Chris Harman


Bomb warning

(March 1994)

Thinking It Through, Socialist Review, No.173, March 1994.
Copyright © Socialist Review.
Copied with thanks from the Socialist Review Archive at
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

‘Western leaders see former Yugoslavia as a symptom of a much wider danger to them – that of instability right through central and eastern Europe’

One sad spectacle over the last month has been that of former peace activists cheering on Western military intervention in Bosnia. They believe that somehow this intervention is aimed at stopping ‘ethnic cleansing’ and the victory of ‘fascist forces’ in former Yugoslavia.

In fact, as we have pointed out again and again in this Review, each of the various Western plans for former Yugoslavia has gone along with the division of the country into rival states run by governments based on the alleged ‘ethnic’ differences between Serbs, Croats and Muslims. That is why each scheme for the partition of Bosnia has led to increased ethnic cleansing, by encouraging Serb, Croat and, finally, Muslim politicians and military commanders to drive out people of a different religion so as to secure territory for themselves.

Western military threats against Bosnian Serb forces are not aimed at stopping the carve up of territory, but rather at getting the Bosnian Serb leaders to make enough concessions to get the Bosnian Muslim and Croat leaders to accept the carve up.

They aim to establish one pattern of ethnic cleansing rather than another. For this reason alone, no one who has opposed Western militarism in the past should give any backing to the present manoeuvres of NATO and the UN.

They are no more opposed to barbarous ethnic cleansing in former Yugoslavia than they are to the efforts of their Turkish ally to subdue the Kurdish minority by burning down villages and murdering those who resist.

Their interventions in Yugoslavia are just as cynical as their previous efforts. In Afghanistan the Western media decried the horrendous destruction wrought by Russian troops as the West armed the rival resistance groups to the teeth, but have ignored the continued destruction as these groups blast Kabul.

In Angola the US and South Africa gave UNITA sufficient arms to fuel a civil war that has caused a death toll many times greater than Bosnia’s. In Somalia the UN gave a free hand to the US’s ‘operation restore hope’, which led to an estimated 10,000 Somali deaths.

But if that record was not bad enough, the motives behind the most recent UN/NATO threats in former Yugoslavia should be enough to worry anybody who once campaigned against Western militarism.

Clinton, Kohl, Balladur, Major and the others see former Yugoslavia as a symptom of a much wider danger to them – that of instability from central and eastern Europe, through the Caspian Sea region to central Asia: a region under Russian hegemony until 1989.

The various Western powers viewed the collapse of the old Soviet bloc as providing them with the chance to pull the whole region under their influence. The reality has been that the inability of the market to solve the crisis of state capitalism has led to enormous tensions right through the region. And the Western powers have proved completely incapable of cooperating with each other to hold these in check.

What’s happened in former Yugoslavia has been the biggest expression of their failure so far. But they now fear a much more serious failure – loss of influence over the former USSR.

The shock treatment they encouraged Yeltsin’s government to undertake has been a disaster. With 40 percent of industry devoted directly or indirectly to arms production, the Russian economy is just not up to market competition with the advanced Western countries. Output and living standards have slumped. Fifteen percent of the Russian population live on starvation wages, another 15 percent below the poverty line. Food bills now use up two thirds of the average wage packet, as against only 30 percent three years ago. The annual death rate has risen by nearly a third.

Against this background, the fascist Zhirinovsky has won the electoral support of a quarter of the people.

But Russia’s real rulers – those who run the giant industrial enterprises, the armed forces and the state bureaucracy – still have a few cards they can play. The huge military industrial complex means they are still the world’s second biggest arms producer. And most of the other former Soviet republics are in an even worse mess than Russia, torn apart by their own bitter social and inter-ethnic tensions.

This tempts a Russian government denuded of the pro-Western shock marketeers to look to military as well as economic forms of global competition. Already last year the Russian military showed it could, by judicious intervention on the side of the Abkhazian separatists, force the Georgian government to forget its nationalist scruples and return to the Russian fold. Economic pressure has forced Byelorus to follow the same path. Now an important section of Russia’s rulers hope that the Ukrainian government will bow to their dictates rather than risk civil war as pro-Russian separatist forces gain support in the Crimea. And threats to energy supplies are being used to bring even the recalcitrant Baltic republics to heel.

Some Western governments have already let be known their fears that what was once the Tsarist Empire and then the Soviet Union is now being reassembled under a new name.

The Financial Times wrote recently, ‘The US and German governments issued clear warnings to the new Russian government not to seek to create any spheres of influence beyond its borders’.

But for such warnings to be taken seriously, the Western powers had to prove they could act in a coordinated manner. Three years of disarray over policy in former Yugoslavia put this in doubt.

What lay behind the panic was not the effects of one mortar shell in Sarejevo, after so much horror had been ignored for so long. It was the very real desire to show that NATO was still around to ward off any revival of Russian influence.

In fact the strategy backfired. Russia seized the opportunity to send in its troops to supervise the Serbian ceasefire, gaining its first direct influence in the region since 1947 and cementing a new bloc with Serbia and Greece.

Those on the left calling for armed intervention ended up on the same side as those in the US government who see sabre rattling in Bosnia as a necessary continuation of the old cold war.

Last updated on 17 December 2009