A WORLD TO WIN    #25   (1999)

The Balkans

Nato's Ugly War

As A World To Win goes to press, the US imperialists and their European junior partners have just completed the second month of the biggest military campaign since the 1990-91Gulf War. One of the smallest and poorest countries in Europe, Serbia, is being bombed day and night by NATO's massive military machine. The country's infrastructure is being devastated, hundreds of civilians killed and thousands wounded. One Western official boasted that the Yugoslav economy would be set back to its World War 2 level.

NATO's brutal stomping of Serbia is being waged under the banner of "humanitarianism", namely "saving the Kosovar Albanians". Non-stop footage of the plight of thousands of Kosovar refugees is flooding the world's airwaves. The genuine misery and anguish of those who have lost family members and homes, suffered rape or brutalisation, is being marshalled with all the dispatch and energy that the West's enormous media machine can muster in order to portray the murderous bombs they are raining down on Serbia as a "humanitarian intervention".

Let us be clear from the start: the unceasing pounding of Serbia by NATO has not and will not save any lives. If the first eight weeks of war have shown anything at all, it is that the persecution of the Kosovars has been intensified by the NATO intervention. Indeed, Western political strategists, including NATO commanding General Wesley Clarke, admit that they knew before the first bomb fell that a new wave of "ethnic cleansing" was the likely result of the air war they were planning. The fact that they chose to proceed with their strategy regardless of this, at the terrible price now being paid by thousands of Kosovars, and Serbs as well, is a first telling indication that "saving lives" was not and is not their driving concern.

The US and its NATO allies claim that this war is a product of age-old ethnic tensions in the Balkans, and that more powerful forces "above the fray" have the moral duty to intervene, like some altruistic big brother stepping in to stop a fight among the little kids. As the section excerpted hereafter from the Revolutionary Worker, voice of the Revolutionary Communist Party USA, makes clear, this war is not the result of some mysterious age-old tensions flaring up, it is the product of the contemporary workings of a capitalist social order in Yugoslavia and its interaction with recent shifts in the alignment of regional and global forces. As the RW notes, NATO's portrayal of the source of the war "turns history upside down" and "blames the masses for the suffering imposed on them by capitalism".

Everything about the way NATO is waging this war - its objectives, strategy and tactics - ensures that the bloodshed will continue, and that the post-war future of the Kosovo region will rest on a foundation of forceful suppression, with the threat of renewed conflict ever present. Indeed, such is already the situation of neighbouring Bosnia, following the Western-sponsored "peace" settlement there. This is because, as the RIM Committee said upon the war's initiation, "the imperialists can only rule the world by means of gangsterism". The way they fight reflects and reinforces a world order where the few rule the many, where the domination of a handful of rich exploiters rests on a vast arsenal of armed forces and police. Anytime anywhere their rule is challenged, their response ultimately relies on their monopoly of military might, whether the challenge is posed by a revolutionary struggle like that waged by the Vietnamese masses who tried to unite their country and liberate it from Western colonialism, or by a petty tyrant like Iraq's Saddam Hussein, whose regional ambitions grew a bit too big for his imperialist masters, who thus decided to chop him down to size.


One feature of an unjust war is the employment of unjust reactionary methods of warfare.

Like the Gulf war, this is yet another case of a massively unequal war, where the modernised, high-tech arsenal of the biggest military alliance in human history is relentlessly pummelling a country whose GDP is no greater than that of a single large Western city like Frankfurt. Based on its overwhelming military superiority, NATO is conducting its war by massive bombing from the air, incorporating the use of cluster bombs that shred human bodies like a meat grinder, and warheads tipped with depleted uranium which were used in Iraq and have led to levels of leukaemia in children there equal to those found in Hiroshima. Is it really possible to believe that this is an undertaking driven by concern for human life!? The NATO air war targets cities and other population concentrations from miles up, blasting hospitals, buses, trains; most recently, the target list was expanded to include the entire Serbian economic infrastructure, cutting off the population's water and electricity, driving millions into a daily battle simply for survival. And then NATO's spokesmen boast that not one of their airmen has lost his life. As a possible ground intervention looms, the US media oozes with nauseating chauvinistic concern for the potential loss of American lives, while they coldly affirm that the loss of Serbian civilian lives is "collateral damage" that is "the inevitable cost of war". They crow that for the first time in human history a type of warfare is being waged where those carrying it out can do so "at a distance", in almost complete safety, or, as one US commentator put it, "the only ones who feel anything are on the ground". Here are the bloody fangs of imperialist "humanitarianism".

