Yellow banner with pen and letters

Author: Aldo Matteucci

A New Generation Draws the Line: Kosovo, East Timor and the Standards of the West


Note: The author of this review compares Noam Chomsky's A New Generation Draws the Line: Kosovo, East Timor and the Standards of the West and David Fromkin's Kosovo Crossing: American Ideals meet Reality on the Balkan Battlefields.

‘…the dilemma of politics: if you were ruthless enough to gain power to change the world, you probably would lack the idealism to change it for the better. But if you were sensitive and gentle and god, you were unlikely to command enough force to translate your programs into reality.’ David Fromkin, p. 23

In the XIXth century, the ‘Eastern Question’ – what to do about  Turkey-in-Europe – aroused Europe’s emotions because it was about Muslims ruling Christians. Emotions went hand in hand with ‘strategic interests’: as the ‘Sick Man of Europe’ declined, Russia and Austro-Hungary vied for the spoils. Having helped itself to Egypt and the Suez Canal, Great Britain watched nervously and suspiciously moves that might threaten its lines of communication to India. Emotions drove policy, policy drove emotions. In the end it was the peoples of the Balkans that freed themselves of Turkish rule.

Austria went to war in 1914 to safeguard its strategic position in the Balkans. The three big powers on the region, Russia, the Ottoman Empire and Austria-Hungary collapsed. It failed. In 1920 once more the West imposed a settlement on the region based on Wilsonian – self-less – principles. These were:

  • Non-aggression (art. 10 of the Covenant of the League of Nations); collective security to sustain the status quo;
  • Non-secession;
  • Self-determination (government only with the consent of the governed).

These three principles spelled the end of the existing multinational powers. But the successor states were themselves multinational – and indeed there was no way to trace geographic borders to fit the ethnic boundaries. Four options were at hand. The first was genocide – as in Armenia. The second was forcible population transfers. It was done time and again – from Poland to Greece. The third one was voluntary migration – no country seriously countenanced it. The fourth was to create a web of ‘minorities treaties’ to provide external protection for the minorities (under the League of Nations). It meant permanent interference with sovereignty by a credible guarantor or overlord [1]. The settlement of 1920 left the area prone to internal and external insecurity.

One of the considerations animating the US and its allies as it involved itself in the affairs of former Yugoslavia was the desire to serve not the national interest, but the common interest of all countries in bringing peace and stability to the world. Apologists from Havel to Blair in fact argued that it was the only justification.

This goal was beyond their capability to achieve: military intervention can sustain the status quo, but not bring about government with the consent of the governed. As second best, it can impose an imperial order, but it would be challenged unless followed by substantive involvement to change the political and economic environment that nourishes the conflict.

Can it at least stop widespread violence or genocide? This has been an unproven proposition so far. Peace making may work in a conflict between states, at the limit it may stop fomenters of civil war, but once a civil war has broken out, it is difficult to see how the fire might be put out by a military intervention.

As it turns out, and Chomsky proves punctiliously (and Fromkin concurs with his assessment), NATO intervention had a far more limited (and less altruistic) objective – to ensure the ‘credibility’ of the overlord face to a perceived challenge by the Serbs. Ensuring credibility is a poor criterion for action. It aims at worldwide or regional perception, and it is founded in perception – not reality. Such a goal is poorly defined and its achievement is difficult to determine. The choice of instruments reflects the larger goals, not the needs of the situation. Credibility – make believe – is theatre, and the willingness to bear the human costs is very limited. Establishing credibility finally has a fundamental flaw: it commands consistency in face of challenge, hence replication. This quickly leads to overstretch. Failure to do so leads to the charge of ‘double standards’.

Where Fromkin and Chomsky diverge is in the deeper justification for U.S. action in former Yugoslavia. The first sees indulgence, the latter imperial design. For non-imperial powers indulgence is the operative term – and there is lots of indulgence about these days. It takes place for internal policy reasons – to be seen as ‘doing something’ about evil in the world. FROMKIN reserves his harshest judgement for such people: ‘Preferring that people die rather than have someone thought to be undesirable move into your neighbourhood may be human nature, but it is not humanitarian.’

We have the capacity to destroy and freeze the ruins in place – not the wisdom to rebuild. Not unless we are willing to become involved and thus change the framework for a possible solution. The US did this in Europe after WWII. What emerges may not be better, but it will be different and, foremost, has a chance of being stable.

We are seldom ready to bear the costs of our idealism. What is to be done? The tension between power and goodness cannot be resolved. We can be more modest, however, and temper our idealism with awareness of our limits and limitations…


[1] As it turns out, empires have always been keen to maintain their credibility. The Roman destruction of Massada – and in particular the method they used – was all about credibility. Massada was a small community, hardly worth any effort. It could have been captured easily, had the Romans bothered to walk up to the city walls from the other side of the mountain. The choice of building a monstrous siege machine to surmount the precipice defending one side of the city was dictated by the wish to show to the rest of the empire Rome determination to spare no effort and pay any price in defence of imperial rule


Review by Aldo Matteucci

You may also be interested in


A New Generation Draws the Line: Kosovo, East Timor and the Standards of the West

Note: The author of this review compares Noam Chomsky's A New Generation Draws the Line: Kosovo, East Timor and the Standards of the West and David Fromkin's Kosovo Crossing: American Ideals meet Reality on the Balkan Battlefields.


