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William Arkin's Dumb Apology for NATO's Smart Bombs

by Piotr Bein (posted 5-3-00)

I agree with the last sentence of William M. Arkin's article in "The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists" at, "The Yugoslavia campaign does not support any one model for air power in the future, and it is dangerous to think it does."

Unfortunately, much like in the pro-NATO, anti-Serb press, this salient statement is hidden at the end, and those who manage to reach it have been already brainwashed and stupefied by the preceding propaganda.

Arkin apparently condemns the NATO air campaign in the last sentence, but throughout the article he does not question the moral, legal and political legitimacy of this war. This is most intellectually dishonest, if not cynical. Regardless of the smartness or dumbness of bombs and targeting, even the bombing of military and political targets under false pretences is morally wrong. NATO has no business in the Balkans, neither as a self-appointed world policeman of human rights, nor as a "peacekeeper". The USA and other NATO states ignited and fed the fire in the Balkans. Arsonists don't make good firefighters, as is obvious from KFOR's performance in Kosovo to date.

Most of Arkin's article is a NATOite apology, burdened as much with anti-Serb bias as his "casualty report" from Yugoslavia for Human Rights Watch. Arkin's HRW report begins with an assertion of the historical truth of the Racak massacre - one of many alleged human rights violations by the Serbs which NATO bombers set out to end. Like the Bosnian "death camps", Srebrenica "massacre", "mass rapes" of Muslim females by Serb soldiers and paramilitaries and wholesale "atrocities" committed by Serbs on Albanians in Kosovo a year ago, the Racak "massacre" was fabricated by the Public Relations and special services of NATO just in time to justify another blow to ailing Yugoslavia. In every single case, over-publicized by the political leaders and the media to the point of mass hysteria, alleged Serb atrocities were found by independent investigations to be blown out of proportion, if not outright lies, despite NATO and the media's vigorous efforts to suppress evidence. Given that Arkin did not bother to clarify it for himself, I am asking what he is doing on the pages of a supposedly "scientific" bulletin.

Statements like, "Our damage assessment once again contradicted the conventional wisdom that bombing is, by its nature, indiscriminate and immoral," make me scratch my head in light of Arkin's obvious bias and deficient scientific scrutiny. What could Arkin see from behind the windshield of his car rushing in the course of 2 weeks through 250 of the 900 targets and through only a sample of "collateral cases" meticulously documented by the government of Yugoslavia? How does one determine the morality of bombing by looking solely at the results on the ground, while ignoring the history of vile scheming that led to it? How can Arkin state in the article that, "In all, there were some 500 civilian deaths and a few hundred injuries from the bombing," when in the HRW report he clearly outlined the limitations of his study and explicitly admitted that it was only a sample. How shall we call it -- dishonesty, falsification, propaganda? No wonder NATO spokesmen picked up Arkin's "500" number without any qualification of the underlying study. Does Mr. Arkin derive financial gains from his 'reporting' and writing which stick to NATO propaganda objectives so well? He seems to be an intelligent person, so why would Mr. Arkin uncritically repeat the NATOite mantra, "When air power is used--as it was in Yugoslavia--to halt a humanitarian disaster (...)"?

The "Bulletin" is sponsored by the Educational Foundation for Nuclear Science (EFNS), whose mission is to "...educate citizens about global security issues, especially the continuing dangers posed by nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction; and about the appropriate roles of nuclear technology." I would expect an attempt at scientific objectivity from the "Bulletin" and also a discussion of at least one of the following:

  • the effects of NATO "humanitarian intervention" with bombs on the escalation of international armaments (including nuclear) and on global security;
  • the use of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction by NATO in the Balkans, including uranium 238 ammunition, cluster bombs, graphite bombs, uranium 238 in the auxiliary devices of all NATO aircraft and flying bombs that crashed and exploded in the Balkans, as well as the bombing of chemical plants, refineries and fuel depots calculated to cause eco-disasters;
  • NATO strategy, tactics and weapons specifically designed to harm civilians in Yugoslavia. I could not find any of the above elements in Arkin's article, while its publication under the EFNS goals stated above leaves a very, very bad taste not only in my mouth.

"Allied Force was fought with the utmost concern for civilian casualties and damage." This is a pat on one's own back contradicting the facts on the ground. If this precision war lasted longer, there would be not thousands, but tens or hundreds of thousands of casualties. In the West, we go to great lengths and spend zillions of dollars to prevent one traffic fatality. The same West bombed the hell out of Serb society on top of a decade of economic sanctions that severely affected civilians instead of the elites against whom they were supposedly aimed.

