The editorial board of the World Socialist Web Site emphatically opposes
the US-led NATO attack on Serbia. The massive air assault against a
small country of less than ten million people is an act of naked imperialist
aggression. It represents a qualitatively new stage in the eruption of
American and European militarism.
As the British Financial Times pointed out: "The enormity of NATO
launching its first attack against a sovereign state is not to be
underestimated. Unlike Iraq, Belgrade has not invaded another country.
Nor is the situation akin to Bosnia, where the legitimate government invited
outside intervention. Nor, finally, has the United Nations Security Council
specifically authorized NATO to bomb."
It is a telling commentary on the state of American democracy that the
government feels free to go to war without even bothering to offer a
coherent explanation for its actions to its own people. Without even a trace
of embarrassment President Clinton acknowledged, only hours before the
bombing commenced, that most Americans probably would not be able to
locate Kosovo on a world map.
Without a declaration of war--indeed, without anything that can even be
remotely described as a public debate--the United States has commenced
the bombing of another country which has not harmed, or even threatened,
a single American citizen.
What is the logic of this policy? The United States assumes the right to
compel countries to change their policies in accordance with American
demands, i.e., to relinquish sovereignty within their own borders. Even as
ruthless a practitioner of imperialist realpolitik as Henry Kissinger has
warned that the war against Serbia represents an extraordinary and
unprecedented redefinition of the "national interest"--which now, it would
appear, includes the domestic policies of other countries.
Though it has not been explicitly stated, the implication of this new "Clinton
Doctrine" is that the United States may bomb and even invade countries
whose domestic policies are not to its liking. This doctrine implies that any
country in the world is a potential target for US bombing. It would not be
difficult--based on the present state of world affairs--to draw up a list of
10 to 20 countries that could be considered likely candidates for military
attack by the United States. And, were a deterioration of world economic
conditions to lead to an exacerbation of trade tensions, the size of that list
could quickly double.
The aim of these assaults is to establish the role of the major imperialist
powers--above all, the United States--as the unchallengeable arbiters of
world affairs. The "New World Order" is precisely this: an international
regime of unrelenting pressure and intimidation by the most powerful
capitalist states against the weakest.
The attack on Serbia follows a definite pattern. In recent years, military
interventions by the US have occurred with increasing frequency. In less
than twelve months the US has bombed the Sudan and Afghanistan and is,
with the support of Britain, conducting a permanent war against Iraq. It is
impossible to separate the assault on Serbia from this chain of events.
The official reasons given for the military intervention are utterly
hypocritical. According to German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, the
bombing has been undertaken to prevent a "humanitarian catastrophe."
According to British Prime Minister Tony Blair it is necessary to "save
thousands of innocent men, women and children from death, barbarism
and ethnic cleansing by a brutal dictator."
But looking back on the tragic consequences of the break-up of
Yugoslavia, it is clear that humanitarian issues were the last concerns
motivating the intervention of the big powers. In fact, the largest single act
of ethnic cleansing carried out in the entire period--the Croatian army's
expulsion of 100,000 Serbs from the Krajina region into Bosnia--was
carried out with the approval of the German and American governments,
and directly supervised by American personnel.
A New York Times front-page article last Sunday reported that the war
crimes tribunal in the Hague has concluded the Croatian army carried out
summary executions, the shelling of civilians and "ethnic cleansing," all of
which occurred under the auspices of retired US military officers working
in Croatia with the approval of Clinton and the Pentagon.
The Times report exposed the hypocrisy of the US government, which
tailors its selective outrage over ethnic atrocities to its immediate military
and geo-political aims. Three Croatian generals face indictment for the
atrocities committed during the Krajina offensive, but the Pentagon
opposes any legal action against them, claiming the shelling of Serb towns
and villages was a "legitimate military action." Milosevic, denounced by
Washington as an international outlaw, is giving the same rationale for his
present policy of shelling and burning Albanian villages in Kosovo that the
US gives for similar depredations against the Krajina Serbs.
Viewed within an international context, the indignation of Europe and the
United States over massacres and the suppression of national rights is even
more cynical. While it sheds crocodile tears over the fate of the Kosovars,
the United States provides military and financial support for the
suppression of national and ethnic minorities by right-wing regimes all over
A case in point is Turkey, a NATO member and strategic US ally, which is
conducting a savage war against the Kurdish population in its own country.
Turkish policy towards the Kurds is even more ruthless than that carried
out by Serbia against the Kosova Albanians. Turkey makes it a crime to
acknowledge a Kurdish national identity, and its military violence in
Kurdistan affects far more people than the Serbian repression of Kosovo
Albanians. Nevertheless, Ankara has never been threatened with military
raids, the Turkish military is provided with weapons and expertise by the
German and American governments, and the leader of the Kurdish national
movement, the PKK, has been handed over, thanks to US intervention, to
his Turkish hangmen.
In the air war against Serbia, military force has become its own raison
d'être. As NATO governments and the media insist, the maintenance of
NATO's credibility demands that the US and its allies bomb now, because
they have repeatedly threatened to do so in the past. Typical were the
remarks of the German paper Die Welt, which declared, "NATO must
strike," because not to strike "would have consequences going far beyond
the conflict in Kosovo. Its authority as a military and political protecting
power would be destroyed..."
We do not have any sympathy for Milosevic, nor do we
support his policies. He is a former Stalinist bureaucrat, turned rabid
nationalist and defender of bourgeois property, who tramples on the
democratic and social rights of the people. In this respect he is not
fundamentally different from Russian president Boris Yeltsin and many
other heroes of the Western media.