The imperialist media is engaged in a huge effort to bring public opinion behind the war. It is a battle-hardened apparatus with vast experience in sweeping under the covers gigantic massacres that are in its interests - such as the hundreds of thousands killed in Indonesia in the CIA-backed coup in 1965 - or blowing up the most minor attacks on its interests into "the greatest atrocities in history". Thus they portray the petty reactionary Milosevic as a big-time criminal like "Hitler" in an attempt to put the kind of blinders on the people that coachmen put on horses, so that they do not look backwards in history nor left or right to other parts of the world where they would inevitably see the far greater crimes committed by the genuine world-scale criminals that rule the planet today. Instead they are to see only what the imperialists want them to see.

In the same manipulative fashion, satellite dishes dot the Kosovar refugee camps as Western journalists vie for pictures of another suffering refugee to broadcast home, while the families of the imperialists' Serbian victims - now numbering in the thousands - are rarely if ever seen or heard. It is little known that after the West demanded that Serbian TV broadcast six hours of Western footage on the war daily, the Serbian regime retorted that they would agree if the Western media would show just six minutes of Serbian footage daily - the West did not take up the offer, but instead blasted Serbian TV off the air.

To justify the mechanised mass killing-at-a-distance, the Western media are engaging in ugly chauvinism. The French daily newspaper Le Monde has carried front page articles about the "innate barbarism" of the Serbs, and the American Time magazine recently published a piece entitled "Vengeance of a Victim Race" that described the Serbs as "Europe's outsiders, seasoned haters raised on self-pity".

The Milosevic regime's response to NATO has been true to its reactionary character. Those who have been longing to see some real blows inflicted on the Western war machine will have to look elsewhere than Mr Milosevic's reactionary army - the most serious counter-attack they seem to have been able to muster has been not on NATO, but on the largely unarmed masses of oppressed Kosovars. Despite having a more modern military force than Iraq's Saddam Hussein, and more favourable fighting terrain, the Yugoslav high command's efforts thus far have not outshone those of the Iraqi regime - it is likely that, like Hussein, their hearts are not really in fighting imperialist powers whom they only recently made no secret of admiring.

What Slobodan Milosevic is doing to the Kosovar Albanians is a vicious crime, there is no doubt - but anyone who thinks that this is what concerns the Western imperialists is not squarely facing the fact that all over the world dozens of petty tyrants just like Milosevic routinely treat their subjects in much the same way. Why the Milosevic regime suffers B-52 carpet-bombing while the others receive Western military aid has to do not with any humanitarian concern on the part of the imperialists, but rather their strategic interests.


Negotiations over the post-war agreement to be imposed on the Serbs and Kosovars are usually reserved for the imperialist masters alone - the Kosovars are not even allowed to watch. And on those occasions when they are permitted to attend, the big powers have systematically subordinated Kosovar interests to their own plans for the region. The Rambouillet Agreement, for instance, which NATO says is the framework for an end to the war, recognises Yugoslavia's national integrity and calls for disarming the Kosovar guerrilla forces. This means the Kosovars may well continue to live under the boot of the Serbian regime. Similarly, US policy on the Kosovo Liberation Army has shifted dramatically, depending on US interests - one day the KLA are denounced as "terrorists", the next they are portrayed as "heroes". One NATO commander has already warned that, after the war, the biggest problem facing the West may not be the Serbs but Kosovar guerrillas.

