Balkans, Middle East, Northern Ireland: Behind the Peace Agreements, the War of Each Against All

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To listen to the media, you would think that reason had triumphed at last: the action of the great powers, led by the United States, has made it possible to begin the resolution of the bloodiest conflict Europe has seen since 1945. The Dayton accord means the return of peace in ex- Yugoslavia. Similarly, optimism is uppermost in the Middle East, where Rabin's assassination has only strengthened the determination of the "doves" and their American mentor to take the "peace process" to its conclusion. And Washington's final Christmas present has been the hope of overcoming the oldest conflict in Europe, between the British state and the Republicans in Northern Ireland.

These are cynical lies. When they hear them, workers would do well to remember what the bourgeoisie was promising in 1989, after the collapse of the Eastern bloc: a "new world order", and a "new era of peace". We know what really happened: the Gulf War, the war in Yugoslavia, in Somalia, Rwanda, etc. Today, even less than five years ago, is no era of peace but of an unrestrained war of all against all that characterizes the relations between the planet's major imperialist powers.

The great imperialist powers are not, as the bourgeoisie's hired media hacks present them, "doves of peace" or firemen struggling to put out the fires of war. On the contrary, from Yugoslavia to Rwanda, via Algeria and the Middle East, they are the worst of the warmongers. Through the medium of client cliques or countries, they are waging a war which is no less ferocious for being partly hidden. The famous Dayton accords are only a moment in the war between the world's greatest power and its ex-allies of the defunct American bloc.

Behind the Dayton accords, the success of an American counter-offensive

The imposition of the Dayton accords, and the 30,000 heavily armed troops sent to ex-Yugoslavia, are aimed not at the Serbs or Croats, but at the United States' one-time European allies, who have become the main opponents of its world supremacy: France, Britain, and Germany, The USA's aim is not peace, but the reimposition of its own domination. In the same way, if the French, British and German bourgeoisies are sending their own contingents to ex-Yugoslavia, this is not to impose peace on the warring parties there or to defend the martyred population of Sarajevo, but to defend their own imperialist interests. Under cover of humanitarian action and the so-called peace forces of UNPROFOR, Paris, London and Bonn (the latter more discreetly, but with formidable efficacy) have not ceased to stir up the war by encouraging the action of their proteges. Under the aegis of NATO, I-For (the Implementation Force) will continue the same criminal activity, as we can see from the numbers of men and equipment that have been committed. The territory of ex-Yugoslavia will continue to be the main battle-field for the great imperialist powers in Europe.

The Americans' determination to dominate the situation in ex-Yugoslavia is as great as the strategic stakes involved in this country, placed at the crossroads of Europe and the Middle East. But more important still, as Clinton has emphasized in speeches justifying the dispatch of US troops, and with the support of the whole American bourgeoisie, is "the assertion of American world leadership". And so that nobody should be in any doubt as to Washington's determination to reach its objective, he stated explicitly that he would "accept entire responsibility for any losses that might be suffered by American soldiers". This openly warlike language, and the firmness which contrasts so sharply with the American bourgeoisie's previous hesitations over ex-Yugoslavia, is explained by the extent of the opposition to US domination by Japan, Germany, and France, but also - a historic change - by its oldest and most faithful ally, Great Britain. Reduced to the role of a mere challenger in ex-Yugoslavia, the USA had to strike a strong blow to put a stop to the most serious contestation of its world superiority since 1945.

We have dealt in detail in International Review no.83 with the strategy set in motion in ex-Yugoslavia; we will not return to it here, but will consider the results of the prime world power's counter-offensive. This has been largely successful. Until now, the British and French bourgeoisie's have occupied the terrain almost alone, which gave them a wide margin of maneuver against their imperialist rivals, and culminated in the creation of the RRF (Rapid Reaction Force). Now that the UN has been pushed aside, to make way for an I-For under the aegis of NATO and so under direct American command, they will have to "coexist" with a powerful American contingent, and will have to submit, willy-nilly, to the dictates of Washington. Even the Dayton negotiations were completely circumscribed by the balance of forces that the Americans imposed on their European "allies". "According to a French source, these negotiations took place in an "intolerable" euro-american atmosphere. According to this source, these three weeks have been nothing but a series of vexations and humiliations inflicted on the Europeans by the Americans, who wanted to lead the dance alone" (Le Monde, 29th November, 1995). In Dayton, the famous "contact group" dominated by the Anglo-French couple was reduced to playing a bit part, and essentially had to accede to the conditions dictated by the USA:

- relegation of the UN to the status of mere observer, with the disappearance of UNPROFOR, the precious tool of French and British imperialist interests, and its replacement by the I-For, dominated and commanded by the Americans;

- the dissolution of the RRF;

- American delivery of weapons and training to the Bosnian army.

