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Issue 38, May 1999

Editorial - NATO's Balkan Quagmire

    Blundering into war
    Military failures
    Diplomatic setbacks
    Whatever the outcome, it will not be a victory

WHAT, AFTER TWO months, has Nato achieved by the intensive bombing of Serbia? Despite the devastation of high-profile targets in Belgrade and other Serbian cities, Milosevic's forces in Kosova were hardly dented until very recently. Only on day 44 did Nato claim that it had cut the Serbian army's road and rail links into Kosova. Forty thousand Serbian security forces have been virtually able to complete their brutal project, confining the KLA forces to a few scattered enclaves and forcing out all but about 10% of Kosova's 1.8 million ethnic Albanians. This is why Milosevic has apparently decided to pull back some of his forces.

It is Milosevic's regime, which currently draws on the political support of the ultra-right, ultra-nationalistic Radical Party, that is responsible for the campaign of armed aggression, plunder, murder, rape and forced deportation that goes under the euphemistic name of 'ethnic cleansing'. But it is Nato's war, justified by the need to avert a human catastrophe, that has created the conditions for Milosevic to carry out an ethnic purge on a scale unprecedented in Europe since the end of the second world war. The actions of Nato, dominated by US imperialism, have facilitated the criminal actions of Milosevic.

Nato's intervention against Milosevic's barbarity, moreover, has piled on more barbarity. Serbia's social-economic structure has been torn apart. Temporarily, the bombing has undoubtedly strengthened Milosevic politically, although there are recent reports of demonstrations against Serbian casualties in Kosova. Apart from anything else, the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade was an act of gross military incompetence. The horrific deaths of up to a hundred Kosovar Albanian refugees near Korisa is the latest of an ever lengthening catalogue of grotesque 'mistakes'.

  top     Blundering into war

EVENTS HAVE CONFIRMED our analysis (Socialism Today, May 1999) that the leaders of US imperialism blundered into this war. True, from the start the US aimed to impose a humiliating defeat on the Serbian regime. By-passing the UN, they planned to put a Nato force into Kosova which would not only establish a Nato protectorate but put Serbia under intense pressure from the Western powers. Their aim was to break the power of the Milosevic regime, and open up the country to the same kind of neo-liberal economic transformation that has occurred in Slovenia, Croatia and elsewhere.

But the US leaders were deluded that they could achieve these aims merely through the threat of force and, if that didn't work, by a token bombing. They summoned the Serbian regime to Rambouillet under the threat of force, and they presented an ultimatum backed up with the threat of bombing. "At the Nato summit in Washington", writes the editor of the establishment journal, Nato's Nations, "president Bill Clinton admitted that he had believed that Slobodan Milosevic would accept the Nato conditions - first at the threat of force, and subsequently at the start of the air attacks". But neither of those assumptions panned out, and "Nato slid into this air war". (International Herald Tribune, 11 May)

We are totally opposed to the Western powers' bombing of Serbia, and we are equally opposed to the intervention of Nato ground forces. In order to understand the war and its likely consequences, however, we believe it is necessary to make a careful, objective analysis of the way it arose. We do not agree with the idea, put forward by some on the left, that the US went to Rambouillet with the conscious intention of provoking an all-out war with Serbia. They were undoubtedly pursuing imperialist aims, and the war is rooted in the extreme contradictions that exist in world relations. But the US blundered into war, pulling its Nato allies with it.

US imperialism is now a pre-eminent superpower, but its ability to control events internationally is strictly limited. While its leaders ruthlessly promote the global interests of US capitalism, they are woefully lacking in strategic foresight and tactical dexterity.

