International situation: The great powers foment war in ex-Yugoslavia

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In February, the imperialist war in ex-Yugoslavia moved up a step. For the capitalist world, the stakes were raised, as the massacre in the market at Sarajevo was followed by direct military intervention by Russia and ther USA. The madness of war is spreading throughout the planet: to the old southern and eastern republics of the ex-USSR, to the Middle East, Afghanistan, Cambodia, and Africa.

At the same time, the economic crisis is spreading, ravaging the lives of billions of human beings. Here too, disaster and the threat of a drastic fall into poverty is covering the planet, which cannot help but nourish still further conflict and war.

Capitalism is leading the world to desolation and destruction. The war in ex-Yugoslavia is neither a survival from the past, nor the mark of a transitional period, the price to pay for the end of Stalinism: it is a modern imperialist war, born of the situation created by the disappearance of the Eastern bloc and the USSR. It is a war of decadent capitalism's phase of decomposition, which heralds the only future that capitalism can offer humanity.

Nationalism and imperialist interests have exacted a toll of some 200,000 dead, and who knows how many wounded and crippled, from the population of Bosnia and the other Yugoslav republics. Lives torn apart, massive "ethnic cleansing", families chased from their homes and deported or broken up - maybe never to see each other again - this is the reality of capitalism. We denounce the terror imposed by each side, by militias and military drunk with blood, rape, and torture. We denounce the terror exercised by the Bosnian, Serb and Croat states, against refugees press-ganged into the contending armies under pain of death in the case of desertion. We denounce the misery and the hunger, the horror of old people reduced to beggary, picked out by snipers because they do not run fast enough to dodge the bullets, of mothers and fathers ripped to pieces by a mortar shell while looking for supplies, of children traumatized for life, both mentally and physically. We denounce the barbarity of capitalism. It alone is responsible for these tragedies.

We also denounce the new "values" and "principles" emerging from the "new world order" that the bourgeoisie promised us following the fall of the Berlin Wall: chaos and every man for himself. Shifting alliances and betrayals are the order of the day: cease-fires are violated when the ink on them is scarcely dry. Bosnians, Serbs, Croats have all been each other's allies, only to turn against their allies of yesterday. Croats and Bosnians slaughtered each other in Mostar under the benevolent eye of the Serb militia, while at the same time fighting together against the Serbs in Sarajevo. The "Muslims" of the Bihac enclave even turned against each other while encircled!

Once the present conflict comes to an end, if it ever does, there will be no return to the pre-war status quo. The surviving states will be devastated, and will never recover in a surrounding atmosphere of world economic crisis. The local bourgeoisie could not have escaped this even were it not blinded by its own nationalism its own local interests; the war in ex-Yugoslavia will not give birth to strengthened and viable states. At best a few war-lords or local chieftains will be able to set up their own rackets, until a rival comes to supplant them. This is what happened in Lebanon, Afghanistan, Cambodia; it is what is happening in Georgia, Palestine, Tadjikstan and elsewhere. Yugoslavia is now being "Lebanonised" in its turn.

Great powers' imperialist intervention is responsible for the worsening war

While the break-up of Yugoslavia was a direct result of decomposition, this same decomposition, there as elsewhere, has proved a fertile terrain for imperialism's sinister maneuvering. At the outset, it was Germany that encouraged the Croats and Slovenes to declare independence, while the USA and France supported the Serb reaction to teach both Croats and Germans a lesson.

"Nobody is disinterested. As soon as the Bosnian problem became a Balkan problem, it also became a problem of the political balance of power, and the interests of the great powers came to dominate the conflict" (Liberation, 22/2/94).

