Editorial: The More the Powers Talk of Peace, the More they Sow War

Printer-friendly version
The barbarity of war, destruction and misery that ex - Yugoslavia has been going through for the past four years reached new levels of horror in the spring of 1995. For the first time, the two main war fronts, Croatia and Bosnia, after a brief period of less intensive warfare, have simultaneously burst into flames again, threatening to bring about an unprecedented generalization of the conflict. Behind their "pacifist" and "humanitarian" speeches, the great powers, who are the ones most responsible for instigating the bloodiest conflict in Europe since World War II, have reached a new stage in their involvement. The two countries with the biggest number of UN troops deployed there have strongly reinforced their presence and in addition have set up' a special military force, the Rapid Reaction Force (RRF) , which is less dependent on the UN and more directly under the command of their national governments.

The thick tissue of lies which covers up the criminal acts of the main imperialisms of the planet in this war has been torn a little bit more, revealing the sordid interests which really motivate them.

For the workers, especially those in Europe, the disquiet caused by all this butchery should not be a reason for impotent lamentations but must feed the development of their consciousness about the responsibility of their own governments, about the hypocrisy of the sermons of the ruling class; but also about the fact that the working class of the main industrial powers is the only force capable of putting an end to this war and to all wars.

The women, children and old people who, in Sarajevo as in many other towns in ex-Yugoslavia, are forced to hide in cellars and basements, without water and electricity, to escape the shells and the snipers' bullets; the young people who in Bosnia as in Croatia or Serbia are being forcibly mobilized to risk their lives at the front - do any of these people have anything to hope for from the latest massive influx of "soldiers of peace"? The 2,000 American marines who have accompanied the aircraft carrier Roosevelt dispatched to the Adriatic in May, the 4,000 French and British troops who have already begun to arrive with tons of new weapons - have they come, as their governments claim, to lighten the sufferings of a population which has already seen 250,000 dead and three and a half million people "displaced" in this war?

The UN Blue Berets look like benefactors when they escort convoys of food to the besieged cities, when they interpose themselves between the belligerents. They look like victims when, as recently, they are taken hostage by the local armies. But behind this appearance is the reality of the cynical policies of the ruling classes of the great powers which command them, and for whom the population of ex-Yugoslavia is just cannon- fodder in a war in which they are fighting each other to win spheres of influence in this strategically vital part of Europe. The latest aggravation of the war is a striking confirmation of this. The Croatian army's offensive which began in May in western Slavonia, the Bosnian offensive launched at the same moment following the end of the "truce" signed last December, but also the masquerade of the UN hostage crisis, are not local incidents determined by the logic of merely local confrontations. They are actions prepared and carried out with the active participation, and even at the initiative, of the great imperialist powers.

As we have shown in all the articles we have written in this Review about the war over the past four years, the five powers who constitute the so-called "Contact Group" (the USA, Russia, France, Germany, Britain), an entity which is supposed to be looking for ways to end this conflict, have actively supported one or other of the local camps. And the present aggravation of the war cannot be understood outside this logic, outside the action of the gangsters at the head of these powers. 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. It led to the point in 1992 when Croatia saw nearly a third of its territory under the control of Serb armies and militias. 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. At the beginning of 1995 the main fronts in Croatia and Bosnia thus seemed to be relatively quiet. And Washington did not hesitate to present this state of affairs as the triumph of the peacemaking efforts of the great powers, especially its own. In reality all this was a partial respite to allow the rearmament of Bosnia, essentially by the USA, in order to prepare a counter-offensive against the Serb armies. After four years of war, the latter, with the support of Britain, France and Russia, still controlled 70% of Bosnia's territory and over a quarter of Croatia's. The Belgrade government itself recognized that its camp, which includes the recently "reunified" "Serb republics" in Bosnia and Croatia (Krajina), had to give, ground. But, despite the negotiations in which all the differences between the big powers came out[1], 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 Breko, 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 latters' part. It is clear that these actions were undertaken with the agreement and initiative of the American and German governments[2].

The hostage masquerade

The reaction of the opposing camp was no less significant of the commitment of the other powers, Britain, France and Russia, to the Serbian side. But here things were less obvious. Of the powers allied to Serbia, only Russia openly admits its involvement. France and Britain, by contrast, have always claimed to be "neutral" in this conflict. On numerous occasions, their governments have even made loud declarations of hostility to the Serbs. This has never stopped them assisting their allies both on the military and the diplomatic terrain.

The facts are well known. Following the Croatian-Bosnian offensive, the Serb army replied by intensifying the bombardments in Bosnia, especially against Sarajevo. NATO, ie essentially the Clinton government, carried out two air raids in reprisal, against a munitions depot close to Pale, the Serb capital in Bosnia. The Pale government replied by taking as hostages 343 Blue Berets, the majority of them French and British.

