U.S. Predators Stalk the Balkans

The imperialist motives behind the NATO war on Yugoslavia

Revolutionary Worker #1002, April 18, 1999

"People always were and always will be foolish victims of deceit and self-deceit in politics until they learn to discover the interests of some class or other behind all moral, religious, political and social phrases, declarations and promises."

V.I. Lenin

The bombs of the U.S. and NATO are tearing apart the infrastructure of Yugoslavia--a poor country of 10 million people. After the outbreak of that war, hundreds of thousands of refugees were sent streaming out of Kosovo. To the shock of people throughout the world, this new war in the Balkans has reopened old hostilities between Russia and NATO.

Meanwhile, the U.S. ruling class has mobilized their huge machinery of media reporting and official debate to build popular support for U.S. military actions and for future actions the U.S. will take in the Balkans and elsewhere. People are being told that the U.S. bombing in Yugoslavia will prevent genocide and the horrors of a wider regional war. But what is hidden are the horrors of a U.S. victory in this war--and the bitter cost of U.S. control over millions of people throughout this part of the world.

This article will work to unravel the class interests of the U.S. imperialists and of other key participants in this war--and the class interests of the masses of proletarian people and all who those who want justice around the globe.

First, the U.S. ruling class has major, global interests on its planning boards for the next century. The U.S. intends to finish the work of permanently stripping the southern Muslim republics of the former Soviet Union away from Russian influence, and bring them (with all their valuable oil resources) firmly under U.S. imperialist control. For that, the U.S. needs Turkey deeply engaged in Central Asia--and it needs to keep Turkey out of any destabilizing military crises with its neighbors Greece and Bulgaria. The U.S. intends to keep its hands on the oil-jugular of the world's economies--to better control oil producers, potential imperialist rivals, and other "oil consumers" (which essentially means virtually all the countries of the world). U.S. grabs for oil represent moves for dominating and exploiting literally billions of people.

Second, the U.S. needs to reshape and affirm the NATO military alliance as a vehicle through which it and its various imperialist allies carry out strategic moves together--but under the overall control of the U.S. In particular, the U.S. is determined to make sure that German imperialism remains (for now) mainly an ally--rather than acting independently as a global rival. For that, the U.S. must lead NATO to act in the Balkans, an area of Europe where the U.S. itself does not have direct strategic interests (but where Germany does).

Third, the structure of alliances and future realignments that the U.S. wants across a broad swath of the globe require stability in the Balkans. The U.S. has plans for Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and Central Asia--and all of these regions have ties to the events in the Balkans. The disintegration of Yugoslavia into smaller and smaller warring states carries great potential danger for U.S. imperialist interests, because various countries surrounding this Balkan region--including Greece and Turkey-- could easily be drawn into military confrontation. Such a crisis could torpedo major plans the U.S. has for Turkey. A protracted and spreading Balkan war could drive Greece out of NATO, giving Russian imperialism its first potential strategic victory in a decade. The fighting in Kosovo has already inflamed conflicts between Russia and the western powers--and if such new inter-imperialist hostility deepens, it could threaten many moves the U.S. is making to systematically incorporate the most valuable parts of the former Soviet Union and Soviet bloc into the U.S.-dominated world order.

Fourth, the U.S. needs to enforce its position as dominant superpower--with a public demonstration of will and weapons of mass destruction. The leading exploiter of the world feels the need to act as a bloody "cop of the world." When a smaller ruling class--like the capitalist rulers of Serb-dominated Yugoslavia--insist on carrying out their interests in opposition to U.S. interests, the U.S. follows the bloody gangster logic of capitalism: If such a small country can defy them, they ask, where will it stop? The U.S. imperialists have enlisted the various powers of Western and Southern Europe in an attack on an impoverished mountain country the size of Ohio.

