The Balkans and the Middle East: Despite the 'Peace', no end to war

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The handshake between Yasser Arafat, President of the PLO, and Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli Prime Minister, was historic ... and thoroughly photogenic. After 45 years of war between Israel and its Arab neighbours, this was an important event, and US President Clinton, who organized the ceremony, intended that it should have a symbolic significance: that the only possible peace is the "Pax Americana". And after all the upsets he has suffered since his arrival in power, Clinton certainly needed a success like this. The party laid on in his own (white) house aimed not just to resuscitate his falling popularity at home, but to deliver a strong message to the whole world: the USA is the only "world cop" capable of guaranteeing the planet's stability. A striking coup like this was all the more necessary in that, ever since Bush's announcement in 1989 of a "new world order" under the aegis of US imperialism, the situation has gone from bad to worse in every domain. The downfall of the "Evil Empire" was supposed to bring with it prosperity, peace, order, the rule of law between peoples and for the individual. Instead, we have had economic convulsions, famine, war, chaos, massacres, torture: in a word, barbarism. Instead of the increased assertion of the authority of the "world's greatest democracy" as guarantor of world peace, we have seen a growing contestation of this same authority by more and more countries, including its closest allies. By publicizing the effusive reconciliation of these two "hereditary" enemies of the Middle East, under the paternal benediction of the US President (who is young enough to be their son, which only gives the image greater impact), Clinton claims to have inaugurated a new "new world order", now that Bush's one has been consigned to the dustbins of history. But neither the grand gestures nor the televised set-piece speeches can change the fact that in decadent capitalism, peace declarations and agreements are nothing but preparations for new wars and greater barbarism.

The Washington agreement of 13th September 1993 has eclipsed another "peace process" begun during the summer: the Geneva negotiations on the future of Bosnia. Nonetheless, these negotiations, with all the diplomatic manoeuvres and military posturing surrounding them, are crucial to the present situation.

Ex- Yugoslavia: a US set-back

As we go to press, there has not been any definitive agreement between the three sides (Muslims, Croats, and Serbs) squabbling over the carcass of the late Republic of Bosnia- Herzegovina. The detailed frontiers of the proposed division of the country, presented to the negotiators on 20th August, are still under discussion. However, if we refuse to be taken in by the propaganda of the various parties to the conflict and the great powers behind them, what is really at stake in these negotiations, and in the continuing fighting, is plain enough.

In the first place, it is obvious that the war in Yugoslavia is not just an internal matter caused solely by inter-ethnic rivalries. The Balkans have for a long time been one of the main battlegrounds for the confrontations of the great imperialist powers. The name of Sarajevo did not acquire its lugubrious renown in 1992: for 80 years, it has been associated with the outbreak of World War I. This time too, as Yugoslavia began to fall apart in 1991, the great powers appeared as principal actors in the tragedy inflicted on the population of the region. Right from the start, Germany's firm support for Croatian and Slovenian independence fanned the flames of the conflict, as indeed did the support given to Serbia by France, Britain, Russia and the USA. Without repeating the analyses which have been expounded at length in this Review, it is important to highlight the antagonism between the interests of the greatest European power, which sees an independent and allied Croatia and Slovenia as a means to open a way to the Mediterranean, and those of the other powers which are utterly opposed to this extension of German imperialism.

When Bosnia itself declared independence, the USA hurried to support it. This difference in attitude compared with Croatia and Slovenia was indicative of the strategy of US imperialism: unable to make a reliable Balkan ally out of Serbia, given this country's ancient and solid links to Russia[1] and France, US imperialism aimed to make Bosnia its bridgehead in the region, over-shadowing a pro-German Croatia. Firm support for Croatia was a theme of Clinton's candidature. Once elected, he started out with the same policy, declaring in February 1993 that "The full weight of American diplomacy must be committed" to this objective. In May, Secretary of State Warren Christopher proposed to the Europeans two measures to halt the Serbian advance in Bosnia: lifting the arms embargo, and air strikes against Serbian positions. The US proposed in fact the same "solution" for the Balkans as they had already used in the Gulf: the big stick, and in particular the use of air power, which has the advantage of displaying the full extent of US superiority. France and Britain, in other words the two countries which had committed most of the ground troops to UNPROFOR, categorically refused. By the end of May, the Washington accords between the US and the European powers, despite Clinton's triumphalist declarations, effectively endorsed the Europeans' position on Bosnia: no counter-attack against the Serb offensive aimed at carving up Bosnia, limiting the UN forces, and eventually also those of NATO, to "humanitarian" missions.

