- Created: Thursday, 01 October 2009 15:07
- Written by Trevor Rayne
"Nowhere in the world is so far away that it is not relevant to our security interests."
Robin Cook, Labour Foreign Secretary
The century that has seen more slaughter than any preceding it closes in a darkening atmosphere of tension and threat. The storm gathered over Yugoslavia threatens to discharge its accumulated force across the planet in the fight for resources, markets, profits and power. Barbarism cannot long be dressed in humanitarian' garb before naked self-interest, voracious and unrestrained, shows through.
This is the lesson of NATO's war on Yugoslavia. TREVOR RAYNE reports.
The war was launched on 24 March to a fanfare of righteousness; NATO was "preventing a humanitarian catastrophe", "defeating fascism in Europe", "putting an end to ethnic cleansing" etc. Blessings came forth from Ken Livingstone, Vanessa Redgrave and the editor of The Guardian. Few wars, we were told, had such impeccable credentials. Six weeks into the war, with over half a million Kosovan refugees, and with NATO bombs raining down on civilians, smashing up villages, towns and cities, the big lie is exposed.
This military onslaught, like the entire western intervention in the Balkans since 1991, was never about saving lives, defending persecuted minorities, installing democracy or the rest of the eye-wash pumped through the media. It is a war about US power in Europe, about German expansionism, about Britain asserting its position in the European Union (EU). It is about isolating and containing Russia, and it is a warning to China. Only a socialist federation of Yugoslavia could offer the people a prospect of enduring peace and development, and it was precisely this which imperialism and its allies in Yugoslavia destroyed. In its remnants, imperialism has groomed and installed gangsters and fascists. In Bosnia and Croatia they are its friends, in Serbia Milosevic has become inconvenient.
The war is part of a fight for world supremacy, with the USA leading the way. Kosovan refugees, Serbs, whoever, are expendable as the US state enforces its ambition. The US ruling class is determined to preserve its position as the dominant power in Europe and to be the main beneficiary from the collapse of the Soviet Union and socialist bloc. It has to assert itself over a potentially powerful Europe, led by France and Germany, which will not necessarily follow the US lead. The war comes less than three months after the launch of the euro, a future rival to the dollar, and in the midst of EU discussions on the formation of a European Defence Force.
The 24 March attack came a fortnight after Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic joined NATO. Germany and the USA favour extending NATO eastwards. Russia is against. The USA, in particular, is intent on penetrating into the former Soviet republics. It wants to isolate Russia, push it out of its former zones of influence. Serbia is seen as an outpost of Russian influence. Had NATO wanted an agreement to prevent the war, it could have been achieved if the USA had accepted Russian participation in a peace-keeping force, and agreed on a joint approach to Milosevic and Yugoslavia. The USA rejected this and determined to enforce its will on the Balkans by launching the assault.
US military spending is greater than the combined spending of the six other countries with the biggest military budgets in the world: Russia, China, Japan, Germany, France and Britain. Since 1983 the USA has bombed, shelled and missiled Lebanon, Libya, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, Afghanistan, Nicaragua, Panama, Grenada and now Yugoslavia. The US ruling class means to enforce world supremacy by military force. Saddam Hussein got in the way, so US armed power cut his country down. Milosevic stood in the way his country must be cut down. The USA is predatory. From the Baltic states, to the Balkans, to the Caspian Sea energy reserves, to Central Asia, US capitalism is on the march, privatising state assets. Multinationals are buying up whatever they want. US firms have drafted plans for the privatisation of state assets in Montenegro, part of Yugoslavia.
The British Labour government is the US military's number one ally. The British ruling class is defending its overseas assets, second only to those of the USA, and the global financial role of the City of London. British imperialism is using its alliance with the USA to elevate its global status relative to that of France and Germany, and to force them to defer to it within the European Union. Imperialism is at the heart of Labour's strategy; from the outset, it has exposed itself as the most virulent and militaristic partner in the NATO alliance. It has been the first to revise and extend the aims of the campaign: the first to talk of a NATO protectorate in Kosovo, the first to propose a ground invasion. For the USA, the alliance with Britain is a bridgehead to power in Europe.