As for the French attempts to use the Russians' resistance to the American steamroller, by proposing to put the Russian I-For troops under their own control, thus trying to make a dent in the Russo-American alliance, they were a pitiful failure; in the end, the Russian contingent was placed under American command. Washington hammered the point home by emphasizing that the real negotiations were taking place in Dayton, and that the conference planned for December in Paris was nothing but a sounding-board for decisions taken in the United States ... and by them.

Thanks above all to their military power, and to the fact that might is the only right in the jungle of imperialism, the world's greatest power has not only spectacularly succeeded in re-establishing itself in ex-Yugoslavia; it has also dealt a serious blow to the pretentions of all those who dared to contest its domination, and in particular to the Anglo-French duo. The shock has been all the harder for the French and British bourgeoisies, because with their presence in ex-Yugoslavia, they were defending their status as top rank Mediterranean powers, and hence as powers which, though secondary and in decline, nonetheless intend to continue playing a role on the world stage. The reinforcement of the American presence in the Mediterranean directly threatens their imperialist rank. This vast American counter-offensive is aimed above all at punishing the British and French troublemakers.

Germany is also affected by this strategy. What is at stake for Germany is essentially access, through ex-Yugoslavia, to the Mediterranean and the Middle East. Thanks to the victories of its Croat clients, it had begun to achieve this objective. The American presence can only hinder it by limiting its room for maneuver. The fact that Hungary, a country which is tied to Germany, should agree to serve as a base for the American troops can only be a direct threat to the interests of German imperialism. This confirms that the alliance between Germany and America in the spring of 1995 was only temporary. The USA used Germany, via the Croats, to re-establish their position. Once the objective was reached, there was no longer any question of giving a free hand to their most dangerous rival, the only one of the great powers with the ability, eventually, to become the leader of a new imperialist bloc.

The United States have thus given a clear demonstration of who is in charge in the strategically vital Mediterranean region. They have dealt a heavy blow to all their rivals in imperialist banditry, right where the decisive conflicts are played out: in Europe. But this reminder of American determination to use its military strength is also part of a worldwide counter-offensive: for the US, the problem of defending its supremacy against the threat of unbridled self-interest, and the slow rise in power of German imperialism is posed worldwide. In the Middle East, from Iran to Iraq, by way of Syria the USA has increased its pressure to impose the pax americana, isolating and destabilising states which refuse Washington's dictates, and are open to the siren songs of Europe or Japan. It is trying to evict French imperialism from its African hunting grounds. It encourages the action of the Islamic fractions in Algeria, and does not hesitate an instant to use a weapon that until recently was reserved for the poor: terrorism[1]. The USA is certainly not unconnected with the disorder in Ivory Coast and Senegal, and just as Paris is trying to stabilize its relations with the new regime in Rwanda, the immediate result of the inexhaustible Jimmy Carter's latest mission has been a degradation in the relations between Paris and Kigali. In Asia, confronted with a Japan increasingly unwilling to put up with US domination - illustrated by the massive demonstrations against the US bases in Okinawa - and with a China that has every intention of profiting from the end of the blocs to assert its own imperialist pretentions, even when these go against America's, the US has alternated carrot and stick to keep control of all those that contest its domination. It has, for example, succeeded in imposing on Japan the continued presence of its military bases.

But the clearest demonstration of the American bourgeoisie's determination to punish "traitors", and re-establish its position, is undoubtedly Clinton's trip to Ireland. By imposing negotiations with the Irish nationalists on the British bourgeoisie, and by openly showing his sympathies with Gerry Adams, the leader of Sinn Fein, Clinton is giving Britain a clear message, which basically boils down to the following: "if you don toe the line, and return to a complete loyalty to your American friend, then not even your own territory will be safe from our reprisals". This journey, then, was designed to apply a strong pressure to its British ex-ally, at the same level as the importance of the historic break within the 20th century's oldest and most solid imperialist alliance. However, the very fact that the Americans should be obliged to use such methods to bring what used to be their closest ally back into their orbit shows that despite its undoubted successes, there are limits to the American counter-offensive.

The limits to the counter-offensive

As the diplomats recognize themselves, the Dayton accords have settled none of the fundamental questions, either as to the future of a Bosnia divided into two, or even three parts, or as to the basic antagonism between Belgrade and Zaghreb. This "peace" is thus nothing other than a heavily armed truce, above all because the agreement imposed by Washington is only a moment in the balance of forces between the USA and the other great imperialist powers. For the moment, the balance of forces is clearly in favor of the United States, which has forced its rivals to give way; but the US has still only won the battle, not the war. The slow erosion of its world domination has been halted, but only for the moment.

No imperialism can hope to rival the world's greatest power on the strictly military terrain; this gives the latter a formidable advantage against its opponents, and considerably restricts their margin of maneuver. But the laws of imperialism force them, if only to remain in the imperialist arena, to continue to try by every means to free themselves from American tutelage. Since it is difficult for them to oppose the US directly, they have recourse to more indirect strategies.

France and Britain have thus been forced to accept the eviction of UNPROFOR and the RRF from ex-Yugoslavia, and their replacement with I-For, but the fact that they are taking part in the latter, with forces which, combined, are more numerous that the US contingent, does not in the least mean that they will docilely accept the orders of the American commander. With this kind of force, the Franco-British duo is giving itself the means to defend its imperialist prerogatives, and to counter Washington's activity at the first opportunity. The sabotage will be easier than during the Gulf War, first because of the nature of the terrain, second and most important because this time London and Paris are in the same camp opposing American policy, and lastly because the US contingent is much less imposing than during the "Desert Storm" operation. If France and Britain have increased still further their military presence in ex-Yugoslavia, it is to keep intact their ability to damage the USA and to put as many spanners in its works as possible, while preserving the means to counter the advance of German imperialism in the region.

Equally significant of this indirect strategy is the French bourgeoisie's noisy concern for the Serb districts of Sarajevo, with Chirac's letter to Clinton on the subject, and the support shown for Serb nationalist demonstrations by the French UNPROFOR officers stationed in Sarajevo. Faced with a firm reaction from Washington, Paris retreated, and pretended that this was only clumsiness on the part of a general who has since been relieved of his command, but the contest has only been put off for later. Another example is the successful French operation with the Algerian elections and the comfortable re-election of the French bourgeoisie's man, the sinister Zeroual. Paris' maneuvers around the so-called "failed meeting" between Chirac and Zeroual in New York, allowed France to take up the American demand for "free elections" in Algeria, and the US was thus unable to contest the results of such a well-attended election.

The recent French decision to rejoin NATO, with a permanent presence of its army chief of staff, is another illustration of the same strategy. Knowing that it cannot confront the American bourgeoisie head-on, the French bourgeoisie is doing the same within a US-dominated NATO, as the British are doing in a European Union dominated by Germany: joining in order to counter its policy.

The Euro-Mediterranean summit in Barcelona had also seen France hunting in an American preserve. On the one hand, it has strengthened Europe's ties with the main protagonists of the Middle-Eastern conflict, Syria and Israel, after the US had reduced Europe to the status of mere observer of the "peace process". On the other hand, France has opposed the destabilizing maneuvers directed against it in the Maghreb, by an attempt to coordinate security policy against Islamic terrorism. The results of this summit may have been limited, but their importance should not be underestimated, just as the Americans are strengthening their presence in the Mediterranean, and doing their utmost to impose the pax americana in the Middle East.

But the clearest expression of the US counter -offensive's limitations is the continuation, and even the reinforcement, of the Franco-British alliance. This has developed in recent months on issues as crucial as military cooperation, ex-Yugoslavia, and the coordination of the struggle against Islamic terrorism. After noisily supporting the renewal of French nuclear testing, the British bourgeoisie has directly opposed Washington by agreeing to help France in the struggle against an Islamic terrorism which is largely remote controlled from Washington, thereby emphasizing the extent of its estrangement with the US bourgeoisie.

All this illustrates the scale of the obstacles barring the way to a reassertion of US hegemony. The US can score points against its adversaries, and achieve some spectacular successes, but it cannot build a new order around itself on anything like the scale existing at the time of the American bloc. The disappearance of the two imperialist blocs that dominated the planet for forty years has put an end to the nuclear blackmail that allowed the two leaders to impose their dictates on their respective blocs, and has liberated unbridled self-interest, which has now become the dominant tendency in imperialist relationships. Whenever the US puffs itself up and makes a display of its military superiority, its rivals retreat, but the retreat is only tactical and temporary and in no way represents allegiance and submission. The more the USA tries to reassert its imperialist domination, brutally reminding its rivals who is the strongest, the more determined become the opponents of American order to put it in question, since for them it is a matter of life or death, of their ability to keep their rank in the imperialist arena.

