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Central American University - UCA  
  Number 214 | Mayo 1999



USA-NATO vs. Yugoslavia: The Empire’s Impunity

Using offensive forces to intervene in civil wars has been a favorite tool of Washington in Latin America for decades. The use of mercenary fighters was the registered trademark of the Reagan administration's support for the Nicaraguan contras, the Afghanistan mujhadin, the Remino forces in Mozambique and UNITA in Angola. The Clinton equivalent today is Kosovo. The trigger was pulled in Washington. The war is in Europe. The consequences are worldwide.

James Petras

NATO's bombing of Yugoslavia under us auspices is unprecedented. It is the first time since World War II that NATO has launched a military offensive in an internal European conflict. Between the first and second world wars, European powers militarily intervened in several cases to annex countries claiming to "liberate" oppressed minorities in the region where they were the majority. For example, Nazi Germany justified its intervention in Czechoslovakia and Austria on grounds of the self-determination of the German-speaking majority. The use and misuse of independence movements for the purpose of annexing territories was recognized as a dangerous and destabilizing policy, one that almost always led to generalized wars. That is why, even in the worst moments of the Cold War, both the Soviet Union and NATO, the latter led by the United States, were cautious about backing any effort to change national borders.

This policy was based on the recognition that the European countries are made up of a mosaic of ethnic or sub-national groups, in many cases concentrated in specific regions that are in turn sometimes neighbors of states with ethno-cultural affinities. Both the East and West alliances understood that redrawing borders in some area would be an open invitation to all types of independence movements that could precipitate not only local wars, but World War III.

While the propaganda of each side condemned the oppression of minorities by their adversary, there was an implicit or explicit conviction that maintaining existing borders, whatever their defects, was not only necessary for their own security but also probably best for peace and the socioeconomic development of the different peoples. In fact, regional autonomies were developed in countries where the reigning regimes encouraged centralist policies and assimilation.

Yugoslavia: United and fragmented

Probably the most outstanding example of this was Yugoslavia under Marshal Tito's heterodox communist regime. Linguistic, cultural and political differences flourished in each republic and autonomous region of the Yugoslav Federation, with the backing of the multinational Communist Party.

Tito understood that the best antidote to rabid chauvinism and the separatist calls of the Croatian, Serbian, Slovene and Albanian demagogues supported by the West was greater cultural autonomy, freedom of movement and relatively equal participation in policy formulation within the Federation. The break-up of Yugoslavia and unleashing of racial chauvinism was a product of the social decadence generated by the International Monetary Fund's "adjustment" programs, German and US political intervention, and the decline of the Communist Party and its ideology. The Germans intervened in order to promote the "independence" of Slovenia and Croatia. The United States backed the pro-West separatists in Bosnia and Macedonia. Serbia magnified its claims on Montenegro and Kosovo. The Balkan war between 1991 and 1995 was fought by the Serbs and those protected by the West. The latter won by a large margin. Yugoslavia was divided into ethnic mini-states, clients of one or another hegemonic power.

Yugoslavia's final dismembering

The redefining of borders did not end there, however. The United States and Europe, by means of their client state Albania, were looking to complete Yugoslavia's dismemberment, to quash the return of an independent Serbian state. Serb president Milosevic tried to retain what was left of the former federation, tightening his military and political control over Kosovo and Montenegro. In keeping with the new chauvinist policy practiced by the other mini-states, Milosevic pushed Tito's policies to the side and tried to impose a Serbian administrative and political-cultural structure on the Albanian population. This roused the Albanian minority independence movement, which used this policy as a rallying point to gain support for and arm an irregular army. Encouraged by the United States, British Intelligence and Turkey, Albania became the main supplier of arms and logistical support for the final carving up of Yugoslavia.

For the Albanian mafia, the "liberation" of Kosovo is the first step towards the formation of a Greater Albania, which would include Kosovo, Albania, part of Macedonia and even parts of southern Montenegro. Given the explosive nature of the ethnic and border issues at stake, not to mention the unprecedented Washington-NATO military offensive, why did the Clinton administration decide to mount an air attack? Why now and why Yugoslavia? What will be the consequences of the savage NATO-Washington attack on Yugoslavia?

