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The following article appeared in Left Business Observer #89, April 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 with anthropologist Robert Hayden of the University of Pittsburgh, "A very European war," click here. For a postwar polemic, click here.

This Kosovo thing


[I]f this domestic policy is going to work, we have to be free to pursue it. And if we're going to have a strong economic relationship that includes our ability to sell around the world, Europe has got to be a key. And if we want people to share our burdens of leadership with all the problems that will inevitably crop up, Europe needs to be our partner. Now, that's what this Kosovo thing is all about... it's about our values.
-- Bill Clinton, March 23, 1999


One thing's for sure: NATO's glorious little war has little to do with humanitarianism, except for the PR campaign. NATO isn't a relief agency, it's an instrument of war. A humanitarian motive is impossible to accept given U.S. indifference to and participation in so many other catastrophes -- 1.5 million dead Sudanese, hundreds of thousands of Kurds killed and displaced by Turkey, hundreds of thousands dead and displaced in Rwanda, and a million Iraqis dead from U.S. sanctions. In fact, while it's easy to think of humanitarian catastrophes the U.S. has created, it's hard to think of one it's brought to an end. It's depressing to see people who should know better - those baptized the "cruise-missile liberals" by the Guardian's Mark Steel - cheering on the bombers.

With the end of the cold war, the marketization of everything, and the banalization of politics to mere adjustment to competitive forces, we've become familiar with the coding of trouble on the periphery: as "monsters" to be bombed, or victims to be pitied. (Over the last few years, Yugoslavia went from the latter -- oh those ancient Balkan hatreds are acting up again! -- to the former.) In either case, the disasters are treated as phenomena of nature, not products of political economy.

But these disasters are usually traceable to the economic and social collapse that has come to afflict a good deal of the world outside the prosperous First World core. Sometimes important people ignore the disasters, and sometimes they promote them. But they rarely see their role in creating them. It's no mere detail that Yugoslavia came under the tutelage of the IMF in the early 1950s, and the country borrowed heavily and disastrously. Over the decades, the IMF promoted decentralization, competition, and a weakening of development policies that favored poorer regions, and the promotion of market principles. In the 1970s, market liberalization and nationalism went hand-in-hand; for example, Croatian nationalists demanded to keep their foreign exchange earnings. The collapse of the USSR accelerated the process of fragmentation that was already well underway.

It's not hard to see an element of collective sadism in the warmongering, of popular identification with televised mayhem -- and, simultaneously, a self-flattering sympathy for the refugees (whose plight NATO greatly worsened). It's also not hard to see an element of what was described in a leaked 1995 Pentagon planning document as the benefits of appearing to potential enemies as "irrational and vindictive," "potentially 'out of control'" -- a strategy that goes back at least to the 1960s.

But not even Bill Clinton could spend billions on a war without an imperial rationale. Clearly, NATO is being repositioned as a "global zapping force," in Tariq Ali's phrase, marginalizing the UN. The rechristened NATO will keep Western Europe bound to the U.S. in a subordinate role, and with Eastern Europe at a lower level of subordination, giving the U.S. and its allies a military presence right up to the Russian border -- a nice place to be, should Russia ever rise from its deathbed. To achieve that vision, people will have to die, as more than one laptop bombardier has said. Other people, that is.

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