Some were placed as "human shields", chained up close to military installations at risk of being bombed. Immediately a huge media operation got underway, complete with photos of the chained-up soldiers. The French and British governments denounced this "odious terrorist action" against the UN forces, and in the first place against the countries who were supplying the most number of soldiers to the Blue Berets: Britain and France. The Milosevic government in Belgrade declared that it was not in agreement with the action of the Bosnian Serbs, while at the same time denouncing the NATO air raids. But very quickly, what at the beginning might have looked like a weakening of the Franco-British alliance with Serbia, as a verification of the neutral, humanitarian, and not pro-Serb role of the UN forces, showed its real face: that of yet another masquerade serving both the Serb governments and their big power allies.

For the governments of these two powers, the "hostage crisis" had two major advantages for their action in this war. First, in an immediate way, it forced NATO, ie the USA, to stop any further air raids against their Serb allies. At the beginning of the crisis, the French government was forced to accept the first air raid, but it openly and vigorously criticized the second. The Serb government's use of the hostages as shields made it possible to solve this problem straight away. Secondly, and above all, the taking of hostages, presented as an "unbearable humiliation" served as an excellent pretext to justify the immediate dispatch by the two powers of thousands of new troops to ex-Yugoslavia. Britain alone announced that its forces would be trebled. The play-acting was done very well. On the one side, the British and French governments demanded to be able to send in new forces in order to "save the honor and dignity of our soldiers humiliated by the Bosnian Serbs"; on the other, Karadzic, the head of the Pale government, justified his attitude by the necessity to protect his troops against NATO bombings; in the middle of all this, Milosevic, head of the Belgrade government, played the part of "mediator". The result was spectacular. Whereas for weeks the British and French governments had been "threatening" to withdraw their troops from ex-Yugoslavia if the UN didn't grant them greater freedom of action (in particular, the possibility of regrouping in order to "defend themselves" more effectively), now they had decided to increase massively the number of their ground forces[3].

At the beginning of the masquerade, at the moment when the first hostages were taken, the press suggested that the hostages might be tortured. A few days later, when the first French hostages were freed, some of them gave their testimonies: "we did weight training and played table tennis (...) we visited the whole of Bosnia, went for walks (...) The Serbs did not see us as enemies" (Liberation, 7.6.95). Equally eloquent is the conciliatory attitude taken by the French commander of the French UN forces on the ground, a few days after the French government had shouted from the rooftops about how firm it was being with the Serbs: "We will strictly apply the principles of peacekeeping until we get any new orders (...) We can try to establish contacts with the Bosnian Serbs, we can try to take food through and to supply our troops" (Le Monde, 14.6.95). The French paper Le Monde was openly shocked: "Calmly, while 144 UN soldiers were still hostages to the Serbs, UNPROFOR solemnly claimed to be paralyzed". And it cited an UNPROFOR officer: "For several days we have had the feeling that things are easing up. The emotion provoked by the images of the human shields is settling down, and we are afraid that our governments are going to say no more about it, in order to avoid a confrontation". If the Bosnian Serbs didn't consider the French "hostages" to be their enemies, if this UNPROFOR officer had the impression that the French and British governments wanted to avoid a confrontation, it is simply because, whatever problems may blow up between Serb troops and UN troops on the ground, their governments are allies in this war and the "hostage crisis" was just one more chapter in the book of lies and manipulations written by the ruling class to hide its murderous and barbaric work.

The significance of the formation of the RRF

The main result of this farce was the formation of the Rapid Reaction Force. The definition of the function of this new Franco-British military corps, supposedly formed to assist the UN forces in ex-Yugoslavia, has varied during the weeks in which the two governments have tried, not without difficulty, to get their "partners" on the UN Security Council to accept its existence and to finance it[4]. But whatever the diplomatic formulations used in this debate between hypocrites, what is important is the profound significance of this initiative. This must be understood on two levels: on the one hand, the will of the great powers to reinforce their military involvement in this conflict; on the other hand, the necessity for these powers to disengage themselves, or at least to take their distance, from the framework of the "humanitarian" "UN" masquerade, which puts such limitations on their capacity for action.

The French and British bourgeoisies know that their pretension to continue playing a role as world powers depends, to a large extent, on their capacity to affirm their presence in this strategically crucial zone. The Balkans, like the Middle East, is a major stake in the planet-wide contest between the great powers. Being absent from this region means giving up any great power status. The reaction of the German government to the formation of the RRF is particularly significant of this concern, common to all the European powers: "Germany could not ask its French and British allies to do the dirty work for very long, while it remains a spectator in the Adriatic and at the same time lays claim to a global political role. It must also take some of the risks itself" (Liberation, 12.6.95). This declaration from Bonn government circles is particularly hypocritical: as we have seen, since the beginning of the war in ex-Yugoslavia, German capital has played a big part in the "dirty work" of the great powers. But it also shows up what really motivates the so-called "humanitarian peacemakers" when they set up a RRF to "come to the aid" of the civil population in the Balkans.

