War in Europe: Humanitarian action?

By Robert FRANCK

professor of philosophy at the Catholic University of Louvain.

We are repeatedly told that it is to protect populations of Albanian origin in Kosovo that it is necessary to wage war on Yugoslavia. Less than a week after NATO triggered off the war, thousands of inhabitants of Kosovo of Albanian origin were fleeing the country in dramatic conditions. Should this tragic error be attributed to the incompetence of our leaders? Could they not have foreseen that Yugoslavia, once attacked, would try to neutralise the separatist forces of Kosovo who support NATO's military intervention, and that the UCK forces would take advantage of the war to intensify their actions? Is it possible that they did not fear that their bombing would provoke reprisals from the two sides? Did it honestly not occur to them that the Kosovars of Albanian origin would be the victims of the bombings, as much as the populations of Serbian origin? The apparent incompetence of our leaders does not stop here. Political observers are wondering: could it be that the people at the very head of the Atlantic Alliance decided to start the war without knowing what they would do in case of the Yugoslavian authorities not capitulating? It is said that they did not weigh up the risks of another Vietnam, even though Yugoslavia is famous for its capacity to resist. (Remember Tito's popular army: the populations and the army are closely associated.) Neither (it is said) did they fear the war's spreading within the Balkans or further afield.

Creating acute political tensions with Russia did not frighten them.

Waging war in Europe, a war between states, for the first time since 1945, did not shake their will to protect Kosovars from the risk of exaction. Allowing Germany, for the first time since the second world war, to make offensive use of its military force outside its frontiers, seemed justified to them by the humanitarian cause they are so attached to. The fall of the Euro and its consequences on the growth of countries of the European Union did not bother them. Going against international law and the United Nations Chart by waging war on a sovereign state was not, to their eyes, a precedent of extreme gravity, and was by no means enough to sway them from their humanitarian goal.

Could this actually be incompetence? If it is, then public opinion should mobilise at once to try and stop this war machine which is getting out of control and whose only motive is the kind feelings of politicians incapable of political analysis. But the humanitarian motives invoked by all of our heads of state in chorus are hard to swallow. It must, then, be for other reasons that they are waging war.

Why are the humanitarian motives invoked hard to swallow? Firstly, because the war is producing the opposite effects to those that the politicians say they aim for, and these effects were quite foreseeable.

Dialogue between the western states and the state-majors of NATO, backed by their teams of experts, can only yield a strategic choice that would be rejected by plain common sense. Secondly, the above political risks taken with this war in Europe are huge, and are only explicable in terms of the pursuit of political stakes of comparable importance. Thirdly, at Rambouillet, Yugoslavia accepted to grant a great deal of autonomy to the province of Kosovo (what Yugoslavia refused at Rambouillet was the deployment of NATO armies on Yugoslav territory.) Fourthly, the very heads of state who say they have only humanitarian reasons for waging war in Yugoslavia, are indifferent to the repression which has notoriously been going on for many years in Turkey, and to the extermination campaigns which have been carried out against the Kurdish independantists by their ally. These same heads of state also continue to give their political support to the US-imposed embargo against Iraq, which UNICEF estimates to have cost the lives of 855,124 children between 1991 and 1997 and which is still in force, as cruel as ever.

There, humanitarian considerations are voluntarily shunted aside, and onlypolitical stakes are taken into account. Fifthly, the humanitarian discourse held by Clinton, Chirac, Blair and Schr÷der was void of all argument for the first week, and there was no proof backing their affirmations on a supposed genocide and ethnic purification in Kosovo.

It was only one week into the war that the media began showing us images and telling us of facts which seemed to have taken place not before but since the start of the war.

Since the humanitarian motives do not stand up to examination, an explanation to this war must be searched for elsewhere. A first hint is given by the Conference at Rambouillet. The plan drawn up before the Conference by the members of NATO included NATO's forces being deployed on the territory of Yugoslavia. Were this military deployment refused, NATO would bomb the country. The Rambouillet conference thus left no alternative to Yugoslavia's being occupied by NATO's armies, whether it liked it or not. Herein likes the first answer to our question as to why this war is taking place. As for any other classical war, its goal is military occupation of the country.

It is thus not to be expected that this war will be short: it will intensify as long as NATO fails to occupy the territory «on the ground», or as long as Yugoslavia fails to chase out NATO, just like in the war waged by the USA against Vietnam. This makes it comprehensible that NATO leaders seem to have forgotten to plan what they would do if Yugoslavia did not capitulate: it was not incompetence, for the question of finding an honourable way out is not posed if the aim is to stay. If more negotiating could bring about the same result as the Allies were hoping for at Rambouillet, namely military occupation, they would not say no. But NATO spokesmen have loudly turned down all prospects of peace - such as that opened by the Russian Prime Minister on March 30th, or the one put forward on March 31st and April 1st by the independence movement leader Rugova, who asked NATO to stop the bombings to stop the exodus of refugees, and met Milosevic in Belgrade (Rugova's initiative was discredited by being classified as a Serbian media success). Instead, NATO is intensifying the bombing, amassing its troops to invade by land, and preparing public opinion for it little by little. Today, it is not Milosevic that needs bringing round to the idea of peace - it is our own leaders that we have to demand it from.

What could be the point of long term military occupation of Yugoslavia? Let us put forward the most plausible hypotheses. Clinton's and the other allied leaders' psychological motives, are not sufficiently plausible to account for such major decisions. NATO already has several military bases in countries surrounding Yugoslavia; with these, it controls the Balkan zone, a most unstable European region, and has an Atlantic Alliance bridgehead for the control of Middle-Eastern oil and for the control of the eastern Mediterranean. It also occupies a strategic position in case of political or military conflicts with Russia. Russia's vigorous reaction to the war is not in the least surprising since Russia knows it is being aimed at directly. Why does this huge deployment of western military force in the region, which is already in place, still require in addition the permanent presence of NATO on Yugoslav territory? Because the Yugoslavian army is the only military force in the region capable of opposing NATO's army operations on a regional scale, and because Milosevic's regime is the only one in the region to not submit to the political will of western powers, and to maintain its alliances with Russia. This explanation for the war is the most plausible. It does not exclude complementary explanations, such as the fact that powerful lobbies of the arms industry are known to be applying pressure on the Clinton Administration; this pressure recently led the American Congress to approve of an increase in the annual arms budget, from 250 billion dollars to 360 billion dollars over five years.

Are we to think that all our leaders are aware of the stakes of this war and its true objectives? Probably not. Some are surely na%ve, others prefer to reassure themselves by taking at face value what heads of states and generals are saying. God knows, perhaps some of our heads of states themselves aremanipulated by the United States and believe we are bombing for humanitarian reasons. We can always dream. But how long will it take the political class of Western European countries to stand up against what is happening under our very eyes? Social democrats, ecologists, social-Christians and liberals seem, for the moment, to agree: they all prefer a sovereign state being aggressed, international law being flouted, war being waged in Europe, the come-back of German military power, the increasing political and military infeudation of Europe by the U.S.A., the physical destruction of a European country, the suffering, pain and anguish of hundreds of thousands of Kosovars and Serbs, the flouting of universal human values, deceitful propaganda fuelling public opinion, the risk of the whole Balkans blazing up and the conflict spreading into the rest of Europe, the financial cost of war and the slow-down to growth for the populations that mandated them. How long will it take for these politicians to find out that this inhuman choice is not motivated by humanitarian reasons?

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Lorenzo Peña eroj@eroj.org

Director de ESPAÑA ROJA

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Lorenzo Peña
Director de ESPAÑA ROJA