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The following article appeared in Left Business Observer #90, June 1999. It retains its copyright and may not be reprinted or redistributed in any form - print, electronic, facsimile, anything - without the permission of LBO.

For the interview during the war with anthropologist Robert Hayden of the University of Pittsburgh, "A very European war," click here. For a polemic written during the war, click here.

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After the war


What a glorious victory. NATO killed more civilians than soldiers, accelerated the displacement of hundreds of thousands of refugees, destroyed the infrastructure and poisoned the environment of southeastern Europe - and in the name of humanitarianism.

As Peter Gowan explains in a fine piece in New Left Review, the Balkans have long been an imperial playground, and since the transformations of 1989, the play has been intense, with the U.S. and the EU (especially Germany) dickering for influence. At first, Germany favored the breakup of Yugoslavia, and the U.S. its continued togetherness under the bonds of the IMF - Germany, to increase its influence in the East, the U.S. to take advantage of its control of the IMF. Lately, the U.S. used the destruction of Yugoslavia to remind the Europeans that for all the pretensions of their (wobbly) new currency, Washington still called the military and political shots. Clearly the U.S. provoked the war by demanding terms at Rambouillet that the Serbs could never accept, like the freedom to roam across Yugoslavia without paying even a bridge toll. For its part, the EU used the war to flatter itself as a civilizing influence on its eastern neighbors. Germany at last overcame its guilt pangs and sent the Luftwaffe on bombing runs.

None of this is to exonerate Serbia, which has been plenty brutal. One of the many depressing things about this war is all the side-taking that's been going on. Almost every position was built around the endorsement of some nationalism or other; internationalism, difficult enough in practice, could hardly find a friend even in principle. Either you were pro-NATO or pro-Milo. Either the Serbs were channeling Hitler and propagating a Holocaust, or they were (ludicrously) the last bastion of true socialism in Europe. To some on the right, the Serbs are Christian Europe's last defense against the Muslim hordes. Either the KLA are freedom fighters or the scum of the earth. Any notion that all this armed ethnicization thrives on exclusion and displacement disappeared, the ideological battle reduced to a conflict over how to distribute the black and white hats.

Now NATO will occupy Kosovo, no doubt turning it into a colony on the model of Bosnia, where citizens have no control over their government, and the IMF-appointed head of the central bank is forbidden to be a Bosnian. (For details, see David Chandler's Bosnia: Faking Democracy After Dayton [Pluto].) With several ethnicities in the region longing for their own state, further instability seems inevitable, with economies in collapse and all minds on a major map rethink. There will be opportunity for new humanitarian wars, new humanitarian occupations. Loans will be dribbled out for reconstruction everywhere but Serbia, providing rich opportunities for Western contractors (see here for details).

It must be said that the U.S. looks firmly in command of the post-Cold War world. The smart bombs may not be as accurate as they say, but it's clear they can do massive damage, and no country on earth can stand up to the Pentagon. Maybe China will be able to do that someday, which may be why the U.S. right is so alarmed about alleged espionage disasters. Maybe the EU, irritated by U.S. "bungling" of the war, will develop a political strategy and the military to prove it. But not yet.

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