NATO attempted to portray its intervention in Yugoslavia as a “humanitarian” effort in order to prevent ethnic cleansing. In order to further this framing, the alliance demonised notable leaders such as Ratko Mladić and Slobodan Milošević so as to create symbols of evil that would legitimise the humanitarian impulse. The alliance gained strong support in this effort from the mainstream media in NATO countries, although the virtual nature of the conflict and relentless bombardment of anti-Milošević stories seemed to overwhelm a bulk of NATO citizens. NATO’s task was made more difficult by the fact that the alliance is essentially a group of individual states that have come together to pool national security. Therefore, these states each have their own agendas, which contributed to a lacklustre NATO response to the Bosnian conflict, although the response was far more coherent for the Kosovan intervention. Whilst NATO gained a fair amount of support back home, it alienated the Serbian people who felt victimised. NATO’s strategy of ignoring criticism of its mistakes did not seem to aid its efforts in gaining Serbian support, nor that of Russia and China, the former of whom had initially been working closely with NATO. This unnecessarily created extra channels of criticism towards NATO and has led to tensions with these countries that exist to this day. Therefore, NATO’s own framing of its intervention is that it was a humanitarian mission to protect the Yugoslavian people, including the Serbs, from a tyrannical leader. On the other hand, those critical of NATO frame the intervention as a selective attempt to portray NATO as relevant in the new post-Cold War environment. In some quarters it was also portrayed as an attempt to weaken Russia and those who could possibly pose a threat to the alliance.


NATO’s first military engagement in Yugoslavia was during the 1992-1995 Bosnian War. During this conflict, NATO acted as an enforcer for the United Nations (UN) mission in the region, UNPROFOR, and was used by the UN commander General Bernard Janvier. Initially, NATO’s role started out monitoring the no-fly zone over Bosnia but this escalated into enforcing the zone, bombing missions in 1994, and then large-scale bombing missions during Operation Deliberate Force in late summer 1995. Peace talks in November 1995, known as the Dayton Accords, ended the conflict and led to the deployment of a 60,000 strong Implementation Force, which was transferred to the Stabilization Force (SFOR) a year later, and remained in the country until 2004.


NATO’s second military engagement during the Yugoslavian disintegration was in Kosovo in 1999. Unlike in Bosnia, however, this engagement did not acquire UN approval. The intervention consisted of a series of air strikes against Serbian targets between March 24th 1999 and June 10th 1999. This led to the implementation of the Kosovo Force (KFOR), which has acted as an international peacekeeping force in the region for the past sixteen years.


NATO’s main justification for its intervention was that there were genocidal practices and ethnic cleansing being carried out by Serbian President Slobodan Milošević and other notable figures within the Serbian government such as Ratko Mladić. According to NATO, ‘intervention was necessary to safeguard the Kosovan Albanians from Milosevic’s attempts to subject the region to ethnic cleansing’ (Willcox, 2005: 172). The Bosnian intervention was legitimised by pointing to the Serbian attacks on the UN safe areas of Goražde, Tuzla, Bihać, Sarajevo and the 1995 Srebrenica massacre (Obradovic-Wochnik, 2013). United States President Bill Clinton argued that NATO aggression was required in response to ‘Serbian atrocities against ethnic Albanians in Kosovo’ (Carpenter, 2000: 51). Key to the NATO justification in Kosovo was the Račak massacre of January 1999, which led to significant international support for intervention. Clinton responded to the massacre by giving an emotional speech in which he stated that:


‘Innocent men, women and children [were] taken from their homes to a gully, forced to kneel in the dirt, sprayed with gunfire – not because of anything they had done, but because of who they were’ (Johnstone, 2002: 240).