It thus became clear that the world's greatest power was changing tack, and giving up the strategy conducted since 1992, with all the support of media campaigns on the defence of "human rights" and the denunciation of "ethnic cleansing". This was the recognition of a setback, which the United States blamed, not without reason, on the Europeans. Warren Christopher once again admitted the US' impotence on 21st July, when after describing the situation in Sarajevo as "tragic, tragic", he declared: "the United States is doing all it can, taking account of its own national interests".

And yet, ten days later, when the Geneva conference on Bosnia had begun, the Americans started banging the big stick again. Its leaders insisted, even more forcefully than in May, on the need for air strikes against the Serbs: "We think that the time for action has come ( ... ) the only realistic hope to bring about a reasonable political settlement is to put [NATO 's] air power at the service of diplomacy" (Warren Christopher in a letter to Boutros-Ghali, 1st August). "The United States will not stand by while Sarajevo is brought to its knees" (Christopher speaking in Cairo the following day). At the same time (2nd and 9th August), the US called two meetings of the NATO Council, to demand that its "allies" authorize and initiate air strikes. After hours of resistance, led mainly by France (but with British agreement), the principal of air strikes was agreed, but only on the condition (opposed by the Americans) that they be requested by the UN Secretary General. .. who has always opposed them. The new US offensive had run aground.

On the ground, Serbian forces loosened their grip on Sarajevo, and ceded control over the strategic heights overlooking the city, which they had seized from the Muslims a few days before, to UNPROFOR. But while the US attributed the Serb withdrawal to the NATO declaration, the Belgian general commanding UNPROFOR saw it as "an example of what can be done with negotiation", while his second-in-command, the British Brigadier Hayes asked: "What is President Clinton after? (. .. ) the Serbs will never be defeated with air power". This was a real affront to US diplomacy, and a sabotage of its diplomacy. Worst of all, for the US, their most faithful ally, Britain, acquiesced in or even encouraged it.

This being said, and despite their grandiloquent pronouncements, it is highly unlikely that the Americans seriously envisaged using air power against the Serbs during the summer. At all events, the die were cast: the perspective of a united, multi -ethnic Bosnia defended by both the Muslims and US diplomacy - had gone down the drain for good once the greater part of Bosnian territory had fallen into the hands of the Serbian and Croatian militia, with the Muslims only hanging on to a fifth, despite their representing almost half the pre-war population.

In fact, US objectives during the summer were already far removed from its diplomatic aims at the outset of the conflict. Its sole hope was to avoid the supreme humiliation of the fall of Sarajevo, and above all to introduce itself into a situation which had long since escaped from its control. As the last act of the Bosnian tragedy was played out in Geneva, the US had to make an appearance as "guest star", since the starring role had been denied it. And in the end, its contribution to the epilogue consisted of "convincing" its Muslim protégés to accept their capitulation as quickly as possible, in exchange for a few threats against the Serbs, since the longer the war continues in Bosnia, the more it shows up the impotence of the world's greatest power.

The American giant's pitiful efforts faced with the Bosnian war appear in a still cruder light if we compare them with its "management" of the Gulf crisis and war in 1990-91. Then, it kept all its promises to its Saudi Arabian and Kuwaiti protégés. This time, it has been able to do nothing for its Bosnian client: its contribution to the conflict's "solution" has been to force the Bosnians to accept the unacceptable. In the context of the Gulf conflict, this would have been the equivalent of making gestures for several months, and then putting pressure on the Kuwaiti authorities to make them give up most of their territory to Saddam Hussein! Perhaps worse still, whereas in 1990-91 the Americans succeeded in dragging all the Western countries along with them (even if some, like the French and the Germans, dragged their feet), this time they have come up against opposition from other countries, even including the faithful Albion.