Fifth, in the name of "stability and peace," the U.S. wants to force its terms on the various states and peoples of the Balkans--which ultimately and inevitably means supporting (and imposing) all kinds of unjust and reactionary conditions for the masses of people. The U.S. ruling class (and their imperialist allies in NATO) have not the slightest concern for the suffering or the security of the masses of people of Kosovo--except to the extent that the dislocation of such people may destabilize fragile governments in this region, particularly Macedonia. The U.S. is not at all eager to conquer or occupy the Balkans. It has always been willing to act with and through a compliant Serb/Yugoslav government. If imposing a new stability on this region (which NATO will call "peace") requires the sacrifice of the Albanian Kosovars, the U.S. imperialists will sacrifice them--just like the U.S. sacrificed the Bosnian Muslims in the Dayton Agreement to "stabilize" Bosnia.

The U.S. motives in the Balkans can be summed up as "All the better to eat you with." The U.S. and NATO have attacked the Yugoslav federation in order to impose their interests in the Balkans. And the U.S. wants to impose its terms on the Balkans in order to better exploit and bully people and nations across broad stretches of this planet. Everything about this aggression is against the interests of the people of the world--and a victory for the U.S. in this unjust war would be bad for the people of the world.

A Look at U.S./NATO Demands

To understand what the U.S. government is up to in the Balkans it is useful to start by looking at the demands they are making there and then zoom back to see the larger class interests that those demands represent.

Earlier this year, the U.S. tried to impose its terms on both the Yugoslav government and on the Albanian Kosovars in a round of negotiations held in Rambouillet, France. The official media describes the U.S. position as a demand for an end to the mistreatment of Kosovars--the Albanian people who inhabit Kosovo. But in fact, the U.S. was demanding an arrangement where the U.S. and NATO would control the future of people in this region. The U.S. insisted that Kosovo remain part of Serbia, and that the Albanian militias within Kosovo--led by the nationalist Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA)--be disarmed. This dis-arming of the Kosovo people meant that their future (and safety) would ultimately be decided by someone else.

And at the same time, the U.S. demanded that the Yugoslav government abandon plans to drive Albanian people out of Kosovo and allow a local government of Albanian officials. And to enforce this arrangement, the U.S. demanded that Yugoslavia accept the occupation of Kosovo by 30,000 foreign troops. The Rambouillet Plan also included a vague proposal for a future referendum to decide the final future for Kosovo. In short, the U.S. proposal for Kosovo has been that Yugoslavia (and Serbia) could continue to rule Kosovo, as long as the Milosevic government accepted the right of NATO (and NATO troops) to decide how it is ruled. When the Yugoslav government rejected the occupation of Kosovo by foreign troops, NATO launched this current air war. U.S. demands have not changed in major ways--the U.S. insists that it will attack the Yugoslavian military until Yugoslavia accepts the arrangement demanded by NATO at Rambouillet.

The U.S. approach has (up until now) consistently opposed Kosovo independence. In fact, in February 1998, the U.S. ambassador even gave a green light to the Yugoslav army's initial "search and destroy" mission against Kosovo Albanian villages--by giving a speech in Belgrade labeling the KLA "a terrorist movement."

Macedonia, Just a Domino to Them

The key to understanding the U.S. demands around Kosovo is to see that the U.S. is determined to prevent the destabilization of nearby Macedonia. The U.S. tolerated years of mounting mistreatment of Albanian Kosovars--from 1987 until 1998. The U.S. and NATO only got involved when the conflict threatened to spill over Yugoslavia's borders and destabilize Macedonia.

Macedonia was a former republic of Yugoslavia that seceded from that Yugoslav federation and declared independence in 1991. From the beginning of the Balkan wars in 1992, then-president George Bush announced that any Serb/Yugoslav invasion or destabilization of Macedonia would lead to a military confrontation with the U.S. Clinton, who came to power soon after that, underscored that policy by placing a contingent of NATO troops (including U.S. marines) in Macedonia near its border with Kosovo--as a trip-wire. The three recently captured U.S. marines were part of that "trip-wire" contingent in Macedonia.

The whole logic of U.S. and NATO demands at Rambouillet are a continuation of this policy--drawing the line at Macedonia and threatening military intervention to stop any actions that undermine Macedonia.

