World weighs in on NATO's war

Three weeks into NATO's bombing campaign against Yugoslavia, world opinion about the operation has divided along very clear-cut lines.

In the 19 NATO member countries in Europe and North America, citizens and government officials have rallied round. Support for the daily bombardment is not unanimous, but it is solid.

Elsewhere in the world, in Asia and Latin America, in Africa and Russia, and in the Middle East, the mood is much more skeptical. Western military intervention in another country's internal affairs has raised hackles and fears for the future of weaker states.

"NATO is basically the United States and I have some doubts about its aims," says Yoshinori Yokoyama, a laptop-toting businessman in Tokyo.

"We don't have a conflict with the West right now," he says, "but we are watching what they are doing."

The sense that NATO is merely doing Washington's bidding is not confined to Japan. In China, where the government has lashed out in the state-run press against the campaign to protect ethnic Albanian Kosovars, the anti-American diatribes have found an echo on the streets.

"By attacking a small country like Yugoslavia, the US is showing that it wants to become the world's unchallenged hegemonistic power," says a young factory worker in a Beijing restaurant.

In India, where "American imperialism" has long been a popular bugbear, the trend of opinion in political circles runs against the bombing for much the same reasons. "NATO is coming across as a bully," says Deepu Saha, a young marketing executive in Calcutta. "There is no international justification for Bill Clinton to assume the role of international policeman."

On the other side of the globe, in a country that has dedicated a whole museum to the foreign military interventions it has suffered, Mexicans seem almost resigned to what is happening in Yugoslavia.

"No country should intervene in the affairs of another country, but we know from experience that the United States involves itself when it wants and as it pleases," says Luis Enrique Jarillo Garca, a Mexico City chauffeur and bodyguard.

That sort of attitude is widely shared throughout Latin America, where decades of US intervention in countries' domestic affairs leave many average citizens with a dim view of the allied war.

'Coup against the UN'

Behind much of the criticism lies the fact that NATO launched its bombing campaign without specific authorization from the United Nations Security Council. (NATO countries did not seek such authorization, knowing that Russia and China, two permanent members, would veto the plan.)

It is the UN that has given smaller countries of the developing world a voice in international affairs, and the way that NATO acted behind its back naturally worries them.

South African Foreign Minister Alfred Nzo has attacked the bombing as an affront to the authority of the UN, and in The Monitor, an Ethiopian newspaper published in Addis Ababa, commentator Misikir Sultan called it "a coup against the United Nations" and warned that "if what NATO is doing in the Balkans is the norm for handling future crises, there looks to be no point in maintaining a Security Council."

Also disturbing to many third-world countries is the way in which NATO has justified its violation of Yugoslav national sovereignty in the name of something it says is a higher value - preventing a humanitarian crisis in the form of "ethnic cleansing" of ethnic Albanian Kosovars by Serbian forces.

For at least one NATO member, Canada, which uses its troops more often for peacekeeping than for warmaking, it is this concern for "human security" that has put Ottawa on the side of military intervention.

A staunch advocate of the idea that securing human rights should be a policy goal on a par with securing state sovereignty, Canadian Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy declared last week that, although Canada would have "strongly preferred" a UN go-ahead for the NATO operation, "NATO is engaged in Kosovo to restore human security to the [ethnic Albanian] Kosovars."

Importance of sovereignty

But for most countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, national sovereignty is the cornerstone of their existence as independent states. It is also the defense they use against any outside powers getting involved in their domestic problems.

So the sight of NATO deciding unilaterally to protect Kosovars from their government, regardless of Belgrade's claims to national sovereignty, gives many other governments pause.

Take Beijing, for example. As many as a million Tibetans died from starvation or persecution in the wake of Communist China's invasion of the Himalayan region 50 years ago, and some continue to clamor for autonomy in the face of what the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, calls cultural genocide.

In an unusually blunt interview published last week in the official China Daily newspaper, Premier Zhu Rongji argued that ethnic tensions in Kosovo were an internal affair of the sovereign state of Yugoslavia.

"If military intervention is used against a country for a human rights issue, that will create a very bad precedent for the world," Mr. Zhu was quoted as saying.

"With that," he added, "people will wonder whether foreign powers should take military actions" against China over ethnic issues in Tibet.

Similar concerns have been raised in India, which has had a lot of trouble from Muslim separatists in Kashmir, a territory under dispute with neighboring Pakistan, but which will brook no interference in the conflict from outside powers.

The United States and Britain have both shown an interest in acting as diplomatic middlemen between India and Pakistan, but such overtures have been angrily rejected by New Delhi.

Mideast eyes precedent

In Israel too, where feelings are mixed about the NATO campaign because Serb resistance fighters were some of Europe's bravest anti-Nazis during World War II, the bombing might be seen as a worrying precedent.

If the international community is prepared to use bombs to enforce justice for an oppressed Muslim minority in the Balkans, might it not one day do the same to enforce a peace treaty between Israel and the Palestinians?

Even in Mexico, such arguments resonate: "We are seeing the creation of a new order," says Mexico City political analyst Augustn Gutirrez Canet.

"Simply claiming sovereignty," he says, "is not going to be enough" if one day the international community decided to try to resolve ethnic problems in the troubled southern state of Chiapas, for example.

Although the West was careful not to interfere in the way Moscow handled separatists in Chechnya in the mid-1990s, NATO's action against Russia's Slav cousins in Serbia has prompted widespread outrage in Russia, and a strong nationalist response that appears to be filling the ideological vacuum left by the collapse of communism.

"I am furious about this American aggression," unemployed Moscow teenager Anatoly Garilov said as he joined a protest against the airstrikes.

"They are attacking our Slav brothers," he said. "Is Russia next?"

Public support in West

Meanwhile, in the countries actually involved in the airstrikes, detailed press coverage of the plight of ethnic Albanian refugees who have been forced out of Kosovo has stiffened public resolve behind the NATO campaign.

In Canada, opinion polls have found as many as 79 percent of respondents supporting Canadian participation in the operation.

In Germany, whose troops are participating in a military operation abroad for the first time since World War II, 61 percent of the public is behind the campaign.

In France, 68 percent of those polled would support the use of ground forces to protect the Kosovars.

The press coverage has also prompted an outpouring of generosity toward the refugees.

In Germany, charities such as the Red Cross are reporting record contributions to their campaigns for aid for Kosovo, and in France 330,000 callers to a government-sponsored hot line have offered to take in a refugee family.

*This article includes reports from staff writers Nicole Gaouette in Tokyo, Kevin Platt in Beijing, Howard LaFranchi in Mexico City, Judith Matloff in Moscow, Robert Marquand in New Delhi, and Ruth Walker in Toronto.

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