Dragan Plavsic


Wars without end

(April 2001)

Dragan Plavsic, Wars without end, Socialist Review 251, April 2001.
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Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for REDS – Die Roten.

The world’s powers will use all means at their disposal, including force, to achieve their aims, says Dragan Plavsic

Ever since the Battle of Seattle, when tens of thousands of ordinary citizens, radical activists and trade unionists took to the streets to confront the World Trade Organisation (WTO), “globalisation” has been ever more intensely debated by capitalists and anti-capitalists alike. For activists against the system, it is elegant shorthand for the economic process by which the giant multinational corporations of the advanced industrial countries, mainly the US, Japan, Germany, France and Britain, have come to dominate and impoverish the lives of millions across the globe. It is convenient shorthand also for the enormous power global financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the WTO and World Bank now exercise when they dictate draconian neoliberal terms to debtor countries. In summary, globalisation has been widely understood first and foremost as an economic term.

However, there is a political and military dimension to globalisation that should neither be treated as incidental to it, nor overlooked. In fact, it is essential for its very success. This is the state power the US and the leading industrial nations wield in order to advance globalisation by promoting the economic and political conditions which their multinational corporations can then exploit. As Russian socialist Boris Kagarlitsky has recently observed, “Despite the fact that international financial institutions have acquired enormous influence, they cannot pursue their policies except through the agency of the state.” As a result, he notes, this has led to “the strengthened global economic role of the states of the centre in relation to those of the periphery”. Thus the US has 17 percent of the vote in the IMF where 15 percent is required for a veto. The G7 largest industrial states together have a decisive 45 percent of the vote. The US has 250 permanent delegates to the WTO while the 35 poorest countries have none.

But the use of state power ultimately entails more than just the flexing of economic and political muscle in the corridors of the global financial institutions. It entails the threat and use of military force when the occasion demands. Even the foreign affairs columnist of the New York Times, Thomas L. Friedman, the man who quipped that no two states with a McDonald’s had ever gone to war, has candidly observed that “the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley’s technologies to flourish is called the US army, air force, navy and marine corps.” In other words, globalisation can never work without imperialism, and the IMF and WTO cannot flourish without Nato.

Although globalisation as a term is relatively new, the process it describes – of how capitalism has become progressively internationalised on a world scale – is not. And from the very outset globalisation has been inextricably linked with the growth of state power and imperialism. The historical roots of this link can be traced to the second half of the 19th century when large companies were formed from the ruins of small businesses that had failed during times of economic crisis. The larger the company, the better it was able to compete with its national rivals and so capture a greater slice of the domestic market. Eventually these companies became monopolies possessed of an economic weight that enabled them to exert power and influence over their own state. In this way, state power and monopoly capital became progressively integrated so that, when the monopolies outgrew their national limits and sought out new markets, investments and raw materials across the globe, the political and military resources of their state accompanied them to enforce their claims. It is with the rise of the great militarised states and their struggle to colonise and dominate the globe that the ultimate roots of the mass slaughters of the First and Second World War can be seen to lie. And it is because globalisation today is not a qualitatively new phenomenon that the drive to imperialist war is as much a feature of our own times as in the past.

Yet there are some contemporary commentators who take a quite contrary view. They believe the net result of globalisation will be a safer and more peaceful world, one interconnected by markets where national borders, identities and states will have disappeared. Thus Friedman, otherwise disarmingly perceptive about the relationship between the market and military power, argues in his book The Lexus and the Olive Tree that “today’s version of globalisation ... increases the incentives for not making war and it increases the costs of going to war in more ways than in any previous era in modern history”. In 1996 then WTO director general Renato Ruggiero put the argument in its starkest form when he said that the choices facing the modern world were either “globalisation or war”.

It is impossible to square this view with reality. The 1990s saw the outbreak of two major imperialist wars, the first in the Gulf in 1991 and the second in the Balkans in 1999. The roots of both wars cannot be grasped except against the background of globalisation and the exercise of state power in its support. And the consequences for both regions have been disastrous.


The cost of US intervention

Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait provoked a massive military build up in the Gulf, led by the US, and a subsequent onslaught that left an estimated 100,000 Iraqis dead. In the decade following Iraq’s military defeat US-led sanctions have impoverished the nation and resulted in the premature deaths of an estimated 500,000 children. When challenged on this death toll, former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright once infamously remarked that “the price is worth it”. But what was worth such contempt for human life? Nothing less, it seems, than the economic and military destruction of Iraq and with it the very idea of an Arab power that might threaten the west’s control of Middle East oil, and the immense profits of giant US and British multinational oil corporations such as Chevron, Exxon and British Petroleum. Indeed, it is difficult to find a better contemporary example of how the integration of the economic power of multinational capital with the military and political power of the US and the leading capitalist states lies behind the drive to imperialist war in our age.

