EDITORIAL: The shape of wars to come - Stop the slaughter / FRFI 148 Apr / May 1999

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FRFI 148 April / May 1999  

Coming events cast their shadows before them. In NATO's blitzkrieg of Yugoslavia we see the shape of wars to come. For those who wonder where the war is heading, look to Russia, look to China, look to the re-emergence of German military power, that is where the war is heading. Behind the 'live ammo game' lighting up TV, beneath the saccharine spilling from the mouths of Clinton and Blair, is the fight for world supremacy. Those in Britain who watch these deeds, committed in our name, imagining they will have no consequence for us should know - the march to war has only just begun.

The bombing began on 24 March. Four hundred aircraft were assembled. Eighty fighter-bombers from the USA, Britain, France, Canada, Spain, Italy and Germany joined the first run. One hundred cruise missiles were fired. Aircraft from Belgium, Norway, Portugal, Denmark and Turkey stood by. NATO Supreme Commander Wesley Clark said his forces would 'attack, disrupt, degrade, devastate and ultimately destroy Yugoslavia's forces.' The Financial Times described the onslaught as, 'an action dictated by the luxury of Cruise missiles, against which few modern states can retaliate or defend themselves.' It was the 96th separate overseas military intervention by British forces since 1945.

NATO twice threatened Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro) with missile attacks last year if Yugoslavia did not reach a deal on the predominantly Albanian province of Kosovo. In February 1999 the Contact Group of Britain, USA, France, Germany, Italy and Russia proposed that Yugoslavia give greater autonomy to Kosovo and accept 28,000 NATO troops being stationed there. Kosovo would turn into a NATO protectorate. Yugoslavia would reduce its 11,000 strong force in Kosovo to 1,500 border guards. In mid-March the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) accepted the proposal, but Yugoslavia did not. Five days later NATO attacked.

Army barracks, military airports, radar installations and weapons factories were stated targets; oil installations, chemical and pharmaceutical plants were also hit. After three days' bombardment, estimates of civilian casualties ranged from 50 to 'dozens and dozens' dead. NATO, effectively US, predominance, was secured with 'fire and forget' target seeking missiles, stealth technology for aerial dominance, satellite battlefield surveillance and computerised logistics, combined with massive superiority in numbers.

As news of the attack reached him, Russian Prime Minister Primakov ordered his plane, bound for Washington, back to Moscow. President Yeltsin condemned the move to war without consideration by the UN Security Council, where Russia could have vetoed it, as 'naked aggression'. He said Russia had the right to take 'adequate measures, including military ones, to defend itself and the overall security of Europe.' Russia's foreign minister accused the USA of forming and arming the KLA. India and China condemned the NATO attack.

Yugoslavia accused Macedonia of allowing its territory to be used for firing missiles and warned Romania, Bulgaria, Albania and Hungary not to take part in NATO actions. Hungary offered bases to NATO. NATO promised to defend countries threatened by Yugoslavia.

Testing theatre

This was a war of firsts: a great testing theatre for battle. 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 used and laser-guided bombs were tried out. The B2 stealth bomber made its debut, at $2.1 billion each. The Economist, 27 March, recorded another first, 'This is NATO's first unambiguous attack on a sovereign state that stands accused of being vile not to its neighbours but only to its own people.'

The justifications for all this are scandalous hypocrisy and lies. 'We are taking this action for one very simple reason: to damage Serbian forces sufficiently to prevent Milosevic from continuing to perpetrate his vile oppression against innocent Albanian civilians,' Tony Blair. 'We do it because we genuinely believe in the name of humanity and in the name of peace in this region, we have no alternative,' Tony Blair. 'We can't walk away from this tragedy,' 'It is important to remind people this is a humanitarian catastrophe,' 'We are a peaceful people but…' and plenty more where this came from, even from Blair's supposed critic and erstwhile leftwinger Ken Livingstone.

Even the NATO Supreme Commander acknowledged that his forces could not protect Kosovan Albanians from the air and Blair was at pains to stress that no ground troops would be deployed. However, there are 8,000 British troops and 4,000 German and French soldiers in Macedonia, and US troops in Bosnia and Macedonia. Most calculations reckon 80-100,000 troops would be needed to occupy Kosovo.