Keeping the Peace in the Cyprus Crisis of 1963-64

After some difficulties, a UN force was established in Cyprus (UNFICYP) following the collapse of the bicommunal independence constitution of this former British colony - a constitution which the Greek Cypriots had always felt too favourable to the Turkish minority - at Christmas 1963. In this book, Alan James, Professor Emeritus of Keele University and leading authority on peacekeeping, provides what is likely to be regarded as the definitive history of the creation of this force.


Against All Enemies: Inside America’s War on Terror

All memoirs are incomplete; instant ones even more so; and memoirs about security matters are the worst, in this respect. The book, however, manages to disappoint in an unusual way.


A kind of diplomatic incantation: Exchanging British and Japanese diplomats in the Second World War

Metaphor and War: The Metaphor System Used to Justify War in the Gulf


Female leadership in conflict prevention, diplomacy and UN peacekeeping initiatives


The Search for Peace


Embassies under Siege


Strengthening of the Coordination of Emergency Humanitarian Assistance of the United Nations


High Noon in Southern Africa: Making Peace in a Rough Neighbourhood


Managing the Cold War: A view from the front line

Michael Alexander, a Russian-speaking senior British diplomat who died in 2002, was a major behind-the-scenes figure in what he calls the ‘management’ of the cold war to a peaceful conclusion.

The Responsibility to Protect


A clash of professional cultures: The David Kelly affair

The Hutton inquiry into the death of Dr David Kelly, the senior British arms inspector in the UN inspection mission to Iraq who was found dead in an English wood in July 2003, offers revealing insights into the contrasting professional cultures of journalists, politicians and scientists. This paper focuses both on the language and on the transgressions associated with each of the three professional cultures under investigation.


Weapons Overview


Peace Negotiations and Time: Deadline Diplomacy in Territorial Disputes


The Embassy: A story of war and diplomacy

This book tells the story of the vital role played by the US Embassy in Monrovia in helping to mediate an end to the brutal, 14-year civil war in Liberia in 2003.


Intervening in Africa: Superpower Peacemaking in a Troubled Continent


DC Confidential: The controversial memoirs of Britain’s ambassador to the U.S. at the time of 9/11 and the Iraq War

DC Confidential: The controversial memoirs of Britain's ambassador to the U.S. at the time of 9/11 and the Iraq War.

Intractable Syria? Insights from the Scholarly Literature on the Failure of Mediation

Track 2 diplomacy and Pakistan


Mediation in International Relations


The Peace Brokers: Mediators in the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 1948-79


FDR’s Ambassadors and the Diplomacy of Crisis: From the rise of Hitler to the end of World War II

What effect did personality and circumstance have on US foreign policy during World War II? This incisive account of US envoys residing in the major belligerent countries – Japan, Germany, Italy, China, France, Great Britain, USSR – highlights the fascinating role played by such diplomats as Joseph Grew, William Dodd, William Bullitt, Joseph Kennedy and W. Averell Harriman. Between Hitler's 1933 ascent to power and the 1945 bombing of Nagasaki, US ambassadors sculpted formal policy – occasionally deliberately, other times inadvertently – giving shape and meaning not always intended by ...


Diplomacy under a Foreign Flag: When nations break relations


An Examination of the Role of Women in Conflict Management: Sierra Leone Case Study

This paper examines the role of women in conflict management, using Sierra Leone as a case study.


Education and Conflict: Complexity and Chaos


Conflict resolution and peace building (disseration by Unisa Sahid Kamara)

Unisa Kamara's dissertation seeks to give an account of the Sierra Leone conflict and the different measures and strategies including diplomatic attempts and efforts that were employed by various parties in trying to secure a peaceful and durable solution to it. The paper discusses the peace building measures and activities that were employed in sustaining the Sierra Leone peace process after the attainment of a negotiated settlement.


Virtual Reality and the Future of Peacemaking (Briefing Paper #14)


Cyprus: the search for a solution

Lord Hannay, a senior British diplomat with great experience of multilateral diplomacy, retired in 1995 but was then persuaded to accept the position of Britain’s Special Representative for Cyprus. In this role he played an influential part in the UN-led effort to broker a settlement to the Cyprus conflict until the negotiations temporarily foundered in May 2003, when, with a mixture of relief and regret, he stepped down. (There is a postscript on the referendums held on the island in 2004 on the fifth version of Kofi Annan’s settlement plan.) He has written a brilliant account of the cour...