British imperialism has had more military experience since 1945 than any other European power. The war on Yugoslavia is Britain's 96th separate overseas military operation since the end of the Second World War. Britain's arms industry exceeds that of any other European Union country, with British Aerospace triple the size of the nearest European competitor. Britain is second only to the USA as arms dealer to the world. The British ruling class uses this military strength to compensate for its relative economic decline compared with Germany within Europe: punching above our weight', as former Foreign Secretary Hurd put it. British capitalists intend to dictate the conditions under which the proposed European Defence Force is constructed and to get the lion's share of the ensuing contracts.
Unless they are opposed, both in their heartlands and abroad, the imperialists will launch war upon war to put down any who resist. Their bloody march takes them to the borders of Russia and China. The prospects for World War Three are real. The history of Yugoslavia's disintegration provides the backdrop to this bloody war.
Shattering the socialist state
The collapse of the Yugoslav socialist state in 1991 was a consequence of both internal and external forces. The internal dynamic interacted with and was accelerated by the external powers. Economic crisis was used by imperialism to destroy the socialist character of the economy. (For an excellent analysis of the destruction of socialist Yugoslavia see Peter Gowan, NATO's Balkan Tragedy, New Left Review 234.)
Over one and a half million Yugoslavs were killed during World War Two, whilst 3.5 million were left homeless. On 29 November 1945 a Constituent Assembly abolished the monarchy and proclaimed a federation of six republics (Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro and Macedonia), and two autonomous provinces (Voyvodina and Kosovo). Between 1953 and 1965 national output grew by an average 8.1% per annum. In 1968 industrial production was twelve times greater than in 1950. Socialised production amounted to 82% of the economy. Yugoslavia enjoyed health and education systems comparable to those of the most developed European countries.
From the 1970s, uneven development within Federal Yugoslavia brought tensions which were exploited by the imperialist powers. The north and Adriatic coast were more developed, as a result of German investment in particular. The east and south, being further from European markets, were poorer and more backward. By 1990 per capita income in the north and coastal regions was over $2,200, whilst in Kosovo it was $730. As the Yugoslav state borrowed in the 1960s-1980s to fund infrastructure projects and export industries, it was caught in a debt trap. By 1987 foreign debt was $23.5 billion and debt service payments consumed a fifth of export income, $3.7-3.8 billion. The International Monetary Fund, representing imperialist banks, imposed draconian measures on the economy in exchange for further credits and credit extensions.
Nationalist forces re-emerge
President Tito died in April 1980. Governing power was then vested in a collective presidential body made up of representatives of each republic and autonomous province, the president of the League of Yugoslav Communists (YLC) with a rotating annual presidency.
In the late 1980s, two positions emerged within the Federal Yugoslav state and YLC. Tudjman of Croatia and Kucan of Slovenia the wealthy north and west wanted more decentralisation to relieve the richer regions of their obligation to subsidise the poorer regions. Milosevic campaigned for greater centralisation, a standpoint which expressed itself as Serbian chauvinism. Slovenia accused Serbia of boycotting its businesses, Serbia accused Slovenia of paying low prices for raw materials. Milosevic used the tensions in Kosovo to destroy Kosovan autonomy within Serbia in 1987-89 and to remove local communists from power. He asserted Serbian domination over the predominantly Albanian population of Kosovo. This exacerbated suspicions of greater Serbian ambitions in the rest of Yugoslavia and violated the principles of the Socialist Federation for protecting national minorities.
The communist parties of Slovenia and Croatia withdrew from the YLC in the late 1980s. In January 1990, the YLC renounced its constitutional single party role. The context was over 20% unemployment and 100% inflation. Reactionary bourgeois leaders had emerged within the party and state apparatus to challenge the socialist character of the Federal state. They allied with western capitalist interests and used religion and pre-1945 nationalist symbols to overthrow socialist ideology and destroy the Socialist Federation. In April 1990 the first multi-party elections were held since World War Two. Nationalist parties demanding secession from the Federation won in all republics bar Serbia and Montenegro. By 1991, draconian IMF measures meant that Yugoslavia was incapable of paying its soldiers. Bigotry was unleashed, the demon of war let loose to rage over the land and capitalism rejoiced.