US tactics towards Serbia were reckless. They are having calamitous results for the Western powers, and disastrous consequences for the people on the ground who will pay the price for the war. The US military strategy has been totally inept, their diplomacy bungled.

  top     Military failures

WHILE NATO SPOKESMEN like General Walter Jertz and frontman Jamie Shea continually inform the media that 'today's bombing raids have gone extremely well', other Nato commanders have been unusually frank in confessing military failure. The chairman of Nato's Military Committee, General Klaus Naumann (on the eve of his retirement), said: "Quite frankly and honestly we did not succeed in our initial attempts to coerce Milosevic through air strikes to accept our demands, nor did we succeed in preventing the FRY (Federal Republic of Yugoslavia) from pursuing a campaign of ethnic separation and expulsion". (Independent, 5 May)

Even now, Nato's only military strategy is bombing Milosevic into submission. The punishment, however, is being inflicted mainly on the Serbian people. On a recent visit to Serbia, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, criticised Nato's targets as being 'very wide' and said that 'civilian casualties are extremely high' with 1,200 dead and 5,000 injured. With officially 27% unemployment in 1998, the bombing has thrown up to 500,000 people out of work. (Guardian, 4 May)

The US Joint Chiefs of Staff have reportedly been telling Clinton's administration that Nato cannot achieve its objectives without sending in ground forces. Nato's hawk, Blair, has been putting pressure on Clinton to start a ground offensive. Clinton's response is to say that he will "not take any option off the table", but he is clearly extremely reluctant to risk the possibility of US casualties in Kosova just as the campaign for the November 2000 presidential elections is hotting up. Not even the Apache helicopters, heralded as the tank-busting answer to Milosevic's forces, have been sent into action. At a certain stage, Nato forces will undoubtedly go into Kosova, but probably only when there is a 'permissive environment' - that is, either when Milosevic's resistance is decisively weakened or when there is some kind of diplomatic deal.

  top     Diplomatic Setbacks

BY PRESENTING A non-negotiable 'Interim Settlement' at Rambouillet, backed up by the threat of military force, US imperialism tried to short-circuit the diplomatic process. Their miscalculation means that, on the diplomatic front, they are now struggling under the worst possible conditions. The Western powers are embroiled in the very diplomatic wheeling-and-dealing that they tried to dispense with at Rambouillet.

Having tried to cut Russia out of a Nato-imposed settlement, they have since been forced to call on Yeltsin and Chernomyrdin to mediate a ceasefire. To secure Russian support the US has been forced to concede that a settlement will have to be approved by the UN Security Council. Moreover, rather than a Nato implementation force, the US now has to accept the idea of an international force, probably including Russian and Chinese forces, with Nato forces as only one of the components. A proposed accord on these lines was agreed by the G8 - the six dominant Nato countries, plus Japan and Russia - in Bonn on 7 May. The German chancellor, Gerhard Schröder, was dispatched to Beijing to try to secure the support of the Chinese regime.

The plan was thrown into disarray by the 'accidental' bombing of China's Belgrade embassy on 7 May. This monumental military blunder has shaken the Clinton administration's attempt to achieve closer economic and political collaboration with the Chinese regime. It may only complicate and delay China's support for a deal in the UN Security Council, but no doubt Beijing will attempt to extract compensatory concessions from the US.

Shortly after the Chinese embassy fisaco, Yeltsin came under threat of impeachment in the Russian duma. He survived the vote, but faces a growing tide of anti-US and anti-Western feeling stoked up by the bombing of Serbia. Perhaps as a precaution against Yeltsin's fall, the Western powers have now involved the president of Finland, Martti Ahtisaari, as an intermediary with Serbia.

In a news analysis for the International Herald Tribune (10 May), a commentator writes: "What American planners regarded nearly 50 days ago at the outset of the air attacks as a manageable confrontation - the Atlantic Alliance versus a rigid dictatorship with a half-developed industrial base - has deteriorated into a multi-lateral nightmare diluting the United States' ability to directly control and influence events and making an eventual clear-cut victory a diminished likelihood. In creating circumstances that let Russian and China hold, in effect, an approval right over key aspects of Western policy, Nato made itself a partial hostage of the domestic political situation in both countries".

