Ex-Yugoslavia: A New Escalation in the War

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Faced with the growing anarchy of international relations since the Eastern bloc collapsed six years ago, the United States is once again applying strong pressure, as it did during the Gulf War, to reassert its threatened leadership and its role as policeman of the "New World Order". One of the most significant examples of this pressure is to be found in the Middle East, which remains a choice terrain for the maneuvers of the American bourgeoisie. The USA is using its grip on a regionally isolated Israeli state, and Arafat's situation of dependence, to accelerate the process of the pax americana, and strengthen its control over this vital strategic zone which is more than ever subject to upheaval.

Similarly, the weakened regime of Saddam Hussein is now more than ever the favorite target for American maneuvers. The US bourgeoisie is preparing to increase its military pressure on the "butcher of Baghdad" just as two of his sons-in-law, one of whom was responsible for Iraq's military programs has escaped to Jordan (another solid base for US interests in the Middle East). These defections have allowed the US to revive memories of its show of strength in the Gulf War, and to justify the reinforcement of American troops now massed on the Kuwaiti frontier. All the rumors about arsenals of bacteriological weapons, and Iraqi preparations to invade Kuwait and Saudi Arabia have been brought out again. Nonetheless, the main example of US pressure remains the spectacular revival, after three years of failure, of American fortunes in ex- Yugoslavia, a central area of conflict where the foremost imperialist power cannot afford to be absent.

In reality, the proliferation and growing size of these police operations are nothing but the expression of a headlong flight into the militarization of the entire capitalist system, and its plunge into the barbarism of war.

Reality has dealt a stunning blow to the myth that the war unleashed for four years on ex-Yugoslavia is merely a matter of inter-ethnic confrontations between local nationalist cliques.

The number of air strikes against Serb positions around Sarajevo and other "safe areas" (almost 3,500 sorties in twelve days of the operation known as "Deliberate Force") makes this operation NATO's biggest military engagement since its creation in 1949.

The great powers are the real culprits

For four years, the same powers have been playing their pawns against each other on the Yugoslav chess-board. We need only look at the composition of the "contact group" which pretends to be seeking a means to put an end to the conflict - the United States, Germany, Russia, Britain, and France - to see that it includes all the greatest imperialist powers of the planet (except Japan and China, which are too far from the theatre of operations) .

As we have already shown, "It was Germany, by pushing Slovenia and Croatia to declare their independence from the old Yugoslavia, which brought about the break-up of the country and played a primordial role in the unleashing of the war in 1991. In response to this thrust by German imperialism, the other four powers supported and encouraged the counter -offensive of the Belgrade government. This was the first phase of the war, a particularly murderous one (...) Under the cover of the UN, France and Britain then sent the biggest contingent of Blue Berets who, under the pretext of preventing further confrontations, systematically maintained the status quo in favor of the Serbian army. In 1992 the US government pronounced itself in favor of the independence of Bosnia-Herzegovina and supported the Muslim sector of this province in a war against the Croatian army (still supported by Germany) and the Serbs (supported by Britain, France and Russia). In 1994, the Clinton administration managed to set up a confederation between Bosnia and Croatia, an agreement against Serbia; at the end of the year, under the guidance of ex-President Carter, the US obtained a truce between Bosnia and Serbia (...) But, despite the negotiations in which all the differences between the big powers came out, no agreement was reached. What could not be obtained through negotiation could thus only be won through military force. So what we are seeing today is the logical, premeditated follow-up to a war in which the great powers have played the preponderant role, although in an underhand way.

Contrary to what is hypocritically claimed by the great powers' governments, who present their increased involvement in the conflict as being aimed at limiting the violence of the new confrontations, the latter are in fact a direct product of their war-mongering activity.

The invasion of part of western Slavonia by Croatia, at the beginning of May, as well as the renewed fighting at various points along the 1,200 kilometer front between the Zaghreb government and the Krajina Serbs; the unleashing, at the same moment, of the Bosnian army's offensive around the Bihac pocket, in the region of the Serb corridor of Brcko, and also around Sarajevo, aimed at reducing the pressure of the Sarajevo siege - none of this took place separately from the will of the big powers, and still less against a unified wish for peace on the tatters' part. It is clear that these actions were undertaken with the agreement and initiative of the American and German governments"[1]. The reaction of the opposite camp is no less significant of the other powers' involvement.