To the US and its NATO allies, the Kosovars are nothing but pawns, good to be trotted out on satellite TV to garner sympathy for their bloody crimes, and to be used as bargaining chips when coming to terms with Milosevic and other regional forces. The NATO war was not started to save Kosovars, they are not even consulted in determining its outcome, and their conditions will not improve as a result.

There are striking parallels between the way that the imperialists are using the Kosovars' plight and their cynical efforts to manipulate the Kurds, particularly in Iraq. US policy on the Kurds has consisted of great fanfare of so-called humanitarian assistance, while in practice coldly subordinating Kurdish interests to the region's "power realities". This has meant a policy of fostering dependency on handouts so as to ensure that despite the enormous sacrifices of the peshmerga fighters, their struggle has remained confined within limits that do not threaten fundamental Western interests in the region. Few would argue that there has been any substantial alleviation of the national oppression of the Kurdish people. Indeed, the same Turkish military forces that are being described today by NATO propagandists as "one of the 19 democracies participating in the effort to save the Kosovars" are pursuing a vicious counter-insurgency policy in Turkey of "drying up the sea" of popular support for the PKK Kurdish guerrillas, resulting in hundreds of thousands of refugees, thousands killed and many more tortured and imprisoned. (See the excerpt hereafter of an article by the Communist Party of Turkey [Marxist-Leninist] on Turkey's role.)

At this point, it seems that NATO's plans for the area involve some mixture of partition and protectorate status, somewhat like the "safe haven status" for the Kurds in Iraq. One of the main points of the NATO plan to install tens of thousands of NATO "peacekeeper" soldiers would be to ensure that the big powers will be in a position to handpick a Kosovar regime subservient to their interests. And even in the unlikely event that the Kosovars gain independence as a result of the NATO war, what would that amount to? To answer this, one need go no further back than Afghanistan a couple of years ago, where US "aid" helped bring fundamentalist Islamic forces to power there, resulting in the rise of their Islamic Taleban proteges, with all the attendant horrors of that regime.

Whatever the result of the NATO war for the Kosovar people, it will not be an end to oppression, for those waging the war "on their behalf" are the greatest oppressors in human history. Theirs is a system whose routine functioning means back-breaking labour that drives millions to early graves, where 40,000 children die every single day of preventable disease or malnutrition, because routine medical treatment for Third World children isn't profitable for the pharmaceutical giants like Bayer, Glaxo and Upjohn. It is a system that enforces its rules with scant regard for human cost. In Iraq, the former Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations announced that 5,000 children die every month due to the impact of Western-imposed sanctions, which even embargo basic medicines. When this was pointed out to US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright (today one of the key architects of the NATO war), she coldly declared, "the price is worth it".

This imperialist world is a land of double-speak, where "peacekeepers" enforce oppression at gunpoint, where one power's "ethnic cleansing" is another power's military "collateral damage", and where, as one US military spokesman infamously remarked during the Vietnam war, "we had to destroy the village in order to save it".

The NATO imperialists are now declaring a new era where they will fulfil "their duty of humanitarian intervention" anywhere at any time. The French political establishment, world leaders in human rights hypocrisy, have vigorously championed a universal "duty to interfere" wherever "humanitarian interests" are threatened. But everyone knows that no NATO smart bombs will be falling on the US military base in Guantanamo, Cuba, or on British occupation troops in Northern Ireland, no armour-piercing shells are going to rip through Turkish tanks in Kurdistan, no cluster bombs are going to take out the Israeli stormtroopers in the West Bank, and no elite SAS hit teams are going to liquidate the Indonesian death squads sowing terror in East Timor.

UK Prime Minister Tony Blair recently argued that the NATO war is being waged by "a new generation of leaders in the United States and Europe… who hail from the progressive side of politics…. In this conflict we are fighting not for territory but for values." (Newsweek, 19 April). In fact, not even the hype is new. As Lenin observed of World War 1, "the bourgeoisie of each country… is asserting that it is out to defeat the enemy, not for plunder and the seizure of territory, but for the liberation of all other peoples except its own." Indeed, this proclamation of a "universal duty of humanitarian intervention" is a modernised version of Rudyard Kipling's 19th-century argument that it was "the white man's burden" to "civilise" the Third World peoples, which essentially meant forcibly subjecting them to Western colonialism.