For two years, the great powers have intervened directly in the conflict, both diplomatically and militarily under cover of the UN and NATO. If anyone still doubted its imperialist nature, the events of February, with the threats of aerial bombardment, the dispatch of UN troops, NATO's F16 fighters shooting down Serbian aircraft have all shown the imperialist powers defending their interests against their rivals: "Effective international policy continues to be thwarted by the competing interests of major European powers. With Britain, France and Russia effectively shielding the Serbs, and the United States doing what it can on behalf of the Muslim-led government, the United States is now putting pressure on the third party to the struggle, the Croats, whose traditional protector, Germany, finds it impolitic to stand up to the other powers" (International Herald Tribune, 3/3/94)

The "humanitarian" mask feels a long time ago. The bourgeoisie's press no longer talks about it. And all of a sudden, the real aim of all the grand "humanist" and pacifist declarations for an end to the massacre, and the "salvation" of Bosnia, appear for what they are. For two years, they have been used to try to mobilize the population, and especially the working class, of the great industrialized nations behind the imperialism of their own national bourgeoisie. Once again, the great pacifists - "philosophers", writers, artists, vicars, ecologists - have shown themselves up as dangerous war-mongers in the service of imperialism.

The US counter-offensive

During the Gulf War, the US clearly demonstrated their world leadership. Since then, the American bourgeoisie has suffered a series of setbacks, if not defeats, in Yugoslavia. To begin with, they were unable to prevent the latter's disintegration, and so the independence of Croatia, which represented a step forward for Germany. Then, the US betted on Bosnia as a bridgehead in the region, but despite their power proved incapable of ensuring the new state's integrity and unity. The result was an independent Slovenia and Croatia under German influence, Serbia falling under first French then largely Russian influence, and the dismantling of Bosnia which is now hardly a firm anchorage point. The end result was negative for the world's greatest imperialist power. The United States could not allow such a defeat to damage their credibility and weaken their leadership in the eyes of the rest of the world. They could not allow it to encourage either their great European and Japanese imperialist rivals, or the "second-rate" imperialisms to assert themselves and call the American "new world order" into question.

Reduced to impotence in the Balkans, the US counter-offensive developed around two axes: the intervention in Somalia, and the opening of peace negotiations between Israel and the PLO - at the cost of a bloody Israeli invasion of Lebanon in July 93.[1] The US thus demonstrated their military and diplomatic ability to "settle conflicts", which only served to highlight, by contrast, the Europeans' inability to put an end to the war in Bosnia. All the more so, since the US did everything they could to sabotage the European plans to put an end to the war in Bosnia by dividing it up in the Serbs' favor: in particular, by encouraging the Bosnian government to remain intransigent, and by re-equipping the Bosnian army so that it was able to go back on the offensive against both Serbs and Croats during the winter.

However, this was not enough to recover the ground lost, or to wipe out the impression of weakness given by the world's greatest power. It had succeeded in blocking the Europeans' plans, but without being able to regain the initiative itself. The more the bloody conflict continued, the more it damaged the "credibility" of the US themselves. The massacre in the market of Sarajevo could not have come at a better time to reshuffle the imperialist pack.

Although Clinton was still justifying the American air force's failure to intervene on the grounds of French and British refusal, more and more voices in the American state machine were pushing for action: "We will continue to have a problem of credibility if we do not act" said Tom Foley, Speaker of the House of Representatives (Le Monde, 8/2/94). Clearly, Tom Foley is more concerned with US military credibility than with any of the "humanitarian" considerations that are put forward on the TV for the consumption of the working class.

The NATO ultimatum gives the initiative to the United States

Following the massacre of the market in Sarajevo, the NATO ultimatum was a punishment for the impotence of the Europeans, especially the British and the French who were forced to agree to air strikes which they had rejected and sabotaged ever since the conflict began. It demonstrated the greater weight of NATO, dominated by the Americans, over the UN where Britain and France played a greater role. The withdrawal of Serb canons under the threat of NATO air power was a success for the USA. Their ultimatum allowed them to regain the initiative, and to put a foot in the door both militarily and diplomatically, but nonetheless the success remained limited. It was only a first step, and could not efface the setbacks of the previous months, especially the partition of Bosnia.

"European governments have been playing a cynical game. (...) The Europeans were perfectly willing to use the shelling of Sarajevo and other cities to pressure the Bosnian government to accept a bad partition plan that denied them vital territory and transit routes. If they now agree to endorse NATO air strikes against the siege guns, they fully expect Washington, in return, to join in their diplomatic gang-up, at the very moment when the Bosnian government has begun to gain military strength, reversing some of its earlier losses" (New York Times, 9/2/94).