Decision-Making in the UN Security Council: The case of Haiti, 1990-1997

Question: 'When is a "Foreword" not a "Foreword"? Answer: When it is written by Adam Roberts. This book started life as an Oxford doctoral thesis under the supervision of Professor Roberts, and the former supervisor has done both the former student and readers of this book a great service by prefacing it with a seven-page essay in which he underlines its importance in convincing detail. So this, unlike ninety-nine per cent of examples of the same genre, is a Foreword that should not be ignored.


The Role of Nigeria in Restoring Peace in West Africa

Remmy Nweke attempts a search into the rationale behind Nigeria‟s decision to make Africa the cornerstone of her foreign policy.


War and the Private Investor: A Study in the Relations of International Politics and International Private Investment


Post Cold War diplomatic training

Victor Shale's paper refers to a specific time period: the post-Cold War period which brought about new forms of conflicts, and high levels of terrorism. In the light of the change in traditional diplomacy, his paper examines multistakeholder diplomatic training and its importance as an approach in penetrating different cultures, and examines whether this approach could be used to minimise intractable conflicts.


Barriers to conflict resolution in Africa: Mediating beyond power and ethnicity in the EAC and SADC countries through a Kenyan case study

This paper assesses the relevance of ethnicity and power in conflicts occurring in the EAC and SADC regions through a case study of Kenya. It engages with elites’ power contestation and the manner in which power has historically caused violence and instability in Kenya. Further, an account of researches on ethnicity and its inducing of violence is made. Through this, one discovers the importance of ethnicity beyond that of being a channel for the upsurge of violence.


The Mediation Process: Practical Strategies for Resolving Conflict


Managing Global Chaos


The Demilitarization of American Diplomacy: Two cheers for striped pants

The trenchant contribution to this subject of the outstanding American scholar-diplomat Laurence Pope is published in Palgrave’s ‘Pivot’ series of short books designed to be brought out quickly.


Mediation in the Yugoslav Wars: The Critical Years, 1990-95


The Secret History of Dayton: U.S. Diplomacy and the Bosnia Peace Process 1995


The Breaking of Nations: Order and Chaos in the Twenty-First Century


Regional water cooperation in the Arab – Israeli Conflict: A case study of the West Bank

The conflict between Israel and Arab countries, with several devastating wars, is about territory and land, and maybe just as crucially on the water that flows through that land. This dissertation, an analysis of the management of water in the West Bank, as a case study, seeks to underline the possibility of using soft power diplomacy, in addition to mediation and water cooperation, for a more collaborative kind of approach to the conflict.


United Nations, Divided World, 2nd ed


DC Confidential: The controversial memoirs of Britain’s ambassador to the U.S. at the time of 9/11 and the Iraq War

The publication of these memoirs in autumn 2005 caused a public furore in Britain so I shall not waste time giving any background on Sir Christopher Meyer. (Just punch his name into Google, which will enable you in the blink of an eye even to find out from the BBC website which records he chose when he appeared on Desert Island Discs.)


Return to the UN: United Nations diplomacy in regional conflicts

‘… lively … persuasive … careful analysis… This is a very readable study, combining narrative strength with political acuity, and informative on the years of disappointment … Much has changed since the UN’s annus mirabilis, but Berridge’s conclusions still stand’, Nicholas Sims, London School of Economics, Millenium.

From U Thant to Kofi Annan: UN Peacemaking in Cyprus, 1964-2004

2004 marked the fortieth anniversary of the United Nations presence in Cyprus. Since March 1964, the UN has been responsible for addressing and managing both peacekeeping and peacemaking efforts on the island.


Diplomats at War: British and Commonwealth diplomacy in wartime

In their Preface, the editors of Diplomats at War say that the two world wars in the twentieth century had a “catalytic impact upon the practice of diplomacy”; among other things, they continue, this produced “an unprecedented revolution” in the way heads of mission conducted their business.


Embassies in Armed Conflict


Preventive Diplomacy: Stopping Wars Before they Start


Governance and conflict in the Mano River Union States: Sierra Leone a case study

The MRU states (Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone) experienced more than two decades of bitter conflicts. With the exception of Guinea which was spared a full-scale civil war, the other three neighbouring MRU states went through violent civil conflicts which resulted in massive human suffering, social dislocation and the destruction of the region's economy.


Diplomacy Before and After Conflict


Kosovo Crossing: American Ideals meet Reality on the Balkan Battlefields

The author of this review compares Noam Chomsky's A New Generation Draws the Line: Kosovo, East Timor and the Standards of the West and David Fromkin's Kosovo Crossing: American Ideals meet Reality on the Balkan Battlefields.


The Revenge of Geography: What the Map Tells Us About Coming Conflicts and the Battle Against Fate


The Fundamental Principles of the Red Cross: Commentary

The Fundamental Principles are the result of a century of experience. Proclaimed in Vienna in 1965, they bond together the National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the International Committee of the Red Cross and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, and guarantee the continuity of the Movement and its humanitarian work. In this succinct commentary intended for the general public, Jean Pictet explains the meaning of each of the seven Fundamental Principles; he analyses them on the basis of different criteria and presents all their various aspects, thus mak...

The Falkland Islands War: Diplomatic Failure in April 1982