The other important aspect of the RRF's formation is the great powers' concern to give themselves the means to ensure the defense of their specific imperialist interests. Thus, at the end of May, a spokesman of the British Ministry of Defense, interviewed about whether the RRF would be under the control of the UN, replied that "the special reinforcements will be under UN command", but he added that "they will also have their own commanders" (Liberation, 31.5.95). At the same moment, French officers were saying that these forces would have "their own colors and battle insignia", that they would no longer be wearing blue berets and that their vehicles would not necessarily be painted white. At the time of writing, the question of the colors to be worn by the soldiers of the RRF remains in the air. But the significance of the constitution of this new military force is perfectly clear: the imperialist powers are affirming more clearly than before the autonomy of their imperialist acts.

No, the population of ex-Yugoslavia, which for four years has been subjected to the horrors of war, has nothing positive to expect from the arrival of these new "peacekeeping forces". The latter have come only to continue and intensify the bloody and barbaric work that the great powers have been carrying out since the conflict began.

Towards the extension and intensification of military barbarism

All the governments in ex -Yugoslavia are now engaged in escalating the war. Izetbegovic, the head of the Bosnian government, has clearly announced the breadth of the offensive that his army has launched: Sarajevo must not go through another winter besieged by the Serb armies. UN experts have estimated that an attempt to break this siege would cost the Bosnian forces 15,000 men. Equally clearly, the Croatian government has stressed that the offensive in western Slavonia is only the beginning of an operation which will be extended throughout the front with the Krajina Serbs, especially on the Dalmatian coast. As for the government of the Bosnian Serbs, it has declared a state of war in the zone around Sarajevo and has mobilized the whole population. In mid-June, while the American diplomats were negotiating with the Serb governments to try to get them to recognize Bosnia, Slavisa Rakovic, one of the advisers to the Pale government coldly asserted that he was "pessimistic in the short term" and that he believed" there is more chance of the war flaring up than the negotiations succeeding, because summer is ideal for fighting" (Le Monde, 14.5.95).

The Bosnian Serbs are obviously not fighting alone. The "Serb Republics" of Bosnia and Krajina have just proclaimed their unification. As for the Belgrade government, which is supposed to be applying an arms embargo ion the Bosnian Serbs, it is well known that it has never done so and that whatever the more or less real divergences that may exist between the different Serb parties in power, their military cooperation against the Bosnian and Croatian armies is unquestioned[5].

But the antagonisms between the different nationalisms in ex-Yugoslavia would not be enough to fuel and intensify the war if the great imperialist powers were not fuelling and intensifying it, if their "pacifist" speeches were not just an ideological cover for their own imperialist policies. The worst enemy of peace in ex-Yugoslavia is none other than the pitiless war between the great powers. All of them, to different degrees, have an interest in maintaining the war in the Balkans. Apart from the geo-strategic positions which each one defends or is trying to conquer, they are there above all to prevent or destroy alliances between other rival powers: "In such a situation of instability, it is easier for each power to make trouble for its adversaries, to sabotage alliances that it objects to, than to develop solid alliances and ensure stability in its own spheres" (Resolution on the international situation, XIth Congress of the ICC).

For German and French capital, this war has been a powerful tool for breaking the alliance between the USA and Britain, and for sabotaging the structures of NATO, American capital's weapon of domination over the former members of the western bloc. A high official of the American State Department recognized this explicitly recently: "The war in Bosnia has caused the gravest strains in NATO since Suez" (International Herald Tribune, 13.6.95). Parallel to this, for Washington, the war is a means to prevent the consolidation of the European Union around Germany. Santer, the new president of the Commission of the European Union complained bitterly about this, at the beginning of June, when commenting on the evolution of the situation in the Balkans.

The present aggravation of military barbarism in ex-Yugoslavia is thus the concretization of the advance of capitalist decomposition, which exacerbates all the antagonisms between fractions of capital, imposing the reign of "every man for himself' and "each against all".

War as a factor in the development of class consciousness

The war in ex-Yugoslavia is the bloodiest conflict in Europe since the Second World War. For half a century Europe was spared the numerous wars between the imperialist powers, all the "national liberation struggles" which ravaged the countries of the ‘Third World'. Europe was a "haven of peace" during this period. The war in ex-Yugoslavia, by bringing this period to an end, thus has a major historic significance. For the European proletariat, war is less and less an exotic reality which happens thousands of miles away, where you follow the developments on TV at dinner time.

