1st March 2001

Depleted Uranium Watch

Rui Namorado Rosa

War and Peace in the Balkans  

This paper was presented in the conference "Balkans-Environment-Depleted Uranium- European Union"  organized by  the Confederal Group of the European Parliament and Nordic Green Left and the Euro-MP group of the Communist Party of Greece, in Thessaloniki, Greece, 23-24 February 2001

The so-called "humanitarian" intervention of NATO in the Balkans during the nineties was a false military solution which made an already complicated political situation still more complex. The situation was further aggravated by the use of illegal weaponry.

The uranium used in ammunitions acts as a Chemical and Radiological Warfare agent. The head of the ammunition or missile behaves not only as a mechanical component of a kinetic weapon but also, and above all, as a non-conventional warhead propelled by a kinetic projectile. We know today the consequences of the use of ammunitions with depleted uranium in the Persian Gulf and the Balkans: dramatic to the civilian populations and serious, though on a lesser scale, to the very forces of aggression or occupation on the field. The occurrence of several coinciding pathologies among the Gulf War veterans and the "peace keeping" forces in the Balkans point to the same common cause. Epidemiological studies already done in Iraq are conclusive of the risks impending upon the Balkans.

After the Gulf War, when health damage accumulated among the veteran soldiers and the civilian Iraqi populations were already being recognized at large, the use of the same weapons in the Balkans is still more criminal. The extreme violence and cruelty, inherent to these weapons, and the tortuous mystification of facts carried out by NATO to hide this ugly reality and deceive public opinion, need be deciphered. 

The depleted uranium ammunitions were conceived and developed long before the Gulf War, in early the seventies, during the "Cold War". Fortunately the Cold War prevented a Hot War. And, as we realize today, also prevented the use of weapons with depleted uranium. Large quantities of penetrating ammunitions lay immobilized in NATO arms magazines. The Gulf War (1991) came along and they were "tested" then. It was necessary to consume in order to produce again, because in the realm of imperialism the arms business cannot stop. They were then used for proclaimed "humanitarian reasons" in the Balkans (Bosnia-Herzegovina 1994-95, Kosovo 1999). 

Today, besides NATO's countries more than 20 other countries already hold weapons with depleted uranium, most sold with the approval of the Pentagon. A generalized arms race is developing after their use being regretfully "legitimised" by NATO. One can foresee a sinister scenario of regional fratricide wars and of regional imperialist interventions where these weapons will proliferate.

 Ammunitions with depleted uranium are "only" an element in the military strategy of imperialism. NATO always talks about ammunitions omitting missiles like the "Tomahawk" (carrying 3 kg of uranium) whose use requires launching means which small countries do not afford. It is a military strategy at global level which combines operational means on land, sea, air and outer space, only available to very few military powers, which provides the military advantage of using anywhere all sorts of weapons. A strategy which goes hand in hand with its global economic strategy. 

The proliferation of such weapons does not contradict the pursuit of the New Strategic Concept that NATO claims for itself outside the framework of the international community. And does not contradict, rather proves, the growing aggressiveness of imperialism. The military intervention in the Balkans illustrates imperialism's unwavering determination in widening its economic interests around the world and in consolidating its geo-strategic domination over all peoples. 

NATO carried out an aggressive intervention in the Balkans which worsened an already complex political situation and which destroyed lives and infrastructures and damaged the environment and the public health in the region. It did not inform on the nature of the weapons being used, thereby worsening their consequences upon civilians and soldiers and even their own occupation forces. Only under pressure and overwhelming evidence it eventually assumed their nature. The use of such weapons, knowing their consequences after 20 years of tests in the USA and elsewhere and several years past over their use in the Gulf War, configures a premeditated crime. But NATO does not want to recognize it. To deceive public opinion and postpone its discredit NATO resorted to successive falsehoods stating, namely:

  • That uranium would have unique properties to be chosen and used in penetrating ammunitions, when tungsten and its alloys are indeed superior in that respect, and is not a chemical or radiological agent 
  • That the uranium used in these arms do not have serious and lasting consequences upon the environment and public health when, as a matter of fact, the biological effects of assimilated uranium and the mechanisms of its dispersion in the environment and mobilization into the food chain are known
  • That the Gulf and Balkan syndromes did not exist or were due to other still mysterious causes, when there is evidence that many pathologies appearing in both war theatres and affecting both soldiers and civilians are coincident 
  • That depleted uranium was chosen due to its low cost, thus referring to its cost to the "big five defence contractors" (like Lockheed) but omitting the price paid for when incorporated in lethal weapons; further, when it is known that depleted uranium is potentially a nuclear fuel, when burned in peaceful "breeder reactors", at the rate of five barrels of oil per gram of uranium
  • That the arms used were of depleted uranium, when the presence of uranium isotope 236 and plutonium, later found in the battle field, prove that recycled uranium was also used or used instead, fact that makes things still worse 
  • That the arms used were penetrating "ammunitions" for the destruction of tanks and armoured vehicles, omitting the use of missiles carrying a much higher load of uranium on other targets (Bosnia-Herzegovina 1995, Iraq 1996, Yugoslavia 1999). 


It is necessary to call upon independent institutions to the forefront to help unmask all these lies. We must accordingly register and greet the initiatives taken by UNO and European Union institutions which, in spite of the influence exerted by military powers of NATO from within, have contributed to unveil the truth and to re-establish, to some extent, the dignity and trust in the international community. Namely:

  • The UN Sub-Commission on the Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities: an appeal to curbing the production and dissemination of all arms of massive destruction or indiscriminate effect, explicitly referring to arms containing depleted uranium (1996) 
  • The UN Sub-Commission on Human Rights: a resolution condemning the use of so-called "conventional" arms of massive destruction, indiscriminate effect or causing superfluous harm or unnecessary suffering (1997)
  • UN Environment Programme: the preliminary assessment report on the use of depleted uranium in Kosovo (October 1999) and the investigation carried out by its "DU field assessment team" (7 to 16 November 2000) 
  • The European Parliament: an appeal to NATO members for a moratorium on the use of depleted uranium arms; a recommendation for an independent investigation on the health of soldiers and on the lasting effects on the targeted sites and upon the civilian populations, for adoption of aid to the victims and protection to the environment and for the reconstruction of the countries of former Yugoslavia (17th. January 2001)
  • The Council of Europe: an appeal to the banishment of arms with depleted uranium, for the co-operation between UNO and NATO in following up the public health of the populations in the Balkans, and for the international co-operation in the environmental recovery and the reconstruction of destroyed infrastructures (24th. January 2001) 
  • The WHO, in cooperation of UNEP and IAEA: the organization of fact finding field missions to Iraq, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia and Montenegro (25th. January 2001). 


It is now urgent to persist on the path of mobilizing the international community to send investigation teams to the war theatres in the Persian Gulf and the Balkans not yet investigated by UNEP and WHO: Iraq, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia and Montenegro and neighbouring countries. To persist to the effect that the European NATO countries effectively adopt the moratorium approved by the European Parliament, to which they have yet to abide, and promote the definitive banishment of the use of such arms, following the resolution adopted by the Council of Europe. 

We cannot deny the role of scientific workers in explaining the facts and in helping laying the foundations of the right decisions. But we ought to alert the public opinion: political and military leaders, governmental and international authorities, have manipulated scientific data to deceive the public. And are trying to remit to the sphere of academic dispute the fact finding for presumed future decisions, thereby pretending to hide reality and to postpone urgent political decisions. What is at stake is the choice between Peace or War. We are not solving a scientific problem in proving the crime that was committed. The role that is expected from scientific workers now is to save lives and recover the environment for today's and future generations. 

Because of the delay in accepting the nature of the weapons used in the Gulf and the Balkans, the civilian populations and even the aggression or occupation forces were exposed to increased risks and aggravated consequences. Because of the delay in recognizing the serious and lasting environmental and sanitary consequences of these weapons, there is a delay in taking urgent measures that can yet reduce, where possible, the risks and, at least, remedy the harm already done. 

In Portugal, the public opinion is largely against the military intervention in the Balkans and against the Portuguese participation in this intervention. These recent events in Europe have contributed to reveal the criminal nature of imperialism and to show NATO's mission as the fighting arm of imperialism. By dropping its defensive mask and by launching its offensive actions, NATO is revealing its real nature. 

The active involvement or veiled consent of NATO's European members' governments in the criminal intervention in the Balkans discredited them before their country's peoples. With this War the Europeans learned a lesson and lost their innocence. Consciences are changing. We shall continue the struggle for NATO's dissolution and shall oppose any attempt of militarisation of the European Union. And affirm once again our solidarity with the brotherly peoples of the Balkans.

This page: http://www.stopnato.org.uk/du-watch/misc/warpeace.htm