When Western leaders assemble in Washington, later this year, to celebrate the fiftieth birthday of nato, how will they assess the Balkan campaign of Spring 1999? The aim of the summit is a new mission statement for nato, transforming it from a defensive alliance into a mobile, global police force which can hit a target state anywhere in the world to defend the interests of the United States, defined, of course, as ‘human rights’ and the ‘free market’. Blair is, naturally, totally committed to the transformation of nato. New Labour is harnessed to the chariot-wheels of us military policy and it is not for nothing that the us has plied the Ministry of Defence with Tomahawk missiles and state-of-the-art weaponry. The British defence and intelligence establishment is tied to the us with an umbilical cord. Germany, Italy and France are marginally more sceptical of the go-it-alone strategy, while massive anti-war demonstrations in Athens have seriously shaken the Greek government, making it difficult for Salonika to be used as a disembarkation port for ground troops. Even new nato recruit, the Czech Republic, has distanced itself from the bombing offensive. All these states still need to be convinced that it is wise to treat Russia with contempt. What is taking place in the skies over Serbia is, therefore, of critical importance in determining who wins this argument.

The main concerns of the United States in this war have little to do with the suffering of the Kosovan Albanians. If they had, the Western powers would have made a joint démarche with Russia, thus making it clear to Milosevic that he had nowhere to turn to. Such a joint approach would have meant Russian participation in any peace-keeping force and it is this that the Pentagon rejects. The launching of nato aerial bombardment was a calculated demonstration that nato can resolve problems like this by itself. The risk that it would unleash Serb paramilitary terror on Kosovo was manifest. That is why I believe that the us motives in this operation were sordid from the very outset.

The American decision to violate the sovereignty of a European state by ordering nato air strikes against Serbia—the first time since Brezhnev launched the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia over three decades ago—poses two basic questions. What can justify this blatant disregard of international law and what future does nato intend for the region? The answer to the first seems obvious. The American President, his English factotum and various European politicians, not to mention the overwhelming majority of the media, provide us with the reason every day. Milosevic is Hitler. Yesterday Saddam Hussein was Hitler and who knows which Hitler tomorrow has in store for the trusting citizens of Europe. In order to crush such a leader, who refuses to listen to reason, it is necessary to wage war. That Milosevic is a brutal leader has never been in doubt, and that the present Republic of Yugoslavia is based on the oppression of the Albanians of Kosovo is equally true. But this was already true in 1991, when Milosevic’s rump Federation was recognized by every Western power and it was still true at the time of the Dayton negotiations of 1995, when no attempt was made by any party to raise the question of Kosovo.

That Milosevic’s forces have committed crimes against the Kosovars is undeniable. But is he alone? The West’s highly selective pattern of concern for human rights continues today, as we all know. Israel’s Netanyahu is an even more brutish politician, a violent and racist demagogue who defies un resolutions with impunity and regularly bombs targets in Lebanon. In fact, the very foundation of Israel was accompanied by massacres and the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, who were swept off their land in a fashion not dissimilar to what is taking place in Kosovo today. And what of Milosevic’s counterpart in Croatia, the ailing Franjo Tudjman? He may be approaching his end now, but he, too, in his time, has authorized the ethnic cleansing of Serbs and, on occasion, Bosnians. When he ethnically cleansed the Krajina of some 200,000 Serbs in 1995, his action was actually in concert with nato’s Bosnian campaign. He presides over a régime which has rehabilitated the leaders of Croatian fascists who collaborated with the Nazi occupiers during the Second World War. His government has behaved thuggishly towards dissenters. But Netanyahu and Tudjman are on ‘our side’ and nothing else matters. The only function of the Hitler analogy is to obfuscate political discourse and to incite a stampede to reckless military action.footnote1

Plenty of crimes against humanity have been committed since Hitler. The Anglo-Saxon powers have fostered atrocities on a large scale in the second half of the century. In the name of freedom and democracy, they have backed dictators much worse than Milosevic—who, we should remember, has been repeatedly elected by the Serbs in the course of elections which have been far less rigged than Yeltsin’s referendum on the Constitution, so cravenly backed at the time by Western apologists—and helped them to power on every continent. This was usually done after great massacres. The Indonesian dictator, Suharto, was being armed by Britain and America right up to the day he was toppled by a popular uprising, which received no support from either Washington or London. Indonesia, admittedly, is a far-away country, not visible from a Tuscan beach, but what about Turkey? It can certainly be sighted by a New Labour mp sunbathing on a Greek island. What successive governments in Ankara have inflicted on their Kurdish citizens is as bad, if not worse, than the treatment meted out to the Kosovars. The argument used by the Turkish authorities is exactly the same as that employed by the Serb leadership. In torturing, maiming, killing and denying autonomy to the Kurds, they are simply defending the unity of the Turkish state. How many tv viewers are aware of the fact that this is still taking place, or that Turkey is an important member of nato?

It is the blatant double standard that compels any critical observer to look for the deeper reasons that underlie this conflict. The need to protect the Kosovars served as the pretext for nato’s bombardment, but its real aim was to secure its control of this strategic region and to fortify an extensive nato bridgehead in the heart of the Balkans. This action must be seen in the context of the expansion of nato to include the larger, Western-oriented Western states. This expansion was never envisaged as including Russia which remains, as Gilbert Achcar has explained in these pages, the potential foe against which nato measures itself.footnote2

Nevertheless, until fairly recently, the nato strategists hoped that Russia could be brought to accept a symbolic role as a ‘Partner for Peace’ under Western, actually us, hegemony. To soothe Russian sensibilities, nato also established a Joint Council with Russia which would supposedly discuss difficult problems of mutual interest. In a keynote address given as recently as 23 June 1998, the nato Secretary General, Javier Solana, argued that it was essential, when tackling difficult issues such as Kosovo, that ‘Russia . . . be on board’. He urged that it would be folly to exclude Russia completely when addressing any problem of European security or simply to present a hostile front. He urged that the Permanent Joint Committee of nato and Russian personnel should address not only Kosovo—described as the critical security challenge—but also such issues as nato-Russian co-operation in sfor, disarmament, terrorism and ‘the retraining of retired military personnel’. Solana also spoke of the need for a ‘European Security Identity’ within nato.