Mr. Arkin, I don't like your writings at all and I have a very smart bomb for you. I know the satellite coordinates of your home and behind which window is your desk. I am about to send a B-2 with these bombs specially for you. The bomb will strike with 2 m accuracy, and will only destroy the window it enters through, your desk, and you. Your wife and kids might die too from falling chandeliers, but that is just collateral damage. I do not wish them ill since I don't know their writings. Some passing children might die on your street from the dumb shrapnel of the smart bomb. I can't control that. Parents should have told their kids that when NATO is out on a humanitarian mission, they better stay for months in damp and cold basements.

  • "A greater percentage of smart weapons was used than in any other conflict in history. Targeting was more scrutinized and micromanaged at the civilian level than at any time since Vietnam."

I propose a monument to NATO for this humane consideration within a humanitarian intervention. Greater quantities of "smarter" weapons did not prevent "error" and aggression (bombing of Chinese Embassy, trains, buses and refugee convoys, as well as a 3-year old sitting on her potty). If Operation Allied Force proved anything, it certainly showed that smart weapons in the hands of Serb-hating fanatics and war- mongers were abused far beyond their intended design. Because the political and military leaders of Operation Allied Force were blinded by Serb hatred in their conquest of a territory left in a power vacuum after the collapse of the Soviet bloc, smart and other types of bombs were liberally used against the civilian population of Serbia.

  • "The NATO planners went to great lengths to safeguard the civilian population. Nowhere was this clearer than in the bombing of Yugoslavia's electrical power systems."

Mr. Arkin, is this NewSpeak? You are not implying that the 5th largest army in Europe (and likely far more disciplined than the other 4) operates with a cord plugged into local power plants and transformer stations, are you Mr. Arkin? Harming the energy supply systems (and information, municipal and transportation systems, too) in Yugoslavia was aimed primarily at the demoralization of the population, as is obvious from General Short's statement, for example. Arkin could risk a pie in the face (if not a black eye) in Serbia, if he spoke up about "safeguarding the civilian population."

  • "Enormous efforts were made, largely successful, to avoid short- and long-term civilian casualties."

For this NATO deserves another monument. Especially for the 10 to 40 tons of toxic and radioactive uranium 238 sprinkled all over Yugoslavia. I guess thousands of people sick and dying of uranium in the future are considered by NATO and Arkin to be non-existent damage. Just like fouling of the Balkans with other environmental hazards does not figure on the list of NATO humanitarian achievements.

Arkin's enchantment with the hi-tech of smart bombs needs some cooling off. NATO's million dollar precision bombs were hitting $50 microwave ovens rigged by the Serbs to fool the smart missiles into 'seeing' anti-aircraft radars. Tomahawk cruise missiles were likewise cheated into hitting bonfires that were judiciously lit up by the Serbs. Dummies of Serb tanks, armor and planes, and Serb military junk were hit so 'smartly', that general Clark counted each one of them as a trophy in his monumental military campaign. The Yugoslav 3rd army emerged from Kosovo largely intact and is again ready to defend Kosovo against NATO aggressors eye-to-eye.

The delivery of tens of thousands of bombs against 900 targets had a price, which NATO has been keeping close to its chest. Considering that their enemy was a small and poor nation, mighty NATO suffered a significant military defeat in spite of inflated pronouncements in the Western media. NATO lost about 10% of its aircraft (many more suffered repairable damage) and hundreds of Tomahawks to Serb fire. NATO had difficulties in coordinating the multi-national force operating diverse equipment and using different weapon systems. NATO strained its radar-jamming and pilot-rescue capabilities to the limits and began to run out of bombs and missiles in May. Between 50 and 200 NATO pilots and soldiers died in the campaign. Milosevic rescued NATO from possible great embarrassment and public outcry by signing the peace accord.

No wonder Arkin's article did not appear in "Jane's ". It might be ridiculed there on technical grounds. It might be welcomed at, though.

But why would a 'scientific' bulletin (one that is apparently associated with the peace movement) volunteer to serve as a NATO mouthpiece?

Dr. Piotr Bein. P. Eng.
Independent writer on ecological issues and author of the virtual book "NATO in the Balkans" Vancouver, Canada

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