American diplomacy's obvious failure in the Bosnian conflict is a severe blow to the authority of a power which lays claim to the role of "world cop". How much confidence can other countries place in its "protection" now? How much fear can it inspire in those who might think of defying it? The full significance of the 13th September Washington agreement lies in its use as a means to restore this authority.

No 'Peace' for the Middle East

If proof were needed of the bourgeoisie's cynicism, the recent evolution of the Middle East situation would be largely sufficient. Today, the media are inviting us to shed a tear of joy over the historic handshake at the White House. They neglect to tell us how this handshake was prepared, less than two months ago.

In late July 1993, the Israeli state unleashed a massive bombardment on dozens of Lebanese villages. It was the biggest and bloodiest military operation since the "Peace in Galilee" operation of 1982. The dead were counted in the hundreds, if not the thousands, mostly civilian. Almost half a million refugees took to the roads. And this action, by a "democratic" state, led moreover by a "socialist" government, justified its action thus: the aim is to terrorize the civilian Lebanese population, in order to put pressure on the Lebanese government to crush Hezbollah. Once again, it is the civilian population which pays the price for imperialism's deeds. But the bourgeoisie's cynicism does not stop there: in reality, the question of Hezbollah was secondary - and as soon as the offensive was over, the latter renewed its attacks on Israeli troops in South Lebanon - and the Israeli military offensive was nothing other than a preparation for the touching ceremony in Washington, set up not just by Israel, but by its great American godfather.

On the Israeli side, it was important that the peace negotiations and its imminent truce proposals to the PLO should not be taken as a sign of weakness. The bombs and shells destroying the villages of southern Lebanon carried a message to the Arab states: "don't count on our weakness, we will only give up what suits us". This message was addressed especially to the Syrians, without whose permission Hezbollah could not operate, and who want to recover the Golan Heights annexed by Israel in the 1967 war.

On the US side, the intention was to demonstrate, through its henchman's military success, that it remains the boss of the Middle East, whatever difficulties it may encounter elsewhere. The message was addressed to any Arab state which might be tempted to play a different tune than the one ordered by the boss in Washington. It was useful, for example, to remind Jordan that it would be better not to repeat the infidelities of the Gulf war. Above all, it was time to remind Syria that its grip on Lebanon was due to America's good graces following the Gulf war, and that its historical links with France should remain just that: history. The same message was also addressed to Iran, the Hezbollah's godfather, and which is trying to renew diplomatic relations with France and Germany. In fact, the USA was addressing a warning to all the powers which might be tempted to come and poach in its own reserves.

Finally, the world's greatest power had to demonstrate clearly to all concerned that it still has the means to make itself respected, and that it could unleash the dogs of war as well as the doves of peace, as it likes. This was the message delivered by Warren Christopher during his Middle East tour, just after the Israeli offensive: "the present confrontations illustrate the urgent need for the conclusion of a peace agreement amongst the different states concerned". This is the classic method of the racketeer, who offers "protection" to the shopkeeper, after breaking up his shop.

As always in decadent capitalism, there is no fundamental difference between peace and war; the imperialist brigands prepare their peace agreements with war and massacres. And the peace agreements are never anything but a preparation for new and bloodier wars.

More war to come

After the negotiations and peace agreements in Washington and Geneva this summer, it is clear that there will be no more "new world order" under Clinton than there was under Bush.

In ex-Yugoslavia, even if the Geneva negotiations on Bosnia lead to agreement (for the moment the war is still going on, between Muslims and Croats, and within the different factions themselves), this will not mean an end to the conflict. The new battle-fields are already plain to see: Macedonia, almost openly claimed by Greece; Kosovo, whose largely Albanian population is tempted to merge in a "Greater Albania"; Krajina, a province of the Croatian Republic but now occupied by the Serbs and cutting the Croats' Dalmatian coastline in two. We also know that the great powers will not moderate these brewing conflicts: on the contrary, just as they have already done, they will be busy fanning the flames.

