Why the US wages war

by Chris Harman

"WESTERN OR Yankee imperialist" aims are not involved in the war, Labour MP Ken Livingstone claimed as he backed the bombing last week. Yet the US has certainly been the driving force in pushing for war, just as in numerous other military adventures over the last two decades, from the invasion of Grenada and Panama in the mid-1980s to the recent bombing of Sudan and Iraq. The US does not have two rival sets of armed forces and intelligence agencies, one of which does such barbaric things and one of which is committed only to benevolence and peace. The same CIA chiefs, the same generals and the same politicians (from both main US political parties) are involved in all its policies.

The Clinton administration behind the bombing is the same Clinton administration that dances to the tune of Monsanto or Chiquita (formerly United Fruit) as it attempts to dictate trade policy to the Third World. It is the same adminstration whose policies on debts mean, as Barton Briggs of financiers Morgan Stanley put it, "200 million sullen Latin Americans sweating away in the hot sun for the next decade so that Citicorp can raise its dividend twice a year".

But, people ask, what is the US's motivation for going to war against Yugoslavia? After all, there is no oil there as there is in Iraq. Ever since the collapse of the old Eastern bloc ten years ago the US has been determined to show that it is the only superpower. Its strategic aim is to exercise "hegemony" throughout the world to get its way in any disagreement with other states, big or small. But other big states are not always willing to go along with its schemes.

CLINTON: wants to show US dominance

There have, for instance, been repeated disputes over trade with the West European countries, such as the current "banana wars", and Japan. It has attempted to pull these states into line by showing it alone has the military power to act as world policeman, imposing the common requirements of the big states on any smaller "rogue" state that steps out of line. It did this admirably from its own twisted point of view in the 1991 war with Iraq. It made sure the Middle East's oil supplies remained in Western hands. It also persuaded Japan, the European powers and Saudi Arabia to pay most of its war costs.

The US had another success in Croatia and Bosnia in the mid-1990s. The German government had ignited the Yugoslav powder keg by giving recognition to Croatia under a leader who admired the wartime fascist regime of the Ustashe. But only the US was able to bring order to the breakaway states—training the Croat army, arming the Bosnian Muslims, bombing the Serbs, and finally helping the Croats "ethnically cleanse" most of the Serbs in Croatia.

Since then the US has set out to further cement its influence over Europe by expanding Nato to include three former Russian allies, Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic. Now the Kosovan crisis has given it another chance to show it alone is capable of calling the shots in the European Union's backyard. It reckons that European governments which rely on its military hardware against Yugoslavia will be much less likely to complain over its polices on trade, debt, Middle East oil, or anything else. The pro-war Guardian gave the game away when it argued, "Nato needs to be tested in its new guise and this conflict will do the job as well as any other."

The war involves two evil forces. One, Slobodan Milosevic, has horrible policies but can only implement them in a fairly limited area. The other, US imperialism, is just as capable of evil, but on a world scale. Hundreds of thousands of dead in Central America, Africa, the Middle East and Indonesia are testimony to its crimes, just as the thousands of dead in Kosovo are testimony to Milosevic's crimes. Ken Livingstone said in the Commons that Tony Benn's opposition to the war put him in the position of someone who stood back when he saw a gang of thugs raping a woman. Livingstone's position is that of someone who relies on the likes of Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper, to deal with the thugs.