The empire's spread

In the past ten years the Clinton administration has waged a successful war on two fronts. On the domestic front it cut social spending, stimulated the growth of low-income jobs and promoted the interests of the financial powers to an unprecedented degree. Externally, it has expanded military alliances in Europe and escalated military activities in the Middle East, while aggressively promoting the commercial interests of US transnational companies in absorbing or displacing competitors and penetrating other markets. The results are noteworthy: US-dominated NATO now extends to the Russian border; Eastern Europe is still a subordinate partner within NATO; and the US trans- national have established their supremacy in the world markets. Almost 50% of the world's major transnational corporations are North American. And right alongside Wall Street's economic predominance is Washington's great effort to create a political-military empire.

The undisputed power of the US empire spurred the growth of the Clinton administration's belief in unilateral action and unabashed manipulation of the so-called international organizations. Washington bombed Iraq without even the slightest pretense of consulting the United Nations. When Clinton invited NATO to intervene in a civil war and bomb Yugoslavia, his European colleagues were quick to follow. Washington is expanding its offensive missile capacity aimed at Russia and proposes creating a "shield" around China, and not even a whisper of disapproval is heard.

The key issue is that the Washington-NATO war in Yugoslavia can only be understood as part of a general expansion of US power, with its undisputed aerial bombing capability and its willingness to destroy anything that challenges that power. This includes challenges at the local level, now that Washington is the only global power. Clinton secured the subordination of the Eastern European regimes (Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary) to NATO domination, and brought in southern Europe—Spain and Greece—as docile collaborators. Turkey and Israel are anchors of Washington's supremacy in the Middle East. To consolidate the empire's arc from Central Europe to the Middle East, Washington has created mini-states and financed "free marketeers" who expect government help, and has committed itself in covert—and now overt—actions to eliminate all potential adversaries or independent regimes. Strategically, Milosevic was in the way, so the Albanians became a useful weapon for undermining his power.

The use of offensive forces to intervene in civil wars has been a favorite tool of Washington in Latin America for decades. Using mercenary fighters was the registered trademark of the Reagan administration's support for the Nicaraguan contras, the Afghanistan mujhadin, the Remino forces in Mozambique and UNITA in Angola. The Clinton equivalent today is Kosovo, which calls for an "independence" that has neither historical base nor political legitimacy. The idea of Kosovo as a nation is Washington's invention, as is the argument that the military intervention is for humanitarian reasons.

Subordinated or leveled: The USA decides

Some of Washington's closest allies are far more oppressive towards their minorities than all of what preceded the bombing of Yugoslavia. Turkey denies the Kurds the basic right of language, and jails anyone who speaks of autonomy. The Guatemalan government destroyed over 400 Mayan villages and killed over 200,000 people—most of them indigenous—in the 1980s with Washington's support. Israel has denied Palestinians their autonomy, and governs by means of legalized torture. They do it without bombs but with more than $30 billion in US aid over the last 40 years. Washington doesn't threaten England because it oppresses the Irish in Northern Ireland, or Spain for doing the same in the Basque Country. Washington has manipulated the oppression of minorities for decades in order to justify aggressive policies. It did so with the Hmong tribes in Indochina and with the indigenous minorities on Nicaragua's Atlantic Coast. It goes without saying that once the minorities serve their imperial masters' purpose, their petitions and demands are discarded and they are left to their own devices.

The true nature of Washington's imperialist policies was made thunderously clear by NATO's supreme commander, General Wesley K. Clark: "Unless President Milosevic accepts the international community's demands, we will systematically and progressively attack, disorganize, ruin, devastate and finally destroy his forces." Destruction or subordination: this is the choice the empire is offering disobedient European governments.

The revitalization of Washington's economic and military might, the relative decline of the Japanese and German economies and the relegation of Russia to the status of third world country have emboldened Washington to act militarily without constraint.

Samuel Berger, Clinton's National Security Adviser and principal ideological proponent of offensive military actions, defended the intervention in Yugoslavia's internal affairs. Asked if the military attack established a precedent for intervening in civil wars, Berger responded, "The President has said many times that this depends on whether US national interests or values are involved." Berger's admission that the final measuring stick is US national interests—which now include US transnationals, the clients and collaborators of the military alliances, etc.—means that Washington rejects other countries' independence and sovereignty. The Clinton-Berger-Cohen doctrine has redefined the world along the lines of the colonial past: Washington has the final decision on the subject of sovereignty as well as the right to attack any country whose policies oppose its imperialist goals. The same doctrine that today backs its allies opposing Serbia can be applied with equal strength against them when US corporate or military interests deem it appropriate.

