P r e s s I n f o # 65 April 30, 1999
NATO's War -- Boomerang Against the West
"NATO's war against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) is not
comparable with the Vietnam war, with bombing Iraq or throwing cruise
missiles on Sudan or Afghanistan. In a more fundamental way, it threatens
major Western institutions, economies and Western leadership. With that
much at stake, Western governments have long forgotten what the original
problem was. Perhaps this is the reason why NATO now defines itself as a
player that does not negotiate and thus has only the hammer left in its
toolbox. That's the opposite of statesmanship," says TFF director Jan
Oberg. "Whether or not we support NATO's bombing, we must be aware of the
risks and potential costs to the West itself. Our politicians seem not to
be aware of how big they could be. Therefore, I believe it's time to show
some civil courage and engage in solid damage-limitation both for the
Balkans and for ourselves, otherwise this could go madly wrong," Oberg
warns. "The critical 'boomerang' effects I mention in this PressInfo and
PressInfo # 66 do not have to happen, but they are probable enough to merit
serious consideration - and more so with a ground war approaching."
1. NATO's credibility seriously impaired
After March 24, there must be serious doubts about NATO's identity as a
defensive alliance, as an organization for peace and stability. - Instead
of seeing military targets, the Western audience sees bridges, schools,
villages, media stations, factories, government houses etc. being
destroyed. - NATO has handled its information dissemination in a way that
makes even convinced pro-NATO people and media skeptical. - The successive
calling in of more planes, helicopters and forces indicates a lack of
advance planning, and there is no unity in the alliance about what to do
after bombing. - The alliance created the humanitarian catastrophe it aimed
to prevent, it ignored warnings that NATO bombs would make Serbs expel
every Albanian they could find. - Europe, if not the entire international
system, is indisputably less stable after March 24 than before.
2. NATO's expansion may come to a halt
Whether in public or not, the youngest NATO members now ask themselves at
least four questions: 1) How may this crisis draw us ever deeper into a
quagmire we never expected or wanted to be part of? 2) What will it cost us
to be in solidarity with NATO's leadership while having little influence on
it? 3) What protection can WE actually expect now when we see that the West
is not willing to deploy ground forces or otherwise make sacrifices for the
noble cause of saving people and protecting human rights? How safe are we
actually in NATO should we be attacked? And 4) What compensation will we
get for letting NATO use our territory, for respecting sanctions and now an
oil embargo? New and prospective members see the treatment of Macedonia as
a frightening example.
3. US leadership questioned
Few are able to see the goals, the means-end relations and the place of
this war within an overall consistent US foreign policy concept and
strategy. There is a nagging feeling that the West has made a blunder, that
President Clinton was 'distracted' by the Lewinsky affair when NATO's war
was discussed, that CIA misjudged that Milosevic would give in after a few
days. - The Rambouillet process is now revealed worldwide to have been a
purely manipulative operation aimed at getting NATO in and further
demonizing Yugoslavia - If the US intended to support the Kosovo-Albanian
project of Kosova, that project is now slowly but surely being physically
destroyed. - If this goes wrong it could even decide who will be the next
president of the United States. - While President Clinton points his
fingers at 'hopeful' splits in the Yugoslav government, he is having a hard
time obtaining support from Capitol Hill. 'Stop the Bombing' demonstrations
worldwide fundamentally question the wisdom of NATO's policies.
4. EU's common foreign and security policy tattered
NATO's war could well decide the fate of several European governments, too.
The stated 'resolve' and 'rock hard' unity in the EU and NATO sounds more
like invocation than reality. Greece, Italy, France, Germany have
considerable inner conflict; the splits will grow with the number of days
this continues. Public opinion is mobilizing. Since 1990 the European Union
has used former Yugoslavia as a kind of guinea-pig for its 'common foreign
and security policy' concept. And since the witless, premature recognition
of Slovenia and Croatia that policy exhibits a string of pearls of
conflict-management failures. Where is Europe heading if what we see these
weeks in ex-Yugoslavia is an expression of the common foreign and security
policy of the EU?
