Introduction: The Yugoslav anvil for forging a new Europe

When NATO launched its attack on Yugoslavia two sharply opposing views of the significance of this action formed within Europe and across the world. Within part of the NATO zone – especially the Anglo-American part – the bulk of centre and centre-left opinion took the view that NATO’s aggression against Yugoslavia marked the start of a new, norm-based order in Europe and more widely around the world. We could call this The Guardian view of the war, since that newspaper was one of the most articulate propagators of this view. The Guardian line was that NATO was at last taking human rights seriously. This the war would be good for Europe’s stable, norm-based development, provided, of course, NATO triumphed.
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But in other parts of the NATO zone, such as Greece and much of Italy, in most Eastern Europe and more widely across most of the rest of the world, a diametrically opposite view of the significance of the NATO attack was expressed. NATO’s action was seen as precisely marking the end of the long efforts in the 1990’s to build a European security structure governing by collectively binding norms and rights rather than by power politics. We could call this the Ukrainian Parliament’s view since that body has expressed it most articulately. Ukrainian MPs, though sharply divided between left and right on many issues, united in the face of this NATO attack to pass a resolution for Ukraine to regain nuclear weapons. They explained that Ukraine had been persuaded by the American government to give up its nuclear weapons thought President Clinton’s insistence that the new European order was not going to be based on power politics but on rights and collectively binding norms: a law-based European order. But the attack on Yugoslavia, for Ukrainian MPs. demonstrated conclusively that these US arguments had been spurious. Hence, the Ukrainian parliament wanted to regain a nuclear deterrent which would be directed at no particular threat but simply at giving Ukraine a protection of its security and a voice in European affairs.
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Many in the West may regard the views of the Ukrainian Parliament as not worth listening to. But this would be wrong for two reasons. First, because Ukraine is now the big strategic stake for the United States in it’s struggle for mastery in Europe. The current war in the Western Balkans is the prelude to the struggle for control of Ukraine. Those who doubt this should pay attention to the person who has been the mastermind behind the European policy of Albright and Clinton, Zbigniew Brzezinski. As long ago as last year, Brzezinski warned unambiguously that a democratic movement in Ukraine to enter a security pact with Russia would lead the US to try to stage a coup d’etat in this, the biggest country in Europe outside Russia. As he put it:
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“In such a case, when the west would have to choose between a democratic or an independent Ukraine strategic interests – not democratic considerations – must determine the Western stance.”
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And NATO’s attack on Yugoslavia is marking the earth move in Ukraine, sending shock after shock though its population of 50 million people.
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This leads us to the second reason why we should take notice of the view of the Ukrainian Parliament. As Brzezinski’s words demonstrate, we should listen to Ukraine’s MOs because they are correct. The Clinton Administration has launched this Balkan war as part of a European strategy which involves subordinating all norms and norm-enhancing and enfocing structures in Europe to US power and US political goals. In the face of this US drive, some European states have influence over events and some don’t. Is there any person in Europe who believes that Ukraine would have had less capacity to influence the shape of the new Europe if it had been a nuclear power? Would a Ukrainian Parliament’s obsessive focus on, say, the Council of Europe and its norm-protection activities guarantee that country’s security against the will of the likes of Brzezinski and Albright? Surely we should be serious about such matters.
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The NATO attack has occurred because, after a decade of manoeuvring and rebuilding its political sway in Europe, the United States government perceived a window of opportunity for a swift assertion of its hegemonic dominance though another Yugoslav war. The window was constructed by a uniquely favourable political configuration in Europe: yet another phase of Russian crisis and decline, and the French state’s repositioning of itself between Germany and the United States in a new partnership with Britain. ending the long period where Germany had been positioned between the United States and France. Now France could get out of its bind of having only one tactic in its European policy: trying to pull Germany over to French positions against the US. Instead, it had room for manoeuvre between Germany and the US. It could go against the US on Iraq and swing with it on, say, Yugoslavia. In short, France, instead of Germany, could be the West European pivot in the high politics of Europe. And Chirac would show how to play this game on Kosovo.
