The Journal of History     Spring 2003     TABLE OF CONTENTS

Behind NATO's Bombardment of Yugoslavia
Part 3 of a 3 part series

By Mitchel Cohen

No Blood for Oil?

When we are talking about oil, we are also talking not only about billions of dollars in profits but about the environment. Again, this is as true in understanding the rationale underlying US policy in Europe and the bombardment of Yugoslavia as it was for the massive and ongoing destruction heaped upon Iraq. That rationality, as embodied in the strategic paradigm we now call the New World Order, is also the means by which one sector of the ruling class has been able to regain control of the executive branch of the US state itself ­ the state being terrain contested by different capitalist sectors with sometimes opposing interests. It is a rationality based on competition between regional capitalists, the need for capitalism globally to reconfigure the oil-producing working class, the imposition of structural adjustment programs dictated by the IMF and World Bank, and the strengthening of NATO which, in turn, allows the US to dictate terms to the areas of the world deemed in the ruling class's "national interest" ­ that is, unfettered access to the world's resources.

The competition between geographic regions for resources, investments, cheap labor and strategic positioning complicates what has typically been portrayed simply as an oil grab, an effort to pirate the world's resources. Although the fight for access to the world's natural resources plays a critical role in shaping US foreign policy, that does not mean that there is a direct cause and effect relation.

Last Fall, US Energy Secretary Bill Richardson told Stephen Kinzer of the New York Times, "We're trying to move these newly independent [former Soviet] countries toward the West. We would like to see them reliant on Western commercial and political interests rather than going another way. We've made a substantial political investment in the Caspian and it's very important to us that both the pipeline map and the politics come out right."

Political power grows out of the barrel of oil. And in "the Caspian region [there] is one of the largest remaining potential resources of undeveloped oil and gas in the world," according to one Exxon executive. He added that the area might be producing as much as 6 million barrels of oil per day by 2020. Exxon expects the oil industry to invest $300-$500 billion in the interim to exploit the reserves. The US Department of Energy estimates that 163 billion barrels of oil and up to 337 trillion cubic feet of natural gas are to be found. If the estimates are borne out, the region will become a petroleum producer comparable in scope to Iran or Iraq.

Western analysts also expect the Caspian region to become a major world gold producer. Kazakhstan, with 10,000 tons, has the second largest reserves in the world. Mining companies from the US, Japan, Canada, Britain, Australia, New Zealand and Israel are already operating in the region.

But the US no longer goes to war to be able to immediately extract resources from the mine in Kosovo, any more than it spent two decades murdering Vietnamese to own the tin and tungsten there, or even the cheap labor now so pervasive in manufacturing Nike shoes. Even though the northern Kosovo mine at Trepka is worth many billions of dollars, and the oil in the Caspian Sea is worth 100 times more than that, sometimes it is more profitable in the short term for the system as a whole (though not for an individual corporation) to leave the resources in the ground ­ provided you can dictate access to them (which the US can usually do through its credit agencies of finance capital, backed by military might) and prevent competitors from developing the same resource ­ thus protecting or enhancing the value and control over what has already been extracted, manufactured or refined, as well as the labor that goes into it. This enables the US ruling class, through its control of the global financial apparatus along with its control of the State, to be in a position to control the world price of all natural resources, of all oil, of world labor, even that which it does not own ­ and deny that possibility to competitors, in this case Russia, China and Japan (and, to an extent, Germany and the European Union). That this requires state-funded troops in and around pipelines, mines and oil rigs to defend private corporate interests, with the authority to respond immediately, gives the appearance of a simple lust for immediate extraction of resources; but that linear cause and effect relation is inaccurate. Enter NATO.

NATO's real mission is not difficult to discern: impose global capitalist policy on the local level ­ privatization, structural adjustment, sweatshops, and the prevention of real working class organizing, environmental regulations, and unionization ­ in other words, impose the neoliberal agenda. The UN troops now stationed in Kosovo and throughout the former Yugoslavia are there to complete the work that Milosevic only partly accomplished ­ suppression of domestic upsurges and working class struggles ­ just as they had done in Haiti and Somalia.

Nor is the Wall Street Journal shy about the rationale for such efforts, either: "We'd rather see the money go to buy bombs that might save lives than be used to expand the welfare state." (May 17, 1999) Of course bombs take lives, they do not save them. Still, to the cheers of its Wall Street denizens, US payments for this military operation were, for the first time, taken by President Clinton and Vice President Gore directly from supposedly sacrosanct Social Security trust funds.

Access to pipelines and world markets; the ability to set the global price not only to make billions in profits but to achieve geopolitical objectives that dovetail ­ but are not necessarily congruent with ­ the immediate economic interests of individual countries or corporations (even those as big as, say, Exxon); the exploitation of the newly independent states of the former Soviet Union and the Eastern bloc, corralling them one by one into the rubric of the US empire; the use of the World Trade Organization, IMF, World Bank, USAID and the entire apparatus of global finance and trade to impose "structural adjustment" on the world favorable to US capital's strategic and long-term economic interests ­ all of these, and more, are wrapped up in the expansion of NATO, the bombing of Yugoslavia, and the justifications offered for the new "humanitarian" warfare that sees human beings and the environment as equally expendable.

Mitchel Cohen is a founding member of the Red Balloon Collective (1969) at State University New York Stony Brook, and organizes with the Brooklyn Greens, Green Party of New York.


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