Beyond the legitimate humanitarian concerns, a dark veil seems to shroud public opinion regarding the current situation in Yugoslavia: Why exactly is NATO bombing Kosovo? Why is the bombing doing no good? Serious observers of the crisis lack the knowledge to answer these questions. This is partly due to the secrecy with which NATO (primarily under US control) is carrying out their mission. Western leaders, however, have offered a few vague theories in support of the aggression, all of which deserve a critical analysis.
Slobodan Milosevic, many Western leaders argue, is a demon; as Hitler, Mussolini, and Hussein before him, the Serbian tyrant supports “ethnic cleansing” of an entire population. If we do not act now, the Balkan “powder keg” could escalate into an international catastrophe. Therefore, the logic follows, the most effective way to both protect ethnic Albanians and maintain European stability is to bomb the tyrant into submission.
As you may well know, this logic has backfired in the last few weeks, as refugee flight, civilian death, and general misery has increased since the bombing campaign began. This came as no surprise to General Wesley Clark, supreme commander of NATO, who noted that the violent repercussions of the bombing were “entirely predictable.”
So where does this leave us? Are we to assume the US government is composed of dolts, without the sense to listen to General Clark’s voice of experience? Of course not, and that may indicate that “peace” and “stability” are not necessarily NATO’s only motives in bombing Yugoslavia.
In order to speculate upon what these motives could be, it is crucial that we do away with a few common misconceptions. According to U.S. politicians and mainstream media, the Serbian government is a dynamic death squad regime that has whimsically selected the Kosovars as their victim of choice. Evidence suggests this may not be the case.
About a year ago, an armed group of rebels known as the Kosovo Liberation Army, seeking independence for the autonomous region of Kosovo, emerged on the international scene. The peaceful protests that had embodied the Kosovar independence movement turned into ugly conflicts between rebels and Serb policemen. Therefore, what we had in Kosovo (before the bombings) was low-scale civil war.
Human rights groups estimate the death toll in Kosovo to be about 2,000, which puts the level of violence within the range of conflicts in countries such as Turkey and Colombia. In Turkey, the government is engaged in a particularly brutal war with the Kurds in the south. By very conservative estimates, the death toll equals that of Kosovo, with refugee flight estimated to be hovering around one million. Equally horrid numbers accompany the civil war in Colombia.
But where are the proud denunciations of the brutal tyrants leading these countries? Why do politicians and the media not refer to these leaders as “Hitler” as well? Answer: the United States provides substantial military and financial support to these governments and their paramilitary groups.
But what is the reason for America’s peculiar selectivity? Why do we to want to eliminate rebels in some countries, and supposedly defend them in another? Some argue that America is not to blame for this incongruity. As the world’s “policemen,” America cannot be expected to help everyone; while powerful and benevolent, the United States simply cannot be everywhere at once.
Before we even begin to understand the Kosovo situation, we must realize how absurd this argument truly is. Rarely is the intent in U.S. foreign policy primarily “humanitarian.” Just as in Turkey and Colombia (forget about Iraq and Cuba for the moment, where the torturous effects of U.S. sanctions are quite shocking), U.S. interests in Kosovo are self-serving. What interests does the intervention serve? Again, this question is difficult to answer, due to the general obscurity of the whole affair. But rest assured, these interests do not include “peace.” And, as evidenced by the “predictable” consequences of the bombing (civilian death, mass refugees, elimination of the possibility for democratic resolution), these interests do not include the protection of ethnic Albanians.
Nonetheless, as Robert Kaplan argued in a recent column for The New York Times, the NATO campaign serves the supreme goal of European stability, so crucial to both Europe and the United States. If Milosevic is not ousted, Kaplan argues, the Balkans could be engulfed in a war that permanently severs the region from the democratic splendor of the West. “Only Western imperialism,” Kaplan claims, “– though few will like calling it that – can now…save the Balkans from chaos.”
If it were an irrefutable fact that the Balkans are composed entirely of enraged children, this argument would indeed be sound. For then we could argue that it is in all of our best interest that we control a group of angry toddlers. We could argue that the Balkans cannot handle burdens such as state sovereignty or the right to self-determination; these luxuries should be reserved for rational Western “men,” not simpletons and brutes.
Only through an extensive, open-minded analysis of the Kosovo situation can we begin to understand NATO’s true objectives. Do not be fooled by people who would tell you that the most important question is: “what should we (NATO, America) do now?” Such a question exudes an arrogance that has done nothing but exacerbate the misfortunes of thousands of people. We possess neither the objectivity nor the absolute knowledge to take the fate of other countries and other populations into our hands.
Because of these natural deficiencies, it is difficult to know exactly what “we” should do. But as for what we should not do, the answer seems fairly logical. What we should not “do” is douse an already fiery region with gasoline. What we should not “do” is provoke widespread death and mayhem.
What we should do is leave Yugoslavia now, with our tails in between our legs. Upon the return of our troops, we should all stop whatever we had been doing and make a concerted effort to ascertain the true interests and motivations behind our destabilization of the Balkans. Some possibilities may include: 1) Western distaste for Milosevic, a nationalist leader in a region that is gaining increasing economic value as a pathway to the oil wealth of the Caspian Sea. 2) Fear of Milosevic as an obstacle to NATO expansion into Eastern Europe. 3) The presence of the humanitarian crisis as a solid pretext for NATO to flex its muscles as a means of justifying its existence.
Finally, after we have thrown around some ideas and uncovered some real facts, then we can justify a return to Yugoslavia. Not with missiles and planes but with objective minds, selfless hearts, and a commitment to peace. This, of course, is naÃ¯ve fantasy. The people in charge do not think in terms of peace, they think in terms of state power and self-interest.
Whatever the reasons for NATO intervention in Yugoslavia, we can be certain that they are not humanitarian. As for stability, this may well be the goal of NATO intervention, but to be clear, stability does not necessarily mean peace and the easing of suffering. Stability, rather, means the imposition of political conditions that are satisfactory to Western leaders. NATO will do whatever it can to ensure that such a scenario arises. And if the price is the further devastation of a country that is no stranger to war, so be it.