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And the time was important for the United States in another sense too. Since the 1996 North Atlantic Council in Berlin, the West European states had given up their aspirations to be an independent collective organiser of the European political order, by agreeing that there would be no autonomous West European military instrument or policy-making authority: the US would have a veto. But this was an agreement only in words. For the US, West European subordination had to be anchored in practice Yet, in practical politics, the West Europeans were precisely threatening insubordination: threatening to build Europe as a political actor on the world stage through turning the Euro into a global currency challenging the dollar. This was the unambiguous ambition of the new German Finance Minister, Oscar Lafontaine, and there was even discussion with the Japanese government for a two-pronged attack on the dollar’s dominance. And, at the same time, West European governments were resisting US sovereignty through NATO over European affairs. No sooner had the US pushed Russia out of any effective voice in European politics though the form of NATO enlargement, than the West Europeans were bringing it back in via demands that NATO military action must have the sanction of a UN Security Council resolution. The attack on Yugoslavia would, it was hoped, cut through all such resistances to US hegemony, putting the Euro back in its place as a purely domestic European currency and putting the UN Security Council where it belonged as far as both the Senate and the Clinton administration were concerned: on the sidelines in the European theatre.
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Not of this, of course, means that the Clinton administration is waging a covert battle to destabilise or undermine the West European states. Certainly not. It is offering them a significant place on the bandwagon of globalisation. If German big business – the real capitalist heartland of Europe of the US – will only go along with the US hegemony in Europe, it will be able to have a full partnership with the US in conquering the ’emerging markets’ of the world.But it must be what the Clinton administration calls a ‘strong partnership’, in other words, one under US leadership. This is not an unattractive offer to the big capitalist companies which exercise such political sway in the EU at present.
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Part II of this issue of Labour Focus on Eastern Europe seeks to explain this power politics background to the NATO attack. But we can also see how the US assertion of hegemonic power is reconfiguring the whole institutional order in Europe during the course of the current war. People working in bodies concerned with strengthening rights abuses in Yugoslavia in recent years are discovering that their work has turned out not to be about assisting the peoples of Serbia to achieve a more secure future at all: it has actually been preparatory to a NATO air war against Serbia, a war to destroy the economy, the public utilities, the infrastructures of the civil life of the people of that country. For all we know, it could be followed by a NATO blockade like the Anglo-American blockade of Iraq, which has become a weapon of mass destruction of the Iraqi people. All the institutions supposedly designed to establish norms to be applies equally to all in Europe – OSCE agencies, the agencies for refugees, the council of Europe, the various UN bodies – have either been turned into agencies effectively subordinated to Washington’s will or have been brushed aside like the UN Security Council.
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US war leadership also casts a new light upon the European Union. Its institutions have been shown to be a political irrelevance, with no say whatever over the conduct of this war. Their role is to be transmission-belt institutions for the economic statecraft linked to the war, oil and other embargoes and the like. The political centre for deciding such matters is not actually the EU at all. It is the North Atlantic Council of NATO and, on that body, Turkey will carry far more clout than the European Commission and European Parliament and half a dozen EU member states combined. On the essentials of European politics, the European Union has turned out to be a bluff.
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The European Union does also play an important symbolic role in the conflict. Every now and then, as in the Bosnian war, a European leader or Commissioner says that ‘one day you could join the European Union: there is a vision for your future.’ Joshka Fischer came out with that speech again near the start of the current war, as did Tony Blair, in an interview in Die Zeit: “To the democratic states around Serbia, and to a democratic Serbia itself, I want to offer the prospect of becoming a member of the EU, of NATO and thus the Alliance”. It’s an old, endlessly played tune in Eastern Europe. Even in places like Poland and Hungary people are getting rather sick of it. What Fischer will never give us is any dates, But as far as the Western Balkans is concerned, if not Poland and Hungary, the devastation and chaos produced by the war does suggest a definite date: it’s the Greek Kalends.
