Kosovo and the 'New Interventionism': Promise or Peril?

Florida State University Journal of Transnational Law and Policy, Vol. 9, No. 1, pp. 153-182, Fall 1999

Univ. of Wisconsin Legal Studies Research Archival Collection

18 Pages Posted: 23 Mar 2010 Last revised: 21 Apr 2010

See all articles by Richard Bilder

Richard Bilder

University of Wisconsin Law School


The U.S. and NATO justified their 1999 bombing of Yugoslavia and expulsion of Serb forces from Kosovo primarily on the grounds that their intervention was necessary to halt and reverse a humanitarian disaster, namely the Serbs widespread atrocities against and “ethnic cleansing” of the Albanian Kosovars. This article suggests and discusses some of the significant potential issues and problems raised by NATO’s Kosovo intervention – particularly for the UN and the doctrine of humanitarian intervention, but also for the laws of war, the role of international criminal courts, self-determination and ethnic conflict, and the role of the media and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

The article raises questions in each of these respects, especially as to both the legality and desirability of a proposed doctrine of so-called “New Interventionism,” which suggests that a state or group of states may appropriately engage in a “humanitarian intervention” even in the absence of UN participation, authorization or approval. While recognizing that the situation in Kosovo created a genuine moral and political dilemma in which some international action was perhaps unavoidable, the article warns against its use as a precedent. It also suggests that we must always be on our guard against attempts by governments, groups or individuals to appropriate the enormous potential appeal of human rights ideals for selfish rather than truly humanitarian ends.

This article was the Edward Ball Chair lecture delivered at Florida State College of Law in September 1999. It draws in part on and develops ideas included in a series of lectures given by the author on “Rethinking Human Rights: What Have We Learned, Where Are We Going?” delivered at the European University Institute, Academy of European Law, Tenth Anniversary Session on Human Rights, in France and Italy during the summer of 1999.

Keywords: Kosovo, international law, NATO bombing of Yugoslavia, humanitarian intervention, new interventionism, UN Charter and the use of force, international use of force, international relations, U.S. foreign relations, U.S. foreign policy, U.S. foreign affairs

JEL Classification: K40, K42

Suggested Citation

Bilder, Richard, Kosovo and the 'New Interventionism': Promise or Peril?. Florida State University Journal of Transnational Law and Policy, Vol. 9, No. 1, pp. 153-182, Fall 1999, Univ. of Wisconsin Legal Studies Research Archival Collection, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1551969

Richard Bilder (Contact Author)

University of Wisconsin Law School ( email )

975 Bascom Mall
Madison, WI 53706
United States

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