Issue 240 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published April 2000 Copyright © Socialist Review

Balkan war

Balkan war

A year on: the war that won't go away

Bruce Kent

Bruce Kent

Bruce Kent is a long time campaigner

'Nato is responsible for two thirds of the world's $700 billion military expenditure'

It is nearly a year since the Nato bombing of Yugoslavia began. I look back with sadness and anger. There were too many who encouraged that bombing, who have a culpable responsibility for so doing. But there are millions of others, encouraged by a compliant media, who genuinely thought it was the only way to save the victimised Albanians of Kosovo. Serious opposition voices, like that of Lord Carrington, were marginalised and ignored.

The results have been predictably disastrous. Now reverse ethnic cleansing is in progress within what amounts to a Nato military colony. The KLA guerrilla war against Serbia proper on the eastern border of Kosovo is being stoked up. The drug barons are having a field day. Slobodan Milosevic is still firmly in power and those he dominates are being punished economically for not getting rid of him.

We were and are constantly told that there was no other way. That is not the message that comes from the OSCE or the international peace movement. The great and entirely unreported 10,000-strong May 1999 Hague peace conference felt the anguish of the Kosovo crisis hanging heavily over it. Overwhelmingly the judgement was that the crisis could and should have been settled by genuine negotiations and not the stitch-up of Rambouillet.

This was not a matter of the sanctity of national sovereignty. At meeting after meeting I made clear my view that Article 2.7 of the UN Charter (Interference in Domestic Jurisdiction) never meant that others would have to stand by and ignore violations of human rights because they happen to take place behind someone else's borders. The key, however, is lawful authority. The illegal Nato bombing action sent a cruise missile through our current fragile far-from-perfect system of international governance. That other countries would learn the lesson was no surprise. The Russian assault on Chechnya, and the barbaric flattening of Grozny, did not take long to come. But of these outrages--to my surprise and disillusionment--the left, which had so opposed the bombing of Kosovo, had little enough to say.

Now that the air assault is over it has been left to others to try to pick up the pieces. Our leaders can now blame the European Union, the OSCE and the UN for the slow progress of reconstruction. At least they have greatly clarified perceptions. Nato, manifestly an instrument of United States policy, is responsible for two thirds of the world's $700 billion military expenditure. It intends to be the world's policeman, according to its own rules and in its own interest. While the bombing was going on, a clear 'out of area' Nato intervention policy was approved. The UN has been marginalised, though it remains a convenient scapegoat when required and its humanitarian agencies can be useful.

It is now clear that we, global citizens living in Europe, have either to build our own united autonomous region of peace and justice, or we will simply become a subservient dependency of the contemporary, updated Roman Empire. Happily, as events in Seattle have also shown, we have friends and allies within that empire as well as outside it.


Rae Street

Rae Street

Rae Street is a leading member of CND


'There is no mention of the deprivations of Serbian people suffering sanctions'

As I write this article (at the end of February) reports are coming in, not only from Mitrovice but across Kosovo, of the turmoil and terror among all the region's people. In Mitrovice itself there appear to have been atrocities from both 'sides'. Certainly there was a march a week ago of thousands of Albanians to the bridge over the River Ibar which divides the town, provoking Serb resistance in the north. Little has been solved, and thousands of refugees are still displaced and living in fear. Will the River Ibar become a new dividing and divisive border?

The dream of peace and a multicultural region is even further from reality than it was in the period just before the Nato attacks. The area now has a Nato occupying force, while the US has established a military base, Camp Bondsteel, named after US staff sergeant James Bondsteel, cited for his 'heroism' in the Vietnam War. Just like other US military bases all over the world, including the UK, the base is an island of the stars and stripes culture in someone else's land. The 5,000 combat troops cannot go outside without full combat gear, but inside they can feast away on burgers and TexMex. Is it a permanent fixture?

Contrast the whole disturbed area with the triumphalist statements of George Robertson and Nato. Writing in the winter edition of Nato Review, he says that Nato is 'the most effective alliance on earth', and that the massive challenge of the 78 day air campaign to stop the human suffering in Kosovo was 'met successfully'. In fact, in the opening three paragraphs of 'Nato in the New Millennium', concerning Kosovo, he uses the word 'success' no fewer than four times.

There is, of course, no mention of the deprivations of the Serbian people suffering under sanctions, of the continuing violence in the region, of any environmental and health damage to the people in the aftermath of the war--for example, in the areas where depleted uranium munitions or cluster bombs were used--or of the dangers of the development of new weapons such as graphite bombs. There is no mention either of the mistakes made by the Allies in bombing innocent civilians or non-military targets, or the damage to international relations--for example, with the bombing of the Chinese embassy--or the continuing contempt shown for Russian people. Finally, there is no mention of the further setback to nuclear disarmament and the goal of a nuclear-free world. The US/UK/Nato axis is saying to the world we need nuclear weapons--we even need to develop them--for our defence. At the same time they can start wars without any mandate from the UN. A dangerous combination.