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But the war also casts a beam of light on the big West European powers. They are themselves, during this war. simply political voyeurs, peering into the windows of the White House. For that is where the key decisions are being taken as to the continent’s destiny. Washington and nobody else will decide the terms of NATO’s exit from this war. Tony Blair may be able to catch more of the conversation in the Oval Office through his mobile phone link with Bill and Hilary. On the other hand, the German government’s views and interests will count for far more among the people in that Oval Office that Tony Blair. But Schröder, Blair and Chirac all wait upon the hegemon’s will. We can also be sure that British influence will count for less than that of Turkey in the calculus of the Clinton Administration. Britain really has nowhere to hawk its wares apart from the Washington Bazaar. But Germany and France will have a bigger say.
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Washington’s decisions for Europe will be grounded on its perceptions of the American state’s European and global interest. The discussions in the White House on this subject are wide ranging. There will be the China factor and the World Trade Organisations issues, Moscow and how far to push the Russian state, the threatened destabilisation of Ukraine, the impact of the bombing on Serbian politics, the disintegration of Macedonia, the looming war amongst Albanians between the Berisha-Rugova axis and the KLA-Tirana axis, the Greek-Turkish daily confrontations over the Aegean, the squirmings of the West Europeans and so on.
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Washington is also demonstrating its ability to reshape the domestic politics of Europe during this war. NATO is transforming the party systems of Western Europe into transmission mechanisms of the United States government’s objectives. The general approach of the West European states towards the Kosovo crisis during 1998 was to seek a restabilisation of the situation through a negotiated political settlement in Yugoslavia. The approach of Albright and the US government was to use Kosovo as an occasion for war. Washington manoeuvred with the British and French governments to have its war and has thus turned the whole Social Democratic apparatus in Western Europe into a transmission mechanism for a propaganda campaign on the rightness of NATO power politics: why it is right to kick aside the UN and to support a new European order in which a US-led NATO is the political sovereign. Not only that. The social Democratic leaders find that they must justify or excuse the destruction of the Serbian economy, the killings of Serbian civilians, the attempt to exterminate the Yugoslav conscript army. So the Social Democratic leaders find themselves using the language of dehumanisation of the Serbian people by killing them. They must explain that it is necessary to slaughter the staff of Serbian TV and destroy the welfare of the Serbian people. So without a care, the announce that Serbia’s political elites are genocidal mass murderers. This is a complete debauchery of public discourse in the service of the hegemon’s power politics. It opens the way to atrocious slaughter or murderous blockade of the Serbian population if Washington considers such options desirable.
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One final point on the West European institutional impact of the launching of this war should be noted: the tight, practical and political integration of the armed forces and defence ministries of the NATO states under US command. This integration of state military capacities and personnel of the European states has surely been a key objective for the US in this war. NATO’s armed forces are being blooded as comrades in arms. The West European general staffs will be open mouthed with admiration for the Pentagon’s awesome war machine and will be pressing their governments to persuade the US government to do what it has done for the British: given them at least a taster of a few Tomahawks and some of the other smart weapons systems.
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The impact of the war on Russia’s role in European politics has taken a form that we are now used to after the experience of the 1990s. Time and again, the USA has made moves to push Russia out of European affairs. They tried that early on in the Bosnian crisis, the whole NATO enlargement project was about that; and the current war was supposed to finally bolt the European door against Russia’s central involvement. Yet time and again, Russia has bounced back as the American administration has found that it could not exclude Russia. And this has happened again in the present war as the G8 agreement on terms for ending the war demonstrated Russian influence. Of course, the American bombing of the Chinese Embassy set off a chain of events that pushed the G8 agreement to one side, thus giving the US at least another week of blanket bombing to try to finish the job without Russia. At the time of writing, it is too early to see if that works. But the war once again raises the fundamental issue of whether the peoples and governments of Europe believe their security is enhanced by this US project of trying to push Russia out of the European scene.