The massacre was thus portrayed as ‘a genocidal Serbian rampage against innocent Albanian civilian victims’ despite the fact, as Diane Johnstone has argued, that the Kosovan Liberation Army (UÇK) was by and large a terrorist group that had been provoking the Serbians for a long time (Johnstone, 2002: 240). NATO was able to skilfully avoid the fact that Yugoslav operations up to that point had been ‘directed at rooting out the Kosovo Liberation Army from its strongholds, not at expelling ethnic Albanians en masse from Kosovo’, whilst also significantly exaggerating the number of Kosovars killed by more than ten-fold (Carpenter, 2000: 52). Western media leaped upon news of the massacre describing it as a ‘turning point in the year-long conflict between security forces and the Kosovo Liberation Army’ (Jeffrey Smith, 1999), whilst others described the subsequent intervention as ‘the first military conflict since the end of the Cold War fought primarily for humanitarian purposes’ (New York Times, 1999: A30). NATO intervention in both Bosnia and Kosovo was therefore portrayed as ‘limited to the support of humanitarian relief, and must not be interpreted as a decision to intervene militarily in the conflict’ (Wörner, 1995: 135). Intervention under such auspices meant that traditional obstacles to intervention could be circumvented, with NATO members stating that they had an obligation to act in order to prevent human suffering (Blair, 1999). A powerful moral justification such as this, accompanied by evidence that seemed irrefutable, provided a strong justification for NATO intervention and was significant enough to gain sufficient legitimation and support from the Western media. Yet, this ethical and moral position did cause problems for NATO because they were prevented from carrying out a more aggressive strategy, which could have won the battle faster and more effectively, as this would belie claims that intervention was being carried out under humanitarian auspices. Furthermore, despite sympathy for the Kosovar Albanians, due to the war being “virtual” in that the public were just spectators in a seemingly bloodless war, many NATO member citizens felt overwhelmed by coverage that they did not understand sufficiently well enough (Willcox, 2005: 177).


Western media was important in strengthening the validity of NATO’s message to the Western publics. However, initially, the broadsheet newspapers within the NATO member states struggled to develop a coherent policy towards the impending intervention, namely The Times and The Daily Telegraph (Willcox, 2005). Despite this, journalists working in Kosovo were vital to awakening the public conscience that something must be done and were equally important in proposing regime change to oust Milošević and his colleagues. (Taverner, 2005). The key contribution of the media, notably in Britain, was to support NATO’s demonization of Serbian generals, in particular Milošević, who was described as ‘the most dangerous and ruthless man in Europe’ (Traynor, 1999: 5). The Guardian accused Milošević of a ‘kamikaze stand-off with the West over Kosovo’, thus isolating Milošević, whilst alluding to a united position against him (Willcox, 2005: 95). NATO was quick to identify Milošević as the instigator of the conflict by defending intervention as being entirely driven by Milošević’s repression of Kosovar Albanians (Day, 1999). References were made to ‘Milošević’s war machine’, ‘Milošević’s military’ and ‘President Milošević’s military capabilities’, thus constantly reiterating Milošević’s connection to the conflict (Cook, 1999a). Such demonization served the purpose of focusing attention away from NATO policy and onto Milošević, who became an everlasting symbol of evil throughout the conflict. It also had the effect of deflecting criticism that aggression was directed against a particular group – the Serbs – meaning that international support and moral legitimacy could be cultivated more successfully as citizens were not directly implicated nor threatened (Willcox, 2005). Furthermore, it is key to a successful post-conflict reconciliation process as a distinct enemy needs to be formed and the tarnishing of a nation’s character needs to be avoided. In fact, at several Ministry of Defence (MOD) briefings, the Serbian people were distinguished from their leader. Two such examples came from MOD spokesmen Doug Henderson and George Robertson who said:


‘We have no quarrel with the people of Yugoslavia, as we have made clear. Indeed, the British people and the Yugoslavian people have historically been good friends… It’s not a war against the Serbian people, it’s not a war against the Serbian nation, it is military action to persuade the Serbian government to see reason’ (Henderson, 1999).


‘[The] Serbian people know nothing of what is happening in Kosovo and so can be perhaps excused for seeing things differently but the British and western publics must not lose sight of the real issues’ (Robertson, 1999).