The sundering of Yugoslavia was systematic, demonstrating the predatory nature of imperialism and its utter contempt for life and democracy. The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 was the signal for Germany and Austria to start tearing Yugoslavia apart. Germany bargained with the British government to accept independence for Slovenia and Croatia in exchange for British opt-outs from the 1991 European Union Maastricht Treaty's clauses on monetary union and the Social Chapter governing workers' rights.
Hungary supplied Croatia with weapons in 1990. It claimed Voyvodina within Serbia. GermanyUSA also armed Croatia after it and Slovenia declared independence in June 1991. Germany supported Croatia's claim and denied the national rights of Serbs within Croatia which had been guaranteed them as a minority population by the Federal constitution. Croatia's President Tudjman presided over the ethnic cleansing of 200,000 Serbs from Krajina in 1995. His operations were conducted under the cover of US and NATO jets. Tudjman rehabilitated the Ustashe fascists who collaborated with the Nazis during World War Two and who operated their own death camps. Chancellor Kohl's Foreign Minister Genscher later described the destruction of socialist Yugoslavia as his greatest success. and the
Responding to the expansion of the German sphere of influence, the USA encouraged Bosnia to demand independence from 1992 onwards. Bosnia contained Moslems, Serbs, Croats and other Yugoslavs. The USA backed the Moslems with weapons. This was a move certain to provoke more killing. Germany and the USA forged an alliance between the Croatian and Bosnian governments to drive Serbs from Croatia and parts of Bosnia. The Serbs fought this plan. Ethnic cleansing on all sides took place in a scramble for territory. With European military capacity insufficient to intervene decisively, the USA used its military power to bomb the Serbs into accepting the 1995 Dayton Accords. Bosnia was turned into a corrupt, gangster-ridden NATO protectorate. The Accords made no mention of Kosovo; despite Kosovan pleas, their rights were of no interest to imperialism at that time. The USA, Germany, Britain and France had no interest in promoting demands that might lead to the creation of a Greater Albania.
War in Kosovo
During the post-1995 period, the USA saw Milosevic as "a man they could do business with", and in late 1995 suspended sanctions against Yugoslavia. It was happy that German ambitions had been contained and that US troops were in Bosnia and Macedonia. What it did not calculate on was the collapse of the Sali Berisha government in Albania in 1996 in the face of a mass uprising. The Berisha government had given no support to Albanian nationalist sentiments in either Kosovo or Macedonia, and had prevented organisations such as the Kosovan Liberation Army (KLA) from establishing bases within Albania proper or acquiring arms. As the Albanian security forces disintegrated, hundreds of thousands of weapons fell into the hands of ordinary people. The KLA seized the opportunity, and equipped itself to launch an armed offensive in Kosovo in February 1998.
Initially the US went along with Milosevic's attempts to crush the KLA, with the US ambassador in Yugoslavia naming the KLA as a terrorist organisation. As a quid pro quo for non-intervention by the US, Milosevic agreed a deal which would offer Kosovo some provincial autonomy. What changed was the collapse of the Soviet economy in autumn 1998. From then on, US attitudes were completely transformed. It saw an opportunity to consolidate its leadership within Europe and acquire new positions at an enfeebled Russia's expense. In February 1999 the Contact Group of Britain, France, USA, Germany, Italy and Russia proposed that Yugoslavia give greater autonomy to Kosovo and accept 28,000 NATO troops being stationed there. Kosovo would become a NATO protectorate.
Undisclosed to the public, but part of the proposal, was that NATO forces, including aircraft and vehicles, would have right of access to any part of Yugoslavia, immune from Yugoslavian legislation or control. This was a deliberate NATO provocation. In mid-March, the Kosovan Liberation Army accepted the proposal; Yugoslavia could only reject it. Five days later, on 24 March, NATO attacked.
