Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Conflict in Yugoslavia: U.S. Is Waging War For Human Rights

Conflict in Yugoslavia: U.S. Is Waging War For Human Rights

By Jake Klonoski

Since George Washington wrote in 1796 that “no nation had a right to intermeddle in the concern of another,” the United States has come a long way. But the principle he outlined of allowing each nation its own internal sovereignty has gone unchallenged throughout that time as the guiding principle of American military policy. Even as Saddam Hussein used poison gas against his own citizens in the late 1980s, we refused to act. It wasn’t until he violated Kuwait’s sovereignty in 1990 that we decided to challenge him. But in the current situation in Kosovo, the United States is sending its military into recognized Yugoslav territory to attempt to change the legitimate Yugoslav government’s treatment of Yugoslav citizens. Never in American history have we violated the sovereignty of another nation with such impunity. This action clearly leaves sovereignty behind to follow a higher, more idealistic principle: the enforcement of basic, universal human rights.

The wisdom of making this change in American military priorities should be the topic of heated debate around the nation, especially on college campuses where students could eventually be called on to give their lives for it. The course that a decision to enforce human rights implies will be neither easy nor cheap, as the present situation is already proving. But I have no doubt that it is the right one.

The fact that a shift has occurred is unquestionable. It is clear why the United States is intervening when one watches daily newscasts of Kosovar refugees who have been forced from their now burned homes and forcibly separated from their now possibly dead families. It has nothing to do with defending democracy – indeed Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic was twice democratically elected president of Serbia and was legally appointed president of Yugoslavia. And, although politicians may try to spin American involvement off as an effort to avert another large-scale war in Europe, the fact that this war has failed to materialize as the refugees have streamed out of Kosovo should discount this idea. American men and women are now risking their lives in Yugoslavia for one reason: to protect the human rights of the 1.8 million Yugoslavian Albanians who, until recently, lived in Kosovo.

This new guiding principle can, and should, be questioned from many angles. First of all, who is to say what a human rights violation really is? After all, many contend that the use of the death penalty is a human rights violation. And what really should be the deciding factor in where the United States chooses to intervene? China has reportedly killed over one million Tibetans in the past decades – why shouldn’t we intervene there if we are in Kosovo? And, lastly, is it really worth the death of American soldiers to protect the lives of Kosovars (or Tibetans or Tutsis or some other ethnic minority)?

The answer to the first question is obvious. Human rights were set out in simple language in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was endorsed by the vast majority of nations in the world, including Yugoslavia, on Dec. 10, 1948. Among other things, it guaranteed the right to life (no arbitrary execution), freedom from ethnic discrimination and the freedom for self-determination for all people. All of these rights, and many others, are being violated in Kosovo.

As to the application of this principle in military policy, this must be left to the leaders of the country who have been elected to make exactly those types of difficult decisions. It is up to them to decide, after consulting the public, when involvement is reasonable and can make a significant change in what is happening in a country. A war that would cost millions of lives to protect a small group is obviously not advisable. The United States has limited resources (though much greater than any other nation) and must choose wisely where to employ those resources. But, hopefully, a committed and successful policy of protecting human rights will quickly reduce the need for American intervention. An unflinching defense of the rights of Kosovars will make other national leaders think twice about engaging in ethnic cleansing in their own countries.

And to the last point, as we enter a new millennium, I would hope that Americans could begin to overcome their bias in favor of people born within a certain arbitrary geographic area. A little girl born in Pristina, Kosovo deserves the same attention and help as one born in southeast Washington. It may not yet be possible to help her as much because of geo-political realities, but the idea that the dignity of a human being is universally the same must be accepted if we are to begin to advance as one world. So, if a few lives can be given up to save or improve hundreds of thousands of others, I’d say that’s a good deal, wherever the people are from.

Still, this is a revolutionary change. Each American must try to come to grips with it. I would hope most could decide to support it. For, as former Senator Hubert Humphrey (D-Minn.) said in a 1948 speech that came to define the priorities for civil rights in the United States, “the time has arrived in America . to get out of the shadow of states’ rights and walk forthrightly into the bright sunshine of human rights.” Though the meaning of state differs, these eloquent words speak as much truth today as they did 51 years ago.

Jake Klonoski is a freshman in the School of Foreign Service and the media relations chair for the College Democrats.

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