The media played a key role in distributing and extolling this rhetoric. The tabloids were particularly brutal in their depictions of Milošević, giving him the sobriquet “Slobba”, a pejorative term, which due to its closeness to “slob” conjures negative connotations. After a bomb landed on Milošević’s house The Sun went as far as to state ‘there’s only one thing we should feel sorry for… he wasn’t in bed at the time’ thereby effectively calling for Miloševic’s death (The Sun, 1999: 8). Somewhat following Godwin’s law that arguments will often descend into an accusation of Nazism, it was common for the media to follow NATO’s line of likening Milošević to Hitler. British foreign secretary, Robin Cook, was particularly vocal on this line stating, ‘NATO will not allow this century to end with a triumph for fascism and genocide’ (Cook, 1999a). Articles claimed that Milošević had ‘set about the most ruthless piece of social engineering in Europe since 1945, ordering the execution of hundreds of Kosovar civilians’ (Butcher, 1999: 14). The Daily Telegraph referred to the ‘systematic brutality’ of Milošević and his forces that were also supposedly planning attacks instead of reacting to NATO (Lader, 1999: 22). This therefore had the effect of defending NATO’s legitimacy in the intervention. As well as drawing parallels with the systematic and organized Nazi killings of the Jews, the Serb army was also presented as dehumanised, machine-like enemies much like the Wehrmacht, Schutzstaffel, and “Beastly Hun” before them (Willcox, 2005). Therefore, the media played an important role in ramping up the public’s passion for the conflict. Negative depictions of the evil of the enemy are often more effective than more positive notions such as the need to stabilise and unite Europe because they capture the powerful emotions of anger and hatred. By framing Milošević as an evil dictator like Hitler, NATO could gain strong support, or at least apathy and non-interest, towards their intervention efforts whilst maintaining the notion of a humanitarian mission and not isolating the Serbian people. NATO could thus ‘mount operations on a tidal wave of public support’ and could use the media to maintain the negative framing of Milošević throughout the conflict (Taverner, 2005: 269).


NATO is a group of individual nation-states that have come together primarily for national security. As a result, ‘alliance planning is not done at NATO headquarters but in capitals’ with members setting out their priorities individually and these then being acted on by the alliance as a whole (Kaufman, 2002: 53). This makes it more difficult for a unified policy line to be agreed upon and therefore leads to delays in response to a situation. Such difficulties befell NATO in their attempts to intervene in Bosnia. In the post-Cold War environment it was viewed as particularly important that NATO had a clear strategy for the 21st century that kept the organisation relevant, given the demise of the Soviet Union, NATO’s former prime enemy. NATO attempted to deal with this through the 1991 Strategic Concept, which readdressed NATO’s role given the changing geopolitical realities and included debate about ‘out-of-area operations’ that fell outside NATO’s original remit (Kaufman, 2002: 62). Unfortunately for NATO, this did not seem sufficient to bring the members together when creating policy. Individual nations – namely Britain, France and the Netherlands – took unilateral decisions to send troops in support of the United Nation’s mission, UNPROFOR, in Croatia in 1992. International attitudes were not based upon a reasonably accurate analysis of Yugoslavian recent history, but instead were based upon each country’s selective view of the conflict and their own strategic priorities (Kaufman, 2002). A significant reason for this was that European countries were simultaneously dealing with their own internal difficulties, namely economic recession and looming economic and political integration within the European Union. Consequently, a rift emerged:


‘Between countries like Germany, which believed the way to end the war was to stand up to Serbia, and those like Britain, which preferred to stay out of the conflict and consider all sides equally as guilty’ (Kaufman, 2002: 70).


Just to make matters even worse for NATO, the United States did not recognise the escalating conflict as tied to its national interest. Furthermore, given it’s position in the post-Cold War climate, NATO had no experience of dealing with a conflict of this type so it was both militarily and politically unprepared. Therefore, a situation emerged in which:


‘From 1993 through the middle of 1995, Britain, France, the United States and Germany were not willing to make the kind of effort necessary to stop the fighting in Bosnia because stopping the fighting in Bosnia was not crucial for any of them’ (Mandelbaum, 1996: 34-35).


Moreover, many NATO states did not believe that such a conflict was worth threatening the alliance for, particularly given the start of a new epoch in NATO’s history and the potentialities that lay ahead. Rather than addressing the situation ‘as an alliance at a relatively early stage in the conflict’, NATO’s member states responded unilaterally with contradicting messages (Kaufman, 2002: 61). Once NATO members finally started to work together to take action in Bosnia with the UN, it was far too limited in scope to have any real effect. When the alliance moved beyond the UN in August 1995, four years after the fighting started, it was far too late to have any ability to proactively address the situation, thus showing the weakness of the 1991 Strategic Concept (Kaufman, 2002). Therefore, NATO put itself in an incredibly difficult position to frame its narrative of the conflict. It was in ‘a position of having to react to events and relying… unsuccessfully, on negotiations to address the situation before finally deciding to take military action (Kaufman, 2002: 129). Having to respond to events means that it is more difficult to determine the framing of a conflict because one tends to be operating in a defensive position. Thus, NATO’s response to Bosnia seemed more as if it was trying to maintain, as one NATO official described, the alliance’s ‘credibility and specifically its ability to ensure regional security’, as opposed to undertaking a humanitarian mission (Kaufman, 2002).


In regards to Kosovo, NATO was in a much better position to dictate the narrative having planned for potential war with Milošević for over a year. The alliance had been working together in Yugoslavia for long enough to be able to determine a common enemy and common solution. It had been espousing the connection between it’s efforts and humanitarian impulses, such as with Cook’s comments about fascism and genocide and those of UN Secretary General Javier Solana who stated that ‘NATO is united behind this [humanitarian] course of action’ (Solana, 1999). Fears of minorities being ethnically cleansed were also often posited, particularly after Srebrenica. Therefore, after the Račak massacre, there was sufficient groundwork in place so that NATO was in a strong position to put its humanitarian concerns into real military intervention and frame it as such.


In order to successfully frame their intervention, NATO needed to understand the background to the various Yugoslavian conflicts so that they could take appropriate measures. A weak and inaccurate analysis of the perpetrators of the conflict could lead to targeting the wrong group and thus exacerbating the conflict. During the Cold War, Yugoslavia had enjoyed a unique position as a balance between the East and the West, often being a ‘pampered child of American and Western diplomacy’, which helped the country to exist peacefully and relatively strongly (Kaufman, 2002: 62). However, this and the leadership of Tito belied the fact that the loose federal system of government was highly ineffective at organising the six republics that made up the country. Joyce Kaufman argued that after Tito’s death in 1980 the various republics had very different experiences:


‘Years of accumulated foreign debt, which was exacerbated by worldwide recession, affected the republics differently, with Slovenia thriving through continued contact with the countries of Western Europe, while other republics, such as Serbia, languished economically’ (Kaufman, 2002: 64).


As the Cold War withered away, along with Yugoslavia’s unique position, the political uncertainty led to the leaders of the republics becoming more assertive at ‘defining policies that would help them, at the expense of what had been Yugoslavia’ (Kaufman, 2002: 65). In particular, the radical Croatian nationalist President Franjo Tuđman and the Serbian president Slobodan Milošević were keen to ensure the creation of a Croat state and a Serb state respectively within Yugoslavia’s borders (Kaufman, 2002). Thus, the Yugoslavian context was one of complexity between competing nationalist factions, and one that was initially ignored until engagement in Bosnia. NATO’s particular venom towards the Serbs, and lack of action against the Croats, suggests that it did not accurately analyse the situation, or if it did, made a highly selective and political decision. This is perhaps why Serbs are particularly scornful of NATO for they believe that an ‘ignorance of Balkan history and nationalism’ led to  ‘NATO’s policies and actions… [been] arrayed against’ them (Carpenter, 2000: 123). Thence, during the conflict, and also after it, NATO has had to endure strong Serbian criticism of its actions. Although there is relative peace in the region, the lack of Serbian recognition of the new Kosovar state is testament to the fact that NATO’s intervention did not match the true causes of the conflict.


NATO’s principle opponents during its interventions, the forces of Mladić and Milošević, portrayed a narrative that they were the victims (Obradovic-Wochnik, 2013). The Serbs in particular believed that their ethnic group was been targeted by NATO actions that were arrayed specifically against them. Interestingly, Milošević did not orchestrate a direct propagandist programme, although he did take both legal and illegal actions to control the content of the media, such as by denying frequencies to oppositional radio stations (Thompson, 1994). The most powerful media were the newspapers “Politika” and “Vercernje Novosti”, which were both pro-war and pro-government, with the latter being the more extreme of the two. There was also “Radio Television Serbia” whose flagship evening news programme “Dnevnik 2” was very popular with the population, particularly in the early years of the Yugoslavian conflicts (Thompson, 1994). There were, however, some independent dailies and periodicals such as “Borba”, “Vreme”, and “Republika”, as well as radio stations such as “B92”. The pro-Milošević media framed the wars within a folklore matrix that is conceptualized as a form of national mythology (Zanic, 2007). Politika carried stories of the Ustaše, members of the Ustaša Croatian revolutionary movement, which had been appointed to run a portion of Axis-controlled Yugoslavia during World War Two. In the process the group’s members had murdered thousands of Serbs, Jews, and Roma Gypsies. Headlines such as ‘the entire Serb people has been attacked’, ‘1941 started with the same methods’, and ‘genocides must not happen’ were proliferated by the newspaper (Thompson, 1994: 72). In relation to Serb atrocities, the media’s coverage of events such as Srebrenica were either non existent, as in the case of Politika, or either suggested that there had been ‘an evacuation of population from the town’ (Obradovic-Wochnik, 2013: 54). Images of the fighting and particularly the victims remained absent until attacks on the Serbs such as the Muslim attack on the Serb settlement of Skelani, in which case the media continued the framing of a victim defending itself (Obradovic-Wochnik, 2013).


A notable outcome of the Serbian framing of the conflict was the number of Serbs who believed in anti-NATO conspiracy theories, thus perhaps showing a somewhat successful Serbian media campaign and unsuccessful NATO charm-offensive. Serbia’s isolated position from the new post-Cold War world order, as well as uncertainties about the future, and confusion at the current circumstances people were now in, meant that conspiracy theorists found themselves in the mainstream (Byford, 2006). Jelena Obradovic-Wochnik has pointed out:


“Perhaps no other agency is as frequently invoked in conspiracy theories in Serbia as NATO… Various conspiracy theories surrounded the NATO airstrikes and the idea of – at the time rumoured and anticipated – Kosovo independence, particularly due to the incomprehension that a superpower like NATO would be interested in intervention in a small state such as Kosovo’ (Obradovic-Wochnik, 2013: 209).


The notion of conspiracy theories was spread by the Serbian media, which claimed that NATO wished to destroy Serbia. Politika wrote, ‘the real aim of these air strikes is to cripple Serbia… and thereby reduce it to a status of an American quasi-colony’ (Byford, 2006: 227). The last President of Yugoslavia from 2000-2003, Vojislav Kostunica, claimed that the ‘real motive for the air strikes… was the campaign [of NATO] into the East… [for] Caspian Oil’ in order to aid future wars (Byford, 2006: 228). Such explanations seemed reasonable for the Serbian people who did not find the explanations for the NATO airstrikes plausible because many did not believe that such events would ever occur during their lifetime, particularly in the violent way that they did (Obradovic-Wochnik, 2013). Serbian resentment was further strengthened as the Western NGOs and transitional justice projects that arrived in Yugoslavia after the bombings ‘did not engage with the NATO air strikes as something which had to be addressed in “facing the past” projects’ (Obradovic-Wochnik, 2013: 179). Therefore, the Serbian people felt as though they were been unfairly targeted by an alliance that intervened for selfish motives and then was treated with impunity, unlike Serbian military leaders. The Serbian government successful portrayed to its people that NATO was a marauding and bullying force, whilst NATO’s attempts to isolate Mladić and Milošević as the real perpetrators did not appear to work with the Serbian people who were preoccupied with what they considered to be highly believable conspiracy theories. As a result, NATO failed considerably in getting the Serbian people on their side. In fact they managed quite the opposite and alienated them, making NATO a target for Serbian anger, mistrust and frustration.


A further difficulty for NATO was that its intervention sidelined Russia, notably with the incident at Pristina airport in 1999. NATO therefore had to defend itself from Russian criticism, whilst defending its own supposedly non-political motives in the conflict. The 1991 Strategic Concept had talked about creating a more harmonious post-Cold War environment but the alliance’s actions belied this rhetoric. NATO had refused to give Russia a separate peacekeeping zone in Kosovo due to fears of a de facto partition such as in Germany after World War Two (Carpenter, 2000). Russia had taken a significant role in the conflict by orchestrating a diplomatic solution but was dismayed by NATO’s public disdain, with one political leader commenting, ‘you use us for your dirty work and then throw us away’ (Carpenter, 2000: 79). Russia therefore tried to seize Pristina airport before NATO forces arrived but were eventually outnumbered and had to withdraw. Nevertheless, the humiliation remained in the Russian psyche for a long time with the episode underscoring ‘the extent of the deterioration in relations between Russia and the Western powers’ (Carpenter, 2000: 81). Russia recalled its military officers from their liaison roles at NATO headquarters and expelled their NATO counterparts from Moscow, whilst denouncing NATO actions in Serbia ‘with the kind of rhetoric not heard since the worst days of the Cold War’ (Carpenter, 2000: 79). Large and sometimes violent anti-NATO demonstrations erupted across Russia with democratic Russian leaders fearing that NATO’s actions may produce support for communist and ultranationalist factions (Rousso, 1999). In addition to this, Russia was concerned, as it still remains to this day, of NATO encroachment into the Russian sphere of influence after a NATO summit meeting in 1999 that expressed concern about continuing violence in the Caucasus (Mikoyan, 1998). Arguably, such anti-West sentiment led to stronger support for Vladimir Putin and his agenda that has largely isolated Russia from any meaningful strong relations with the West. Therefore, far from creating a more harmonious and trusting post-Cold War environment, NATO had in fact alienated Russia and turned it back into a considerable enemy. Even if Russia lacks the ability to truly match the West, it can still take low-cost actions, such as forging closer ties with Syria, that make life difficult for the West. NATO thus created a more inhospitable environment for it to function in with its lack of sensitivity towards Russia being a key contributing factor. Thereby, the framing of NATO as a relevant organisation in the supposedly harmonious post-Cold War environment took a strong beating with image-handlers also having to deal with accusations of politicising the conflict.


NATO had a similar deterioration in its external relations with China. A NATO bombing raid in Serbia, the only raid of the war orchestrated by the CIA, hit the Chinese embassy in Belgrade killing three Chinese reporters. The attack outraged the Chinese government, which described it as ‘a barbarian act’ (CNN, 1999). China suspended high-level military contacts, human rights dialogues, and banned U.S. military activity in Hong Kong. Furthermore, large mobs of Chinese youth attacked American businesses and other targets across the large cities of China, with nationalist emotions whipped up by the Chinese leadership who ‘wanted to send Washington a message of extreme displeasure with U.S. policy (Carpenter, 2000: 83).


A key aspect of NATO’s image handling and framing of its interventions in Yugoslavia was how it dealt with criticism and mistakes, such as the bombing of the Chinese embassy. David Willcox has described an example of NATO’s tactics for dealing with mistakes in regards to an incident in which NATO bombed a convoy of Kosovar refugees, mistaken for Serb forces:


‘NATO would initially deny reports, then attempt to deflect some criticism onto Serb forces, either suggesting the refugees were human shields or that they were actually killed by them. Finally, if there was an apology, it would come at a considerable delay after the incident, thereby reducing the impact of the event’ (Willcox, 2005: 135).


After such an event, NATO would express remorse and stress that ‘NATO never has, and never will, intentionally target civilians’ (Solana, 1999), but would then repeat the moral justification for the war such as ‘it was the brutality of President Milošević that compelled us to take military action’ (Cook, 1999b). A typical NATO tactic in the aftermath of the controversy would be to shift the focus away, with spokesman Jamie Shea saying he had ‘nothing to add’ to what had already been said (Shea, 1999). Western media would mirror this by also quickly dropping the issue. However, not all Western groups were supportive of NATO. A Humans Rights Watch report claimed that NATO had violated international humanitarian law because the bombing of the Serb Radio and Television building ‘did not constitute attacks upon legitimate military targets’. They also cited a disparity between confirmed deaths and their own, which were three times higher (Human Rights Watch, 2000: 3). However, the report was largely shunned apart from the evidence that could be used to support the West’s framing of the conflict. NATO and the mainstream media also ignored an attempt by Canadian lawyers to bring NATO officials to the International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia on accusations of war crimes. The media would mention such accusations ‘only to refute them [thereby] blocking meaningful public debate on this important issue’ (Johnstone, 2002: 119). Ultimately, on 27th May 1999, only Milošević and other senior Yugoslav and Serb officials were charged with war crimes. This was timely for the U.S. as public misgivings and civilian casualties were both beginning to increase (Johnstone, 2002). Another method to quell public misgivings was to stress the effectiveness of new missile systems that could lead to a casualty-free war. NATO refused to admit that the technology was ever at fault, either blaming ‘faulty human intelligence or… Milošević’s dastardly, cynical placing [of] people in harm’s way in order to expose NATO’s self-proclaimed scrupulosity over “collateral damage” as sham’ (Carruthers, 2005: 238).


