< < < Date > > > | < < < Thread > > >



---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Mon, 14 Jun 1999 16:48:10 -0700
From: Sid Shniad <shniad@sfu.ca>
Subject: THE TWILIGHT OF THE EUROPEAN PROJECT (long, but very important  analysis)


	By Peter Gowan in CounterPunch

In the midst of the bombing campaign it is impossible for us to grasp 
the full significance of the NATO war against Yugoslavia. This is 
particularly true for those of us living in NATOland since the war, for 
us, is purely synthetic experience, television images as part of our 
daily, normal routine and images which are themselves increasingly 
routinised and thus normal. Indeed for us the whole war is part of our 
everyday routine: yesterday it was Iraq, some newsflashes about Sudan 
and somebody with an exotic name in Afghanistan, today Kosovo, 
tomorrow Taiwan -- all far away places which we naturally care deeply 
about but about which we know little and need to know less.

But one of the significant consequences of the NATO attack on 
Yugoslavia is almost certainly that it marks the end of the European 
project as a political project for Western and Central Europe. That 
political project could only have succeed if the member states of the 
European Union had been prepared to stick to their words and 
reconstruct the European political order as a norm-based rather than a 
power-politics based system, becoming democratic and embracing the 
Eastern part of the continent. This war seems certain to bring that effort 
to an end. A gathering of intellectuals at the Marc-Bloc Foundation in 
Paris on 29th May, entitled 'After the Emotion the Political Reflection' 
began to tackle this question seriously. Claude Lanzmann, the producer 
of Shoah, the documentary account of the Holocaust spoke. He said 
that the NATO attack on Yugoslavia was a new Dreyfus Affair. It is, 
but this time with a whole European nation, the Serbs, cast in the role 
of Dreyfus. A handful of French intellectuals sensed quickly that the 
whole case against Dreyfus was constructed out of lies. Millions upon 
millions of people across Europe now see the Serb nation for what it is: 
a victim of the power plays of Western powers which have constructed 
this war on a foundation of lies, shattering the entire normative 
scaffolding upon which the new Europe was supposed to be built. 
Powerful States can and so wage wars rooted in fictions and 
falsehoods, and get away with it. But attempts to build transnational, 
post-nation state structures like the European Union, the Council of 
Europe or the OSCE on a power politics that displays contempt for the 
supposedly founding principles of such bodies are unlikely to be 

The continuation of the European project as a form of political 
development for Europe will be possible only if one of two conditions 
are met: either the NATO Dreyfus affair in the Western Balkans can be 
quickly forgotten in a rapid move to prosperity, peace and hope in a 
reconstructed Western Balkans; or the political and intellectual 
resources of Europe are mobilised to decisively repudiate the entire 
aggressive war against Serbia and against a tolerable future for all the 
peoples in that region. Neither of these two conditions seems a remote 
possibility. As a result, the European project is likely to become a 
Single Market project, harmonised with the requirements of American 
business plus a currency under American tutelage. And the tendency 
will be for the main West European powers to be constantly involved in 
power politics manoeuvres on an American led agenda, manoeuvres 
focused largely on mounting chaos in the Eastern and South Eastern 
part of the continent.

The NATO attack on Yugoslavia was the result of, American 
diplomacy, just as the war itself is essentially an American war 
legitimated by the fact that it is run as a NATO war. For many months 
during 1998, the West European powers did try to resist the American 
drive for a NATO war. Their resistance was partly based upon the fact 
that there strategic interests differed from those of the Americans but 
the form of their resistance was that of attempting to resolve the 
conflict in Yugoslavia by mediation and by peaceful means. But in late 
January, 1999 the British and the French governments broke ranks and 
lined up behind the Clinton Administration for war.

Thus to understand the current war we have to understand the 
character of American aims. There are broadly speaking two 
approaches to this question. One approach says that the Clinton 
Administration was reacting to events in the Western Balkans in 
deciding to go for war. Its aims were governed by the plight of the 
Kosovar Albanians. This line of argument then leads to the conclusion 
that there was an extraordinary mismatch between US aims and US 
methods, a mismatch which the European pundits supporting the war 
explain by reference to supposed American stupidity. We will survey 
the diplomatic background and the launch of the war to explore the 
validity of this theory which we will call the Theory of American 
Stupidity. In doing so we will show how the approaches of the US and 
the West Europeans to the Kosovo issue in the run-up to war were not 
complementary: they were directly contradictory. The US approach 
undermined European efforts at mediation and peaceful resolution of 
the conflict. The West European approaches constantly undermined the 
US drive for war, until the Franco-British turn in January 1999. Those 
who support the war need to address this conflict of approaches in 
order to provide themselves with a consistent position. They can say 
that the European approach was complicit with the Serbian 
government; or they can say that the US approach was responsible for 
much of the terrible sufferings of the Kosovo Albanians both before the 
NATO attack and especially after it had begun. But they should not 
evade these issues. But there is a second way of understanding US 
aims in launching this war. This says that the Clinton Administration's 
drive for war was dictated by US strategic political aims in Europe and 
in the international arena and thus that a war against Yugoslavia over 
Kosovo was simply an instrument in US geopolitical strategy: the 
Kosovo Albanians' plight was a pretext and the Kosovar Albanian 
political groups were simply pawns. This view is, of course, anathema 
to the media pundits in NATOland, but it is overwhelmingly popular in 
the foreign offices and state executives of the states of Europe and of 
the entire world. On this view, the war demonstrates one central lesson: 
the inability of the main West European powers to sustain a collective 
political will in the face of unremitting US pressure. Thus, despite the 
very strong political and economic interests of the main West European 
capitalist states in maintaining a collective stance in the face of US 
manoeuvres over European affairs, their rivalries and vanities can 
always ultimately be exploited by the US to divide them. In essence 
this gives us a theory of the current war in terms of the West European 
states' stupidities. We will examine that theory, which we will call the 
Theory of European Stupidity.