The US shift in approach therefore had nothing to do with the increasing Yugoslav atrocities against Kosovans. It was a cynical move to assert US power in Europe and the world. Consequently, imperialism has no intention of allowing an independent Kosovo leading to a greater Albania to be assembled. This would threaten Macedonia, Montenegro and much of the Balkans with a new source of instability. The Kosovans can expect the fate meted out to the Kurds after they were encouraged by the US government to rebel against Iraq in 1991: willing but expendable tools. All that the USA and Britain have in mind is the establishment of another imperialist fortress in the Balkans.
"The general leaning towards barbarity acquires a certain method, immorality becomes a system, lawlessness gets its law givers and club law its law books."
"We will redouble and intensify our campaign. We will carry on pounding day after day after day."
"NATO seems to have gone onto military autopilot. NATO hits targets because they are there, not because hitting them might have some political purpose."
In the first 21 days of the war, NATO averaged 282 air sorties a day. After six weeks this had risen to 500 a day and over 1,200 Yugoslav civilians had been killed. By late May it stood at 700 air sorties, with plans to take it to 1,000. Half a million Kosovans have been made refugees. NATO Commander General Wesley Clark described the Serbian assault on Kosovans as entirely predictable'. Entirely predictable'! Clare Short, Labour Minister for Overseas Development, said that if the West had been seen to prepare for the refugees people might have assumed this to be the inevitable effect of NATO's bombing action'. What scenarios of death and destruction does NATO plan for and cover up to protect the big lie?
Merchant bankers Lehman Brothers estimate the cost of aerial action alone at $3 billion a month. With support forces that is $6.5 billion a month. Britain is paying 14% of the total cost. The monthly cost of the war is greater than the size of Yugoslavia's economy. The cost of a protracted war, involving ground invasion, has been estimated at $32 billion. Six weeks of the war would pay for clean water and sanitation for every person on the planet. The Cuban paper Granma pointed out that a single night of bombing costs the USA more than it offered Central America in aid for damage wrought by Hurricane Mitch. The wealth is used for death and destruction in pursuit of power and profit, not for life.
On 27 March an F-117 Stealth bomber was shot down at a cost of $45 million. Eighteen days into the war The Financial Times reported British Aerospace shares were up 9%, GKN's up 8%, Raytheon's 7%. These are weapons producers anticipating replacement orders. The 1912-13 Balkan wars were funded by western loans, supplied by western technology; officers were trained by British, French, German and Russian officers; and the fighting was overseen by arms firms Krupps, Vickers, Skoda etc. Little has changed.
Imperialism is using the Balkans as a laboratory to test weapons.
For the first time since Hermann Goering the Luftwaffe took to the skies in combat. HMS Splendid was the first British submarine to fire cruise missiles. New US satellite guidance systems for missiles were tried out, and laser-guided bombs. The B2 Stealth bomber made its debut, at $2.1 billion each a sum greater than the entire Albanian economy.
NATO claims that of the first 9,000 bombs and missiles fired at Yugoslav targets only 12 have gone seriously astray. This attempt to sanitise the war for the western audience is another lie. Almost from the start civilian targets were hit and as the war progressed more and more of them were prioritised by the NATO planners.
Early targets were stated to be army barracks, military airports, radar installations and weapons factories. Oil installations, chemical and pharmaceutical plants were also hit. The range of targets quickly broadened: an ice cream factory was blown up a technical error' said NATO. A car plant and mining town were hit then assigned a military function' as justification. On 12 April at least 10 people were killed when NATO bombed a civilian train. Eighty Kosovan refugees were killed on 14 April when NATO bombed a refugee convoy. They were collateral damage'. On 21 April the Yugoslav television station was destroyed described by Blair as part of the war machine', a propaganda unit'. On 1 May a NATO missile struck a civilian bus on a bridge north of the Kosovo capital of Pristina, killing at least 40 people. Five days later a cluster bomb hit a market and a hospital, killing 15 and injuring 60. Then on 14 May, up to 100 refugees were slaughtered in the Kosovan village of Korisa. Eighteen hospitals and clinics and over 200 education institutions have been destroyed or damaged, along with libraries, theatres, museums and 14th-century monasteries.