This military and diplomatic impasse may drag on for some time. Blair's call for ground forces is strongly opposed by the left-capitalist governments of Germany and Italy, who face growing opposition at home. Meanwhile, winter is approaching for the hundreds of thousands of Kosovar-Albanians now living in the hellish conditions of the refugee camps, which are little better than prison compounds. The chance of them returning to their Kosovar homes before winter sets in are virtually nil. Even if there were to be a deal, the logistical problems of a mass return to a shattered country are immense. In fact, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees is already attempting to 'winterize' the camps to make them survivable. So far, the UNHCR has received only half of the $143m it needs to finance provision for the 750,000 refugees for the first six months of this year. Japan donated $23m, while the US donated only $8.5m, and UNHCR is currently out of funds.

  top     Whatever the outcome, it will not be a victory

WHATEVER THE OUTCOME, any settlement will fall far short of the Western powers' original objectives. Various reports suggest, for instance, that the US does not rule out the possibility of the partition of Kosova, conceding control of part of the north of the province to Milosevic.

Ultimately, Nato has the power to prevail militarily and politically, but it will not achieve a victory. However the present war is concluded, the Balkan crisis will continue. The cost of reconstruction in Serbia and Kosova, for a start, will be enormous. Damage to Serbia is already greater than that suffered during the second world war. War damage is estimated at around $200bn, twelve times greater than Yugoslavia's GDP. The EU Commission suggest, in a "highly preliminary and tentative assessment", that financial assistance of between $2bn and $3.5bn could be needed from the 'international community' for rehabilitation in Kosova during a three-year period. It notes that external financing for the reconstruction of Bosnia from 1996-99 is estimated at $5.1bn (over 250,000 were killed in the civil war, with two to three million displaced). (Financial Times, 15 May) The cost to the Western powers of propping up the frontline states of Macedonia, Bulgaria, Romania, and so on will also be astronomical. Imperialism has no solutions to offer the region.

This Balkan war is also giving a powerful push to the military spending of the Western powers. While the Republican-dominated Congress refused to endorse Clinton's war policy, congressional leaders are now offering to double his request for funds for the Balkan war. An emergency spending package provides $11.5bn to help finance the military assault on Serbia, while providing $819 million for humanitarian relief for Kosova refugees. (International Herald Tribune, 14 May)

  After stealing the Republican's policies on the economy, welfare 'reform' and other issues, Clinton is now leading the way in a new arms build-up. The promised 'peace-dividend' following the end of the Cold War has evaporated into thin air. Clinton is proposing an increase of $112bn in military spending over the next six years, raising annual military expenditures from $274bn in 2000 to $331bn in 2005. This is the biggest increase in military spending since the Reagan arms boom of the 1980s. In order to finance US imperialism's 'power projection' - the Pentagon's capacity to deploy military forces anywhere in the world - spending on weapons alone will rise from $49bn in 1999 to $75bn in 2005. Clinton, the born-again militarist, is also proposing to spend over $10.5bn on full-scale development of a national missile defence (NMD) system - a revival of Reagan's 'Star Wars'.

Meanwhile, the European powers, frustrated by their dependence on US power, are proposing the merger of the Western European Union, Europe's dormant military arm, with the EU. This would provide the basis, they propose, for a common EU defence policy. (International Herald Tribune, 12 May) Naturally, this will involve increased arms spending: "The lesson of the last year", pronounced George Robertson, Blair's defence minister, "is that the days of big defence budget cuts are over for Europe". Germany, already Europe's dominant economic power, is now determined to play the role of a military power.

The Nato bombardment of Serbia ensures that the 20th century will end, as it began, with war. The first world war (1914-18) claimed 26 million lives, half of them civilians. The century was punctuated by the second world war, which claimed 53.5 million lives, two-thirds of them civilians. Altogether, it has been the most violent century since the beginning of time, with a total of at least 109 million war deaths, or 44.4 deaths per thousand people. In the 19th century, the second most violent, there were 'only' 19.4 million war deaths, or 16.2 per thousand people. (LR Brown and C Flavin, State of the World 1999, World Watch/Earthscan) Both world wars were followed by bloody 'ethnic cleansing' on a massive scale.

On 14 May, Hillary Clinton visited the Stankovic camp for Kosovar-Albanians in northern Macedonia. She wept, as anyone would. Talking to media corps afterwards, she said: 'At the end of this violent century, you'd think we should have learnt something'.
We have. Capitalism means war. The socialist transformation of society on a world scale is far more urgent than it was in 1914. Not just in the Balkans, but the future of humanity is at stake.

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