Of course, the word 'stupidity' is a polite one, it is a neutral, problem-
solving word, without significant ethical connotations. It is necessary, 
perhaps to add that the word is used here in an ironical sense. The 
moral and political consequences of this war for Europe are terrible to 
contemplate. The hopes of a better future for the continent 10 years ago 
are over. Never glad confident morning in Europe again, at least not for 
decades. The next phase of European history will be marked by the 
efforts of the United States to push further its drive for global 
hegemony in Europe and elsewhere. As soon as it has finished its 
bombing campaign in the Western Balkans it will switch its pitiless 
gaze East towards the coming truly awesome confrontation with China. 
Back and forth between Asia and Europe the US will move, attempting 
to beat the world into shape for the next millennium. The really strong 
arguments for the NATO war are actually the general arguments for 
US global hegemony. These take two forms. First, those who actually 
believe that US hegemony will produce a new world of global citizens 
rights, global prosperity and global justice. Secondly, the pragmatists 
argue that we cannot buck the trend, we must bandwagon with the 
hegemon in order to subvert it later from within its secure security 
zone. That subversion will take the form of transforming hegemonic 
dominance into a cosmopolitan set of institutions of global governance 
and justice. We will survey those arguments at the end of this article.


The notion of American stupidity is really a British idea. It has been a 
double-sided notion throughout the post-war period in Britain: on one 
side it is a variety of Anti-Americanism much beloved in the British 
upper classes (especially those on the Right); on the other side it is a 
message of hope -- perhaps we can be cleverer than the Americans and 
manipulate them to our advantage. Thus have the British upper classes 
reconciled themselves to being constantly managed -- often for the 
benefit of the world's populations, as in the case of Suez -- by 
successive American administrations in an uninterrupted progress of 
British decline. The notion of American Stupidity is now becoming a 
European idea during the course of the present war. It has become the 
absolutely central conceptual mechanism for overcoming the 
contradictions in the efforts to justify the NATO air war against 

These contradictions derive from one single source: the attempt to 
explain the origins of the NATO attack as lying in a reactive effort to 
respond to the plight of the Kosovar Albanians. The contradictions 
disappear if we explain the attack as an attempt involve the European 
NATO members in a war to destroy the existing Serbian state. But that 
latter explanation raises a great many new questions about this war 
which NATO governments are seeking, so far very successfully, to 

The distinction between seeking to help the Kosovar Albanians and 
seeking to destroy the existing Serbian state may seem a fine one. 
Common sense may suggest that the two goals are simply two sides of 
a single coin: supporting one side in a local conflict against the other 
side. But the NATO attack on Yugoslavia has involved much more 
than support for one side against another. It has entailed a decision by 
NATO to overthrow the normative cornerstones of the post-war 
international order: the principle of state sovereignty and the outlawing 
of aggression against a state without UN Security Council mandate. To 
take that step, the NATO powers could not simply claim that they were 
opposed to the domestic policies of the Yugoslav state. They had to 
claim that they were taking drastic action to save the Kosovo Albanians 
from a genocidal catastrophe. More, they had to claim that nothing 
other than military aggression against Serbia could prevent the 
catastrophe because all other methods had been tried and had failed.

>From this stance come all the contradictions in the NATO position. For 
during the 14 months up to the launch of the NATO war, the West 
European and Russian governments were in continuous conflict with 
the USA over Kosovo, the USA systematically tried to sabotage a 
peaceful settlement of the conflict in Yugoslavia and the way in which 
the Clinton Administration launched the war invited a genocidal 
slaughter of the Kosovo Albanians.

The European variant says that for 14 months the 'International 
Community' tried every possible means of resolving the conflict 
peacefully. All efforts were thwarted by the Yugoslav authorities. So 
there was no choice but to turn to US air power. The US variant claims 
that for 14 months the US was struggling to gain agreement to a war 
against Yugoslavia, but the Europeans and Russians were blocking 
war. But finally, the US managed to push the Russians out of the 
picture (along with the UN) and bounce the West Europeans into a just 
war that they had been resisting.

These two variants may not appear incompatible, but a glance at that 
14 month history shows that they were, because the failure of the 
European-Russian efforts to gain a negotiated solution was the direct 
result of the activities of the US State Department. Only for a brief 
moment at the very start of the current phase of the Kosovo crisis did 
the USA appear to be on the same line as the Europeans, in viewing the 
KLA as a terrorist group. To search for the real origins of the war we 
need to survey this history.

