Chapter Three: Sample Essays

Sample Essay 1: NATO: Protector or Abuser? (Jury Model)

            In January of 1999, NATO forces began a sustained bombing attack on Yugoslavia. The justification of the attack was the breakdown of negotiations over how to resolve the conflicts between Serbia and the ethnic Albanians of Kosovo and the fear that Serbia was about to send armed forces in Kosovo with intentions of genocide. Although NATO’s action has received widespread support by the international community, because it sets a clear standard of opposition to ethnic cleansing and genocide, critics have argued that the action is arbitrary and therefore not founded on any clear principle of international justice. I will argue that NATO’s action, no matter how well-intentioned, is not justified.

            The situation leading up to the NATO air action and providing justification for it involves two key events. The first event is the one of Yugoslavia refusing to sign the October peace agreement. A resolution to the conflict acceptable to the international community and to the ethnic Albanians of Kosovo was rejected by the Yugoslav government. During negotiations, and following their breakdown, Yugoslavia engaged in preparations for a large-scale attack on Kosovo. Yugoslavia also engaged in a variety of practices of ethnic cleansing earlier in the decade in Bosnia. A primary reason defenders had for the air attack on Yugoslavia was that NATO was justified in attacking Yugoslavia since Yugoslavia was about to engage in ethnic cleansing.

            A critic might challenge the claim that NATO was justified in attacking Yugoslavia since Yugoslavia was about to engage in ethnic cleansing. Consider the analogous case of a person who in the past has been a suspected, or proven, bank robber. Suppose the police notice the suspected bank robber in the vicinity of a bank for several days in a row. They believe, based on past behaviour, that he is about to rob the bank. Suppose that they interview him and discover he is carrying a registered weapon. Would they be justified in arresting, or even shooting him, just because of their suspicions? The answer is clearly no. He has broken no laws yet. The police might want to engage him in additional conversation in order to persuade him not to rob the bank. But prior to breaking the law, arresting him (or using force) is not justified. The same moral principle holds true in international law. Prior to an invasion of Kosovo by Yugoslavia, the use of force against Yugoslavia is not justified.

            One might, in response, argue against the claim that the same moral principle holds in international law: prior to an invasion by Yugoslavia, the use of force against Yugoslavia is not justified. Morality governing relations between nations differs significantly from morality between individuals. Individuals, unlike nations, are particularly vulnerable. We protect individuals from unjust force being used against them by maintaining a high standard of proof of wrongdoing. That protection is important to us because we are aware of past abuses of power by police. So we constrain police action in order to protect potentially innocent individuals against unjust uses of force.

            But the claim that individuals, unlike nations, are particularly vulnerable is not convincing. Nations have, in the past, been subjected to unjust uses of force by other nations just like individuals have. History is littered with examples of this. And, in fact, we believe that force used against an aggressive nation – such as Iraq against Kuwait – has a strong justification, whereas force used against non-aggressors is not justified. We want to protect people against abusive use of force, whether they be an individual or a nation. The more we examine the parallels between the morality governing use of force against individuals and actions, the less convincing the NATO position appears. So NATO’s action, no matter how well-intentioned, is not justified.


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