In the same way, the war against Yugoslavia cannot be understood apart from the broader context of the collapse of the Soviet Empire and the resulting penetration of multinational capital and US state power eastwards. As IMF structural adjustment programmes ravaged the economies of Russia and eastern Europe, and as the multinationals cherrypicked the more profitable sectors of those economies, the parallel incorporation into Nato of the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary took place with the goal of strengthening the US against the eventuality of a resurgent Russia. In these circumstances, the opportunity to crush a Russian ally in the Balkans could not afford to be missed.

But there is rather more to the war against Yugoslavia than this. Behind all the humanitarian and moralistic rhetoric New Labour employed to justify it, the largely untold story is of how the war was related to the exploitation of the oil resources of the Caspian Sea by the leading multinational oil corporations, and how the corresponding need to transport the oil westwards via the Balkans entailed the military pacification of the region as and when the opportunity arose. During the 1990s US and British oil multinationals invested billions in the states that encircle the Caspian: Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, and their neighbours such as Georgia.

What is at stake there can scarcely be exaggerated. In September 1997 the New York Times observed, “Forget mutual funds, commodity futures and corporate mergers. Forget South African diamonds, European currencies and Thai stocks. The most concentrated mass of untapped wealth known to exist anywhere is in the oil and gas fields beneath the Caspian Sea and lands around it ... The strategic implications of this bonanza hypnotise Western security planners as completely as the finances transfix oil executives.” No accident, then, that in April 1999, at Nato’s Washington summit, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine and Uzbekistan formed an alliance which the Financial Times noted would “develop the area’s rich oil and gas deposits to the exclusion of Russia”.

When in June 1999 Socialist Review first explored the possibility of a link between the bombardment of Yugoslavia and a trans-Balkan pipeline in an article by John Rees entitled Nato and the New Imperialism, the general reaction from supporters of the war was one of ridicule. Writing in the Guardian, Jonathan Freedland was contemptuously dismissive: “It’s all about oil, says the SWP. Point out that there’s no oil in Kosovo, and the comrades ... will chorus that, oh yes, America’s real object is ‘the oil in the Caspian Sea’. Never mind that that’s half a continent away, lodged between Iran and Turkmenistan.”

And yet, on 2 June 1999, the very day that Freedland’s article appeared in the Guardian, the US Trade and Development Agency (TDA), “an independent federal agency that assists in the creation of jobs for Americans by helping US companies pursue overseas investment opportunities”, announced that it was awarding Bulgaria $588,000 to partially fund a feasibility study on a trans-Balkan pipeline which would cross Bulgaria, Macedonia and Albania. TDA director J Joseph Grandmaison stated, “The competition is fierce to tap energy resources in the Caspian region ... This grant represents a significant step forward ... for US business interests in the Caspian region.” At an estimated cost of $1 billion, a trans-Balkan link would be three times cheaper than an alternative pipeline via Turkey. In Sofia that day the US ambassador to Bulgaria, Avis Bohlen, sat down with the Bulgarian deputy prime minister, Evgeni Bakardjiev, to sign the grant agreement in a special ceremony. The very next day, 3 June 1999, the Yugoslav government sued for peace.

It is because Nato’s intervention in Kosovo was motivated not by the interests of the Balkan people but by the overriding geopolitical and economic interests of the US and the leading capitalist states in the west that the consequences for the region are proving to be nothing short of disastrous. Thus a war in defence of ethnic tolerance has led to a monoethnic Kosovo denuded of its Serb minority. A war in defence of democracy has led to colonial status for Kosovo, governed by a western appointee and policed by western troops. And a war in defence of Balkan peace and stability has led to yet more bloodletting and instability.

The spectre of Albanian nationalism in the form of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), raised by the US in support of its bombardment in 1999, now threatens the very “peace” the US has tried to impose. As the Financial Times put it last month, “Now the biggest threat to a fragile peace in the Balkans comes from Albanian extremism.” Albanian insurgents armed with weapons supplied by the KLA have clashed repeatedly with Serb police in the buffer zone along the border with Kosovo and, much more explosively, with troops in neighbouring Macedonia. The great danger in Macedonia is of full scale civil war between the majority Macedonian Slavs and the large Albanian minority who have drawn clear lessons from the success of the KLA. As one Albanian there commented, “We don’t want people to die but we have learned there is no other way forward.” With an oil pipeline on the way and the prospect of another ethnic conflagration in the Balkans, there is bitter irony in the fact that not only have US troops now exchanged fire with Albanian guerrillas, but Nato has allowed the Yugoslav army, a sworn enemy only two years ago, into the Kosovo buffer zone to assist in pacifying the insurgents. It is crystal clear that Nato’s intervention in Kosovo has not resolved any of the problems in the region. Instead it has ensured the spread of ethnic conflict still deeper into the Balkans.


Thinking the unthinkable

No less ominous is the military build-up Nato’s intervention in the Balkans has provoked. Following China’s announcement last month of an 18 percent increase in defence spending, the Financial Times commented, “Chinese defence planners have argued that Nato’s intervention in Kosovo highlighted the west’s meddlesome intent, and thus justifies a stronger army.” With President Bush determined to resurrect the Star Wars missile defence programme of the Reagan years, the conclusion reached by Nikolai Bukharin, the Russian Bolshevik, during the First World War, is as valid today as when it was first written: “Capitalist society is unthinkable without armaments, as it is unthinkable without wars.”

And what amidst the chaos does New Labour have to say on the great issues of globalisation and war? On globalisation its attitude is typified by New Labour’s most aggressive convert, secretary for international development Clare Short, when she said, “Multinationals are not the problem. Africa’s problem ... is not that multinational capital is exploiting it, but that multinational capital isn’t interested in investing there.” On war, New Labour’s enthusiasm for Nato’s expansion eastwards, the war against Yugoslavia and the continuing bombardment of Iraq speaks for itself. Thus it was that George Robertson’s dogged defence of the war against Yugoslavia netted him a lordship together with the secretary generalship of Nato. A far cry indeed from the courageous statement Labour’s first leader and forgotten hero Keir Hardie issued at the outbreak of the First World War: “The long-threatened European war is now upon us. You have never been consulted about this war. The workers of all countries must strain every nerve to prevent their governments from committing them to war. Hold vast demonstrations against war in London and in every industrial centre. There is no time to lose. Down with the rule of brute force! Down with war! Up with the peaceful rule of the people!”

The alternatives facing us today are not, as our rulers would have it, globalisation or war. They are the same as those that confronted Hardie in 1914 – socialism or war. There should be no illusions about which side New Labour is on. Its tireless advocacy of privatisation at home and globalisation abroad is of a piece with its indefatigable enthusiasm for Nato expansion and US imperialism across the globe. The spirit of Keir Hardie is well and truly dead within Blair’s Labour Party. The time has surely come for a real socialist alternative to New Labour, globalisation and war.



Map of “Greater Albania”

The latest outbreak of fighting in the former Yugoslavia has been greeted with trepidation on all sides. The small and poor country of Macedonia is home to a range of different ethnic groups and has long been regarded as potentially one of the most dangerous parts of the Balkans should conflagration take place there. That now looks very likely. While the “international community”, Nato and the K-For forces that occupy neighbouring Kosovo wring their hands as events unravel before them, they are unwilling to take responsibility for what is happening.

Yet none of this would be happening were it not for events in the wider region, and especially were it not for the war waged by Nato in 1999 and the subsequent occupation of Kosovo. Nato then used the Kosovo Liberation Army as its “eyes and ears” in its fight against the Serbian army. Once the war was over K-For did little to stop horrific ethnic cleansing, this time of Serbs and Roma. Although it was disbanded in name, in practice the KLA has continued to exercise power and has turned its attention to fighting against Serbia in the Albanian dominated areas of south Serbia. The aim was clear – to win all the ethnic Albanian areas in other countries as part of a “greater Albania”.

Two events have accelerated the process in southern Serbia and now in Macedonia, where between a quarter and a third of the population are ethnic Albanians. One was the KLA’s relative failure in last autumn’s Kosovo elections, where more constitutional parties with a greater commitment to multi-ethnicity won a majority. The second was the overthrow of Slobodan Milosevic in Belgrade – not at all welcomed by Albanian nationalists, who recognised correctly that this would make the demand for full Kosovo independence harder to win.

The Observer recently reported that the CIA had been funding and training the KLA and its operations in southeastern Serbia. Now there are reports of Britain sending military advisers to help the Macedonian government defeat the KLA in Tetovo. The west’s strategy is bankrupt. We were told that the removal of Milosevic would end wars in the Balkans. Instead the wars continue, not because of some inexorable drive to war by the Balkan peoples but because all the supposed “solutions” to the region’s problems have failed. That is because they are based on further partition and ethnic cleansing, and on a corrupt system of international protectorates in Bosnia and Kosovo, plus weak pro-western governments in a series of poor and war-damaged states. Further ethnic tensions are therefore inherent in the situation as each ethnic group defines its interests in opposition to all others and in terms of repartition.

The consequences in Macedonia are especially frightening. Ethnic Albanians there have real grievances, especially the discrimination against their language, but war or partition can solve none of these grievances. The regional powers, Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey, may intervene if there is a war. Already Turkish prime minister Bulent Ecevit has said, “The Balkans cannot endure a new war.” Nato’s war and the continued western presence have only exacerbated the problems. It is time for the people of the Balkans to look for an alternative, based on a socialist federation of all the ethnic groups across the region all having full equal rights.

That demands an end to western occupation and the western client states. Such a demand was raised by socialists at the time of the Balkan wars nearly 100 years ago which led to the First World War. We must hope that change can come in the region without having to go through the same experience.


Last updated on 1.4.2002