Meanwhile, Nato is preparing its case for its new roles, particularly that of making so called 'humanitarian intervention' legal under international law. Realising that the distinction between 'aggression' and 'humanitarian intervention' is difficult to draw, a Nato apologist, in his report for the Nato Parliamentary Assembly in November last year, set about making the case for human rights intervention under the existing UN Charter. He concedes that the other option is simply to set aside the UN, as the US and the UK did in establishing the Iraqi no-fly zones under 'Operation Provide Comfort' [sic], but thinks it preferable to investigate to see if existing UN resolutions could allow his definition of 'human rights' intervention. He cites resolutions on Iraq, Bosnia and Somalia in support of his case. He also claims that Kosovo should act as a precedent so that the rule of law could be developed, because 'if there is no rule, how can we prevent anyone, and in particular the one with the resources--and therefore the strongest--from taking the law into his own hands?' How indeed? A statement meant to refer to the 'rogue states' exactly fits the actions of the US.

All Nato statements, all the statements of its spokespeople, start from the simple premise that they are the ones who are the upholders of democracy and freedom and righteousness. We need to look again and again at how we prevent violence and oppression. We surely should be looking at the root causes of war, and to strengthening conflict prevention programmes. What should not be allowed to happen, however, is that we slip, without there being any opposition, into the situation where the US/UK/Nato and the western governments aligned with Nato policy decide where and when military intervention is undertaken.


Alex Callinicos

Alex Callinicos

Alex Callinicos is a politics professor at York University and a member of the SWP


George Robertson: Nato's New Labour boss

'The civil war isn't over yet. In all probability we are witnessing a new round'

A year after the outbreak of the Balkan war, the west's victory rings hollow indeed. Nato's bombing campaign was justified by the topsy-turvy logic that it was necessary to reverse the mass expulsion of Kosovan Albanians that it had in fact precipitated. Well, the Albanians are back, but 230,000 Kosovan Serbs have now fled. Nato occupying troops have made highly publicised efforts to allow Albanian families to return to their homes in what has become the Serb half of the divided northern town of Mitrovice, but they haven't lifted a finger to bring Serb refugees home.

Bernard Kouchner, the French ex-leftist who now runs Kosovo, notionally for the United Nations but in reality for Nato, dismisses Serbian complaints that he is turning Kosovo into an Albanian state. 'It's a psychopathological area, the Balkans!' he contemptuously told the Observer. But with thugs like Hasim Thaci, former political leader of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), now working in the UN administration, who can blame the Serbs for fleeing? Some 5,000 ex-KLA fighters now serve in a 'civilian emergency force', the TMK--better known as 'Tomorrow's Masters of Kosovo'.

Violent incidents in Mitrovice and elsewhere provoked the Financial Times to comment recently, 'Nine months after Nato-led peacekeepers and United Nations administrators took over Kosovo they have still not yet restored basic law and order, let alone a multi-ethnic community.' This grim situation leaves apologists for the war in a quandary. Take, for example, Nato's prime atrocity-hunter, John Sweeney of the Observer. During the war he ranted hysterically against critics of the war: 'Kosovo, when we open the mass graves, will be the worst [of all Slobodan Milosevic's crimes]. Pilger, Pinter and Ali will be shamed as corpse after corpse is dug up, tens of thousands of them.'

Embarrassingly enough for Sweeney, before the winter set in war crimes investigators had discovered only 2,108 bodies in mass graves in Kosovo. No doubt the final bodycount will be higher, but even the ineffable Nato mouthpiece James Shea conceded in December that his own estimate was that the Serb forces had killed about 4,500 Albanians last spring. This was an odious crime, but hardly the genocidal slaughter in which 'tens of thousands' died that Sweeney and his like invoked to stampede left-liberal opinion into the Nato camp.

So Sweeney has had to change tack. Recently he announced 'the best, single argument' [sic] for the war: 'Nato telescoped the civil war between the Serb one tenth minority and the Albanian nine tenth majority and shortened a conflict that could have ground on for years to three months. Nato saved lives.' There are many things one could say about this argument, which subliminally endorses the ethnic cleansing of the Serb minority over which Nato has presided.