Military offensive: The big gamble

Washington pulled the trigger of the attack on Yugoslavia, the war is taking place in Europe, but the ramifications are global. For the past ten years Washington has applied a policy to expand its sphere of influence in a wide arc, from the Baltic republics by way of Central Europe to further away in the Caucuses and the Caspian Sea. Washington's growing empire now includes, in addition to the three new NATO members, 25 other client regimes known as "partners for peace." Two of the three countries (Yugoslavia, Iran and Iraq) that are not part of the new imperial confines are under fierce military attack, and all three are victims of an economic embargo headed by the United States. If the United States can force Milosevic to yield to NATO, it will have achieved its most ambitious objective: to demonstrate that no European country gets away with disobeying the empire's orders.

The feeble pretext of the rebellion of "oppressed nations," selectively applied to regimes that fall outside of Washington's imperial orbit, has set off alarms in the worlds' three largest countries: China, India and Russia. For all but Washington's most unconditional apologists, it is evident that the NATO attack establishes a precedent for future military aggression. Pretexts abound. The United States, with a little help from the CIA, could manipulate the Dalai Lama into organizing a "Tibetan Liberation Army" among the "Tibetan majority" that would demand independence, a peace mission, international observers and an agreement that severs Tibet from China. This would set the stage for subsequently launching another "humanitarian war" to bring China to its knees. In the same way, Washington could, by way of Pakistan, instigate an uprising in Kashmir against the government of India with similar consequences. And, of course, there is always Chechnya or some other Russian republic. The tardy recognition on the part of China, Russia and India that the US empire is setting in motion an offensive military strategy has brought a dose of reality to their frivolous attraction to the West's political-military alliances and free market policies.

The world might be on the verge of a polarization between the imperialist powers (United States-Western Europe) and their clients on the one side, and a few substantially independent powers on the other.

Polarization in the world and in each country

A second level of polarization is emerging within countries. A poll done in the United States by CNN-Gallup and USA Today reveals that 46% support the bombings and 43% oppose them. In England and the rest of Western Europe, important parliamentary sectors and public opinion oppose the attacks. Opposition has even appeared within some government circles, for example in Italy and Greece. There is now talk of the need for an exit strategy should Milosevic refuse to capitulate and the mass of Albanian refugees flooding the pro-West kleptocratic Republic of Albania supercede the capacity of the war lords, financial con-men and drug barons to feed them.

As was the case in Vietnam, the problem with ending the war is that Washington is in the midst of a whole web of political, economic and military victories in the East, the West and the South. This situation arouses an ultra-belligerent stance on the part of the Clinton administration that does not accept the possibility of withdrawal, that unleashes increasingly aggressive and cruel measures, and that is not prepared to accept the existence of any independent force outside the growing sphere of Washington's dominion.

Russia has been destroyed in terms of a modern economy, and its military forces are severely damaged. Under Yeltsin the Russians unconditionally surrendered to the West. US military and intelligence officers had direct access to the Russian High Command and NATO has expanded to Russia's very borders, with the cooperation of Yeltsin and Primakov. Washington's view is that it can bomb Belgrade back into the Stone Age unless the Yugoslavs submit to its dictates.

There is fear and disgust among reasonable people everywhere about NATO's attack on Yugoslavia. Many decent people reject Clinton's hypocrisy of killing people and destroying cities in the name of humanitarianism, hiding imperialist ambitions behind the phraseology of lofty values. With Iraq first, and now Yugoslavia, the big question for democrats all over the world is what country will be the United States' next target?

The new servility

The US assault on Yugoslavia reveals the subservience of the new NATO members to US strategic imperialist objectives. Hungary is providing air space, airports and military bases to NATO troops, demonstrating its loyal complicity with the offensive against Yugoslavia. Poland has gone even further, offering combat troops. Once again Eastern European regimes and armed forces are at the service of the great powers' economic interests. Czech president Vaclav Havel predictably backed NATO's terrorist bombardment with his habitual mix of triviality and servility, calling NATO's air attack on Yugoslavia an "extreme but essential measure within the current situation" to save lives in the long term. As if such lofty sentiments could impress the millions of terrorized Serbs, the hundreds of dead and injured, not to mention the tens of thousands of Albanians caught between the NATO bombings and the ground war between the US-backed Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) and Belgrade troops.