Moreover, the American display of strength was diminished by the reluctance of the Serb retreat, and its protection by the arrival of Russian blue berets. "The [NATO] alliance has not proven itself. Its will and capacity will continue to be doubted" (Courrier International, 24/2/94). The Americans tried to correct this bad impression somewhat, by shooting down four Serbian aircraft violating Bosnian air space (whereas almost 1000 violations had already taken place without provoking any reaction from NATO). US "credibility" demanded that they seize an appropriate occasion, and they did so.

The US ultimatum sidelines the Europeans

The USA's return to the game has been concretized by the signature of the Croat-Muslim agreement. US pressure has been applied to Croatia since February: "It is time now to make Croatia pay a price, economic and political" (International Herald Tribune, 26/2/94). Threats gave way to blackmail. The Croats understood this straight away, as can be seen from the removal of the ultra-nationalist Bosnian Croat leader Mate Boban, and his replacement by someone more "reasonable" and more easily controlled. After the threat came the "deal", the proposal: "The only way Croatia can get international support for reclaiming the Krajina (...) is to reforge its alliance with Bosnia" (International Herald Tribune, 26/2/94).

It goes without saying that this new alliance, under the American aegis, which promises the return of occupied Krajina to Croatia, is directly aimed at the Serbs. Here is a step towards "peace" which brings with it a still more terrible aggravation of the war, both on the quantitative level - spreading it to the whole of ex-Yugoslavia - and on the qualitative level by involving the regular armies of both Serbia and Croatia in total war.

As we write this, the confrontations between Croats and Muslims have not yet come to an end, especially around Mostar. But there is no doubt that this is a success for the USA, since the European countries have been forced to "welcome" the initiative, despite their lack of enthusiasm for it. The Muslim-Croat agreement has sidelined the Geneva negotiations, at least for the moment, and revealed the impotence of their European Union sponsor. Revenge was sweet for the Americans after two years of European insolence, when Warren Christopher the US Secretary of State was photographed on the White House Lawn between the two signatories to the accord. "Europe has had its day as the main arbiter of the Yugoslav crisis" (The Guardian).

Russia's aggressive imperialism

Another expression of the rearrangement of the imperialist game since the massacre at the Sarajevo market, is Russia's return in strength to the "concert of nations", with its firm opposition to the NATO ultimatum, its diplomatic success in saving the Serbs' face by "persuading" them to withdraw their artillery from Sarajevo, and the dispatch of its own blue berets. Russia's imperialist arrogance has reawaken, and Russia now clearly aspires to play a major role on the world stage.

Up till now, the United States has given unfailing support to Yeltsin, both internally against the conservative Stalinist fractions, and externally when Russia has intervened in its old empire.

The US bourgeoisie could not but be satisfied to see Russia oppose the imperialist aspirations of "Islamic" Iran, or of a Turkey inclining more and more towards Germany; or to see Russia imposing its conditions on Ukraine, which is still the world's third greatest nuclear power despite its economic collapse, and so forcing Ukraine to abandon its flirt with Germany.

But when Russia turned its attention to the ex-Warsaw Pact countries to oppose their integration into NATO, this alarmed the European bourgeoisies, Germany in particular, and even raised doubts amongst the Americans, although Clinton did accede to this demand by putting off the enlargement of NATO. But when Russia at last gains a military foothold, for the first time in its history, in the Balkans, and through them access to the centuries-old objective - the Mediterranean - then alarm bells rang in the White House. Enough is enough! The Russian aspiration to Mediterranean access, like that of Germany, is simply unacceptable to the French, British and US bourgeoisies, whether Yeltsin is in power or no. "We are not dealing with black and white, but with grey. Inevitably, there will be things that we don't like", said Clinton about Russia (Le Monde, 27/2/94).

Worse still as far as the Western powers are concerned, as the situation in Russia runs more and more out of control, while chaos and anarchy deepen, the pro-US "reformers" like Gaidar have been forced ut of the Yeltsin government to make way for the "conservative" fractions of the Russian ruling class, whose ultra-nationalist and revengeful spirit is most clearly expressed by the outrageous Zhirinovsky.

