Once again European cities are being bombed. Once again displaced persons are on the move. This has never ceased to be the lot of people in Africa and Asia but one of the claims of Western capitalism was that it had at least established peace and prosperity in Europe. Now full-scale war has returned to Europe. The illusion that permanent peace and prosperity is possible under capitalism has been shattered.
The N.A.T.O bombing raids on Yugoslavia are aimed not just at direct military targets but at the industrial infrastructure of power stations, fuel depots, factories, chemical plants, roads, railways and bridges which serve civilian purposes as well as supplying the Serbian military machine. All this represents the destruction of useful wealth. As Socialists have always said, war means social regression.
But is it sometimes necessary? Although we are not pacifists (we would countenance fighting should a pro-capitalist minority take up arms to try to prevent the democratic establishment of socialism) we say there is no such thing as a “just war”. Wars are fought over markets, investment outlets, raw material sources and trade routes and strategic points to control them.
The present Balkan War is no different. It is a continuation of the process that started in 1991 when Slovenia declared its independence from Yugoslavia, in which the stake has been: who shall control the territories of the former Yugoslavia-Serbia or the West, in particular Germany?
When “communism” (in reality state capitalism) collapsed, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (N.A.T.O) powers had a choice. Let the Serbian ruling class continue to maintain order and stability in the area so that trading and profit-making there could continue normally. Or apply the principle of “national self-determination” in the hope that a collection of smaller, more “ethnically pure” states would provide greater stability.
Reunited Germany, with its historic enemy Russia on its knees, was able to revive its ambitions in Eastern and Central Europe and it led the way in working for the break-up of Yugoslavia so that it, rather than Serbia, could dominate the area. First Slovenia, then Croatia, then Bosnia, then Macedonia broke away or rather were broken away. The result, however, has not been stability. Quite the reverse, with only a N.A.T.O army of occupation maintaining a fragile peace in Bosnia and eastern Croatia.
And now Kosovo. Serbia claims that it is fighting to retain Kosovo because this is the cradle of “Serbian civilisation”, but there is more at stake than the bones of Prince Lazar. As retired Canadian Major-General Lewis MacKenzie, who commanded UN troops in Bosnia during the siege of Sarajevo, has pointed out: “Quite frankly, they want the northern half of Kosovo. That’s where the mines and natural resources are” (Times Colonist, Victoria, 26 March). There has been speculation in the media that this may be the compromise that will emerge once the killings and bombings have stopped: the partition of Kosovo with Serbian forces controlling an ethnically-cleansed north and a N.A.T.O army of occupation looking after the impoverished refugees in the south.
A further aim of N.A.T.O has been, in the words of their Supreme Commander General Wesley Clark last March, to “degrade and diminish” the old Yugoslav army, the one military machine in the area capable of standing up to them, and which had been thwarting their plans to turn the former Yugoslavia into a collection of weak, ethnically pure states in which the economic laws of the market could operate unimpeded, for the benefit, as they always do, of the strongest-in this case Western capitalist enterprises.
Wars are inevitable under capitalism because of the economic competition between states that is built-in to it, but is normally only a last resort when a state’s “vital interest” is involved. However, in spite of N.A.T.O. having strategic interests in the region, Serbia under Milosevic was not that much of a threat to their interests—N.A.T.O. have learned to live with dictators before-indeed they have learned to live with General Tudjman’s regime in Croatia whose record of ethnic cleansing is just as bad as Milosevic’s. Probably N.A.T.O expected that the threat of war, or at most a short bombing campaign, would suffice.
If so, they miscalculated, with the Albanian-speakers of Kosovo, for whom they claim the war was fought, ending up manifestly worse off than they would be had there been no war. Burned out by the one side and bombed by the other, in the biggest displacement of population since the end of the last world war, the majority of them are now languishing in miserable refugee camps in Macedonia, Albania and Montenegro.
Capitalist ‘compassion’, that we are led to believe has motivated Clinton, Blair and the rest, is certainly a highly selective kind of compassion. Take, for example, the Kurds in Turkey. Between 1990 and 1994 about one million Turkish Kurds were driven from their homes. Over 40,000 Kurds have been killed. And in 1994 Turkey became the biggest single importer of US military equipment and the world’s largest arms purchaser. Turkey is a member of N.A.T.O. Its troops are currently part of the N.A.T.O. forces in Yugoslavia. Why is N.A.T.O. attacking Serbia and not Turkey? The United States administration justifies Turkish state atrocities on the grounds that they are defending “law and order” against Kurdish terrorists. The Serbian regime uses precisely the same logic: that it has only slaughtered people and burnt villages to the ground in a war against Kosovar terrorism.
Authors: Socialist Standard editorial committee.