Macedonia is a poor, agricultural country which, like most of the republics of the former Yugoslavia, has a dominant nationality--Macedonian Slavs--and significant national minorities, including Albanians who are about 30 percent of Macedonia's people. The Albanians of Macedonia are treated badly. The U.S. power structure fears that the growth of the Albanian independence movement in nearby Kosovo and any influx of thousands of new Albanians into Macedonia will increase the demands of Albanians for autonomy and cultural rights within Macedonia, and will increase the danger that the Macedonian government might wage an internal war to suppress such Albanian demands (just like the Yugoslav government did in nearby Kosovo).

Macedonia is the place where these rippling Balkan conflicts would be most likely to trigger a regional war. Macedonia borders on Greece--and has an intensely hostile relationship with Greece. If a civil war developed in Macedonia, any of its larger neighbors--Bulgaria, Albania, Serbia or Greece--might invade. Turkey, one notch farther away to the east, has a mutual defense treaty with Albania and long-standing hostilities with Bulgaria and Greece.

In a nutshell, the biggest U.S. concern in the Balkan wars is that a flood of Albanian refugees into Macedonia might trigger a regional military crisis--where two NATO members, Greece and Turkey, would face off against each other. This would cause major damage to U.S. imperialist plans and alliances in this whole part of the world.

This is what Clinton was describing on March 24 as he announced his attack on Yugoslavia: "Let a fire burn here in this area and the flames will spread. Eventually, key U.S. allies could be drawn into a wider conflict, a war we would be forced to confront later--only at far greater risk and greater cost. I have a responsibility as President to deal with problems such as this before they do permanent harm to our national interests."

This explains why, once NATO started bombing Yugoslavia on March 24, the Yugoslav government responded by sending hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing Kosovo. Serbia's government wanted to threaten the U.S. with exactly that destabilization of Macedonia that the White House insists it intends to prevent.

Bigger Plans for Turkey

While the U.S. imperialists pose as liberators in Kosovo, they have now waged a decade of unending attack on Iraq's people and have strongly supported the continuing genocidal Turkish military campaigns against Kurdish people within Turkey's borders. What fundamentally motivates the U.S. are their larger interests as an imperialist power--whose survival rests on the continued and expanding exploitation of people all over the world.

The capitalist "pay-off" for the U.S. actions in the Balkans can best be seen by a look at the larger picture. The U.S. is using Turkey as an important sub-power in the Middle East to help the U.S. maintain a stranglehold on the oil supplies there. Turkey is the only Third World country to operate as a member of the imperialist NATO alliance. Turkey operates as a major ally of Israel. And it has repeatedly sent its army over the northern Iraq border into Iraqi-Kurdistan--backing up U.S. operations in the Persian Gulf itself.

Turkey is also emerging as a key player for U.S. interests in the major power struggle for control of the future oil production in the Caspian Sea. There is a series of largely unexplored oil fields in four, poor, Muslim countries in Central Asia--Azerbaijan, Kazakstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. They were once part of the Soviet Union and broke off to become independent in the early '90s. The oil reserves there, in and around the Caspian Sea, may one day rival the North Sea and perhaps even the Persian Gulf in their output. Whoever controls the development and transport of that oil will have tremendous power within the world economy over the next century. The maneuver for control of these oilfields has become one of the major (if still unpublicized) conflicts between rival powers today.

The Caspian is landlocked and the shortest route from the Caspian oilfields to the open ocean is overland through Iran. But the U.S. wants to weaken the power of Persian Gulf oil states--like Iran--while increasing its own direct control of alternative energy supplies. The U.S. supports the development of a $2 billion pipeline running west from the Azeri capitol of Baku, a thousand miles through Turkey, to the deep-water Mediterranean port at Ceyhan. This plan is a power grab of global proportions by the U.S. War between Greece and Turkey (or even the extreme uncertainty caused by inflamed relations) would directly threaten progress toward this Baku-Ceyhan pipeline.

