The Journal of History     Fall 2002 TABLE OF CONTENTS

 
 
BOMBING THE BRIDGE TO THE 21ST CENTURY:
Behind NATO's Bombardment of Yugoslavia
Part 1 of a 4 part series






By Mitchel Cohen
mitchelcohen@mindspring.com

"If we have to use force, it is because we are America! We are the indispensable nation. We stand tall. We see further into the future."

Madeleine Albright, Feb. 19, 1998

In 1990, everyone knew that the coming war in the Gulf had something to do with oil. And something to do with "defending our way of life," as President George Bush put it. But by 1996, and '97, '98 and '99, the U.S. was still bombing Iraq. First it was to prevent Iraq from manufacturing bacteriological weapons. Then it was to allow American monitors to take part in a UN inspection of alleged nuclear reactor facilities. And now it is about ? what? Can anyone remember why the US continues to bomb Iraq?

Hundreds of thousands of children and others have died from illnesses such as leukemia and dysentery brought on by the US's bombardment with radioactive "depleted uranium" weapons, and malnutrition brought on by the deadly imposition of "sanctions" which keeps much needed foreign goods, foods, medicines, and clean water out of the hands of the Iraqi people. The chant "No Blood for Oil," which had mobilized hundreds of thousands of anti-war activists in the beginning of the decade, had become but a faint echo by decade's end under the Clinton/Gore administration's skillful management of George Bush's policies.

Not that the Gulf War was ever solely about the guzzle of immediate oil profits enjoyed by Exxon, Shell, Conoco, Texaco and Mobil; in political terms, it was the means by which the oil man and former CIA head George Bush (and his oleogenous progeny) hammered the disparate and contradictory tendencies of the ruling class into line behind the policy of the New World Order.

The subsequent "humanitarian" military intervention in Somalia, the US military occupation of Haiti, the bombing of one of the only modern pharmaceutical plants on the African continent (in the Sudan), the ongoing bombardment of Iraq, and the bombardment of Yugoslavia have helped establish the extension of that policy throughout the globe. Under the guise of "Humanitarian" intervention in the 1990s (which came to full military application with the bombardment of Yugoslavia early in 1999), peasants have been forcibly removed from their villages and communal use of farmland -- first in Haiti and now across Africa -- and factory farming of genetically engineered cassava and other crops for export has been installed in their place. The New World Order -- economically under the auspices of the World Trade Organization, International Monetary Fund, World Bank, and US Agency for International Development, and militarily through the North Atlantic Treaty Organization -- is extending so-called "free market economics" eastward (often at the point of a bayonet) into the former socialist bloc. New NATO members include Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia, who joined just a few weeks before NATO began its bombing of Yugoslavia on March 24th; Hungary immediately became an important participant in NATO's logistical planning for the "war." NATO has also offered entry into its Partnership for Peace program to Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, nudging itself dangerously close to the borders of the Ukraine and Russia.

That, of course, is the plan. In the words of former UN vicegerent secretary Eric Suzy, with the bombing of Yugoslavia and the stationing of thousands of troops there, NATO has "beg[un] the encircling of Russia."

"The only weak point in the whole [NATO] scenario is precisely Yugoslavia," Suzy wrote. "It is there that stands NATO's interest in this war. The ultimate goal is situated one step further. For that, one should not lose sight of the huge oil reserves of the Caspian Sea. NATO wants to reinforce its 'pied á terse' in the region."

Indeed, before the bombardment, there were no NATO troops in what remained of Yugoslavia. That area stood out like the hole of a bagel amidst the forces of the New World Order. And yet, almost all of Yugoslavia's military apparatus had focused not on "the West," but eastward towards the Soviet Union. All the camouflage, missiles, traps and tanks were geared towards countering a Soviet, not a US, invasion. Yugoslavia had built its military apparatus with the help of the US to be capable of repelling an invading Soviet force.

In fact, contrary to NATO's war propaganda, for many years Yugoslavia's elected president, Slobodan Milosevic, was not Russia's "friend," but the International Monetary Fund's point man in the region, the one responsible for imposing IMF and World Bank structural adjustment programs on his country. One writer even quotes Milosevic as having "urged Yugoslavs to overcome their 'unfounded, irrational, and ... primitive fear of exploitation' by foreign capital." (Leonard Cohen, "Broken Bonds: Yugoslavia's Disintegration and Balkan Politics in Transition", p. 56) It was only when massive public protests forced Milosevic to ease the rate of privatization of public utilities that he incurred the wrath of the international financiers led by the US, Germany and England.

How could the International Monetary Fund speed up the corporatization of Yugoslavia without strengthening the anti-IMF/World Trade Organization resistance there or, for that matter, the growing resistance in the European Union as well? Europe, after all, was being asked to shoulder a larger part of the military burden; to do that it would have to cut its impressive social welfare programs and impose a form of structural adjustment. Could the US government, in this way, stave off the EU from becoming a serious threat to US multinational corporate interests in the region?

These are questions that challenged US policy-makers throughout the late 1980s and 90s. A fascinating (and scary) overview of US strategy was outlined by former National Security Adviser to President Carter, Zbigniew Brzezinski: "A wider Europe and an enlarged NATO will serve the short term and longer term interests of US policy," Brzezinski explained. "A larger Europe will expand the range of American influence without simultaneously creating a Europe so politically integrated that it could challenge the United States on matters of geopolitical importance, particularly in the Middle East." ("A Geostrategy for Asia," Foreign Affairs, September/October 1997). In other words, work to unify Europe to serve as US trading partner and military policeman, but keep a number of conflagrations going to prevent the EU from getting too powerful and becoming a threat to e.g. Exxon's oil interests.

A 1992 Pentagon policy document, "The Defense Planning Guide," explains: "Our first objective is to prevent the re-emergence of a new rival [i.e., Europe]. ... We must ... discourage [the industrial nations] from challenging our leadership. ... It is of fundamental importance to preserve NATO as the primary instrument of Western defense and security as well as the channel for US influence and participation in European security affairs.... We must seek to prevent the emergence of European-only security arrangements that would undermine NATO. ... [We must maintain] the sense that the world order is ultimately backed by the US. ... The US should be postured to act independently when collective action [i.e., the UN] cannot be orchestrated." (NY Times, March 8, 1992)

But how to do this without sacrificing public support, or at least acceptance? US President Bill Clinton, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and German Chancellor Shroeder -- all Social Democrats -- positioned NATO to pose as defender of Yugoslavia's ethnic Albanian minority against Serbian repression. Words like "genocide," "ethnic cleansing" and "holocaust" punctuated official pronouncements before the bombing. These were parroted internationally by many erstwhile "progressive" non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and liberal leaders, who never bothered to check the facts, creating a climate of vilification and hatred in the US and Britain towards the Serbian people as a whole. The campaign to demonize "the Serbs" -- an entire people -- allowed many to rationalize the bombardment and inured them to what was being done to all the people in the region under the guise of "long standing ethnic rivalries."
 

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. mitchelcohen@mindspring.com
 
 


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