In our previous issue (1), we developed at length the content and the meaning of the Franco-British maneuver, in collusion with the Serb forces, which led to the creation of the Rapid Reaction Force (RRF), and the dispatch of troops from the two powers, under their national flags. This maneuver, by sabotaging the NATO forces, was a stinging rebuff for the imperialist power which claims to play the role of the world's policeman.

The United States needed to strike hard, in order to recover the situation to their benefit. To do so, they used the civilian population with the same cynicism as their opponents.

All these imperialist brigands are fighting each other, through the intermediary of Slav cliques. Each is defending its own sordid interests, at the direct expense of the population, which is transformed into permanent hostages and victims of their fighting.

The great powers are the real culprits in the massacres, and the exodus which since 1991 has thrown more than 4.5 million refugees, men, women and children, old and young, onto the road, pushed from one combat zone to the next. It is the great capitalist powers and their bloody imperialist rivalries which have encouraged the "mopping up" operations, the "ethnic cleansing" carried out on the ground by the rival nationalist cliques.

Under the aegis of Britain and France, UNPROFOR gave the Bosnian Serbs the go-ahead to eliminate the Srebrenica and Zepa enclaves in July 1995. While the two powers focused attention on their "mission of protection" around Gorazde and Sarajevo, UNPROFOR was helping the Serbs empty the enclaves of theirinhabitants. Without this help, the expulsion of all these refugees would have been impossible. In reality, the enclaves' "protection" by the UN allowed the Serbs to concentrate their military efforts on more important areas of confrontation. And to allow the Serbs to occupy the enclaves at the most convenient moment, the UN had even disarmed the population in advance, under the cover of its "peace mission" of course. Even the Bosnian government made itself an accomplice, showing how little it cares about its own cannon-fodder by parking its displaced population within the combat zone.

The American bourgeoisie has used the same disgusting methods. To cover the Croat offensive in Krajina, the US inundated the media with satellite photos of freshly dug earth, supposedly revealing the presence of mass graves resulting from the Serbian massacre at Srebrenica. The NATO counter-attack was justified by the horrifying pictures of the aftermath of the mortar attack on Sarajevo market. The pretext for a military response was as clear as day. And it is indeed unlikely that Karadzic should have been mad enough to invite heavy reprisals by shelling the Sarajevo market, leaving 37 dead and 100 injured. When we consider that the shells were fired from the front line separating the Serb and Bosnian armies (each of which laid the blame for the massacre on the other), we can presume that this was a "provocation" planned in advance. An operation on the scale of the NATO bombings cannot be improvised, and the attack on the market served US interests very conveniently. This would not be the first time that the world's greatest imperialist power organized such a show. We should remember, amongst other examples, that Lyndon Johnson used the pretext of a North Vietnamese attack on a US ship to start the war in Vietnam. It was only some years later that we learnt that nothing of the kind had happened, and that the whole operation had been set up by the Pentagon. The use of such pretexts to justify their actions proves the great powers' gangster methods.

For the United States, the pretentions of the French and British, their growing arrogance and bellicosity, were becoming more and more intolerable. It was necessary to respond with other maneuvers, to lay other traps, to demonstrate a superior imperialist capability, a real military supremacy.

After its failure to do anything but mark time for three years in Bosnia, the American bourgeoisie had to reassert its world leadership.

It was not possible for me world's greatest power, which had given its support to the Muslim fraction that turned out to be the weakest in the conflict, to be pushed aside in a vital conflict, on European soil. It was absolutely vital to reassert its hegemony.

However, the US was confronted with a major difficulty, which emphasizes the fundamental weakness of their situation in Yugoslavia. Their recourse to successive changes in tactics, supporting Serbia in 1991, then Bosnia in 1992 and Croatia in 1994 (on condition that the latter collaborate with the Bosnian army), demonstrates that they do not dispose of any reliable allies in the region.

Behind the Croat offensive, joint action by the United States and Germany

In the first phase, the United States found itself obliged to move to center stage of the imperialist game by using the stronger partner, Croatia, and abandoning its previous ally, Bosnia. The White House used the Croat-Muslim federation, and the latter's confederation with Croatia which it had supervised in the spring of 1994. Their role, and the Pentagon's logistical support, was determinant in ensuring the success of the Croat army's "blitzkrieg" in Krajina (notably thanks to the localization by satellite of Serb positions). The United States moreover were alone in welcoming the success of the Croat offensive. The Croat offensive was thus planned in advance masterfully organized and directed by both the German and the American bourgeoisies. Paradoxically, the American ruling class has accepted a "pact with the devil", by allying Itself temporarily with its most dangerous imperialist adversary, Germany, and assisting the interests which are the most directly antagonistic to its own.