In the Middle East, peace is now in fashion. It won't last: fashions pass quickly, and there is no shortage of potential conflicts. The PLO, which will now be policing the territories that Israel has "granted" autonomy, must now confront the competition of the Hamas movement. Yasser Arafat's organisation is itself divided: its different factions, maintained by different Arab states, is bound to tear itself apart as the conflicts sharpen among these states themselves, now that the anti-Israeli "Palestinian cause" which once held them together has disappeared. Syria's grudging acceptance of the Washington agreement has not solved the problem of the Golan. Iraq is still ostracized. The Kurdish nationalists have not given up their demands in Irak and Turkey ... All these sources of conflict only sharpen the appetites of the great powers, which are always ready to discover a new "humanitarian" cause which just happens to correspond to their imperialist interest.

Nor are potential conflicts limited to the Middle East and the Balkans.

In the Caucasus and central Asia, Russia's imperialist appetites (though obviously more limited than in the past) are only adding to the chaos engulfing the old republics of the USSR, and sharpening the ethnic conflicts within them (Abkhazians against Georgians, Armenians against Azeris, etc). And this has not helped reduce the political chaos within Russia's own frontiers, as we can see from the confrontations between YeItsin and the parliament.

In Africa, war has been declared between the one-time allies of the Western bloc: "If we want to take the lead in the evolving world situation (. .. ) then we must be ready to invest in Africa as much as in other areas of the world" (Clinton, quoted in Jeune Afrigue);"Since the end of the cold war, we no longer have to align our positions in Africa with the French" (a US diplomat quoted in the same review). In other words: "If the French get in our way in the Balkans then we won't hesitate to go poaching in their African reserves". The Franco-US confrontation has already begun through their rival politicians or armies in Liberia, Ruanda, Togo, the Cameroons, the Congo and Angola. In Somalia, it is Italy which now finds itself in the anti-American front line (with France not far behind), and this in the framework of a "humanitarian" operation under the flag of that symbol of peace, the UN.

This list is neither exhaustive nor definitive. The collapse of the Eastern bloc in 1989, and so the inevitable disappearance of the Western bloc, have eliminated - for now - the threat of a third world war. Instead, they have opened a real Pandora's box. Henceforth, the law of "every man for himself' will more and more hold sway, even if new alliances appear in the far-off and uncertain perspective of a new division of the world into two blocs. But these alliances are themselves shaky, since countries which are no longer under the threat of the "Evil Empire" have no interest in increasing the power of a stronger ally. When a friend's arms are too strong, an embrace may stifle me! France, for example, has no interest in seeing its German accomplice become a Mediterranean power by laying hands on Croatia and Slovenia. Still more significant, Britain, despite being the US' most long-standing ally, has no interest in encouraging the latter's game in the Balkans and the Mediterranean, which it still considers to some extent a "Mare Nostrum" thanks to its positions in Gibraltar, Cyprus, and Malta.

In fact, we are witnessing a complete overthrow of the dynamic of imperialist tensions. In the past, when the world was divided into two blocs, anything which strengthened the bloc leader was good for its henchmen. Today, anything that reinforces the strongest powers is likely to prove bad for its weaker allies.

This is why the US set-back in the Balkans, which owes a lot to its British "friend", cannot simply be interpreted as a policy error by the Clinton team. In fact, the US is faced with a kind of vicious circle: the more they try to assert their authority to draw their "allies" closer, the more these same allies will try to escape from this stifling tutelage. In particular, although the demonstration and use of its massive military superiority is a trump card for US imperialism, it is also a card which tends to turn against its own interests, by encouraging a still greater indiscipline amongst its "allies". But although brute force is no longer capable of imposing "world order", there is no alternative in a system which is plunging deeper and deeper into crisis, and it will be used increasingly.

This absurdity is a tragic symbol of what the capitalist mode of production has become: a rotting society, sinking into a barbarism of chaos, wars, and slaughter.

FM, 27 September 93



[1] The fact that Russia has now become one of the USA's best allies does not
eliminate the divergence of interests between the two countries. In particular, Russia has absolutely no interest in direct alliance between USA and Serbia, which would be bound to leave it out in the cold. The USA certainly tried to draw in Serbia by promoting the presidential campaign of the US citizen Panic.