1. The US both encouraged the Serbian government to launch the 
counter-insurgency and wanted war against the Serbian government 
because of its counter-insurgency. From early March 1998, Albright 
wanted war against Serbia on the grounds that the Serbian government 
was genocidal. On March 7th, 1998, just after and in response to the 
Serbian security force operation in the Benitsar region of Kosovo, she 
declared: "We are not going to stand by and watch the Serbian 
authorities do in Kosovo what they can no longer get away with doing 
in Bosnia." Two days later she reserved the right for the US to take 
unilateral action against the Serbian government, saying, 'We know 
what we need to know to believe we are seeing ethnic cleansing all 
over again.' This remained the US line right the way through from that 
first Serbian counter-insurgency drive against the KLA in Benitsar: 
Albright demanded war against Serbia. But the signal for the Serbian 
government to launch its counter-insurgency in Benistar also, 
intriguingly, came from Albright's own State Department. This signal 
was given by the United States special envoy to the region, 
Ambassador Gelbard. The BBC correspondent in Belgrade reported 
that Gelbard flew into Belgrade to brand the KLA as a terrorist group.

' "I know a terrorist when I see one and these men are terrorists," he 
said...At the time, the KLA was believed to number just a several 
hundred armed men. Mr. Gelbard's words were interpreted in the 
Yugoslav capital, Belgrade, as a green light for a security forces 
operation against the KLA and the special police conducted two raids 
in the Benitsar region in March.'

So the Clinton administration encouraged the Serbian counter-
insurgency in order to liberate the Kosovo Albanians from it through a 
NATO war. The Europeans on the other hand, wanted the Serbian 
counter-offensive against the KLA to result in an internationally 
brokered a compromise peace granting Kosovo Autonomy within 

2. The ''international community' tried for 14 months to broker a 
peaceful solution, but the Clinton Administration did not. The UN (in 
its resolution 1199), the West European powers and the Russians 
sought, during 1998, to bring about a cease fire and a negotiated 
solution in Kosovo, granting autonomy to the Albanians within Serbia. 
The Serbian government, from March 1998 declared its support for 
this, and there was support for this approach, as an interim solution, 
from the Rugova shadow government in Pristina. Only two major 
actors opposed this: Madeleine Albright and the KLA. Albright and the 
whole Clinton administration gave massive political support to the 
KLA, undermining the line of the other members of the Contact Group 
and the line of UN resolution 1199.

Support for the KLA did not involve support for its aims: the Clinton 
administration has always opposed the aims of both the KLA and the 
Rugova leadership, both of whom demand independence for Kosovo. 
The Clinton administration did, however, support the KLA's means -- 
guerrilla warfare against the Serbian state -- by repeatedly and 
vigorously making demands upon the Serbian government which 
strengthened and encouraged the KLA war.

This US support for the KLA became unequivocal by June 1998, by 
which time NATO military planning for an attack on Yugoslavia was 
completed. In that month, White House spokesperson Mike McCurry 
asserted that Serbia 'must immediately withdraw security units 
involved in civilian repression, without linkage to...the 'stopping of 
terrorist activity.' In parallel, Pentagon spokesperson Kenneth Bacon 
said: 'We don't think that there should be any linkage between an 
immediate withdrawal of forces by the Yugoslavs on the one hand, and 
stopping terrorist activities, on the other. There ought to be complete 
withdrawal of military forces so that negotiations can begin.' In other 
words, Washington was insisting that before any cease-fire or 
negotiations on a Kosovo peace settlement, the Serbian authorities 
must withdraw all their forces for Kosovo, handing over the territory to 
the KLA's military forces despite the fact that the urban Albanian 
population of Kosovo was far more pro-Rugova than the KLA. As 
Gary Dempsey explains, the US was demanding that the Serbian 
government 'effectively hand over one of its territories to an insurgency 
movement.....This...led many ethnic Albanians to further conclude that 
the Clinton administration-- despite its official statements to the 
contrary -- backed their goal of independence....Although US policy 
was officially opposed to independence for Kosovo, Washington would 
not allow Belgrade to forcibly resist it.'

Air War supporters thus have a choice of interpretations on these 
matters: either the US was right to back the KLA and sharpen the 
internal conflict in preparation for a NATO attack, in which case the 
Europeans are the Russians were presumably covert supporters of the 
dictatorial, genocidal Milosevic regime. Alternatively, they can argue 
that the European-Russians-UN were right to seek an internal cease-
fire and negotiated solution and the US was wrong to try to sabotage 
this. But Air War supporters cannot embrace both variants.

3. Sabotaging the October 13th Cease-Fire: 

On 13th October, Albright's rival in the Clinton administration, Richard 
Holbrooke, negotiated a cease-fire agreement with Yugoslav President 
Milosevic. The cease-fire would be monitored in Kosovo by OSCE 
observers. Milosevic agreed on the basis that the US administration 
would ensure that the KLA did observe the cease-fire.