As the excerpt hereafter from the Revolutionary Communists (RK) of Germany points out, "NATO is an imperialist war alliance". The various powers co-operate on certain goals while pursuing their own different and often conflicting national interests, including through NATO itself. Overall, under the US baton the NATO allies today have a working agreement to come up with some arrangements in Yugoslavia that put an end to the conflicts that threaten to enflame the Balkans and draw in countries even more widely, especially Greece and Turkey. Yet the actions of a NATO member, Germany, were a key factor triggering the outbreak of the various waves of Yugoslav wars in the 1990s, when it made a power grab for Slovenia by unilaterally according it diplomatic recognition to encourage its break away from the Yugoslav Republic. As the stitches holding together the patchwork of ethnic, linguistic and religious groupings that made up Yugoslavia began to unravel with the collapse of the Soviet bloc and shifting power alignments in Eastern and Central Europe, Germany was in fact simply leading the rush of imperialists and regional kingpins who each sought to grab as much as possible in the fluid situation prevailing then.

Yet while there is some agreement on trying to work out more definitive arrangements that stabilise and contain the Yugoslav conflicts, each power is vying vigorously to ensure that this is done on a basis that is as favourable as possible to its own interests. NATO thus acts through a complex mixture of allying and jockeying for position amongst the various powers, where each one is compelled to repeatedly re-assess its own position in regards to constantly shifting realignments in the alliance as a whole, including in relation to various regional forces, especially Serbia, and most importantly to the leader of the imperialist wolf pack, the US. As for Russia, Yeltsin's menaces of a "third world war" and his bellicose reminder that Russia still possessed the world's second-largest nuclear arsenal were more designed to throw his country's weight around to ensure a favourable position in post-war "peacekeeping" arrangements, rather than to signal any looming intentions to annihilate New York to save his "little Serb brothers". Nonetheless, this kind of gangster brinkmanship can slip out of control, with unpredictable consequences.

The US and its NATO allies also have agreement on acting to ensure the viability of NATO as a military force. With the break-up of the Soviet social- imperialist camp and its military alliance, the Warsaw Pact, the decades-old rationale for NATO largely ceased to exist. The war against Yugoslavia is an effort to expand its role, including to what the Western imperialists call "out of area" operations. The US in particular wants to use the war on Yugoslavia as a key means of extending its influence in the Balkans and eastward. For its part, the "New Labour" governors of Britain are displaying sickening levels of nostalgia for the old empire. UK Foreign Secretary Robin Cook proclaimed that, "nowhere in the world is so far away that it is not relevant to our security interests", simply rephrasing the old imperial slogan, "the sun never sets on the British Empire". (On the Italian state, see the excerpts hereafter from the statement by the RedWorkers Organisation.)

Finally, the US-led imperialists intend their war on Yugoslavia to be a show of military and technological prowess to intimidate not only their own lesser puppets, as they attempted in the Gulf War, but also the peoples of the world. The US has made sure that the point has not been lost on anyone that it stands alone at the summit of this kind of high-tech warfare. It aims to use this to further shore up its position as leader of the pack, and is warning everyone that it can and will inflict brutal punishment for defying US interests. Indeed, this is a key reason the US turned so quickly to waging war in the first place: because intensifying diplomatic efforts to resolve the Kosovo situation would inevitably have allowed a greater role for the Europeans and especially the Russians. With a military arsenal far superior to that of any other imperialist power, the military option was a stronger hand for the US imperialists, so they played it, not because of humanitarian concern, but heedless of it.