Kosovans are a useful foil, a disposable excuse when their purpose is finished. What of the Kurds, ten times as many as the Kosovans, butchered in far greater numbers by the Turkish state, year after year, with the weapons and blessings of Clinton and Blair? What of the Afro-Americans and the Latinos in US cities, under siege from armed police, the black people and immigrants in Britain, France and Germany framed, gaoled, fire-bombed, threatened not protected by the law? What of their humanity and their rights? Will their cause be upheld by an armada costing billions of pounds and launched with such pious devotion to good works? No.

Milosevic and Serbian nationalism certainly carry blame for the tragedy of Yugoslavia. Milosevic played on Serbian chauvinism to remove autonomy from Kosovo in 1989-90 and to bolster his claim to power. Kosovan Albanians began organising in Germany and Switzerland. The German ruling class's regional ambitions did most to dismember former Yugoslavia, when Germany recognised Slovenia and Croatia as independent states. Britain and France traded their doubts about this for opt-outs from the 1991 European Union Maastricht Treaty.

In the fighting that ensued a quarter of a million people were killed in bouts of 'ethnic cleansing' between 1991 and 1995. Serb lands were lost in Croatia and Bosnia as 100,000 Serbs were 'ethnically cleansed'. In 1995 this took place under cover of US jets. Whatever its failings, socialist Yugoslavia under Tito ended the reactionary nationalist conflicts and provided four decades of peace. Capitalism destroyed that.

Who is the enemy?

In FRFI October/November 1995 we said 'the history of conflicts which have made the Balkans a watchword for fratricidal slaughter is a history of vicious empires slugging it out over the corpses of the suffering people'. Belgrade was blitzed by the Luftwaffe in 1941. The RAF bombed it in 1943. A letter in The Guardian, 26 March recalls that event, bringing home the horrors of war: 'The direct hit on a maternity hospital…scattered bits of new-born babies on top of the adjoining trees, decorating fences and streets, people's balconies. The hatred…of Churchill persists today among the elderly population of Belgrade.' The US Air Force bombed Belgrade the following year as the Allies moved forward, positioning themselves ready to counter the Soviet Union's influence.

Today's bombardment is a continuation of the Second World War. As we said in FRFI August/September 1995, 'A strong Serbia would prevent the new unified and still power-hungry Germany from becoming the dominant power in the region.' The 24 March attack came a fortnight after Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic joined NATO. Both the USA and Germany favour extending NATO eastwards; Russia is opposed. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the USA has taken the opportunity of an enfeebled Russia to push its influence into the former Soviet republics. For now, the direction of US and German ambitions coincide. Further, European military power is not yet sufficient to project into the Balkans without US help.

Russia seeks to preserve its former domain within the old Soviet countries, from the Baltic to the Caucasus and the Caspian Basin energy reserves and Central Asia. Russia views Serbia as an outpost, a barrier to further encroachment on its former domain. Russia provides Yugoslavia with cheap fuel and, while it formally abides by the UN arms sanctions, it also provides weapons.

US strategists are thinking 15 years ahead as they struggle to dominate the world. World domination requires alliances and divisions among contenders and opponents. The USA is happy to see Europe and Japan take a greater share of the costs of the military burden for as long as they are subordinate. Japan is to be aligned with the USA against China, and Europe against a revived Russia.

The US share of world military spending is now greater than it was in 1985, the peak of the Cold War arms race spending. As arms technology advances, the destructiveness per dollar increases. US military spending is greater than the combined spending of the six other countries with the biggest military budgets in the world: Russia, Japan, China, Germany, France and Britain. With Russia weakened it relies more on nuclear weapons to defend its positions. In response to the attack on Yugoslavia, Russia has threatened to re-deploy nuclear missiles in Belarus and Ukraine.

While the massive onslaught on Yugoslavia was underway, US and British war planes continued to bomb Iraq; fighting on two fronts at once. Blair's hogwash about defending minority Albanians tries to conceal a violent imperialist Britain that is determined to defend its global position by allying with the US war machine. British troops are getting busier and busier under Labour as we warned they would before the last election.