But the Clinton administration sabotaged the whole operation. The 
OSCE monitors did not enter Kosovo for a whole month after the 
agreement. During that time, the KLA did not respect the cease-fire, 
continued its operations and extended its reach in Kosovo. During the 
delay, the Clinton administration took control of the OSCE, placed 
William Walker, a key organiser of the Contra operation in Nicaragua 
and the blood-bath in El Salvador, in charge of the OSCE monitoring 
force. Some 2,000 trained monitors waiting in Bosnia to be sent into 
Kosovo were blocked by the US, who put US ex-military personnel in 
as the monitoring force and from mid-November they surveyed every 
bridge, cross-roads, official building, security force billet and barracks 
-- every item that could be relevant to a future NATO-KLA joint 

At the same time the European-Russian-UN line continued to be to 
seek an internal solution and blamed the KLA for the failure to achieve 
it. Thus, for example, at their General Affairs Council on 8th 
December, 1998, Cook and the other foreign ministers of the EU 
assessed the situation in Kosovo. The report of the meeting in the 
Agence Europe Bulletin of the following day stated: 'At the close of its 
debate on the situation in the Western Balkans, the General Affairs 
Council mainly expressed concern for the recent 'intensification of 
military action' in Kosovo, noting that 'increased activity by the KLA 
has prompted an increased presence of Serbian security forces in the 
region.' ' Thus, the EU saw the KLA as the driving force undermining 
the possibility of a cease fire and a compromise solution. They were 
simply on a different line from Albright. And they continued to be right 
through January.

4. Turning the Rambouillet Negotiations into an Ultimatum, while 
overthrowing the Rugova Leadership: 

The two variants continue into the Rambouillet process. The idea of 
bringing the two sides together into face to face negotiations under 
international auspices came from the French government. The Clinton 
administration had been against such an idea, favouring a straight move 
towards bombing. But on this occasion, the differences were overcome 
in favour of the French getting their way on the form while the US 
would get its way on the substance. This was a turning point. The 
French and British switched over to the US position at a meeting of the 
contact group in London on 29th January, 1999, exactly a week before 
the opening on 6th February of the Rambouillet 'negotiations'. From 
that moment on the NATO attack on Yugoslavia was a virtual 
certainty. We can see why when we appreciate that the Rambouillet 
'negotiations' were not negotiations at all: they were an ultimatum to the 
Serbian government which was drafted in such a way as to ensure that 
it would be rejected.

The Serbian government wanted face to face negotiations at 
Rambouillet with the Kosovo representatives. This the Americans 
absolutely refused, presumably with British and French support since 
they were formally supposed to be in charge of the process. It is also 
fairly clear that there were some on the Kosovo side who were 
interested in discussing with the Serbian authorities. Why else would 
be Clinton administration have decided to overthrow the elected 
Rugova government of Kosovo and replace it with a KLA-led 
government, there and then, at Rambouillet?

The Serbian side was then required to agree to the 'Agreement' without 
changing it, or face NATO attack on Yugoslavia. If the Serbian 
government had signed the 'Agreement' the agreement would have had 
no status in international law, since treaties signed under threat of 
aggression have no force in international law. But the Serbian 
authorities, probably wisely, did not have any confidence in their ability 
to rely upon international law, so they refused to sign.

Most people assume that the Serbian government refused to sign, 
because the 'Agreement' would lead to the independence of Kosovo. 
The 'Agreement' did involve a de facto NATO Protectorate (not, by the 
way, a democratic entity. The Chief of the Implementation Force could 
dictate to the Kosovo government on any aspect of policy he 
considered relevant to NATO (i.e. US) concerns.)

But the real sticking point for the Serbian government seems to have 
been the threat that the 'Agreement' posed to the rest of Yugoslavia. 
The NATO compliance force would have complete control of Kosovo 
deploying there whatever types of forces it wished: ' NATO will 
establish and deploy a force (hereinafter KFOR) which may be 
composed of ground, air, and maritime units from NATO and non-
NATO nations, operating under the authority and subject to the 
direction and the political control of the North Atlantic Council (NAC) 
through the NATO chain of command. The Parties agree to facilitate 
the deployment and operations of this force.' Thus, if the US wished to 
use Kosovo as a base for the invasion and occupation of the rest of 
Yugoslavia it could do so. 

This was threat enough. But the so-called 'Appendix B' added to the 
document at Rambouillet itself and kept secret until it was leaked and 
eventually published in the French press, insisted that NATO forces 
could move at will across the whole of Yugoslavia. Thus: 'NATO 
personnel shall enjoy, together with their vehicles, vessels, aircraft, and 
equipment, free and unrestricted passage and unimpeded access 
throughout the FRY including associated airspace and territorial 
waters. This shall include, but not be limited to, the right of bivouac, 
manoeuvre, billet, and utilisation of any areas or facilities as required 
for support, training, and operations.' NATO could also alter the 
infrastructure of Yugoslavia at will: 'NATO may.... have need to make 
improvements or modifications to certain infrastructures in the FRY, 
such as roads, bridges, tunnels, buildings, and utility systems.' It could 
thus move around investigating all Yugoslav infrastructures with a 
view to destroying them (in an attack) later. And the Yugoslav 
authorities 'shall provide, free of cost, such public facilities as NATO 
shall require.' The Yugoslav authorities 'shall, upon simple request, 
grant all telecommunications services, including broadcast services, 
needed for the Operation, as determined by NATO. This shall include 
the right to utilise such means and services as required to assure full 
ability to communicate....free of cost.' 'NATO is granted the use of 
airports, roads, rails, and ports without payment of fees, duties, dues, 
tolls, or charges occasioned by mere use.' The Yugoslav authorities 
must not merely tolerate this: they must facilitate it:' The authorities in 
the FRY shall facilitate, on a priority basis and with all appropriate 
means, all movement of personnel, vehicles, vessels, aircraft, 
equipment, or supplies, through or in the airspace, ports, airports, or 
roads used. No charges may be assessed against NATO for air 
navigation, landing, or takeoff of aircraft, whether government-owned 
or chartered. Similarly, no duties, dues, tolls or charges may be 
assessed against NATO ships, whether government-owned or 
chartered, for the mere entry and exit of ports.'