Up till now this war has only been a minor preoccupation for the workers of the industrialized countries of Western Europe. The European bourgeoisies have been able to present this conflict as another "far off" war, where the "democratic" powers are undertaking a "humanitarian", "civilizing" mission, trying to bring peace to "ethnic" groups who are slaughtering each other for no reason. Even if four years of manipulated media images have not hidden the savage and sordid reality of this war, even if in the workers' minds this war is one of the horrors now emerging all over the planet, the predominant sentiment among the exploited has been a relatively resigned indifference. Without any great enthusiasm, they have accepted more or less the official speeches about the "humanitarian missions" of the UN and NATO soldiers.

The present evolution of the conflict, the new attitude that the main powers involved in it have had to adopt, are about to change this state of affairs. The fact that the French and British governments have decided to send in thousands of new troops; the fact that the latter are being sent not only as representatives of an international organization like NATO, but as soldiers bearing the uniform and the flag of their country, all this is giving a new dimension to the way this war is being perceived. The great powers' active participation in the conflict is being exposed to the light of day. The "humanitarian" cover used by the great powers is being ripped apart, revealing the sordid imperialist motives underneath.

The current aggravation of the war in ex-Yugoslavia is taking place at a time when the perspectives for the world economic situation are getting worse and worse, heralding new attacks on working class living conditions, especially in the most industrialized countries. War and economic crisis, barbarism and poverty, chaos and pauperization - more than ever, the bankruptcy of capitalism, the disaster that this decomposing system has become, will place the world proletariat in front of its historic responsibilities. The qualitative aggravation of the war in ex-Yugoslavia will in this context become a supplementary factor in the development of the proletariat's awareness of this responsibility. And it is up to revolutionaries to contribute to this process with all their might, because they are an indispensable part of it.

In particular, they must show that understanding the real role played by the big powers in this war makes it possible to fight against the feeling of impotence about the conflict that the ruling class has from the beginning tried to instill in the workers. The governments of the great industrial and military powers can only make war because the working class of these countries allows them to so, because they have not managed to unify consciously against capital. The proletariat of these countries, because of its historical experience, because the bourgeoisie has not succeeded in mobilizing it ideologically to the point where it could send it off to another world war, is the only force that can put an end to all this military barbarity, to capitalist barbarity in general. This is the message that the aggravation of the war in ex-Yugoslavia must bring home to the workers.


[1] It is particularly significant that the negotiations with the different Serb governments over the recognition of Bosnia have been carried out not through Bosnian representatives, but through diplomats from Washington, Equally telling about the involvement of the big powers in this war alongside this or that belligerent are the positions defended by each one of the former with regard to these negotiations, One of the deals proposed to the Milosevic government is that he should recognize Bosnia in exchange for a lifting of the international economic sanctions which are still in force against Serbia, But when it comes to defining how the sanctions will be lifted, there are big differences between the powers: the USA wants it to be entirely conditional, so that it can be suspended at any moment depending on the actions taken by the Serb government; France and Britain want it to be guaranteed for a period of at least six months; Russia wants it to be unconditional and without any time limit. 

[2] On 6th March this year, a military agreement was signed between the Croatian and Bosnian governments to "defend themselves against a common aggressor". However, this accord between Croatia and Bosnia, and parallel to that between the USA and Germany, to wage a counter-offensive against the Serb armies, can only be temporary and provisional. In the part of Bosnia controlled by Croatia, the two armies are face to face and conflict could resume at any moment, as during the first years of the war. The situation in the town of Mostar, the most important of the region, and the object of particularly bloody clashes between Croats and Muslims, is highly eloquent in this respect. Although it is supposed to be run by a joint Croatian-Bosnian government, with the active presence of members of the European Union, the town remains divided into two distinct parts and Muslim men of fighting age are strictly forbidden from entering the Croatian sector. But above all, the antagonism between American and German capital, in ex-Yugoslavia as in the rest of the world, is the main line of fissure in inter-imperialist tensions since the collapse of the eastern bloc (see "Each against all", International Review no 80) 

[3] The demand by France and Britain that UN forces on the ground should regroup in order to "defend themselves better against the Serbs" is also a hypocritical maneuver. Far from expressing any action against the Serbs, such a measure would mean the Blue Berets abandoning practically all the enclaves encircled by the Serbs in Bosnia (with the exception of the three main ones). This would give them every chance of taking them over once and for all, while making it possible to concentrate the Blue Berets' "aid" in the most important zones.

[4] The discussion on this point between the French president Chirac, when he went to the G7 summit in June, and the speaker of the House of Representatives, Newt Gingrich, was described as "direct" and "vigorous". The Russian government only accepted the principle after openly expressing its opposition and distrust.

[5] The Belgrade government had obtained an easing of the international economic embargo against Serbia in exchange for a commitment not to go on supplying arms to the Pale government. But the salaries of Serb officers in Bosnia are still being paid by Belgrade. The latter has not stopped secretly supplying arms to its "brothers" in Bosnia, while the anti-aircraft radar system of the two "republics" is still connected up.

General and theoretical questions: