Kosovo and the end of war?NATO`s campaign of Kosovo in 1999 was not simply a military operation of several countries against another one; in fact, as some scholars argue, it became a turning point for world order and brought about new challenges for political science. 

NATO jets against Yugoslavia “represented nothing less than the beginning of the end of the Westphalian world order.” (Nichols, 2008) Set up in the 17th century, this system centralized the concept of sovereignty, which means that a nation-state (another Westphalian invention) enjoys sovereignty over its territory and internal affairs, while all external actors have no right to interfere in its domestic issues. Over the centuries, these principles became central to both international law and global order.

According to Stanley Hoffmann, after Kosovo “a new norm was established: collective intervention against a government committing serious human rights violations could be justified, especially when these violations threaten regional or international peace and security.“ (Nichols, 2008) A Yugoslavian province became the ground “in which major powers in the international system made clear that they would go to war not only for traditional reasons of state, but to defend moral precepts they valued so highly as to count them as part of their national interest.” (Nichols, 2008)

However, it was not only the term sovereignty that faced challenge in the post-Westphalian frames. The concept of war also underwent turbulences during and in the aftermath of the Kosovo and led to debates in academic circles. One of the major contributions to these debates came from Dr. Pertti Joenniemi, the senior research fellow at the Danish Institute for International Studies (DIIS). His chapter titled Kosovo and the end of war from Mapping European security after Kosovo edited by Peter van Ham and Sergei Medvedev addresses to the mentioned challenge. In fact, the book itself is dedicated to the post-Kosovo puzzle in international order. 

Joenniemi starts his chapter with several questions that emerged because of NATO`s strikes in Kosovo and the refusal of many Western countries to refer to it as war: How should Kosovo campaign be categorized? What term should be applicable to this phenomenon? 

He admits that the term war is still good and acceptable for some people even though the Kosovo campaign may not suit the Clausewitzian concept of war. Since war itself is an ancient phenomenon, and has taken many forms throughout millennia, the NATO operation may seem as no exception in the history of armed conflicts. Therefore, we can still refer to it as war since collective violence, the major aspect of war, was employed in Kosovo. 

Nevertheless, some hold different viewpoints and claim that what happened in Kosovo does not fit any standard categories of war, and that numerous novelties and irregularities must be studied and categorized. In this sense, calls for new analytical terms and conventions that go beyond accepted mainstream are heard and discussed. Although coercive elements, including collective violence, were part of the Kosovo encounter, other peculiarities differ it from what we understand as war. 

In any case, Kosovo marks the fin de siècle (Medvedev, 2002) or feeds on previous claims on ‘endism’ (of sovereignty, modern nation-state or other important elements of the Westphalian system). The concept of war is not an exception. Kosovo pushed political science to conceptual crisis – a challenge to describe the new phenomenon and find suitable terminology emerged accordingly. War has become a debatable concept and moving target that was losing its name (Joenniemi, 2002). 


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About the author:

Rusif Huseynov is the co-founder of the Topchubashov Center. He studied international relations Baku State University and the University of Tartu. His main interest is peace and conflict studies, while his focus area covers mainly Eastern Europe, Middle East, Caucasus and Central Asia.