And in all such activities in the whole of Yugoslavia, NATO shall be 
completely above the law: 'NATO shall be immune from all legal 
process, whether civil, administrative, or criminal.' And again: 'NATO 
personnel, under all circumstances and at all times, shall be immune 
from the Parties' jurisdiction in respect of any civil, administrative, 
criminal, or disciplinary offences which may be committed by them in 
the FRY. ' And again: ' NATO and NATO personnel shall be immune 
from claims of any sort which arise out of activities in pursuance of the 

This threat to move from Kosovo to the overthrow of the entire Serbian 
and Yugoslav regime was underlined by the fact that NATO claimed 
the right to dictate the fundamentals of socio-economic policy within 
Kosovo, with the Yugoslav and Kosovo governments completely under 
the diktat of US policies. Thus:' The economy of Kosovo shall function 
in accordance with free market principles.' And: 'There shall be no 
impediments to the free movement of persons, goods, services, and 
capital to and from Kosovo.' And again: 'Federal and other authorities 
shall within their respective powers and responsibilities ensure the free 
movement of persons, goods, services, and capital to Kosovo, 
including from international sources. There must also be complete 
compliance with the IMF and World Bank. Thus: 'International 
assistance, with the exception of humanitarian aid, will be subject to 
full compliance with....conditionalities defined in advance by the donors 
and the absorptive capacity of Kosovo.' The Yugoslav government 
must also agree to handing over economic assets to foreign interests. 
Thus: 'If expressly required by an international donor or lender, 
international contracts for reconstruction projects shall be concluded by 
the authorities of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.'

These statements made it perfectly clear that NATO was out to destroy 
the existing character of the Serbian economy. The ultimatum also 
demonstrated that NATO was determined to wage war against the 
Serbian media. It demanded 'Free media, effectively accessible to 
registered political parties and candidates, and available to voters 
throughout Kosovo.' And it said that 'The IM shall have its own 
broadcast frequencies for radio and television programming in Kosovo. 
The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia shall provide all necessary 

Rambouillet was thus an ultimatum for a war against Serbia and the 
terms of the ultimatum demonstrated that if the Serbian government 
accepted Rambouillet they would very likely face a crushing attack in 
the future from NATO forces on Yugoslav soil.

5. The Launch of the War and the Need for Stupidity 

With the 'failure' of Rambouillet, the Clinton Administration took open 
charge of the preparations for war. And it is at this point that the 
analysis of those who support the NATO Air War faces absolutely 
irreconcilable contradictions. For the way in which the war was 
launched is, on the face of it, absolutely inexplicable.

The bombing campaign was launched in 24th March. But President 
Clinton announced on the 19th of March that the bombing campaign 
would be launched and nothing now could block it. The US 
administration thus gave the Serbian government 5 days in which they 
could do as their pleased in Kosovo. And when the bombing started, it 
was organised so that the Serbian authorities could continue to have a 
free hand in Kosovo for more than a week. The air war's first phase 
was directed largely at targets outside the Kosovo theatre itself for a 
full week.

And this military side of the attack was combined with an absolutely 
contradictory set of explanations for NATO's aggression. On one side, 
the attack was justified as an attempt to prevent the genocidal threat to 
the Kosovar Albanians from the Milosevic regime. But on the other 
side, the attack was simultaneously justified by the claim that the 
Milosevic regime had no such genocidal intentions and indeed wanted 
the bombing campaign in order to use it to sell Rambouillet to the 
Serbian people.

These contradictions cannot be explained away by haste, improvisation 
and confusion on the part of the Clinton administration. We know that 
the US National Security Council and the State Department had been 
planning this war in detail for 14 months before it started. We know 
also from the Washington Post that the experts in the US 
administration spent those 14 months running over, day after day, all 
the variants of the course of such a war, all the scenarios of possible 
Yugoslav government responses to the air attack. We know that they 
foresaw the possibilities of mass refugee exits from Kosovo. The 
Pentagon foresaw a long air war: the notion that Milosevic wanted the 
bombing attack was political spin put about by General Wesley Clark: 
it was nonsense. So why did they plan the start of the war in this 
particular way?

There is only one serious explanation: the Clinton Administration was 
giving the Serbian authorities the opportunity to provide the NATO 
attack with an ex post facto legitimation. The US was hoping that the 
five days before the launch of the bombing and the first week of the 
war would give various forces in Serbia the opportunity for atrocities 
that could then be used to legitimate the air war.