NATO also had to deal with the impact of the Internet, which created a more audible space for dissenting voices, criticism of NATO actions, and non-mainstream opinion that couldn’t be controlled. Given that NATO’s enemy in Kosovo, Milošević’s Serb army, was so inferior to the military potential that NATO had at its disposal, the Internet was realistically the Serbs only weapon of retaliation and thus would want to use it effectively (Taylor, 2000). The Serb’s use of modern communications was far superior to what had been encountered by Allied Forces in Kuwait in 1991, and they were able to successfully transmit a lot of information that led to conspiracy theories becoming rife. Western voices, including independent journalists could use the Internet to transmit their views but without the social media of today, unless they were well known, it often resulted in a case of ‘preaching to the converted’ as it would just reinforce the views of those who were seeking an alternative argument (Willcox, 2005: 61). All that NATO could do to respond was to attempt to saturate its arguments about a humanitarian impulse, Milošević’s evilness, and condescendingly describe Serbs as brainwashed by Milošević’s propaganda.


In conclusion, NATO described its military intervention in Yugoslavia as “humanitarian”. A decision was taken on moral grounds to supposedly save the people of Yugoslavia, namely the Bosniaks and Kosovars from ethnic cleansing at the hands of the Serbs. NATO perhaps played upon a newfound global cosmopolitanism that had created a greater sense of community among people, which existed at least in the minds of Westerners. There was a use of guilt to coerce people into supporting the war from the likes of Blair who spoke of an obligation to act, particularly after events such as Srebrenica and Račak. NATO also took a key interest in distinguishing the likes of Mladić and Milošević from the Serbian people so that a symbol of evil could be created that would make the humanitarian impulse more potent. It also attempted to serve as a way of gaining the support of the Serbian people by not blaming them but ultimately it had the opposite effect as anti-NATO conspiracy theories became rife. Serbs could not understand why they were being targeted and why other conflict zones such as Sierra Leone and Sri Lanka were ignored. NATO had to overcome two key difficulties during its framing of the interventions. The first was the inherent difficulty of being an alliance made up of individual nation states, which led to a highly confused response to the initial Bosnian conflict as each state had their own agenda. This put NATO on the back foot and unable to dictate the narrative as they would have wished. However, the Alliance was far better prepared for the intervention in Kosovo in which it could stress its humanitarian impulse. The second difficulty was dealing with the fallout from mistakes such as the Chinese embassy bombing. NATO was largely successful in extinguishing criticism within its own countries simply by refusing to talk about it, but far less successful outside the NATO sphere. In fact, NATO’s actions during the conflict led to the complete alienation of both Russia and China, which can still be viewed to this day particularly in the case of the former. NATO thence unnecessarily created extra avenues for criticism of its actions that could threaten its legitimacy in Yugoslavia, and certainly its position in the world going forward. Therefore, NATO succeeded in gaining a great deal of legitimation and support for its intervention back home. Although, that said, this support was largely confined to the mainstream media, as a large swathe of the public felt disengaged from the conflict. However, NATO failed to convince non-NATO members – Serbia, Russia and China – of its legitimate intentions in world politics, thereby creating tensions that still exist to this day. Thence, NATO’s framing of the intervention as “humanitarian” was successful in gaining support in the short term. Yet, it was a failure in the long-term as it started the process of anti-NATO sentiment that whilst unsuccessful in taming the War on Terror and intervention in Libya, can be seen in the way in which the West has been frustrated in Syria and Ukraine.






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