Few issues have provoked as much debate among progressive Americans in recent years as the war in the Balkans. In the following article, Diana Johnstone responds to Paul Hockenos' essay "Human Wrongs: How the Great Powers Failed the Balkans," which appeared in the August 7 issue of the magazine.
In the obscure mix of motives behind such an action as NATO intervention in the Balkans, some motives - and not those most openly proclaimed - may turn out to be more operative than others. NATO's professed objective of creating a multi-ethnic, humanitarian democracy in Kosovo - no doubt the sincere desire of some of the many lesser supporters in NATO's "humanitarian crusade," especially intellectuals who have mistaken Balkan windmills for Hitlerian dragons - is a resounding failure. Rather than "stability" the operation has produced many of the effects Hockenos claims it wished to prevent.
For Hockenos, criticism of the new doctrine of "humanitarian intervention" has strict limits. It is all right to want to make it more effective by using ground warfare rather than air strikes, and by following up military intervention with "credible, professional peacekeeping missions that will help indigenous democratic forces create self-sustaining democratic institutions and political cultures." In fact, Hockenos himself, having worked for the OSCE administration of Bosnia at Banja Luka, has been actively engaged in the enterprise of teaching democracy to the local people. This is no doubt an inspiring and rewarding project, but so was the imperial civilizing mission of the 19th century. The Christian missionaries have been replaced by progressive NGOs.
Idealistic or cynical, those embarked on this crusade readily partake of a consensus that fiercely rejects any suggestion that the mission itself might be basically flawed - that freedom and democracy must be developed by the people themselves, not by occupying armies and foreign administrators who know what is best, as dictated by IMF economists. Imbued with their own righteousness, the transnational benefactors indignantly reject the suggestion that the Great Powers and their armies that make their humanitarian work possible might have ulterior motives, and might even be largely responsible for stirring up the conflicts and instability that allow them to intervene in the first place.