In addition, such a conflict would even further strain the ties between Greece and the NATO alliance. For a hundred years, through two world wars, the U.S. and British imperialists have worked to prevent Russia from getting a warm-water Mediterranean port. But the current strains between Greece and NATO raise the danger that Greece might eventually align itself with Russia (if and when Russia finally bottoms out in its free-fall and starts to reassert itself internationally).

In short, the U.S. has been drawn into the Balkan wars to prevent Greece and Turkey from being drawn in. The U.S. is waging war on Serbia to prevent a particular regional war farther to the east that might threaten major strategic alliances the U.S. is developing. The U.S. is seeking to impose its will on Yugoslavia so that it can better impose exploitation on hundreds of millions of people elsewhere in the world--well into the next century.

The Inter-imperialist Angle

The U.S. imperialist interests in regard to Germany are a second reason that the U.S. has unleashed its bombers on the people of the Balkans. The German imperialist interests in the Balkans have been somewhat different and more intense than U.S. interests.

The U.S. exercised major influence in Tito's Yugoslav federation ever since the 1950s and, even after the Soviet Union collapsed, the U.S. generally hoped to keep that federation together so that the U.S. could exercise its influence through whatever government ruled in Belgrade. This coincided with the views of forces within the International Monetary Fund who pointed out that a unified Yugoslav federation was more likely to pay on its $20 billion debt to the world's finance capitalists than were a splintered collection of tiny, new, warring states.

While the U.S. has focused heavily on controlling the Persian Gulf, and on "shaving off" the Central Asian tier of the former Soviet Union for itself, the reunited German imperialism of the '90s has pursued its own strategic moves. Germany worked to consolidate the European Union around itself--while absorbing the former Soviet bloc of Eastern Europe into its imperialist sphere of influence and tightening its links through the Balkans to Turkey, and beyond it to Iran in the Persian Gulf.

As part of that process, Germany encouraged the break up of the former Yugoslavia after Tito's death--and armed Croatia after 1991 in a war which became both a war of secession from remaining Serbian-dominated Yugoslav federation and a vicious war of ethnic-cleansing aimed at Serbian people within Croatia and Bosnia.

The U.S. quickly realized that it would either help Germany realize its Balkan interests through the NATO alliance--or Germany would just press ahead on its own. In 1991 the U.S. stopped supporting Serbia's attempt to hold Croatia in Yugoslavia, and backed the various Western European imperialists' policies for southeast Europe.

Since then, the U.S. has accepted the inevitability of a breakup of Yugoslavia, while working on reaching an agreement with Serbia (and the remaining Yugoslav federation it dominates) that would contain the Balkan conflict in the Balkans. Even while the U.S. and NATO bomb Yugoslavia, the U.S. goals are still to reach such an accommodation--which is why the U.S. still (for now at least) continues to oppose any talk of Kosovo independence.

Facts are Stubborn Things

Various phony communist (revisionist) forces argue for a different analysis of what the U.S. is up to in the Balkans. They suggest that because the U.S. is bombing Serbia that means that Serbia must (somehow) be up to something progressive. They suggest that there is something "socialist" about Serbia and the Yugoslav federation that has prevented the U.S. and NATO from fully exploiting the people and the mineral wealth of this region.

This analysis does not fit the facts. And the idea that the mystical and brutal Serbian chauvinism of Milosevic has anything to do with genuine socialism is grotesque. It reveals more about the outlook of the revisionists than it does about reality in Yugoslavia.

As we pointed out in last week's article "How Capitalism Caused the Balkan Wars" (RW#1001), the working people of Yugoslavia were offered up for exploitation under Tito in the 1950s and 1960s--both as immigrant labor in the rest of Europe and as wage labor within Yugoslavia itself. After 1965 a Yugoslav stock market facilitated the buying and selling of human labor.

In fact, today's rulers of Yugoslavia have been quite energetic supporters of continuing imperialist penetration and exploitation. The Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic, the one-time head of Serbia's largest bank, has long been a vocal advocate of "market economy" and played an important role in linking the Yugoslav currency, the Dinar, to the German Deutschmark. He created the "Milosevic Commission" shortly after rising to power which carried though new "free market reforms"--making Yugoslav capitalism even more open to foreign investment. Just last summer, the Yugoslav government made international news by opening new negotiations offering shares of Kosovo's Trepca mining complex to foreign capitalists.

