more likely, with
getting a good sound bite for domestic audiences.
1. David Chandler Bosnia: Faking Democracy After Dayton (Pluto Press,
2nd Edition, 2000).
2. Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA).
3. General Assembly Security Council, Report of the Panel on United Nations
Peacekeeping Operations, 21 August 2000, http://www.un.org/peace/reports/peace_operations/
4. David Chandler "Western Intervention and the Disintegration of
Yugoslavia" in Degraded Capability: The Media and the Kosovo Crisis
Philip Hammond & Edward S. Herman, eds (Pluto Press, 2000).
5. Foreign Affairs Select Committee Fourth Report: Kosovo, paras 93-98.
6. Hammond & Herman, eds, ibid pp 117-120.
7. David Chandler - Dictating Democracy in Belarus http://www.spikedonline.com/articles/00000002D26F.htm
8. Ian Traynor "Belarussian foils dictator-buster... for now",
The Guardian, 14/9/01.
9. Eg William Blum "Rogue State" (Zed Books, 2001) pp. 168-183.
10. David Chandler From Kosovo to Kabul: Human Rights and International
Intervention (Pluto Press, forthcoming March 2002).