This was a rational calculation on the part of the US planners. They 
knew that the main political opponents in Serbia of Milosevic's 
Socialist Party -- the Radical Party of Seselj and various Serbian fascist 
groups -- supported the ethnic cleansing of Kosovo, though the 
Socialist Party did not. They knew also that Yugoslav military forces 
would pour into positions in Kosovo as the OSCE personnel left, 
clearing strategic villages, driving forward against KLA-US 
supporters. They could predict also that there would be a refugee flow 
across the borders into Macedonia and Albania.

And the US planners were proved right. Extremist Serbian groups did, 
it seems, go on the rampage in Pristina for three days after the start of 
the war. Refugees did start to flood across the borders. And the 
resulting news pictures did indeed swing European public opinion 
behind the war. As for the Serbian government organising a genocidal 
mass slaughter, this did not happen: the Clinton administration 
organised the launch of the war to invited the Serbian authorities to 
launch a genocide, but the Milosevic government declined the 

It is simply impossible to argue that the US military campaign was 
designed to stop the brutalities against the Kosovo Albanians. It would 
be far easier to demonstrate that this thoroughly planned and prepared 
war was designed to increase the chances of such brutalities being 
escalated to qualitatively higher levels. The way that the war was 
launched was designed to increase the sufferings of the Kosovar 
Albanians in order to justify an open-ended US bombing campaign 
against the Serbian state. The technique worked. But this success 
cannot be acknowledged. Instead it must be hidden by the notion of 
Clinton administration stupidity.

And to this stupidity the European pundits of NATO can add many 
other supposed American stupidities. The stupidity of trying to save the 
Kosovar Albanians with an air war instead of a ground war. The 
stupidity of killing so many Albanian and Serbian civilians. The 
stupidity of not swiftly admitting such killings when they occur.

And then there is the most fascinating stupidity of all: the bombing of 
the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade. This particular stupidity must have 
been a defining moment for the European powers, a moment for hard, 
focused thinking, for one very simple reason: stupid or not, the 
governments of Western Europe know that it was not a mistake. They 
know that the US military attaches in Belgrade had dined more than 
once at the Chinese Embassy compound in the city before the war 
started. They know very well how prominent the compound is and how 
professional the US intelligence operation for targeting is. They know 
that the Embassy was hit on a special mission by a plane from the 
United States. And they noted Clinton's casual response: no press 
conference to make a formal public apology. Just an aside about an 
unfortunate mistake in a speech about something else. They know too 
that China is by far the most important issue in the entire current US 
foreign policy agenda.

And the West European states have learned more about the stupidity of 
the bombing of the Chinese Embassy since it has occurred: it resulted 
in the collapse of weeks of German-Russian diplomacy which had gone 
into producing the G8 declaration agreed just before the Embassy was 
bombed. That G8 declaration threatened to undermine the US's 5 
conditions for ending the war and threatened to rebuild the central 
authority of the UN over NATO: the Embassy bombing put a stop to 
all that. More, it completely sabotaged Schroeder's planned business 
visit to China: West European efforts to steal contracts with China by 
taking a softer line than the Clinton administration were brought to a 
standstill and the West Europeans are being brigaded into line behind 
Washington's policy in a new confrontation with China.

All this, for the West Europeans is surely the height of stupidity. But 
pennies have been dropping in the Chancelleries of Western Europe. 
They are realising that even if there has been plenty of stupidity in the 
NATO war against Yugoslavia, the stupidity may not lie in 
Washington. It may lie in quite a different quarter, namely in the state 
executives of Western Europe itself. To see why, we need an entirely 
different take on the origins of the NATO attack on Yugoslavia.


The alternative take on the origins of the NATO war against 
Yugoslavia starts from the fact that the war did not derive from big 
power reactions to local events in the Balkans at all. Instead, this theory 
starts from the premise that the Clinton administration was seeking a 
war against Yugoslavia as a means for achieving political goals outside 
the Balkans altogether. The conflict between the Serbian state and the 
Kosovar Albanians was to be exploited as a means to achieve US 
strategic goals outside the Balkans on the international plane.

This conception turns the cognitive map used by the proponents of 
American stupidity on its head. Thus, for example, instead of thinking 
that the US was ready to overthrow the norms of the international order 
for the sake of the Kosovar Albanians, we assume exactly the opposite: 
the US was wanting to overthrow the principles of state sovereignty 
and the authority of the UN Security Council and used the Kosovo 
crisis as an instrument for doing so. Instead of imagining that the US 
was ready to shut Russia out of European politics for the sake of the 
Kosovar Albanians, we assume that the Clinton administration used the 
NATO attack on Yugoslavia precisely as an instrument for 
consolidating Russia's exclusion. Instead of assuming that the US was 
ready to abandon its policy of engagement with China for the sake of 
the Kosovo Albanians, we assume that the Clinton administration used 
the war against Yugoslavia to inaugurate a new phase of its policy 
towards China. And last but not least, instead of assuming that the US 
firmly subordinated the West European states to its military and 
political leadership in order create a new dawn in the Western Balkans, 
it used a number of ingenious devices -- especially the dilettantish 
vanity of messieurs Chirac and Jospin -- to drag the West European 
states into a Balkan war that would consolidate US hegemony over 
them, the EU and the Euro's development.