Serbia's ruling class decided after Tito's death that they would seek to hold as much of the former Yugoslavia together as they could--without much pretext of national equality within the federation. The U.S. is obviously not opposed to such narrow nationalism, in principle--in fact, the U.S carries out national oppression on a far more intense and global scale than Slobodan Milosevic could ever dream of--starting with Puerto Rico and stretching to the farthest corners of the planet. But the U.S. and its allies did have problems with the results of the Serbian power grabs--which threatened to destabilize the whole region.

The disruptions of economic links between Yugoslavia and the major imperialist corporations and banks have come from the hostilities of war and the NATO embargo of Yugoslavia--not from any non-existing "socialist remnants" within capitalist Yugoslavia.

Nothing Good Will Come from U.S. Involvement

After claiming to intervene in Bosnia to save the Bosnian Muslims, the U.S. then coldly reached an accommodation with Milosevic in the 1995 Dayton Accords that almost literally cut the ground out from under the Bosnian Muslims.

The U.S. imperialists continue to insist that a similar accommodation is possible over Kosovo--perhaps with Milosevic or perhaps with the high command of the Yugoslav military without Milosevic. The U.S. continues to float out plans for a Rambouillet-style arrangement where Kosovo remains officially part of Serbia while foreign troops make sure that some kind of stable-if-oppressive arrangement is imposed there--perhaps through a de facto partitioning or some joint Yugoslav-NATO occupation of the province.

The U.S./NATO attack is reactionary and unjust--not because it seeks to dismantle "socialist remnants" (which don't exist) but because a U.S./NATO victory over Yugoslavia would enable the U.S. to impose its brutal rule more powerfully in this region and in other parts of the world. The U.S. imperialists and NATO act like no one in the world has any right to any national sovereignty--and they can cruise the world with their bombers ordering everyone about.

It would be terrible for the people there if the armed forces of these imperialist powers became central to the whole power structure of this region--harnessing and reshaping the national conflicts of this region to serve the international interests of these global pirates.

Not only would such a "peace" mean oppressive and unjust conditions for the masses of people in the Balkans--but a U.S./NATO victory in the Balkans would strengthen the ability of the U.S. to impose their will, more directly and forcefully, in wide sections of the planet. It would be a victory for high-tech global sweatshops and the wholesale robbery of resources.

At the same time, none of this is proving easy for the U.S. and NATO. Many of their plans in the Balkans have backfired repeatedly. They bombed Yugoslavia to protect Macedonia from destabilization--and ended up triggering the arrival of tens of thousands of refugees there. They thought their cruise missiles might quickly frighten the Yugoslav government back to the table at Rambouillet--and instead they now fear a choice between failure or the quagmire of a protracted land war. They hoped for a quick clean victory--and suddenly have seen their supposedly invisible planes shot down, and captured U.S. marines paraded on Serbian TV. The world is not under their control. Their forces are not invincible (or invisible). And they are capable of stumbling into dead ends and disasters that might create important openings for the revolutionary people of the world.

In the 1960s, revolutionaries everywhere were inspired by Mao Tsetung's bold call. "People of the world unite to defeat U.S. imperialism and all its running dogs!" That lofty internationalist and anti-imperialist spirit is sorely needed today--and has the potential power to sweep away mountains of confusion and collaboration. The oppressed people of this planet--and of the Balkans--are brothers and sisters with a common interest and a closely intertwined future.

It is in the interests of the masses of people, in the Balkans and everywhere else, to unite broadly against the imperialists--to defeat their war moves in the Balkans and in the Persian Gulf and everywhere else. And it is in the interest of the masses of people to shake off the ideology, schemes and hatreds of local capitalists and exploiters--and to raise their sights. There is a world to win and a revolutionary road that leads there.

U.S./NATO Hands off the Balkans! Stop the Bombing!

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