Remote Intervention with Conventional Air-Strikes

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.  Some such interventions only made matters worse, however.

Israel’s air-strike on Iraq’s Osirak reactor, on 7 June 1981, was an example of pre-emptive self-defence.  A University of St Andrews posting, Osiraq, described the reason for it:

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

The action succeeded in delaying the weapons programme.  It was not 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.  A BBC article, How the West justifies action, reported that the UN had passed a resolution which emphasised “the need to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe in Kosovo” but noted that such resolutions “do not authorise Nato or anyone else to take military action”.  NATO explained its action: NATO’s role in relation to the conflict in Kosovo.

Madeleine Albright, who was the US Secretary of State at the time of the Kosovo intervention and who argued strongly for it on moral grounds, described the circumstances and arguments which led to the decision in her book The Mighty & the Almighty (pp. 59-60).

The bombing eventually caused President Milosevic to withdraw from Kosovo, but Serb terror then intensified – as predicted.  Noam Chomsky wrote A Review of NATO’s War over Kosovo, in which he noted: “As the bombing campaign began, U.S.-NATO Commanding General Wesley Clark informed the press that it was “entirely predictable” that Serb terror would intensify as a result.”

Both of these interventions contravened international law, unlike the air-strikes against Libya in 2011 which had been authorised by the UN Security Council under the emerging ‘Responsibility to Protect’ (

The initial legality of the Libya intervention did not prevent it from turning into a disaster, however, when it toppled the Gaddafi regime.  A UK enquiry into Britain’s role in Libya, by the Foreign Affairs Select Committee in 2016, concluded that Britain and France had failed to prepare for the consequences of removing the Gaddafi regime: an upsurge of violence, terrorism and strengthening of ISIS in the region; the BBC report on this enquiry was entitled MPs attack Cameron over Libya ‘collapse’.



This is a current page, from the Patterns of Power Edition 3a book, © PatternsofPower.org, 2020.  An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition03/7322a.htm