This explains why the US success during the Gulf War has been so ephemeral, and why it was so quickly followed by the contestation of American authority at the world level - the divorce between Britain and the US being the most striking illustration. The operation being mounted by the US in ex-Yugoslavia is only a shadow of the deployment against Iraq, and the important points scored by the US since summer 1995 cannot fundamentally reverse the tendency to a historic weakening of its world supremacy, despite its military superiority.

"Every man for himself" and the instability of imperialist alliances

The unbridled self-interest which increasingly characterizes imperialist relationships lies at the root of the weakening of the American super-power, but it is not alone in suffering the consequences. Every imperialist alliance has been affected, including the most solid. The USA cannot resuscitate an alliance completely under its control, but its German rival, its most dangerous competitor and the only one that can hope one day to lead its own bloc, suffers from the same problem. Germany has scored a number or points on the imperialist scene: in ex-Yugoslavia, it has come closer to its goal of access to the Mediterranean and the Middle East via Croatia; it is solidly installed in Eastern Europe; in Africa, it has not hesitated to stir up trouble in the French sphere of influence; it is trying to develop its positions in the Far East, and in the Middle East where it is an influence to be reckoned with; not forgetting Latin America. Everywhere, German imperialism tends to assert itself as a conquering power against a United States on the defensive, and against the "second raters", France and Britain. Germany uses its economic strength to the hilt, but more and more it is also making discreet use of its military strength. The arsenal of conventional weapons recovered from East Germany has made Germany the world's second arms exporter, far ahead of Britain and France combined. Since 1945, the German army has never played such an important role as now. This advance corresponds to the embryonic tendency towards the formation of a German bloc, but the more German imperialism reveals its power, the more obstacles emerge against this tendency. The more Germany flexes its muscles, the more its most faithful and solid ally, France, takes its distance with its too powerful neighbor. One dispute after another has emerged between the two states: the question of ex-Yugoslavia, the renewal of French nuclear tests - essentially directed against Germany - the future of Europe. By contrast, excellent relations are being established between France and Germany's old and irreconcilable enemy, Great Britain. We should not be deceived by the proliferation of meetings between Chirac and Kohl, and the soothing declarations that follow them: these are more a sign of the degradation of Franco-German relations than of their good health. Within the framework of "every man for himself", the overall political, geographical, and historical factors tend towards a cooling of the Franco-German alliance. This was forged during the Cold War, within the framework of the Western bloc, and on the French side was seen as a way of countering the activity of the USA's Trojan horse in Europe, Great Britain. With the death of the Western bloc and the cooling of relations between the British bourgeoisie and its American mentor, these two factors have disappeared. Frightened by the power of its neighbor, which has defeated it in three wars since 1870, France is being pushed into a rapprochement with Britain, both to resist the pressure from the USA and to protect itself against an over-powerful Germany. France and Britain, the two declining imperialist powers, are trying to pool what is left of their military power to defend themselves against both Washington and Bonn. This is the root of the solidity of the Paris-London axis in ex-Yugoslavia, especially since neither of these Mediterranean powers can see their status diminished by a German advance and an increased American presence.

Given the close and long-standing relations between France and Germany, it is impossible abruptly to cut all the ties between them, especially on the economic level. But the Franco-German alliance looks more and more like a mere memory and this seriously hinders the formation of a future imperialist bloc
around Germany.

The development of unbridled self-interest engendered by the decomposition of the capitalist system, undermines the most solid of imperialist alliances: between Britain and the USA, or between France and Germany, albeit the latter did not have same solidity or age. This does not mean that there will be no more imperialist alliances. Alliances are vital to the survival of any imperialism. But henceforth, they will be less stable, more fragile, more prone to being broken. Some will be relatively solid, like the present Franco-British alliance, but this cannot be compared to the solidity of the almost century-long alliance between London and Washington, or even of that between Paris and Bonn since World War II. Others will be purely circumstantial, like that in the spring of 1995 between Germany and the USA. Still others will have a variable geometry, with one power on one question, with another on a different one.

The result will be a still more dangerous and unstable world, where the war of each against all of the great imperialist powers will bring in its wake ever more war, destruction and suffering for the vast mass of humanity. The use of brute force, on the same lines as the so-called civilized states in ex-Yugoslavia, cannot but intensify. As a new open recession of world capitalism pushes the bourgeoisie to rain new and terrible blows on the proletariat, workers must remember that capitalism is not just poverty, but also war and its train of awful barbarism, which only their struggle can bring to an end.

RN, 11th December 1995



[1] It would not be at all surprising if the USA were involved at some level in the wave of bomb attacks in France since summer 1995.