Clearly, whatever the fraction in power, Russia's return to the forefront of imperialist antagonisms does not mean a return to the situation of international "stability" which prevailed from Yalta to the fall of the Berlin Wall, and which fed the imperialist conflicts of the day. It does not mean the reappearance of two great powers able to impose limits on their respective vassals. There will not be a return to the situation where an imperialist Eastern bloc led by Russia opposed the US bloc in the West. The return of Russia, dangerously fuelled by the chaos overwhelming the country, and the Russian bourgeoisie's desperate search for a way out of its terrible situation, will increase imperialist tensions and antagonisms; it will encourage still more chaos and war at the international level.

The use of NATO (founded to contain the USSR in 1949) to impose an ultimatum on Serbia, is a real slap in the face for the Russians. It was designed as a warnming to Russia: to Yeltsin, of course, but also to the other fractions of the Russian state, especially the nostalgics for the past glory of the USSR. The Americans intended to send a clear message to their "partner" (the US press no longer talks about their "ally"): take care, there are lines which cannot be crossed. And in case the Russians missed the point, the destruction of Serbian planes by the American F16s was there to drive it home. This is the first time in its 45 year history that NATO has fired in anger.

The direct military interventions of both the USA and Russia in ex-Yugoslavia are new elements, of extreme importance, in the international situation. They mark a new step in the war, another step in the exacerbation of imperialist tensions, a new step into chaos and "every man for himself" both in the Balkans, whose wretched populations are not at the end of their suffering, and internationally.

European impotence

The new international situation is marked by the return in strength of Russian and American imperialism in ex-Yugoslavia. It is marked also by its corollary: the impotence of the European powers, in particular France and Britain. For two years, the latter have been able to sabotage the American efforts to intervene militarily and to play a major role on the military and diplomatic stage; today they have been forced to swallow their pride and support the NATO air strikes against the Serbs that before they had systematically refused. As for Germany, it has had to watch, impotently, the American counter-offensive, which although it was directed against the Serbs (which could only please the Germans), also put pressure on their Croatian allies.

The German advance is halted

Recent events have placed a whole series of barriers in the way of Germany's asserting itself as an alternative leading imperialist power to the United States. Russia, with American agreement, is contesting its influence over Central Europe and the Ukraine. Unthinkable only two months ago, America is now contesting German influence in Croatia, which is hoping the obtain from the Americans what Germany proved unable to offer: the Krajina. "Austria, Croatia, and Slovenia can no longer count on clear German leadership" (International Herald Tribune, 26/2/94). The US has even prevented Germany from playing any real role in the negotiations between Muslims and Croats. Absent from the terrain, because it does not have its own troops in the NATO contingent, and with Japan alone among the great powers in not having a permanent seat in the UN Security Council, Germany can only play an underhand game, and in the meantime watch impotently the American counter-offensive.

The new-found Russian arrogance is also alarming Germany. Even if Germany attempts sometimes to flirt with Russia, since both have in common the aim of reaching the Mediterranean, in the long term both powers' imperialist interests are contradictory, especially in Eastern Europe and the Balkans. Germany is thus caught between its aspiration to a place among the great imperialist powers, and so assert itself against the USA especially, and its fear of a chaotic Russia, against which only the Americans can offer military protection.

Unable to raise the American stakes, France has been forced out of the game

Although "Maintaining French-German political cooperation as the core of the European Community continues to be France's diplomatic priority" (idem), on a general and historic level, it has opposed the German advance towards the Mediterranean in Croatia. At the same time, it has opposed any American interference. It has thus tried to play its own game, with the British, and has found this beyond its capacity.

No longer listened to by the Serbs, threatened by the Bosnian offensive, the peace negotiations they sponsored paralysed, France and Britain found themselves in a dead-end. Uncomfortable situation. Having played all its trump cards, the French bourgeoisie could only ask the Americans and NATO to intervene. They had to accept defeat in this round, to be allowed to stay at the table of the imperialist game, just as they did during the Gulf War: this is what Mitterand calls "maintaining one's station in life".