Some critics on the left have declared that opposing the war is "posturing" and a "futile exercise"; they deride the impact such a stand can have on the actual course of the war today, when those opposing it are small and scattered, and there is no major revolutionary internationalist force in the Balkans itself. In their logic, there is no choice but to line up on one side or the other - usually this means with their own bourgeoisie, under the "practical" appeal that "the best we can do is hope to help the Kosovars".

Whether born of desperation or cynicism, this "practical" path can only lead to strengthening the hand of the imperialists who are responsible for this war in the first place, and whose rule will only lead to more wars to defend their exploitation and oppression. Revolutionaries and anyone who wants to stand against this reactionary war must expose the imperialists' hollow claims of humanitarian concern for the Kosovars, their hypocritical targeting of Milosevic and their real war aims, and must mount opposition to this war. Anything else amounts to abdicating responsibility to draw a line between the reactionary interests of the imperialists and the interests of the people. Doing this thoroughly requires a proletarian internationalist stand, exposing and opposing the predatory interests of one's own ruling class and bringing to the fore the common interests of all the oppressed of the region and the world. No other stand is worthy of those who represent the class whose destiny is to eliminate all oppression and exploitation.

Nor is this stand some kind of pure but impractical duty. In the early days of World War 1, when the chauvinist hurrahs for the campaigns of the various European powers had drowned out the voices of any opposition, and the revolutionary communists were small in numbers and in disarray, Lenin prophetically pointed out that, while the war had begun between two blocs of equally reactionary powers, it was not written in stone that it had to end that way. Indeed, the NATO imperialists are not all powerful, and everything is not under their control. Their arrogant declarations of their own invincibility are belied by the fact that, at the outset of this war, they repeatedly proclaimed that their vast air superiority would force Milosevic to the bargaining table within a matter of days. They were wrong then, and they are quite anxious not to make any bigger mistakes. Powerful forces have been unleashed whose mix and interaction is unpredictable. War, as Clausewitz pointed out, is the most chaotic of human endeavours. While they may well succeed in imposing their will in some form on the region for a certain time, it is also possible that they will get bogged down and be forced to send in ground forces in unfavourable conditions, raising the stakes of their venture, and confronting revolutionaries with greater responsibilities and opportunities to mobilise against them.

It is of course not NATO's intention to get bogged down in Serbia - the spectre of their ground troops spending the winter in the Yugoslav mountains undoubtedly fills them with concern. But they have already put a great deal on the line in this war, not least of all the credibility of NATO itself. As US imperialist guru Henry Kissinger put it, "the cohesion of NATO is threatened". Whatever hesitations the various imperialists may have had about getting involved, all agree now that failure to win, and "to be seen to win", would be a disaster.

In these circumstances, and in a world situation marked by rapid changes, it is crucial in the NATO countries to defeat the view that there is no "realistic" choice other than the NATO imperialist war alliance on the one hand or Milosevic and his Albanian-bashing reactionary regime on the other, in order to mobilise the masses to combat the predatory interests of their own bourgeoisie, whose efforts to strengthen their power over the oppressed in the Balkans will only strengthen their power over the oppressed "at home" as well. It is urgent to raise high the standard of proletarian internationalism in order to forge the broad unity needed to fight against this war and spread among the people the understanding that every setback to this reactionary war effort, every blow that NATO suffers, including resistance to the war machine at home and abroad, weakens their own imperialist masters. In the Balkans, too, this kind of proletarian internationalism is vital in order to cut through the dense fog of competing reactionary interests that obscures the common interests of all the oppressed of the region, so as to help bring into being a revolutionary internationalist core. Proletarian internationalism here means opposing not only the main enemy, the NATO imperialists, but also the Serbian regime's oppression of the Kosovars. It is not possible to effectively combat NATO's bullying of Serbia while accepting Serbia's bullying of the Kosovars - or, as Marx put it, a nation that oppresses another cannot itself be free.

> Building this kind of revolutionary internationalist opposition to the ugly war NATO is waging brings closer the day when through its own revolutionary war, the international proletariat can pave the way for humankind to do away with class society, and in so doing rid the world of what Mao Tsetung called "this monster of mutual slaughter among men".