This is where the European stupidity enters the theory. The one 
strategic interest of the main West European states (Germany and 
France) in the Balkans lies in maintaining stable and strong enough 
states in the region to keep their impoverished populations firmly in 
place. West European military intervention in the Balkans has 
essentially been concerned with preventing mass migrations 
Westwards when states collapse. Anglo-French military involvement in 
Yugoslavia through UNPROFOR was essentially about that: 
'humanitarian aid' in the war zone to ensure that the civilian population 
did not leave the war theatre. Italian military intervention in Albania in 
1997 was about the same thing: stanching the flood of humanity out of 
Albania Westwards, by rebuilding an Albanian state while blocking 
emigration and asylum rights. Anglo-French efforts in Macedonia and 
Albania in the current war are similarly about caging the Kosovar 
Albanians within the Western Balkans. Yet now the American air force 
has, with European support, turned the Western Balkans into twenty 
years (minimum) of chaos from which all the energetic younger 
generations of all ethnic groups will rightly wish to flee West for 
decades to come. This is the first European stupidity.

The second strategic interest of the West European states (especially 
Germany) in Eastern Europe is to maintain stable, friendly 
governments in Russia and Ukraine. That too can be ruled out as a 
result of this war as far as Russia is concerned; Ukraine will have to 
choose between Russia and the USA (the EU is not a serious 
alternative. And both Russia and Ukraine could spiral out of control 
with disastrous consequences for Central Europe Western Europe. This 
is the second European stupidity.

The third strategic interest of the main West European states has been 
to combine an effort to bandwagon with US power with preserving an 
effective check on US efforts to impose its will on their foreign 
policies, whether in Europe or other parts of the world. That too seems 
finished now. The basic West European check on US power was the 
French veto at the UN Security Council, restraining the US with its 2 
votes (including that of the UK). Now that Chirac has chosen to 
discredit the UN Security Council, he has undermined his own ability 
to speak for Europe at the UNSC and to be a useful partner for other 
states seeking to gain European help to restrain the US. That is a third 

A fourth West European priority was to be able to claim that the EU is 
an independent, West European political entity with a dominant say at 
least over European affairs. Yet the current war demonstrates that this 
is a piece of pretentious bluff: the EU has played absolutely no role 
whatever in the launching or the management of this war. It will play 
no role whatever in the ending of the war. It is simply a subordinate 
policy instrument in the hands of a transatlantic organisation, the North 
Atlantic Council, handling the economic statecraft side of NATO's 
policy implementation. And within the North Atlantic Council the 
United States rules: the way the war ends will shape the future of 
Europe for at least a decade, yet that decision will be taken in the White 
House: the West European states (not to speak of the EU institutions) 
are political voyeurs with their noses pressed against the windows of 
the Oval Office trying to read the lips of the people in there deciding 
Europe's fate. This is a fourth stupidity.

To explain the background to these stupidities we must examine US 
strategy since the collapse of the Soviet Bloc.


In some conditions the cognitive framework -- local actions, big power 
reactions -- is useful. Such conditions exist when the superpower is 
satisfied and secure that the structures which it has established to 
ensure its dominance are safely in place. It is sitting astride the oceans 
comfortably and it reacts now and again to little local blow-outs and 
break downs.

Some might regard that as being the situation of the United States after 
the collapse of the Soviet Bloc. If we look at the power of the United 
States in the 1990s in resource terms, it has had no rival or even 
potential group of rivals in the military field, it dominates the 
international political economy, there is no power on earth remotely 
able for the foreseeable future to challenge the United States for world 

Yet curiously enough, the United States has been far from satisfied 
with its situation in the 1990s. It has felt itself to be facing a number of 
important challenges in the two key traditional regions of the world 
where it must exercise leadership -- Europe and the Pacific Rim -- and 
the challenges there are linked to another big challenge: the battle to 
ensure the preponderant weight of US capitalism in the so-called 
'emerging markets'. Leadership of Europe and of the Pacific in turn 
ensure that the United States can channel the activities of these states to 
ensure that US interests predominate in designing regimes to open up 
and dominate the 'emerging markets'.

These problems were all connected to another, deeper issue: concerns 
about the basic strength and dynamism of the American economy and 
American capitalism. When the Clinton administration came into office 
it was determined to rejuvenate the dynamism of American capitalism 
through an activist foreign drive to build a new global set of political 
economy regimes accented to the strengths and interests of American 
capitalist expansion. Getting leverage over the Europeans and Japanese 
to achieve that was key.

To understand US policy in the 1990s, we must appreciate the double-
sided situation that it found itself in: on one side, its old way of 
dominating its capitalist 'allies' had been shattered by the Soviet Bloc 
collapse, giving lots of scope for these 'allies' to threaten important US 
interests in their particular regional spheres. But on the other side, the 
US had gigantic resources, especially in the military-political field and 
if it could develop an effective political strategy it could convert these 
military power resources into a global imperial project of historically 
unprecedented scope and solidity. We must grasp both the challenges 
and the great opportunities after the Soviet Bloc collapse to understand 
the strategy and tactics of the Bush and Clinton administrations.

(a) The Post-Cold War Problems 

The challenge to the US in Europe created by the collapse of the Soviet 
Bloc has too often been ignored. That collapse not only made the USA 
the sole global super-power. It also simultaneously destroyed the 
political structures through which the USA had exercised its direct 
leadership over West European capitalism. And it simultaneously 
opened the whole of Eastern Europe for business with the West, a 
business and political expansion opportunity which the West European 
states, especially Germany, would spontaneously tend to control. What 
if West European capitalist states threw off US leadership, forged their 
own collective military-political identity, joined their capitals with 
Russian resources and Russian nuclear capacity? Where would that 
leave the USA in Western Eurasia outside of Turkey?

