Lord Skidelsky is a scholar of accomplishment but also of erratic political judgement. Among many other works, he has written an outstanding biography of Keynes and a distressingly perverse one of the fascist leader Sir Oswald Mosley. (Anne de Courcey's 2003 biography of the despicable Diana Mosley astutely notes, p. 331, that Skidelsky's biography of Sir Oswald "was not exactly rehabilitation - but it certainly added a patina of respectability".)
As a Tory front-bencher in the House of Lords, Skidelsky opposed the intervention in Kosovo in 1999. His party leader, William Hague, rightly deprived Skidelsky of his responsibilities as a result. (Skidelsky has since left the Conservative Party, having previously been a member of both Labour and the SDP.) Skidelsky recalls this episode in a piece on "Comment is Free". I want to pick out one assertion only from that article, because it risks becoming a standard part of the mythology of anti-interventionism. Skidelsky states:
Between March and June 1999 - the period of Nato bombing - the number of deaths and expulsions in Kosovo shot up. The "humanitarian disaster" was in fact precipitated by the war itself. Despite this, the term "genocide", freely bandied about by western interventionists, was grotesquely inappropriate at any time.
The humanitarian disaster was certainly not precipitated by the war itself. It is true that Slobodan Milosevic used the intervention as a pretext to intensify his genocidal policies. But the humanitarian catastrophe was not even incipient: it was already there. I quote from the 1999 World Report of Human Rights Watch (emphasis added):
The government offensive [in September 1998] was an apparent attempt to crush civilian support for the rebels. Government forces attacked civilians, systematically destroyed towns, and forced thousands of people to flee their homes. One attack in August near Senik killed seventeen civilians who were hiding in the woods. The police were seen looting homes, destroying already abandoned villages, burning crops, and killing farm animals.
The majority of those killed and injured were civilians. At least 300,000 people were displaced, many of them women and children now living without shelter in the mountains and woods. In October, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) identified an estimated 35,000 of the displaced as particularly at risk of exposure to the elements. Most were too afraid to return to their homes due to the continued police presence.
Every time you hear someone claim that Nato intervention caused the expulsions of Kosovar Albanians, recall that 300,000 people were, in the euphemism, "displaced" in 1998 after Yugoslav forces attacked civilians. Nato's intervention did reverse a humanitarian disaster precipitated by the brutal and xenophobic campaign of Milosevic. Our side's mistake was not in intervening but - even after his aggression in Bosnia - in underestimating the brutality that Milosevic was capable of. Skidelsky denies that Kosovo was the site of genocide, but he omits to mention the factor that prevented it. Nato prevented it, under what was in effect the leadership not of the United States but of Great Britain. I'm proud of it.