There remains the question as to the role of Yugoslavia in the launching of this war. We argue in what follows that its role today is basically the same as it has been throughout the 1990s. With the collapse of the Soviet Block, Yugoslavia lost its strategic importance for any of the NATO powers except Turkey, Greece and Italy. But Yugoslavia’s descent into collapse have its people a great European political role because it became the theatre in which the various big powers could try to demonstrate their capacity to take command of European affairs. There was the German attempt at European leadership over Croatian recognition. There was also the excitement in the EC that the ‘Hour of Europe’ had arrived, as the EC Presidency announced in the summer of 1991: the EC was to take command of the Yugoslav embroglio. The EC Presidency was right: it did take command for about an hour. The United States would not allow it much more. The Bush administration saw to that by pushing for Bosnian independence and a Bosnian war. The EC tried to regain the initiative by brokering various peace deals. But Washington was not having such EC claims to be able to settle anything in Yugoslavia so it sabotaged one peace deal after another. Then, when the time was ripe, the Clinton administration made its big power play in the Yugoslav theatre to assert its European leadership through its Bosnian offensive in 1995 leading to Dayton. Through Dayton, the US bounced back into the heart of European affairs. The current war was to be the final use of the sufferings of the Yugoslav people for great power political goals: the use of aggression against Serbia as the anvil upon which the Clinton administration would forge the instruments of its European political hegemony. With every hammer-blow against the peoples of Serbia, the political structure of Europe would, it was hoped, be reshaped along hegemonic parameters. In this war we are watching to see which breaks first: the political handle on the NATO hammer or the anvil of the political will of the Yugoslav state. That contest is deciding what political order is to be forged for Europe.
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In Part I of this issue we examine the ways in which the manoeuvres of the Western powers have impacted on the peoples of Yugoslavia during the 1990s. It is not an edifying story for those who believe that the Western powers are pre-occupied with the rights and welfare of Yugoslavia’s peoples.
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And it is not a story being given a happy ending by the NATO powers in the current war. What that ending will be in political terms we can have no idea at the time of writing, for two reasons. First, because the NATO powers have astutely avoided producing any clear programme for Kosovo, Serbia, Yugoslavia, Macedonia etc. They are shrewdly playing such details as the fate of these populations by ear. The second reason is, of course, because the war continues, sending streams of political chain reactions around the planet every day.
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But we can be fairly certain about two outcomes of this war. First, that young Kosovar Albanians, Serbs, Macedonians, Montenegrins and Albanians, as well as the dozens of other nationalities in Yugoslavia will try, in large numbers, to get out of the region for the next quarter of a century. They will be right to try. Is there a parent in Europe who would want their child stuck in the Western Balkans after this war for the next 20 years?
The second certainty, is that it will be very difficult for such young people to escape, if the NATO powers have anything to do with the matter. NATO leaders seem to love the phrase about Europe now being ‘whole and free’. For Western business and for NATO missiles, the phrase is largely true: they can roam anywhere across the continent acquiring or ‘depleting’ fixed assets at will. But it is not true for the people of South East and Eastern Europe and after this war it is going to be less true than ever. The only consistent policy of the NATO European powers towards these regions during the 1990s has been a determination to try to stop significant numbers of people from having the freedom to move around Europe as a whole.
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Some imagine that the EU will offer the people of the Western Balkans a dramatic new economic deal. This is simply false. The best the Kosovar Albanians could ever hope for is a bit of public works, some temporary anti-poverty relief – the Bosnian got an average of 13 US cents a day on a temporary basis after Dayton – some encouragement for small business and complaints that the destitute peoples of the area are misbehaving themselves so much that the development panacea for the planet under globalisation, Foreign Direct Investment by the Atlantic multinationals, is simply impossible.
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A genuinely new deal for South East Europe would involve reversing the entire globalisation programme of the Atlantic powers in that region and reorganising the European division of labour in Europe to give the region an effective insertion in the European economy. That was done for West Germany and Western Europe after the Second World war. But the entire effort of the West European capitalist states in the 1990s has been to keep that kind of operation firmly off the European agenda. Those who believe otherwise are simply out of contact with the reality of West European mercantilism and the Atlantic globalisation drive. The single strong goal of the war for the US as far as the Western Balkans was concerned was to further that drive by destroying the anti-globalisation politics of the Serbian Socialist Party – not to scupper the whole globalisation strategy for Eastern Europe for the sake of Albanians.
