Issue 230 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published May 1999 Copyright © Socialist Review
This is, in other words, an imperialist war whose aim is to preserve the US as the dominant power in Europe. Since its establishment of Nato in 1949, the alliance has provided the political and military framework through which Washington has exercised leadership over western European capitalism. The collapse of the Stalinist regimes in 1989-91 and the consequent end of the Cold War deprived Nato of its rationale. The subsequent expansion of Nato in east-central Europe and the extension of the alliances role to include 'out of area' operations and 'humanitarian interventions' are intended to perpetuate US military and political leadership in Europe. As such, they are part of a wider strategy that has maintained America's share of world military spending at higher levels than during the Cold War. In the 'New World Order', Washington is preparing for future conflicts with China, Russia and other powers which may threaten western interests.
These stakes mean that those sections of the western ruling classes that initially opposed the attack on Serbia are now arguing that the war must be won--even if that means committing ground troops in Kosovo--in order to preserve the credibility of Nato. Thus one such critic, Henry Kissinger says the 'cohesion of Nato is threatened' unless the west wins. Financial Times columnist Martin Wolf, who condemned the attacks on Serbia as 'fundamentally frivolous', sums up this line of thought. 'The credibility of the west is now at stake... If Mr Milosevic gains the day, Nato's viability is in question, at the very least in out of area operations... To start the war may have been a mistake; to lose it would be a disaster.'
There is little doubt that Serb forces have responded to the Nato bombing campaign by driving many Kosovan Albanians from their homes, in the process committing numerous atrocities. Nevertheless, it was the western assault on Serbia that provided Milosevic with the pretext and the cover for expelling the Albanians. The fundamental responsibility, therefore, for the plight of the refugees who have fled Kosovo since the war began lies with those who launched the war--the Nato leaders. Their present policy of using the refugee crisis to justify an intensified bombing campaign will simply worsen the Kosovan's suffering, at the same time as it turns the Serbian civilian population increasingly into Nato targets. It has already severely damaged the democratic opposition in Serbia, which in 1991 and 1996-97 came close to toppling Milosevic. The first and most basic step towards alleviating the Balkan crisis is to stop the bombing now.
The true measure of the west's concern for the Kosovans, is revealed by the extreme reluctance of many Nato governments--notably New Labour in Britain and the 'plural left' coalition in France--to admit them as refugees. At the same time as the government was enthusiastically participating in the initial bombing waves, it was pushing through legislation which further reduces the rights and welfare of asylum seekers. Blair, Jospin and other European leaders are caught between pressure from Washington to move as many Kosovans as possible out of the region, and their commitment to racist immigration policies. The Clinton administration is motivated not by genuine concern for the refugees--it is planning to dump those it takes at its military bases in Guantanamo Bay and Guam--but by the fear that the Kosovan exodus will destabilise neighbouring states such as Macedonia and Montenegro. While we oppose any measures forcibly to remove the refugees from the Balkans, we defend their right freely to enter and to remain in any of the Nato countries responsible for their plight.
Nevertheless, we do not believe that the Kosovan Albanians' right to self determination can at the present time be counterposed to Nato's war against Serbia. For it is quite likely that if the war continues the western powers will reverse their opposition to the establishment of a Kosovan state. Already the veteran cold warrior Zbigniew Brzezinski, National Security Assistant to President Jimmy Carter, has called for 'a deliberate decision by the west to arm the KLA', and argued that 'the purpose of the continuing military operation now has to be political self determination for the Kosovars'. Tony Blair now says Kosovo cannot remain part of Serbia.
In a protracted war, Kosovan fighters may come to seem attractive proxies for the western ground troops Clinton and his allies are so desperate to avoid committing. Their role would be, like the mujahedin in Afghanistan and the Contras in Nicaragua, to fight and die on Washington's behalf. The Kosovan Albanians are therefore not only facing the horrors of war and exile. Like the Kurdish nationalist organisations in Iraq, they may become the pawns of the western powers, encouraged to fight or abandoned to die as it suits Washington's convenience.
As a result, the effort to construct homogenous nation-states in the region has necessarily involved the seizure of territory from other states, and the expulsion, extermination or forced assimilation of minorities. The clash of rival nationalisms and bouts of ethnic cleansing were features of bourgeois politics in the Balkans long before the wars that followed the break up of Yugoslavia--in the Balkan Wars of 1912-13 and in the struggles by Serb and Croat nationalists to carve out states under their control before and during the Second World War in that sense, the Balkans illustrate the limits of the right to national self determination. Any lasting solution must combine genuine recognition of the national rights of all the peoples of the Balkans with international solidarity among them.
Trotsky wrote in 1910, before the first wave of nationalist bloodletting in the region, 'State unity of the Balkan peninsula can be achieved in one of two ways: either from above, by expanding one Balkan state, whichever proves strongest, at the expense of the weaker ones--that is the road of wars of extermination and oppression of weak nations, a road that consolidates monarchism and militarism; or from below, through the peoples themselves coming together--this is the road of revolution, the road that means overthrowing the Balkan dynasties and unfurling the banner of a Balkan republic.' In line with this analysis the Communist International, during its early years after the Russian Revolution of October 1917, advanced the slogan of a Socialist Federation of the Balkans. This may seem far removed from the present situation. Yet the fact remains that the choice facing the peoples of the region is that between yet more rounds of nationalist butchery and international working class solidarity. Nor is the latter a mere abstraction. Workers in the Balkans have united across national boundaries most recently during the mass strikes of 1987-88 that hastened the final, crisis of the Yugoslav state. One of the many reasons why we demand an end to the war is that a return to peace can help create the conditions in which working people from the different fragments of former Yugoslavia begin to unite againt their real enemies--the local ruling classes who have used national conflicts to hang onto power, and the imperialist states whose intervention has, yet again, unleashed catastrophe upon the Balkans.