5. A broader and deeper Atlantic
NATO's war is predominantly that of the US and Britain. Washington has
repeatedly reminded Europeans how they have been unable to handle the
problems in their own backyard and otherwise get their acts together. Thus,
the US 'had to' take the lead in Dayton, in virtually all international
missions in the region, in SFOR, in the military build-up of Croatia, half
of Bosnia, Macedonia and Albania, in the UN in Croatia, in OSCE's Kosovo
mission, in the Contact Group. And now in the war against FRY. Washington's
teaching the EU the lesson that it is not for long going to be a
'superpower' is bound to create resentment in various European circles -
compounded by the fact that it is the US that destroys FRY and will hand
over to the EU to pay for its reconstruction.
6. Toward a new Cold War
There are limits to how long time you can say to the Russians that we want
them inside, we want to listen and consult - and then do exactly what you
please and ignore their interests, views and fears. This goes for the
promise to help them while the net outflow of capital from Russia to the
West since 1989 is about 250 bn $. It goes for united Germany in NATO, for
the 'formal' NATO expansion, the handling of Bosnia, the Rambouillet
process and now the flat 'no' to Russian mediation attempts in the Kosovo
crisis. Mikhail Gorbachev's vision of a common European house, an upgraded
OSCE, a reformed UN and a downgraded NATO to adapt to the post-Cold War era
was fundamentally sound and innovative - but has been 'killed' by a
triumphalist, almost autistic, West. However, the exploitation of Russia's
general weakness now could be revenged the day Russia is not so weak.
Russia, China and others are likely to ask: Will NATO one day try to do to
us what it now does to FRY? And then they will guard themselves and build
counter alliances; Russia quite understandably has now decided to upgrade
its nuclear arsenals.
7. Feeling of Western injustice, even cowardice
The world's most powerful alliance attempts to destroy a small country. It
does so by highly sophisticated technology and from far-away places the FRY
can not retaliate against. It implies comparatively little risk; cruise
missiles have no pilots. It obviously aims at civilian targets - and it has
the economic and political clout to gang up many neighbouring states by
promising them money and attractive club memberships if they back up NATO.
Yugoslavia and its Serbs has been object of economic sanctions since 1991,
demonized, isolated and humiliated in ways the West never did vis-a-vis Pol
Pot, South Africa, Sudan, China, Israel, Turkey, African dictators such as
Bokassa, Amin, Mobutu, etc. All of them have violated human rights to a
much larger extent and/or invaded other countries which Yugoslavia has not.
Some may simply ask: Why FRY? Is this fair? Does NATO have a good case
here? Is this the way to teach our children how to deal with our conflicts
without violence as President Clinton recently said was so important?
8. A much larger refugee problem ahead
We've seen the first wave out of Yugoslavia, predominantly Albanians. The
next wave will be of those hundreds of thousands - if not millions - of
Serbs, Croats, Hungarians, Albanians, Montenegrins, Romas, Yugoslavs etc.
in the rest of FRY who will see no future there after NATO's devastation
and, possibly, ground war. Which European countries will receive them, who
will help Yugoslav youth to obtain scholarships and educate themselves
abroad? Whose labour markets can absorb hundreds of thousands of people for
years ahead? There is hardly any doubt that all this will cause cuts in
welfare and social programmes throughout Europe and that the influx of
refugees will be perceived as highly negative by many Europeans,
particularly at the lower rungs of the socio-economic ladder.
9. Aggravating the world economic crisis
The destruction of Yugoslavia is carried out predominantly by the United
States. But since this is Europe, the EU will be the main agency to rebuild
and reconstruct the Balkans. In and of itself that will cost billions of
dollars. Second, countries such as Albania and Macedonia (FYROM) which host
refugees - and 'save' Europe from them - have a right to be assisted.
Third, countries that function as military bases and bridgeheads will
expect payment and protection for years ahead. Fourth, regional countries
around Yugoslavia which, due to sanctions against Yugoslavia since 1991,
have lost billions of dollars and are now forced to (at least officially)
accept an oil embargo have a right to be compensated. Countries such as
Croatia, Slovenia and Hungary will lose vital tourist income.
