By Milenko Srećković
At the beginning of the NATO aggression in 1999 the Cuban leader Fidel Castro expressed belief that Serbian guerrilla skills, acquired and developed throughout history, will provide dignified resistance to air strikes and a potential ground invasion of the biggest military alliance in the world, behind which stood nineteen world’s most powerful country. On the other side, NATO General Wesley Clark, chief strategist of the attack on Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro), assured the international public that the Serbs will be defeated in not more than three days. It turned out that Fidel Castro knew much more than General Clark what all sorts of deeds people are capable of when they are fighting for their freedom.
And really, in fierce clashes Yugoslavian army completely prevented the attempt of invasion of Serbia across the Albanian border, the bombing lasted for seventy eight days instead of the announced three days, and when the Kumanovo agreement was signed, the Yugoslavian army withdrew from Kosovo without any serious damaged inflicted to a great surprise of those who spilled tons of bombs on the territory of Kosovo. In hiding their military capacities from the attacks of vastly superior enemy’s air force, Yugoslav army applied a whole range of successful tactical camouflages for which it really should be credited for its creativity and cleverness. The gained experience was later studied by the countries that correctly predicted they are going to be the next American target, especially by Iraq. Tariq Ali, the famous British writer and leftist of Pakistani origin, who thinks that the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia ”has been a war for U.S. hegemony in Europe and the world, the act of a triumphant imperialism designed to rub the face of its old enemy in mud enriched with depleted uranium”, said that the Yugoslav army trained itself for this kind of fight while expecting potential attack by the Soviet Union in the past.
Noam Chomsky is certainly the world’s most famous intellectual that strongly opposed the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia. He wrote about the tremendous efforts that NATO undertake after the bombing to discover evidence of war crimes and subsequently justify intervention. That was very similar to the search for never found ”weapons of mass destruction” used as a pretext for the U.S. occupation of Iraq in 2003. Chomsky claimed that the violence in Kosovo in fact escalated after the NATO intervention began, being its expected consequence and not its real cause. ”The real purpose of the war had nothing to do with concern for Kosovar Albanians”, said Chomsky.
Naomi Klein, a famous critic of the global capitalist order, in her book ”The Shock Doctrine” said that the NATO attack on Serbia in 1999 in fact created conditions for rapid privatization of the public property. Namely, bombing was preparing the ground for economic ’’shock therapy’’ and implementation of neo-liberal policy. Klein quotes Strobe Talbott, deputy secretary of state under President Clinton and the lead U.S. negotiator during the war, to show that there were no real humanistic reasons for the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia. According to the book Collision course: NATO, Russia and Kosovo, published in 2005 by John Norris, Talbot’s former communications director, Talbot said: “As nations throughout the region sought to reform their economies, mitigate ethnic tensions, and broaden civil society, Belgrade seemed to delight in continually moving in the opposite direction. It is small wonder NATO and Yugoslavia ended up on a collision course. It was Yugoslavia’s resistance to the broader trends of political and economic reform—not the plight of the Kosovar Albanians—that best explains NATO’s war”.
Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek criticized former Czech president Vaclav Havel because of his support given to NATO intervention, not only because intervention led to the escalation of the conflict that was supposed to prevent, but also because Havel’s moralism, compared to the great emancipator movements inspired by Martin Luther King and Gandhi, didn’t contain a positive, all-inclusive stance that made an appeal to the moral sense of the ”enemy” and asked it to do something that would restore its own moral dignity, but is directed against a specific group of people and not against specific (racist, colonialist) institutionalized practices. Žižek once, jokingly, said that the French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy and his support for military intervention are the only reason he still supports the death penalty.
Immanuel Wallerstein, one of the most significant scientists in the field of Social Sciences, said that the war can be judged in three aspects – legally, morally and politically. ”Juridically, the bombing is an act of aggression. It is totally unjustified under international law. The Yugoslav government did nothing outside its own borders. What has been going on inside its borders is a low-level civil war into which the U.S. and other powers intruded themselves as mediators”. Wallerstein also wondered why then there was no similar reaction in the cases of many other much more serious violations of human rights done by the states clients of United States.
Fifteen years after the bombing of Yugoslavia, the rhetoric of humanitarian intervention is completely stripped-off and denounced, and even often in the international diplomatic squabbles used against its creators, especially to point out the hypocrisy of the US global activities. Hillary Clinton already in 2011 complained before the Congress that the US is ’’losing the media war”. No one serious, except perhaps Bernard-Henri Levy, could still promote the killing of civilians with the justification that it will protect the human rights of other civilians. Ordinary citizens are the biggest victims, cynically called ”collateral damage”, of all previous military interventions that happened after the one in Yugoslavia – in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya… We’re remembering very well the cynical attitude towards human victims shown by the leaders of NATO bombing – from Madeleine Albright, Tony Blair to Bill Clinton, who even earned a monument to be erected in his honor by Albanian leaders in Priština.
If some could still be deluded by humanitarian rhetoric in the war in Afghanistan and Iraq, after Libya – which, after the assassination of Gaddafi, suffered massive vindictive and racist killings without trials – it became clear enough that this type of intervention, as well as in Kosovo in 1999, only incite chaos. To intervene today, for example, in Syria, when it’s not possible to distinct who is killing whom, and when even al-Qaeda cells are fighting amongst themselves, it would mean that the major world power leaders have completely lost their compass in global politics. When Russian troops entered the Crimea, U.S. President Barack Obama’s calling upon necessity to respect state sovereignty of Ukraine, was greeted by many with derision and reminding of all cases when the United States trampled the sovereignty of countries around the world in the name of human rights. Decreased global power of the United States is maybe the most properly testified by an ongoing joke spreading on social networks where Obama threatens Putin that he’s going to unfriend him on Facebook if he doesn’t end the occupation of the Crimea.
Wallerstein and Chomsky both agree that Yugoslavia during the Rambouillet negotiations could not avoid the bombing because it was pushed to accept something ”that no state would accept” and both believe that NATO was only seeking an excuse to intervene. Later, there were many similar excuses and wars, although each of them could be avoided if the world powers really wanted that.
Translated by Vladimir Bogićević
The article is originally published on the front page of Serbian Daily Politika, on the 15th anniversary of NATO bombing of Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro) that began on 24th March 1999 and lasted for 78 days.