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 intervention' dead

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 about it."


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 practise self-censorship.
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 continue.
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 etc.
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 Kosovo.


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 apologize!

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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
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