NATO made some promises at its recent 50th Anniversary summit in
Washington. But look at what the West promised Russia since 1989 and look
at how little neighbours of FRY have received in compensation for the
markets they have lost due to the sanctions since 1991.
10. More social unrest, hate and terrorism
Destroying a country and the livelihood of 10 million people is bound to
have very serious social consequences. Social unrest, a deep hate against
everything Western, terrorism directed against Western Europe and the US
can not be excluded. Throughout FRY thousands of children and youth will
hate the Western nations which destroyed their fundamental values, hopes
and opportunities. They will remember, as they grow older, that we did not
bomb only military facilities and demonize Milosevic, but we turned a
multiethnic country into a 'pariah' and hoped they would be foolish enough
to believe us when Western leaders told them that 'we are not in conflict
with the citizens.'
11. Erosion of international normativity and law, 'humanitarian
Experts will keep on discussing whether what happens now falls within
international law and the UN Charter, or it should have status of 'special
case.' What cannot be disputed is that NATO has violated its own Charter
while Yugoslavia threatens neither any NATO nor non-NATO countries. By
intervening here and doing nothing in conflicts with much more serious
human rights violations and in wars with many times more casualties, the
West teaches the rest of the world that some lives are more important than
others. In short, the idea of 'humanitarian intervention' is morally dead.
A series of human rights are violated by NATO, not the least the so-called
'third generation' rights such as the right to peace, to development and to
a healthy environment. It is increasingly obvious that the FRY citizens are
victims of the alliance's policies, whether intended or not.
Could it be that citizens around the world will feel deeply disillusioned
if - or when - they find out that this whole action was not about saving
refugees and averting a humanitarian crisis but, rather, about power,
strategic and economic interests, deliberately creating a new 'fault line'
or Cold War, about undermining the UN and promoting an all-powerful,
uncontrollable NATO in the hands of a tiny Western elite that professes to
speak for all of the international 'community' but has no mandate?
We are told that only military targets are on the list. But with all the
serious civilian casualties, we must begin to ask: is NATO deeply
incompetent or is the campaign turning into one of terror bombing and
collective punishment? Citizens in the West have a right to believe that
their leaders don't degrade themselves to such moral low ground. And lie
12. An increasingly authoritarian West
Look at the 'Letters to the Editor' section of various influential Western
dailies, watch debates on television, listen to new questions being asked
by journalists. Surf Internet, read list servers, websites and discussion
groups and one thing is abundantly clear: ordinary citizens throughout the
West are increasingly skeptical. They see the ever widening gap between
NATO and State Department news and other news. Many feel that bombing
innocent civilians is just not right; common sense also tells that this is
not the way to create trust between Albanians and Serbs - or for that
matter between any conflicting parties. It all militates against all we
know about human psychology.
The longer it takes, the more likely the momentum of that public protest.
NATO country citizens will begin to ask: if a mistake like this could be
made in this important field, are other mistakes also lurking in, say,
globalization, in the more or less forced democratization, in the zeal with
which Western human rights are used as a political tool? If we can't trust
NATO, can we trust the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, can we
trust our own governments after this? Can we believe in security a la NATO
and in further NATO expansion if this is what NATO does?
Government decision-makers meet these challenges either with silence or
with counterattacks: we are at war, this is not the time to question and
split our own ranks, fifth column activity cannot be tolerated. We must
achieve our goals, no matter the cost. Too much is at stake. In short,
democracy, the freedom of expression and the open society, the public
discourse itself could well be curtailed in the West as this situation
becomes more and more desperate. Quite a few media people already seem to
Also, let's not forget that those who say that Milosevic is a new Hitler
are leaders of countries which actively seek a kind of world dominance
(economically, militarily, politically and culturally), which violate
international law, which demonize a nation (Serbs, not Jews), and which
possess mass destructive weapons. They commit aggression against a country
that has not done to them what they do to it. They kill innocent civilians.
They use propaganda and call it information. Blaming others for doing that
is what psychologists call 'projecting.'
