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New Left Review I/234, March-April 1999


Peter Gowan

The NATO Powers and the Balkan Tragedy

Western powers usually legitimize military interventions in terms of a proclaimed commitment to some universalist norm or to some goal embodying such a norm. These declared goals can oscillate, but they are important because a central element of their foreign policy, particularly when it involves starting a war, is maintaining the support of their domestic population. In the Anglo-Saxon countries, people like to think of themselves as the guardians and promoters, through their states, of the most civilized, humane, liberal and democratic values in the world. It is true that they have short attention spans and are generally far more ignorant of the world outside their borders than the populations of many other countries, but at least the elected leaders of their states can run into domestic trouble if the declared norms and goals are not implemented or if implementation is carried through with such barbarity that they contradict other, more basic, norms and goals.

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