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The question for Europe after this was is whether it supports what the US administration has achieved during the war: a political order for the continent controlled via NATO in Washington. The war will, of course, be followed by a flurry of activity to obfuscate this reality. There will be a talk of a new inclusive deal for Russia and Ukraine. There will be an outpouring of bombastic rhetoric about a new mighty West European Security and Defence Identity within NATO and the EU as a towering, independent political actor. The new President of the Commission has already started this talk of a European Army and the Commission being a European government. This is just rhetoric.
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The read issues for post-war Europe are two: first, whether the two major East European states, Russia and Ukraine, acquire the same rights over European security issues as, say, Germany and France; second, whether the political and military institutions of US hegemony in Europe are replaced by new institutions to which NATO is subordinated. In short, the future of Europe will be decided by the question whether the hegemonic power structure which the current war was designed to consolidate will be reversed. If not, Europe could be in for a very grim future.
The present exclusion of Russia and Ukraine from integration into the structures of Europe pushes these two countries together. But the US has a strategic interest in stopping that. So it is likely to try to make a grab for Ukraine through a presidentialist coup and pull it into the Western zone. Will the Russian state try to stop that? If so, how? By military means, through a civil war in Ukraine? Or will a US power play just plunge the Russian state into a collapse? We don’t know the answers to these questions. Perhaps the current deep instabilities in these two Eastern states can persist for some years more without catastrophic consequences for Europe as a whole. But is it wise to leave Europe’s fate in the hands of people like Zbigniew Brzezinski and Madeleine Albright?
If it is not wise, then Europe’s current political structure built around US hegemony through NATO’s institutional sovereignty must be broken up. Some other over-arching political structure that can keep US power properly balanced and controlled must be constructed. The essential algebra of such a structure would involve France and Germany linking up with Russia and Ukraine and including both. One temporary joint action would be an absolute insistence that from now on NATO, be placed firmly under the control of the UN Security Council. But since Germany has no seat there, and Russia and Ukraine are outside NATO, that arrangement depends upon France for its anchorage. That is no secure anchorage at all, as this current war demonstrates. More radical measures need to be examined urgently. Since the US will not agreed to the OSCE being given a governing role over NATO and will not agree to a body like the Europe-Atlantic Partnership Council being given authority over the NAC, there is only one serious option: to break up the NAC for everything except so-called Article 5 issues – defence of the territory of the NATO states – and for France and Germany to link up to break with US authority and work towards a new security body for Europe. This should be coupled with an urgent campaign to reform the Security Council. It is absurd that the US should have two vetoes there – its own and that of Britain – while Germany has no seat. As the largest country in Europe and a pivotal state in Eurasia, Ukraine should also have a seat and would have a strong claim if it did restore its status as a nuclear power.
But is there really any will withing the key West European states to mount a challenge to a US-led Europe for the sake of a more secure Europe (rather than for grabbing a bigger chunk of this or that ’emerging market’)? This seems very unlikely. The EU states are capitalist formations, hungry for fresh streams of profits from the new, American-led imperial project of globalisation. This, and the sheer aggressive energy of the US at present, gives these EU states powerful incentives for just bandwaggoning with the Americans in the globalisation gamble. And both Russia and Ukraine have resisted being globalised. Only corrupt clans nested close to their power centres are fully plugged into the circuits of Atlantic finance capital. So there are powerful incentives for the Western powers to play rough with Russia: give us your oil, your gas, your minerals, all your economy, or else. As long as these peculiar gangsters clans tied to Western capital keeps their grip on the Russian state, the West has a chance of globalising Russia. But that means a further phase of squeezing the Russian state, weakening it and undermining the health and welfare of its people.
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This is the world that the collapse of the Soviet Union has produced. Lasting solutions which can provide Europe with security seem to lie only through a long march to rebuild the strenght of the European labour movement and to reconstruct a trans-European left with a commitment to a norm-based future for the continent. That project will surely demand a firm grasp of the current realities. Unfortunately, the bulk of Social Democratic people in Western Europe have lost their grip on reality even to the point of supporting the NATO war. The prospects for European security do not look at all bright. The sufferings of the peoples of the Western Balkans may well be a foretaste of equal sufferings for very many more of the peoples of Eastern Europe, with ugly consequences for the rest of us as well.
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Peter Gowan
The Twisted Road to Kosovo (1999)