However, the attempt to reduce the complex historical and political issues
of the Balkans to the machinations of one bad man whose supposed thirst
for power is the source of evil in the world is patently absurd. Given the
traumatic experiences of Serbian history, no political leader--even one with
none of the characteristics attributed to Milosevic--could have accepted
the humiliating ultimatum delivered by the Contact Group of imperialist
nations. Acceptance would amount to sanctioning foreign troops on
Serbian territory and surrendering sovereignty over an area considered
part of the Serbian state since the withdrawal of the Ottoman empire last
In 1914 an ultimatum by the Habsburg empire, threatening Serbian
sovereignty in a similar way, triggered World War I. During World War II
several hundred thousand Serbs fell victim to a genocidal assault supported
by the German occupation army. With these memories still present, and
with the German army returning to the stage of international war in the
bombing of Serbia, the refusal to accept the US-sponsored ultimatum can
hardly be blamed on Milosevic alone.
Indeed, the Western powers worked closely with Milosevic in
implementing the ethnic carve-up of Bosnia under the Dayton agreement.
The present war is directed not primarily against Milosevic, but rather
against the Serbian population and the Balkan people as a whole.
The Kosovo Albanians, in whose behalf the war is supposedly being
waged, will be amongst its main victims. With a huge part of the Serbian
army concentrated in and around Kosovo, the province will inevitably
become one of the main theaters of military conflict, with high civilian
According to a German government briefing of parliamentary leaders,
NATO's plan, should Serbia not give in after extensive bombardment, is to
escalate the political and military offensive by backing the secession of
Kosovo from Serbia and equipping the Kosovo Albanians with modern
The conflict in Kosovo must be placed in its historical context. Its cause
not the personality of Milosevic, but the breakup of Yugoslavia, which is
the combined product of the collapse of Stalinist rule and the intervention
of the major capitalist powers, especially Germany and the United States.
It was German support for the secession of Slovenia, and even more so its
promotion of an independent Croatia in 1991, that triggered a series of
nationalist eruptions, including the Bosnian civil war, the Croatian expulsion
of the Krajina Serbs, and the Serbian crackdown in Kosovo. The NATO
powers have intervened throughout the past decade to inflame and exploit
national and ethnic tensions for their own purposes. None of the nationalist
politicians in the former Yugoslavia and none of the Great Powers come to
Kosovo with clean hands.
There is little reason to believe that the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA),
should it take power in Kosovo, would behave differently than Milosevic,
Croatia's Tudjmann, the Bosnian Moslem leaders, or other nationalist
politicians in the region. Nothing in the KLA's past record indicates that it
would treat the 180,000 Serbs living in the area differently than the
Croatian army dealt with the Krajina Serbs.
The removal of Serb military forces would likely be followed by the mass
expulsion of the Kosovo Serbs. Serbian resistance would likely be met
with KLA massacres as bloody as those being carried out against the
ethnic Albanians by Milosevic's forces today. As the recent history of the
Balkans, Rwanda and other international flash points has tragically
demonstrated, those subjected to "ethnic cleansing" and national
oppression at one point can, at the prompting of their own bourgeois
nationalist leaders, become the perpetrators of such crimes at the next
The international press has provided extensive reports of the suffering
the Kosovo Albanians and their persecution at the hands of Serbian forces.
But it has said little about the estimated 15,000 Serbs who have fled
villages for towns in Kosovo since the beginning of open conflict in spring
According to a report issued by the Institute of War & Peace Reporting:
"From late April until the end of June last year, the Kosovo Liberation
Army (KLA) undertook a series of offensives and took control of nearly
40 per cent of Kosovo. Serbs who lived in the villages under KLA control
left their homes--sometimes of their own free will and sometimes forcibly,
after their closest kin had been abducted and their houses surrounded and
attacked with small-arms fire."
The NATO attack on Serbia will have incalculable consequences for the
stability of the entire region. It threatens renewed civil war in Bosnia,
destabilizes Albania and Macedonia, and undermines the rump of
Serb-controlled Yugoslavia. Belgrade could face the secession of
Montenegro and ethnic unrest in the province of Vojvojdina, which has no
majority population, but large minorities of Serbs, Croats, Hungarians and
According to the German news magazine Der Spiegel, "Neighboring
Macedonia, whose territory is greedily observed by the bordering states,
would inevitably be drawn into the conflict: 420,000 Albanians live there.
And the mother country Albania could militarily intervene on behalf of its
embattled compatriots in Kosovo--a general Balkan war could hardly be
In the final analysis, the escalating spiral of war, civil war and ethnic
cleansing which has beset the Balkans demonstrates the historically
reactionary character of the entire structure of national states carved out of
the former Yugoslavia. As a result of the political interference and military
intervention of the imperialist powers, the Balkans have been
"re-Balkanized" in a manner that precludes both economic progress and
the development of genuinely democratic conditions.
This policy, motivated by the most short-term considerations, may prove
to have consequences far more serious than those anticipated by the
Clinton administration. The decision by Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny
Primakov, on the way to an official visit to Washington, to turn his plane
around and go back to Moscow, and President Boris Yeltsin's subsequent
decision to sever all ties with NATO, provide an indication of the
destabilizing impact of these events on Europe as a whole.
A possible consequence is the emergence of an extreme nationalist regime
in Russia. Already there are reports that Russia may supply arms to the
Serbs if fighting develops on a large scale.
One of the three new additions to NATO, Hungary, has no common
border with any NATO country, but does have a common border with
Serbia, and clashes could break out there. The fragile relations between
Turkey and Greece, both members of NATO and perpetually on the brink
of war, could rapidly deteriorate should the war spread to Macedonia.
There are innumerable factors in this crisis that lend to the prevailing
situation a tremendous degree of unpredictability. But the following can be
said with certainty: whatever may emerge from the destruction and death
produced by this latest eruption of US-NATO violence, it will be neither
the peace nor the justice so fatuously promised to the peoples of the
Balkans by President Clinton.