Germany has given powerful assistance to the formation of a real Croat army (100,000 men occupied the Krajina), and has given discreet but constant and effective support, in particular through the delivery of heavy weapons from me ex-DDR, via Hungary. The reconquest of the Krajina is an undoubted success and advance for Germany. First and foremost, it allows the German bourgeoisie to take a big step towards its main strategic objective: .access to the Dalmatian ports on the Adriatic coast, which would give it a deep-water outlet to the Mediterranean. The liberation of the Krajina, and especially of Knin, has opened up for Croatia and its old German ally a rail and road crossroads, linking north and south Dalmatia. Like Croatia, the German bourgeoisie was particularly interested in the elimination of the Serb threat to the Bihac pocket, which locked up the whole Dalmatian coast.

This strategy, by inflicting their first defeat on the Serbs[2], was fundamentally directed against the French and British. The RRF has been humiliated and has been made to appear still more useless, in that it was busy creating an unnecessary narrow access route towards Sarajevo, while the Croat bulldozer was demolishing the Serb defences in Krajina. Stuck on Mount Igman, in the pseudo-defense of Sarajevo, the RRF is for the moment discredited both internationally, and with the Serbs themselves, which can only benefit another rival: the Russians who have shown themselves to be the best and most reliable ally in the Serbs' eyes.

The anti-Serb bombings conceal a struggle between the US and the other imperialist powers

In the next stage, the American bourgeoisie's scenario recalls the Gulf War. The intensive NATO bombardment of exclusively Serb positions reasserted American supremacy, and was addressed still more directly to all the other great powers.

In particular, it was necessary to put an end to all the military stratagems[3] and diplomatic maneuvering between the Serbs and the Anglo-French couple.

However, m the second phase of their initiative, the US took a new risk of being shown up. The peace plan that followed the Krajina offensive appeared openly as a "betrayal of the Bosnian cause", by accepting the fragmentation of Bosnian territory with the cession of 49% to Serbian military conquests, leaving 51% to the Croatian-Muslim confederation which with American and German help effectively relegates the rest of Bosnia to the status of a Croatian quasi-protectorate. This was a real knife stuck in the Bosnians' back by their own allies, and the Bosnian President Izetbegovic could not but be hostile to it. While the American emissary went to negotiate directly with Belgrade, and so short-circuited France and Britain, Serbia's only accepted interlocutors among the Western powers for the last three years, the latter had the enormous gall - for firm allies of Milosevic[4] - to think they could take the US by surprise, and present themselves as the great and unflinching defenders of the Bosnian cause and the Sarajevo population[5]. The French government tried to present itself as an unconditional ally of Bosnia, by receiving Izetbegovic in Paris. But this was jumping feet first into the trap laid by the US, to give the two rogues a sharp lesson. Using the pretext of the attack on Sarajevo market, the Americans immediately mobilized the NATO forces, and left the French and British with no choice, probably with a declaration something along the lines of: "You want to help the Bosnians? Fine. So do we. So you follow us, we're the only ones capable of doing something, and capable of imposing a real balance of forces on the Serbs. We have already proved this by freeing the Bihac pocket in three days, through the conquest of Krajina, which you couldn't do in three years. We are going to prove it again by freeing Sarajevo from the Serbian vice, which your RRF has not been able to do either. If you climb down and don't follow us, then you will show yourselves as nothing but impotent loudmouths and you will lose whatever credit you have left on the international scene". This blackmail left not the slightest choice to the Franco-British partners, who were forced to take part in the operation by bombarding their Serbian allies, while putting the RRF directly under NATO patronage. While avoiding any serious or irreparable damage to the Serbs, each of the two powers reacted in character. Whereas Britain was discreet, France on the contrary could not resist the temptation to go on playing the militarist braggart, and so tried to present itself, with its anti-Serb tirades, as the most resolute partisan of strong measures, the best lieutenant of the USA, and Bosnia's most faithful and indispensable ally. This boastfulness, which even went so far as to present France as the main architect of the "peace plan", does not change the fact that the French government has been forced to toe the line.

In fact, in this second part of the operation, the USA acted on its own account, and forced all the other imperialisms to submit to its will. German aircraft took part for the first time in a N ATO action, but it was without enthusiasm. Confronted with the American Lone Ranger's fait accompli, the German bourgeoisie could only follow in an action which did not serve its own plans. Similarly, Russia, which has been the Serbs' main ally, despite noisy objections and gestures like the appeal to the UN Security Council, appeared impotent to confront the NATO bombings, and caught in a situation which had been imposed on it.

The USA has succeeded in marking an important point. They have managed to reassert their imperialist supremacy with a crushing display of military superiority. They have shown once again that the strength of their diplomacy is based on force of arms. They have shown that they are the only ones able to impose a real negotiation because they were able to weigh in the bargaining with the threat of their armed force, backed up by an impressive arsenal.

This situation confirms the fact that in the logic of imperialism, the only real force is to be found on the military terrain. The policeman can only intervene by hitting harder than any of the other powers are able to.

Nonetheless, this offensive has come up against a number of obstacles, and the NATO strike force is only a pale shadow of the Gulf War.

- The air raids' effectiveness can only be limited, and has allowed the Serbian troops to bury most of their artillery without suffering too much damage. In modern war, air power is a decisive weapon, but it cannot win a war by itself. Armor and infantry remain vital.

- American strategy is itself limited: the USA has no interest in wiping out Serbian forces and making total war on them, inasmuch as they intend to preserve Serbian military power, to turn it later against Croatia as part of the more fundamental rivalry with Germany. Moreover, all-out war against Serbia would run the risk of poisoning relations with Russia, and compromising the privileged alliance with the Yeltsin government.

These limitations encourage sabotage by the "allies" who have been forced to join in the American raids. Their maneuvers appeared barely four days after the Geneva agreement, which should have been the jewel in the crown of American diplomatic skill.

On the one hand, the French bourgeoisie returned to the fore of those demanding an end to the NATO bombing raids, "to let the Serbs evacuate their heavy weapons", whereas the US ultimatum demanded exactly the opposite: a stop to the bombing on condition that heavy weapons were withdrawn from around Sarajevo. On the other hand, when the US wanted to turn up the pressure on the Bosnian Serbs by bombing Karadzic's HQ in Pale, it was UNPROFOR that put a spanner in the works, by hesitating and opposing the bombardment of "civilian targets"[6].

The Geneva agreement signed by the belligerents on 8th September, under the aegis of the American bourgeoisie and in the presence of all the Contact Group members, is not in the least a ''first step towards peace" , contrary to the claims of the American diplomat Holbrooke. It merely sets the seal on a temporary balance of forces which in fact is a further step in the barbarism whose appalling cost is borne by the local population. They are the ones paying the price of the operation in new massacres.

Just as they did during the Gulf War, the media have the nerve to talk to us about a clean war, about "surgical strikes". What vile lies! It will need months or years just to lift a corner of the veil being drawn over the horror for the population of these new massacres by the "democratic" and "civilized" nations.

In the confrontation, each great power feeds its warmongering propaganda over ex-Yugoslavia. In Germany, virulent anti-Serb campaigns are organized over the atrocities committed by the Chetnik partisans. In France, the campaign has a variable geometry depending on the camp being supported for the moment: one day, no opportunity is missed to recall the role of the Croat Ustachis alongside the Nazi troops during World War II, another they talk about the bloodthirsty madness of the Bosnian Serbs, while on yet another the Islamic fanaticism of the Bosnian muslim comes under fire.

The hypocritical international concert of pacifists and intellectuals, who have endlessly played on the humanitarian chord to call for "arms for Bosnia" does nothing but make the Western populations swallow the imperialist policies of their national bourgeoisie. These lackeys of the bourgeoisie can now congratulate themselves, with the NATO bombardments, of "adding peace to war", to use the expression of the Mitterandian Admiral Sanguinetti. By reinforcing the media campaigns that use the most horrible images of death in the civilian population, these good souls flying to the aid of the widow and orphan are nothing but recruiting-sergeants for the war. They are the most dangerous pimps for the bourgeoisie. They are of the same ilk as the anti-fascists of 1936 who embroiled workers in the Spanish war. History has shown us their real function: purveyors of cannon-fodder for the imperialist war.

Capitalism's plunge into decomposition

The present situation has become a real detonator, which runs the risk of touching off a real explosion in the Balkans.

With NATO's intervention, never has there been such an impressive accumulation and concentration of instruments of death on Yugoslav soil.

The new perspective is for a new direct confrontation between the Serb and Croat armies, not just between rag-tag militias.

