The NATO War and Its Aims

Against the Current, No. 81, July/August 1999

Mel Rothenberg

A PRINCIPLED LEFT position must contain a strong, clear denunciation both of NATO’s imperialist designs and of the brutal national oppression of the Kosovar Albanians by the Yugoslav regime.  The ATC editors’ position, “NATO’s Road to War/Ruin,” does this. However, it does not deal adequately with the arguments of the prowar, pro-NATO left, and it is this aspect I would like to comment on.

Despite a decade of experience in dealing with a similar war against Iraq, the left remains divided and disoriented in coping with a situation in which U.S. military and economic might pulverizes populations governed by corrupt and repressive regimes.  These differences among socialists are not transitory or superficial, but reflect deep and fundamental divides which have split the left in the past, and will continue to define left politics and political alignments in the period to come.

To frame our differences with the pro-war, pro-NATO socialists sharply let us envisage the fruits of a NATO victory.  Suppose NATO succeeds in driving the Yugoslavs out of Kosovo: What is the future of Kosovo and the surrounding region under such circumstances?

The ultimatum laid down at Rambouillet by the United States and its Western European allies made this perfectly clear.  Kosovo will become a NATO protectorate ruled by a governor general answerable only to Western powers.  Those refugees that return will find a wasteland.

What has not been yet destroyed by the Yugoslav army and the NATO bombs will be torched by the departing Yugoslav troops.  The Kosovars will be refugees in their own land, with no self government, no control of economic resources, dependent on international aid agencies for their survival, and policed by NATO troops and Kosovar collaborators on NATO’s payroll.

This situation is not an anomaly, the tragic and unavoidable consequence of a last minute humanitarian intervention.  It is rather a step in the “solution” of the Balkan crises, a solution designed in Washington and signed on to by the major Western powers.  Kosovo’s fate is modeled on that of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Albania, and Macedonia.  It is the pattern to be followed by Montenegro, and possibly the Vojvodina region of Yugoslavia with its large Hungarian minority.

This policy goal, on the way to being successfully implemented, is to decompose this region, and in particular the territory of the old Yugoslav Federation into a group of ministates and territories which can be directly controlled by the European Union and the United States.

Those such as Slovenia and Croatia, which are more industrialized and Western Europeanized are permitted a certain level of home rule, with the understanding that the economic policy and institutions of economic management remain in the hands of western capital, as represented by the IMF, World Bank, EEC, etc.

The less “civilized” regions such as Bosnia, Macedonia, and Kosovo are to be administrated directly.  To describe such a policy as “neo-colonial” is to employ a euphemism.  In Kosovo, and elsewhere, the planned form of rule is the most direct colonialism.  Those who endorse NATO’s campaign, endorse, whether they face up to it or not, this policy.

Dancing on the Graves

There are those who will grant all the above, but argue that in the absence of a NATO intervention the outcome would be even worse—that without NATO, the Kosovar Albanians faced mass extermination and expulsion from their homeland.

This argument is wrong.  It is not that I doubt that there are circumstances in which Milosevic and his regime would opt for the “final solution.” However, in the actual dynamics of the struggle in Kosovo as it was unfolding prior to the NATO bombing, such an outcome didn’t seem in the cards.

It is important to recall the situation.  The struggle of the Kosovar Albanians had until 1997 taken the form of non-violent passive resistance.  The failure of that form of struggle to win significant reforms, and the seizure of massive amounts of small arms from the armories of the overthrown corrupt, gangster regime in neighboring Albania put armed resistance on the agenda in 1997.

The KLA, which had been tiny and marginalized until then, quickly grew as the organizing force behind armed resistance, and by 1998 began to mount serious guerrilla attacks against Yugoslav police in Kosovo.  These attacks brought on a political crises and a period of intense negotiations and lobbying among the Yugoslav government, Western powers, and the traditional leaders of the Kosovar Albanian community.

This led in particular to the stationing of thousands of OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) monitors in Kosovo to keep a lid on the situation.  However when the KLA refused to abandon its military resistance the Yugoslav army mounted a massive military campaign in Kosovo to wipe out the KLA.

Many Albanian villages were destroyed, tens of thousands were driven from their homes, and an estimated 2000 Albanians were killed.  It was supposedly opposition to this campaign that lead to the NATO ultimatum at Rambouillet, and to the war.

What is to be kept in mind is that, despite the brutality of the Yugoslav campaign, there was at that time no mass extermination of Kosovar Albanians or attempts to run them off their land permanently.  This was a traditional anti-guerrilla campaign similar to the Indian campaign in Kashmir, the Turkish campaign in Kurdistan, or the Israeli campaign in Lebanon.

It was at this moment that the West decided to move their agenda forward, by demanding that Yugoslavia hand over control of Kosovo to NATO. The Yugoslav reluctance to doing this is what has led to this war. It was only after Milosevic was convinced that NATO was serious about taking over Kosovo that he switched to his contingency plan of expelling hundreds of thousands of Kosovar Albanians and laying waste to the area.

Milosevic appears to understand that in the long run he is not capable of sustaining resistance to NATO’s military might, and that he will have to surrender most of Kosovo.  Under such circumstances it strengthens his chances of political survival to make the future of the Kosovars as miserable as possible.

Both U.S. military intelligence and the CIA warned Clinton, before the bombing of Yugoslavia, of the likelihood of Yugoslav retaliation against the Kosovar Albanians.  If they didn’t consciously plan it, the Western powers quickly exploited the human catastrophe their attack had occasioned to advance their strategy: that is, to strengthen the argument for NATO ownership of Kosovo, and abort the development of a mass-based guerrilla movement.

Without glorifying the KLA or methods of guerrilla warfare in general, in these specific circumstances, such a movement provided the most effective form of struggle for self determination for the Kosovar Albanians.  The Western powers and the Yugoslav regime, divided as they are on other issues, are united in their opposition to such self-determination—a fact that goes some way to explaining the peculiar dance of the antagonists on the graves of the Kosovars.

Mel Rothenberg is a political and civil rights activist in Chicago.

ATC 81, July-August 1999