But--even more important--the civil war isn't over yet. In all probability we are witnessing the beginning of a new round. The key fighting zone is now not Mitrovice but just across the border in southern Serbia. Here some 70,000 Albanians outnumber the local Serb population. An Albanian guerrilla force called the Liberation Army of Presevo, Medveda and Bujanovic (UCPMB) is now operating in the area, which it calls 'Eastern Kosovo'. In January Serb police killed two Albanian woodcutters in Dobrosin, on the Serb side of the border, allegedly in retaliation for the death of two of their men at the hands of the UCPMB. Another policeman and an Albanian gunman died in a separate incident in late February. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees recently reported that 6,000 Albanians have fled from Serbia into Kosovo since June.

Serb troops and heavy weapons are banned from a five kilometre demilitarised zone around Kosovo, but paramilitary police units are allowed to operate there. Further back there are concentrations of the Yugoslav army forces that withdrew in such good order from Kosovo last June. Tim Judah reported from the area in the Observer: 'According to Captain Eric McFadden, the US officer whose 100 men are deployed here on the border, his "hunch" is that Albanian arms are flowing along the scores of hilly trails into Serbia proper. What the Americans are frightened of is that, if and when full-scale fighting flares, it will immediately spill back over the border into Kosovo.'

In fact, one can imagine a nightmarish scenario in which the Serbs still concentrated in northern Kosovo seek to partition the province, wresting away the areas they regard as 'theirs', including Mitrovice and the mining complex at Trepca. Meanwhile, the Albanians of southern Serbia fight Milosevic's army to break away and link up with an independent Kosovo. In such a situation the old nationalist dreams of Greater Albania and Greater Serbia would be revived, perhaps in a particularly vicious and barbarous form.

No wonder that the Texas-based intelligence consultants Stratfor reported at the beginning of February that US 'administration officials and Congress members are looking for the exit' from this Balkan quagmire. 'As US troops are caught in the crossfire between Kosovo factions, the basic irrationality of the operation becomes apparent. Having entered a civil war, the United States lacks both the will and resources to impose a settlement. The settlement at hand, a fully Albanian Kosovo cleansed of Serbs is intolerable. A Nato withdrawal, and the re-entry of the Yugoslav army, is unthinkable. In addition, US forces are strained by their dispersal around the globe with little strategic reason.'

One beneficiary from yet another round of nationalist butchery in the Balkans would be the cynical tight-rope artist who still rules Serbia. Many gullible metropolitan intellectuals were mobilized in support of Nato last year in the belief that the war would finally remove Milosevic--whom the liberal media had encouraged them to see as a demonic Hitler-like figure solely responsible for all the carnage of the past decade. Despite these simplistic fantasies Milosevic remains entrenched in power. This is yet another indication that Nato's latest intervention in the Balkans has made things even worse than they were before.


Tony Benn

Tony Benn

Tony Benn is the Labour MP for Chesterfield


'We are now using innocent lives as a weapon for political purposes'

Many people are now coming to realise what the war in Kosovo was really about. At Rambouillet, Yugoslavia had been given an ultimatum being told that if they did not admit Nato troops throughout the whole of Yugoslavia, free to make their own law and station troops anywhere, the war would begin. In 1999 we were told it was a humanitarian mission to save the Albanians from ethnic cleansing and Nato went in without UN authority and started an indiscriminate bombing campaign. It is now clear that this war was planned months before and its real purpose was twofold: to extend Nato into the east and to establish Western control of the Balkans because of the oil.

Thousands of innocent people were killed or injured, the economy of the region was gravely damaged and we now realise that the KLA (once described in Washington as a terrorist organisation) is working hand in glove with Kfor to carry out the ethnic cleansing of Serbs who are being driven back into Yugoslavia.

Yugoslavia itself has been ruined and no aid is being given for reconstruction unless Milosovic is removed so we are now using innocent lives as a weapon for political purposes. It is a disgraceful story in itself, but its significance is even greater in terms of the prospects for peace in Europe.

For Nato is now replacing the UN under American control and has even signed agreements with parts of the old Soviet Union which is seen in Russia as a deliberate policy of encirclement. The brutality of the war in Chechnya can in part be explained by this sense of isolation which the Moscow government feels is happening and a nationalist Russia with nuclear weapons could, under Western provocation, restart the Cold War in some form.

Not only has Nato been guilty of a crime against humanity, but, even more seriously, is now itself a direct threat to peace and security. In the recent defence debate in the House of Commons a dozen MPs voted against government policy on a motion that spelled out the argument in clear terms.

It is essential that between now and the general election, and during that campaign, a peace programme for the left is put into place so that voters, when they come to vote, can exercise some influence by interrogating the candidates of all parties to determine their attitude to these issues. If we do this we may find that some limited media coverage exposing what has been done can contribute to the success of such a peace campaign.

A democratic United Nations seizing control from America and making the Security Council accountable to the General Assembly could offer us some hope of progress and that is what we should be working to achieve in cooperation with other popular organisations in the world that are devoted to human rights, peace, development and democracy.


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