Britain under American pressure

Britain's failure has been of much the same order. Britain is the US historic lieutenant, its most faithful ally in the imperialist game, and just as hostile to any German advance into the Balkans. Nonetheless, the British bourgeoisie has tried to defend its own specific interests in Yugoslavia, and has not wanted to "share" its own military and political influence in the region with the American bourgeoisie. The new situation created by the bombardment of the Sarajevo market, and the NATO ultimatum which had been opposed by the Major government, have been accompanied by a strong pressure before the Prime Minister's voyage to Washington.[2]

"The short-term approach to the Bosnian disaster orchestrated by Britain threatens to destabilize much of Europe (...) John Major should leave Washington in no doubt that his Bosnia policy is being closely scrutinized and that any more flights of expediency that exacerbate the Balkan crisis will not be lightly forgotten or forgiven"  (International Herald Tribune, 26/2/94).

This American pressure, and the difficult situation confronted by Britain in Bosnia, has forced the British bourgeoisie back into line: they have had to give their approval to the NATO ultimatum (especially since the French had left them in the lurch). As the Guardian said: "In a speech to the Commons, Douglas Hurd betrayed the hidden motive behind this about-face. He emphasized three times the need to re-establish credibility and solidarity within NATO, and especially the US support for the Organization".

The US uses NATO to force the Europeans back into line

The USA has strikingly reasserted its world leadership. They have finally succeeded in bringing off the same coup as in the Gulf War: they have forced the main European powers back into their orbit - at least in Yugoslavia and for the moment. This is especially true for France, Germany, and second-rank countries like Italy, Spain and Belgium for example, which try to defend their own imperialist interests by playing the European, so anti-American, card. Moreover, the impotence of the Europeans, who have been forced to call in the Americans, has a wider meaning for all those imperialisms throughout the world which might have been tempted to oppose American interests. It is a victory for the American bourgeoisie, but a victory which bears within it the exacerbation of imperialist antagonisms and wars.

Towards the worsening of imperialist tensions and chaos

The US success in ex-Yugoslavia is not yet complete. They have to go further. If it is concluded, the Muslim-Croat alliance they have sponsored will take the confrontation with Serbia to a higher level. The European powers have taken a hiding, and will not hesitate to throw oil on the fire. Yeltsin, pushed by the conservative and nationalist elements, cannot but strengthen Russia's imperialist policies. But worse still, since all states are imperialist, the chain of conflicts will drag countries down into an irreversible and inextricable process of confrontations and antagonisms: in the Balkans there are Greece, Macedonia, Albania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and Turkey; in ex-Soviet Asia there are Turkey, Russia and Iran; in Afghanistan there are Turkey, Iran and Pakistan; in the Kashmir, Pakistan confronts India, both of them nuclear powers; India faces China in Tibet; China and Japan are lined up against Russia over frontier disputes and the Kurile islands, etc. The war is one of all against all, and this list is very far from being exhaustive.

This chain of conflicts, dragging countries down one after the other into chaos and disorder, is stretching more and more.  It is pulling the capitalist world into the most terrible military barbarism. And so the situation confirms the marxist position: capitalism is imperialist war; "peace" is only a preparation for war. It confirms the marxist position that in decadence all nations, great or small, are imperialist. It confirms the marxist position that the international proletariat can give no support to nationalism, to its own ruling class, and that such a political surrender leads to the abandonment of its class interests, its struggles, and to sacrifice on the altar of nationalism. Decadent capitalism has nothing to offer humanity. It is dragging it to destruction. As communists have said since the beginning of this century, there is only one alternative: socialism, or barbarism.

At the price of immeasurable suffering, blood and tears, the decisive historic moment is approaching. Destroy capitalism, before it destroys the whole human race: this is the dramatic, gigantic mission of the proletariat!

RL



[1] The Hebron massacre perpetrated by a fanatical religious Jewish settler, whom the Israeli soldiers apparently allowed to act at will, expresses the reality of the "peace" that the United States are imposing on the Middle East. While the crime is useful to the Israeli state, which will use it to justify the disarming and gagging of its own extremists, it deepens the chaos into which the Occupied Territories and Israel itself are sinking. While the peace negotiations and the formation of a Palestinian state represent a success for the United States, which has thus eliminated all its imperialist rivals in the region, the situation of disorder, anarchy, and decomposition in both states and the region as a whole will continue to get worse.

[2] The visa granted by the US government to the Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams, the publicity given to his visit to the USA, and his interview with the famous CNN journalist Larry King during prime time, were also the expression of American pressure on the Major government.