NATO has set about destroying Yugoslavia, bombing it to bits, just as the USA and Britain have done, and continue to do, to Iraq reducing it to a pre-industrial condition. The bombing campaign is calculated as having had a bigger effect on the economy than the German and Allied bombing of World War Two. Yugoslavia's unemployment is set to double from its pre-war 27%. Damage is put at between œ25 billion and œ62.5 billion. Civilians and civilian industries and infrastructures are described as dual use' targets, just as they are in Iraq. People are being targeted, their deaths are not accidents'. New tactics include carpet bombing by B52s which will add to the slaughter.
Depleted uranium weapons are being used, as they were in Iraq, where the incidence of leukaemia and rare cancers has multiplied sevenfold since the 1991 Gulf War. Thousands of Iraqi children have been born without eyes, limbs or brains since the war. What fate is in store for unborn Yugoslav children? Chemical factories have been destroyed, seeping fatal toxins into water supplies. The River Danube is being poisoned by chlorine, ethyl dichloride and carcinogenic transformer oil, threatening eco-destruction to areas of Romania and Bulgaria. This is what Blair's humanitarian mission' amounts to war in all its brutal forms, barely masked by his perpetual grin. When Ken Livingstone declares: We need to take military action, but we should avoid the use of depleted uranium and anti-personnel cluster bombs. Then we can start to convince the world that NATO's actions in the Balkans have honourable objectives', he is fooling only himself.
For saying what he saw and writing in the Daily Telegraph an article entitled Why this war isn't working', the BBC's foreign affairs editor, John Simpson, was targeted for muzzling and discrediting by the Labour government. Simpson was described to The Times, in off the record' briefings by government spin-doctors, as a mouthpiece of the Serbs. Terrestrial television is to be a channel for government propaganda or nothing at all. Anyone who questioned the progress of the war quickly came in for the same treatment: opposition is treason and to be suppressed. Clare Short describes opponents as fascist' sympathisers; John Pilger is denounced as Milosevic's useful idiot' by John Sweeney of The Observer. This is the democracy in whose name the war is conducted.
In response to a German proposal to involve Russians as a peacekeeping force in Kosovo on 14 April a plan accepted by Milosevic as long as it was a civilian force (non-Nato) Blair ratcheted up the bellicosity by flying to the USA to talk about preparation for a ground assault. He announced a new doctrine of international community...a subtle blend of mutual self-interest and moral purpose', the ethical foreign policy: the right of the USA and Britain to go anywhere and do as they please. Club law.
Without a ground offensive NATO must achieve a diplomatic victory rather than an outright military triumph. On 6 May Russia joined NATO in agreeing the need for an effective international civil and security presence' in Kosovo. NATO presents five conditions for an end to the bombing: an end to violence in Kosovo, acceptance of an international force, the return of refugees, negotiations on political settlement and withdrawal of Serb forces from Kosovo. NATO insists that its forces will constitute the core of an occupation force in Kosovo and it wants UN support for this aim as well as for the war itself. Britain and the USA are the most insistent on their troops participating in the international force, and on the complete withdrawal of Yugoslavian forces from Kosovo. Germany and France are more ready to concede to Russia on the force's composition. Russia supports the continuation of Yugoslav forces in Kosovo. Britain and the USA are testing just how far they can push an enfeebled Russia, they want it to accept their terms without compromise.
Into these diplomatic manoeuvres flew B2 Stealth bombers from Whiteman airforce base in Missouri on 8 May to deposit their load on the Chinese embassy, killing three people.
"Let China sleep."