The central political pillar of US leadership over Western Europe 
during the Cold War was NATO. The US-Soviet confrontation 
positioned Western Europe on the front line in the event of a US-Soviet 
war. This situation enable the USA to gain political leadership over 
Western Europe by supplying the military services -- the strategic 
nuclear arsenal -- to protect Western Europe. In return for these 
military services, the West European states agreed to the US politically 
brigading them under US leadership. The US could exercise control 
over their foreign policy apparatuses, integrating the bulk of their 
military forces under US command, imposing discipline of the dealings 
of West European capitalism with the East and so on. And the US 
could also exercise this political leadership for economic purposes, 
especially to assure the free entry of US capitals into Europe, to ensure 
that Europe worked with the US over the management of the global 
economy etc. So NATO was a key military- political structure. The 
hierarchy was: US military services give political leadership which 
gives leadership on the big economic issues, those to do with the 
direction of accumulation strategies.

But the Soviet collapse led to the redundancy of the US strategic 
arsenal which led to the redundancy of NATO, the collapse of the 
political leadership structure for the US in Europe and the undermining 
of the US's ability to impose its core political economy goals for 
Europe and for the world on the West Europeans. This is one of the key 
things that has made the United States a paradoxically dissatisfied 
power in the 1990s. It has had to combat all kinds of European 
schemes for building political structures that deny the US hegemonic 
leadership in Europe. And in combating such schemes it has had to 
develop a new European programme and strategy for rebuilding US 
European leadership. In short, the USA has been an activist and pro-
active power in Europe during the 1990s, not a satisfied and reactive 
power. The 1990s have been a period of political manoeuvres amongst 
the Atlantic capitalist powers as the key players have sought to advance 
their often competitive schemes for reorganising the political structures 
of the continent.

And in these manoeuvres, the territory and peoples of the former 
Yugoslavia have played a very special role. The states bearing 
competing programmes for a new European political order have all 
sought to demonstrate the value of their political project for Europe by 
showing how it can handle an important European problem: the long 
Yugoslav crises. Yugoslavia has been the anvil on which the competing 
great powers have sought to forge the instruments for their new 
European orders. No power has been more active in these endeavours 
than the United States.

And this means that a cognitive framework for understanding the 
Balkan wars cannot take the form of local actions, great power 
reactions. We need an entirely different framework: great power 
European strategies, and the tactical uses of Yugoslavia's crisis for 
advancing them.

(b)The New Opportunities. 

Yet the United States was not just a power dissatisfied with the 
international arrangements it confronted at the end of the Cold War. It 
was also aware that it had a gigantic relative lead over all other powers 
in the world in terms of the resources for entirely reshaping 
arrangements on the planet. It had not only unrivalled military capacity 
but command of new military technologies that could enable it to strike 
safely and fairly accurately at will anywhere on the planet. It could, for 
example, out of a clear blue sky, destroy the great dam on the Yangtse 
river and drown 100 million Chinese at the heart of the Chinese 
economy without the Chinese government being able to stop it: that 
kind of power. It could take on China and Russia together and win. It 
could militarily seal of Japan and Western Europe from their sources of 
vital inputs for their economies and from the export markets vital for 
their economic stability.

The United States also have supreme command over the international 
political economy through the dominance of the Dollar-Wall Street 
Regime over international monetary and financial affairs and through 
US control over the key multilateral organisations in this field, 
especially the IMF and the World Bank.

With resources like these, the collapse of the Soviet Bloc opened up the 
possibility of a new global Empire of a new type. An empire made up 
of the patchwork of the states of the entire planet. The legal sovereignty 
of all these states would be preserved but the political significance of 
that legal sovereignty would be turned on its head. It would mean that 
the state concerned would bear entire juridical and political 
responsibility for all the problems on its territory but would lose 
effective control over the central actual economic and political 
processes flowing in and out of its territories. The empire would be 
centred in Washington with Western Europe and Japan as brigaded 
client powers and would extend across the rest of the world, beating 
against the borders of an enfeebled Russia and a potentially 
beleaguered China.

And it would be an Empire in which the capitalist classes of every state 
within it would be guaranteed security against any social challenge, 
through the protection of the new Behemoth, provided only that they 
respected the will and authority of the Behemoth on all questions which 
it considered important. It the US played its new strategy for empire 
building effectively, it could thus earn the support and even adulation 
of all the capitalist classes of the world.

Thus the decade from 1989 to 1999 has been marked above all by one 
central process: the drive by the US to get from (a) to (b): from 
political structures left over from the Cold War which disadvantaged 
and even threatened the US in the new situation, to entirely new global 
political and economic structures which would produce an historically 
new, global political order: New Democrats, New Labour, New 
NATO, new state system, new world economy, new world order. This 
is the context in which we can understand the various Yugoslav wars, 
including the current one.

Peter Gowan is a correspondent for the New Left Review.

< < < Date > > > | < < < Thread > > > | Home