For the military personnel of the three new NATO members, the difference between serving the Russian empire and being in the service of the US empire is, in many cases, the opportunity to have a new professional career in a kind of a North American Foreign Legion. The old military installations in Warsaw have already been turned into NATO-US operation centers directed against Russia. Learning English is a basic requirement for Czech officers who hope to advance their careers in their new role as sentinels and praetorian guards of the US empire. The Czech regime has placed a factory manufacturing chemical defense products at NATO's disposal for immediate use.

Polish politicians and military officers have been more anxious to top the empire's other new servants, constructing a special military unit solely to protect US diplomat William Walker, leader of the international observer group that is encouraging the KLA's secessionism, denouncing Yugoslavia's atrocities and favoring Albanian cross-border intervention. The Poles have put an assault brigade of parachute troops and armored units of up to 10,000 men at the service of the region's US commander. With the "solidarity" regime closing down shipyards, and small farmers threatened with bankruptcy due to low-price imports from the West, the job market for mercenary soldiers in the US empire's expansion into Central Europe is wide open.

Blood and destruction with a moral veneer

Albright, Cohen, Berger and Clinton have tried to cover over the military attack on Yugoslavia with a moral veneer. The bloody reality, however, offers too great a contrast. The bombings of Belgrade's most populated areas and other large cities has touched worldwide public opinion. Even in the United States, where the media is dedicated to promoting official propaganda, public opinion is divided virtually down the middle. The intensification of the air war on Yugoslavia and its support of Albanian guerrillas and their civilian allies will radicalize the ground war. Hundreds of thousands of Albanians suspected of supporting or sympathizing with the KLA have been forced to flee.

The US policy of war has changed Kosovo's ethnic character. While Albanian civilians flee the bombs and the war, military and civilian Serbs are being converted into the dominant population in a country that will be so devastated that it will take decades to become economically viable. Washington, however, is less worried about saving Albanians than punishing unyielding Serbs. For Clinton, what happens on land, with the people, in the schools and factories of Kosovo, is "collateral damage." The empire marches on. In England and the United States during World War II, ethnic groups associated with enemy countries were jailed or put under tight surveillance. The Serbs treat the Albanian Kosovians in similar fashion, particularly because a significant number of them sympathize with the KLA, which supports the NATO bombings. The increased force of the bombings and Yugoslavia's growing vulnerability will intensify the ground war against all Albanians. NATO's offensive action against the Yugoslavian nation has united all political categories and tendencies in defense of their lives, their homes and their countries. Milosevic's critics have put aside their differences. The parallels with the Nazi attack during World War II is not a spurious analogy, so similar are the threats of mass destruction uttered by the supreme Nazi commandant in World War II to those now being made by General Clark.

The whole world in its hand?

The Albanian refugees are seeking shelter in neighboring countries, which will probably create conflicts. New calls for independence might arise in Macedonia. If NATO initiates a ground invasion, will Clinton be able to recruit Poles or Turks to fight a bloody war that the people of the United States won't allow US troops to fight? Will the Yugoslavians go on without attacking the NATO bases installed in neighboring countries that are threatening to destroy their country? If Macedonia continues providing military bases for attacking Yugoslavia can it continue to proclaim its neutrality? If the Hungarian troops from northern NATO undertake a campaign to "liberate" the Hungarian minority in northern Yugoslavia, will they not open new military fronts? Can the European social democratic governments maintain an offensive war against a neighboring country while public opinion demands an end to the bombings?
Clinton's obsessive concern for US imperialist interests could lead to a larger war, which could mean the undermining of NATO support in Europe at the very moment that Washington thinks it holds the whole world in its hands.

James Petras is professor of sociology at Binghamton University. This article appeared in the Chilean magazine Punto Final, under the title ¿Quién podrá salvar a Kosovo de la OTAN?-and was retranslated from the Spanish by envío.

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