The continuing military operations by the Bosnian, Croat, and Serb armies has already proved that the Geneva agreement and its consequences have only sharpened the tensions between the belligerents, who all tend to turn the new situation to their own benefit:

- while NATO's massive and deadly bombardments are aimed at reducing the ambitions of the Serbian forces, the latter will try to resist the reverse they have suffered, and will contest still more bitterly the fate of the enclaves of Sarajevo and Gorazde, and of the Brcko corridor;

- the Croatian nationalists have been encouraged by their recent military success, and pushed by Germany they can only reassert their aim of reconquering the rich territory of Eastern Slavonia, on the border with Serbia;

- the Bosnian forces will do everything they can not to be left out of the "peace plan", and will continue their offensive in the north of Bosnia, around the region of Banja Luka.

The influx of all kinds of refugees creates a major risk of dragging into the conflict not just other regions, especially Macedonia and Kosovo, but also other European nations from Albania to Romania and Hungary.

The situation threatens to snowball and involve more closely the great European powers, including neighbors of major strategic importance like Turkey and Italy[7].

France and Britain, which have been forced for the moment to play second fiddle, can only make more attempts to put a spanner in the works of the other protagonists, especially the United States[8].

A new step has been taken in the escalation of barbarism. Far from moving towards a settlement of the conflict, ex-Yugoslavia is heading for ever bloodier and more violent disorder, thanks to the "muscular" action of the great powers. All these elements confirm the preponderance and acceleration of "every man for himself", at work since the dissolution of the imperialist blocs, and at the same time they express an acceleration of the imperialist dynamic into military adventure.

The proliferation of all these military efforts is the pure product of capitalism's decomposition, like the metastases of a generalized cancer, gangrening society's weakest organs first, where the proletariat does not have the ability to oppose the most abject and hysterical nationalism. The bourgeoisie of the advanced countries is hoping to profit from the Yugoslav imbroglio, and from the humanitarian robes in which it cloaks its activity, to build an atmosphere of national unity. For the working class, it must be clear that it has no choice to make here, nor can it let itself by drawn onto this rotten terrain.

For the workers in the central countries to understand their own historic responsibilities, it is essential that they realize the primordial responsibility of the great powers, their own bourgeoisie, in unleashing this barbaric war, this settling of accounts between imperialist bandits. It is the same bourgeoisie that pushes whole populations to exterminate each other, and that reduces the working class to unemployment, poverty or an intolerable level of exploitation, and only the development of the workers' struggles on their own class terrain, on the terrain of proletarian internationalism, can oppose both the bourgeoisie's attacks and its military ambitions.

CB, 14th September 95



[1] See International Review, no.82, 3rd Quarter 1995, the article "The more the great powers talk of peace, the more they stir up war".

[2] Milosevic preferred to let the Croatian army take the Krajina without resistance, in order to try to bargain with the USA for the Gorazde enclave, and above all for the removal of economic sanctions against Serbia.

[3] Apart from the simulated "kidnapping" of UN soldiers and observers - an operation set up in June by France and Britain together with Serbia - the French bombing of the Serb capital Pale in July should be seen as a fake reprisal to mask the real action of the RRF, since we know that the bombardment was not directed against any strategic target, and caused no inconvenience to Serbia's military operations. On the contrary, it provided a pretext for the Serbian coup against the Srebrenica and Zepa enclaves.

[4] The French and British appeared alongside Milosevic to try to exploit the divisions within the Bosnian Serb camp. Their open support for general Mladic against "president" Karadzic, and the pressure they put on the latter, was designed to show him that the real enemies of Serbia were no longer the Bosnians, but the Croats.

[5] It is instructive that it was a British paper - The Times - which revealed the existence of the famous Tudjman drawing dividing Bosnia between Serbia and Croatia, provoking fury in the Bosnian camp.

[6] As Le Monde put it on 14th September, with delicate euphemism: "The UN forces, essentially made up of French troops, have the impression that day after day, they are losing control over operations to NATO's benefit. True, the Atlantic Alliance is conducting air raids on targets jointly designated with the UN. But operational details are planned in the NATO bases in Italy and in the Pentagon. Last Sunday's use of Tomahawk missiles against Serb installations in Banja Luka [without any prior consultation with the UN or with any of the other governments associated in the raids. ed. note] has only strengthened these fears".

[7] It is particularly significant to see Italy demanding a greater share in the management of the Bosnian conflict, and refusing to host American F-117 stealth bombers in the NATO bases on its territory, to protest at being left out of the Contact Group and of NATO's deciding bodies.

[8] In the first place, to be capable of answering the American offensive at the necessary level, to avoid being thrown out of the region, the Franco-British couple can only be pushed further into the conflict, by reinforcing their military commitment.

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