NATO as an organization is beyond - and actively defies - any world
democratic control. Truth is that no other organization, no government and
no UN or other world body can force NATO to stop if its members want to
All this could be seen as more threatening to international peace and world
order - as simply more dangerous for the world - than whatever a
(comparatively) petty authoritarian leader such as Milosevic and the
separatist KLA/UCK do in the province of Kosovo.
13. Ever more weakening of the UN, OSCE and NGOs
The more NATO attempts to take over (see point 15), the less space and
resources will be available for other actors. It remains to be seen what
will be the longterm consequences for the mentioned organisations. If NATO
fails in this mission, one way or the other, they might actually be
strengthened. But where NATO has so far gone in, others have gone out. This
is not good for the world, it is particularly bad from the point of view of
the middle-sized and small nations.
14. Ruining the peace-making that has allegedly been achieved
The West is proud of the Dayton process. However, if it keeps on bombing
FRY, the Serbs in Bosnia-Herzegovina will hardly feel any obligation to
remain there. If they see also that Kosovo-Albanians are, for all practical
purposes, being helped to achieve their own state by NATO force, they will
say goodbye to the Dayton process and to Bosnia. In addition, Republika
Srpska has lost its most important economic ally, FRY, and social unrest
already threatens throughout RS.
The West has been very proud because of the successful policy of
'preventive diplomacy' in FYROM/Macedonia. With the UN having been squeezed
out there, with NATO having entered arrogantly and forcibly converted
Macedonia to a FRY-hostile actor with 20.000 foreign troops there, the West
has already destabilized the country, its delicate ethnic balance and its
economy and violated its sovereignty as well as its good neighbourly
relations - a case of 'provocative diplomacy' instead.
It should also be crystal clear by now that FRY will not accept NATO the
peacekeeper after having been visited by NATO the destroyer.
15. Imperial overextension, the beginning of the end of Western strength
History's empires have weakened and dissolved due to over-militarization,
over-extension - wanting more than they could control, or 'spreading thin'
- and due to a combination of hubris and human folly. NATO under US
leadership now tries to be 1) a nuclear-based and conventional alliance
geared to fighting wars, b) a political alliance keeping the West unified
and protecting Western civilization, 3) a 'world police' outside its
members borders, 4) a humanitarian and refugee-assisting organization, 5) a
partnership structure for potential members and for confidence-building, 6)
a trustworthy friend of Russia and China, 7) a negotiator, 8) a peacemaker,
9) a peace enforcer, 10) a reconstruction agency and 11) a cooperative
partner with other organizations such as the OSCE, WEU, EU, etc. In
addition, it's members have global interests and promote economic
(capitalist) globalization, Western human rights, democracy, civil society
It is safe to predict that all this will not be possible at one and the
same time without creating conflicts among its members and conflicts with
the 170 or so non-NATO states around the world. In addition, there is no
way NATO can issue guarantees to new formal members AND set up various
types of 'protectorates' throughout the Balkans AND continue its policies
vis-a-vis e.g. Iraq and North Korea AND fulfil its commitments to
South-East Asia and Japan AND handle future emergency situations AND police
a variety of low-intensity conflicts wherever they may appear tomorrow.
16. However, the weapons manufacturers may thrive
There are at least two very influential groups who may see their interests
satisfied. First, it's those operating within the
military-industrial-scientific complexes in the West and their arms
dealers. Second, there are the transnational corporations and others in
favour of spreading capitalism to every corner of the world.
The interests of the former is obvious. New NATO members now adapt to
Western military standards, NATO operability etc. They want to modernize by
buying the most sophisticated (and expensive) military equipment from
leading Western nations. A war is an opportunity to test weapons and
tactical and strategic concepts as well as to gain practical, rather than
simulated, experience. It's a 'live' chance to train international
co-operation also with newcomers. It's a drilling and disciplining
opportunity. And with all the weapons and ammunition that is destroyed,
replacement must be manufactured and sold. Furthermore, newly independent
states will acquire their own military 'national defence' afterwards.