NATO described the attack on the Chinese embassy in Belgrade as a tragic accident and nothing else'. That is not how the Chinese people and government experienced it; it was consistent with a pattern of US and imperialist behaviour. The attack was on a known residential area and would necessarily result in civilian deaths whether maps were up to date or not. Hundreds of thousands of Chinese demonstrated their fury at the USA and Britain. Students said they were fired by the patriotism of the 4 May Movement of 1919; a protest against imperial powers attempting to carve China up and a key moment in the development of national consciousness. After the raid ChinaYugoslavia until NATO stops the bombing. It has been drawn into the diplomatic shuffles to enforce a deal on Yugoslavia. China can be expected to exact a price. announced that it will not consider any UN resolution on
In FRFI 148 April/May 1999 we said For those who wonder where the war is heading, look to Russia, look to China, look to the re-emergence of German military power.' Some days before the embassy was bombed the Chinese People's Liberation Army Daily recommended that China prepare for warfare against airstrikes and remote precision strikes (launched) from a distance or great distance.'
In ten years China will import 40% of its oil. Much of this will come through its western borders. The China Economic Times recently stated that, We must pay careful attention to the fact that the US controls the oil in the Middle East.' Last year the US flew 3,000 troops direct from US bases to take part in exercises in Kazakhstan, on China's northwestern border; a place where China has invested in oil resources and a transshipment route from the Middle East to China. China plans to invest in Iraqi oil production and has several deals under discussion with Iran.
The US is threatening to establish an Asian missile defence' system which would include Japan and Taiwan. China has said that it would consider any such deployment on Taiwan as an act of war. Earlier this year China vetoed a UN Security Council resolution renewing a UN peace-keeping force in Macedonia (US and British-led) because Macedonia had recognised and taken money from Taiwan.
Russia has become China's main weapons supplier; submarines, jets, weapons that require long term support services. China is co-operating with Russia to develop gas fields in Siberia and build pipelines to China's cities. Russia, reduced though it is, and China are potential obstacles to the US quest for global dominance. As a consequence, they are having to prepare their defence.
The shape of things to come
The blitzkrieg takes place against a background of an impending global financial collapse whose first tremors have already hurled millions of people into poverty in Asia. A trade war looms between the USA and Europe, which, if it breaks out, could rapidly trigger financial collapse and degenerate into a military rivalry between the two power blocs.
The collapse of the Soviet Union and socialist bloc has accelerated the essential characteristics of capitalism, its drive for profits, its tendency towards crisis, its aggressive and militaristic nature. The Soviet threat' can no longer be used by the USA to demand compliance from European and Japanese capitalists. Rival imperialist powers are fighting to re-divide the world between them. Socialist Yugoslavia and the more than a quarter of a million people killed there since 1991 have been among the victims. In 1988, before the Berlin Wall was pulled down, the world had 13 million refugees; today there are 22 million. The defeat of socialism is proving to be a catastrophe for humanity.
Already the USA has promised to allocate $100 billion more to its military budget over the next five years.
Britain, Germany, France, Japan, Russia and China will follow suit. In Britain, France and Germany this will be done in the name of social democracy. Unless these governments are fought all along the line, they will lead us all to more slaughter than has ever been seen.
As surely as they did after the incident' in Sarajevo when the planet was engulfed in the inferno of World War One.
The question of Kosovo
Sections of the British left (The Socialist Party, Socialist Outlook, Workers Power, Workers' Liberty etc.) have called for Kosovan self-determination and support for the KLA. The KLA currently supports NATO's bombardment and provides it with intelligence information. The KLA says it receives training from the British SAS.
Whatever the wishes of the majority of the Kosovan people there can be no question of self-determination for any Balkan republic or region, Kosovo or wherever, for as long as imperialism is bombing Yugoslavia and assembling a giant armada on its frontiers.
The demand for Kosovan self-determination is also NATO's demand. It cannot play a democratic or progressive role in the context of NATO's war. It confuses the nature of the war and lends support to NATO's efforts. Imperialism cannot play a progressive role in the Balkans or anywhere else.
All the poor and dispossessed of Yugoslavia need socialism. Kosovan self-determination in the context of imperialism's presence in the Balkans would be a myth, a ruse against the Kosovan workers, peasants and refugees. Kosovan self-determination was only ever a reality in the SocialistFederal Republic, a republic freely entered into by the Balkan peoples.
FRFI 149 June / July 1999