Inevitably, the sustained US bombing campaign against Serbia will be considered a “victory” for US aims in the region. Indeed it may be a victory, but not a victory for “humanitarianism”, the Kosovar refugees or the US public. The real beneficiaries of the war (and of the peace) are elites in the US and Yugoslavia, as well as the international military industrial complex and the forces of economic globalization.
Kosovo war a cynical US power grab not a “humanitarian” mission
The bombing has successfully crushed leftist tendencies in the Balkins, provided justification for continued military spending in the US, and most importantly provided US diplomats a credible threat of US military intervention outside of international law and outside of the United Nations next time the US wants to throw its weight around. Increasingly, the US is carving out a role as the world’s only superpower in the post cold-war New World Order, accountable to no one and immune from international law.
The Kosovar refugees will return to a militarily occupied, ruined, bombed countryside and a devastated economy controlled politically from afar as a NATO protectorate. The wildcat strikes and labor unrest centered in Kosovo which threatened economic stability and a smooth transition from socialism to market capitalism will now be replaced by a more grim struggle for survival. There is considerable evidence that it was this labor unrest which induced Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic to begin manufacturing the ethnic strife which provided justification for his repression. Nothing like “ethnic tensions” to take attention away from economic austerity imposed in the transition to capitalism.
The population of Serbia, which generally did not practice ethnic cleansing, must face the physical devastation of their country and the likely political strengthening of Milosevic. Milosevic clamped-down on dissidents at the beginning of the war, forcing a sizable opposition movement underground, and this clampdown will likely become permanent. Any massive bombing campaign against a country tends to unite its people behind the “leadership,” especially bombing aimed at creating civilian misery like the NATO bombing, which gradually moved from military targets to state television to daily attacks on electric power for the population. International elites are not sad to see the Serbian left, which organized massive strikes and protests over the last few years, crushed. An organized population is a much greater threat to the world’s rulers than the odd brutal dictator.
Media coverage during the war has been fascinating in how little understanding one could extract from it about the reasons for the conflict. The media dramatized the human rights offenses committed by Serb troops, to back up the Clinton line that the war was a “humanitarian” action to stop the slaughter of innocent Kosovar civilians. The big myth was that bombing would somehow stop the slaughter. In fact, there is significant evidence that US military planners knew that the bombing could do nothing to stop Serbian military attacks on the civilian population, and further that they knew that bombing would probably make things worse. In the year prior to the bombing, about 2,000 people were killed in Kosovo, mostly by Serb military and paramilitary forces. After international observers left in preparation for bombing, hundreds of thousands were expelled, their houses burned, and untold thousands probably killed.
The media tried to obscure how close a negotiated settlement between Serbia and NATO might have been in the absence of military action. The night before the bombing started, the Serb Parliament called for negotiations over “an international presence in Kosovo immediately after the signing of an accord for self-administration in Kosovo which will be accepted by all national communities” living in the province – essentially the deal sought after weeks of bombing. This gesture was ignored by Clinton (and the media). Clinton had a much stronger interest in bombing for its own sake than in reaching a settlement, even if this resort to force meant that thousands of Kosovars he claimed he wanted to help would be killed.
The importance of the war as a US attack on the authority of international law and the United Nations has also been obscured. Under international law, it is clear that no government can legally fight a war of aggression against another sovereign state. Only the United Nations has legal authority to use force for “humanitarian” goals. Even though the UN decision making system gives the US and other permanent members of the Security Counsel a veto on decisions of the Counsel, the US still wishes to undermine the UN because of the admittedly meager internationalism it represents. By fighting the war under the auspices of NATO – which has no authority under international law to attack sovereign nations for “humanitarian” reasons – and getting away with it, the US has greatly strengthened the credibility of any future threats of military action outside of any international body it may make. While NATO appears to be an alliance, the US exercises great influence in NATO, which contains no real opponents of US geo-political goals.
Meanwhile, for complex reasons, the US left and peace movement never really got a vigorous campaign off the ground to oppose the war. This is another major victory for Clintonesque advocates of a New World Order: future illegal military interventions can be planned with less fear of effective domestic opposition.
Despite abundant historical examples of US imperialism in which the government made fraudulent claims that the action was “humanitarian” while the real goals were economic and political, US activists have seemed largely paralyzed from acting against the bombing as the media repeatedly touted examples of Serbian brutality. Many groups, rather than taking to the streets, instead held discussion groups in which they questioned whether protests against the bombing would be an endorsement of genocide by the Serbs. “If this is genocide, we can’t just do nothing” went the line. Without doubting any story of Serb brutality (in fact it appears the Serb military did carry out serious human rights violations) it does not follow that if a government represses its own citizens within its own borders, the correct response is for the world’s most powerful nation to commence bombing with no UN authority. Many activist groups have apparently felt constrained to choose one of the narrow, unacceptable options presented to them by Clinton: oppose genocide by keeping quiet about the bombing, or oppose the bombing and support Serb brutality. These are not the only options.
US activists should remember that while the US supposedly tried to avoid death and displacement in Kosovo, it was directly funding similar government repression carried on by our allies in Columbia (1 million refugees, 2000 killed last year) and Turkey (repression against the Kurds have eliminated entire villages and killed tens of thousands) as well as elsewhere. No one in the US government proposed lifting a finger during state sponsored humanitarian disasters in Rwanda, Cambodia, East Timor, Guatemala . . . Clearly US claims of humanitarian concern are highly cynical.
Noam Chomsky has suggested the following solution to the “we must do something” argument: “Suppose you see a crime in the streets, and feel that you can’t just stand by silently, so you pick up an assault rifle and kill everyone involved: criminal, victim, bystanders. Are we to understand that to be the rational and moral response? One choice, always available, is to follow the Hippocratic principle: ‘first, do no harm.’ If you can think of no way to adhere to that elementary principle, then do nothing.”
The best way for activists to help the ordinary Kosovars, Serbians, and people around the world is to keep the pressure up on a US government which seeks world domination through military force. Violence will never stop violence, it can only create more, while strengthening the elites who wield the gun, as well as the elites where the bombs fall.