17. --- and so may capitalism cum globalization
It must be remembered that capitalism's essential problem, or
contradiction, is overcapacity, overproduction, surplus capital in relation
to the global base of consumption. The system's ability to churn out more
goods and services than is in demand - and people worldwide can pay for -
is periodically out of sync. Thus, capital has to be destroyed to halt the
in-built propensity to dump commodities at unprofitable prices.
Wars and military production are opportunities for such 'waste' production.
The military market is monopsonistic, it has basically one buyer, the
government. Thus it is outside the normal market and serve to absorb
surplus capacity. War is a destruction of already produced commodities -
and increases the demand when countries must be re-built. This demand
increases overall prices and rub off on the civilian markets worldwide -
that is, if the war is 'big enough.' Just think of tremendous resources,
goods and services, that will be needed to rebuild FRY and perhaps other
countries after months or years of systematic destruction. So, wars may
help to periodically balance and calibrate global capitalism - which is not
to say that it is the root cause of NATO's aggression now.
This war comes in the midst of the most serious world economic crisis since
the 1930s. Even with commodities dumped at ridiculously low prices in, say,
Japan, consumers worldwide are hesitant to buy and world investments lack
behind. Insecurity and fear are the catchwords. Although war also creates
fear, a major war with cycles of destruction and re-construction of capital
could be perceived as coming in handy from that point of view and
peace-building serves to bring the devastated region into globalization
and assign to it a role in the global economic division of labour.
In addition, when an area has been devastated - by itself and/or by outside
forces - it can be taken over by the IMF and leading Western countries;
marketization and privatization etc. can be introduced as 'conditions' for
obtaining loans, entering finance institutions and, eventually, the EU. So,
to be re-created you have to be destroyed first.
Do you think this is far-fetched? Well, that is presumably only because
this type of factors are never touched upon in the media, some of which are
controlled by transnational military and civilian corporations. Concretely,
ask yourself why it is laid down in Bosnia's constitution that it shall be
a market economy and why the Rambouillet Dictate stipulated the same for
Says Dr. Oberg, "Look at the 15 first points above. It does not HAVE to go
that wrong. But it looks to me as if we are approaching a dangerous
'chicken game' between the United States and NATO on the one hand and
Yugoslavia and its leadership on the other. They are like two car drivers
racing against each other on the middle of a narrow road, hoping the other
will pull the steering wheel last minute to avoid a a deadly collision.
Before they started they both drank quite a lot of whisky and one of them
(NATO) has already signalled its defiance by throwing the steering wheel
out of the window...
With each bomb that falls on civilian and on military targets, the
above-mentioned consequences become more likely, more pronounced and more
costly. First and foremost, of course, we must be deeply concerned about
the human costs in the region. But my sense is that this crisis is so
serious that it will increasingly hit back as a boomerang on the West
itself. That has not been highlighted in our media and debates.
I fail to see why citizens in NATO countries should allow that to happen.
The governments of NATO countries, not the military, have made a very
serious bombing blunder in the Balkans. To hide that - which is a human
thing to try to do - they will tend to wildly exaggerate the problems and
the 'evilness' of the Yugoslav leadership. This helps them deny (also to
themselves) that in order to save NATO's face and their own individual
leadership, fundamental elements of Western civilization must be put at
risk. And, thus, we are on slippery slope: the war itself becomes more
important than what it was to be fought for in the first place.
TFF's director concludes, "I think the best type of damage limitation we
can do now to the Balkans and to ourselves is to appeal to common sense and
genuine humanity among citizens, to actively demonstrate solidarity with
all who suffer in all of the Balkans - for instance, by going there - and
persuade our leaders to stop the bombing for a number of days to begin with
and thus open a space for politics and a time for reflection."
© TFF 1999
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C o r r e c t i o n
PressInfo # 64 contained two mistakes. We meant to ask why NATO - not
Belgrade, of course - did not bomb earlier to prevent ethnic cleansing. And
KLA/UCK controlled 30% of the Kosovo province, not of Yugoslavia. We
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Dr. Jan Oberg
Director, head of the TFF Conflict-Mitigation team
to the Balkans and Georgia
T F F
Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research
Vegagatan 25, S - 224 57 Lund, Sweden
Phone +46-46-145909 (0900-1100)