Remote Military Intervention with Conventional Air-Strikes

(The latest version of this page is at Pattern Descriptions.  An archived copy of this page is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition02/7322.htm)

Air-strikes against military targets can be carried out without deploying troops in the target country, so they carry less domestic political risk than foreign wars.  The governance implications can be classified according to the purpose of the intervention:

·      Israel's attack on Iraq’s Osirak reactor on 7 June 1981[1] is an example of pre-emptive self-defence.  It was an air-strike to avert the perceived threat of Iraq developing nuclear weapons, which it thought might be used against Israel; it succeeded in delaying the weapons programme.  The action was not expressly authorised by the UN and there was disagreement about whether it constituted legitimate self-defence.

·      NATO’s controversial bombing campaign in Serbia in 1999, on behalf of Kosovo, was billed as a humanitarian intervention to prevent ethnic cleansing.[2]  It was nonetheless illegal under international law.  It eventually caused President Milosevic to withdraw from Kosovo, but his immediate response (as was foreseen) was to increase the intensity of his terror campaign.[3]

Both of these interventions contravened international law, unlike the air-strikes against Libya which had been authorised by the UN Security Council (5.3.7) under the emerging ‘Responsibility to Protect’.

© PatternsofPower.org, 2014                                                 

[1] The University of St Andrews web-site described the reason for Israel’s attack on Iraq’s Osiraq reactor:

“When Israeli intelligence confirmed Iraq's intention of producing weapons at Osiraq, the Israeli government decided to attack.”

This posting was available in May 2014 at http://www.fas.org/nuke/guide/iraq/facility/osiraq.htm.

[2] Madeleine Albright, who was the American Secretary of State at the time of the Kosovo intervention, described the Clinton Administration's reasons for taking action (despite the fact that it had been unable to gain explicit approval from the UN Security Council) in her book The Mighty and the Almighty (pp. 59-62). 

A BBC analysis of the intervention in Kosovo, entitled How the West justifies action, was published on its website on 24 March 1999 and was available in May 2014 at http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/302234.stm.

A NATO history of the intervention was published in July 1999 and was available in May 2014 at http://www.nato.int/kosovo/history.htm.

[3] Noam Chomsky wrote A Review of NATO’s War over Kosovo, which was published by Z Magazine in its edition of April-May 2001 and was available in May 2014 at http://www.chomsky.info/articles/200005--.htm; in it, he quoted U.S.-NATO Commanding General Wesley Clark as informing the press that it was “entirely predictable” that Serb terror would intensify as a result of the bombing campaign.