Kosovo, NATO and the KLA


"A weak national liberation movement such as the KLA, confronted with a stronger opponent, is often tempted to rely on the support of the Great Powers"

FACED WITH NATO's war against Serbia and the suffering of the Kosovan Albanians, many on the left have reacted by championing the cause of Kosovan independence. A recent letter in the Observer, signed by ex Labour leader Michael Foot and two former members of the editorial committee of New Left Review, called on NATO "to recognise Kosovo's right to independence". It declared, "The first priority is to arm the KLA without delay."

The Kosovo Liberation Army undoubtedly enjoys considerable support among Kosovan Albanians. Unfortunately its leadership is pursuing a strategy that will make a mockery of Kosovan self determination. The Serb security forces were not responsible for all the atrocities during the small scale counter-insurgency war going on in Kosovo before NATO's bombing campaign. Journalists sympathetic to the Kosovan Albanians, such as the Guardian's Jonathan Steele, reported that the KLA was targeting members of the Serb minority.

Instead of allying with the powerful democratic opposition to Slobodan Milosevic in Serbia, the KLA sought the backing of right wing Albanian nationalists. They trained on land belonging to Sali Berisha, who was dictator of Albania until he was brought down by a popular rising two years ago. Now the KLA is looking towards NATO. "Only NATO Can Save Us", read the slogan on a Kosovan demonstration in London last Sunday.

KLA leaders are in regular contact by satellite telephone with Robin Cook and other Western leaders. A KLA spokesman told last Saturday's Financial Times that "the KLA is also helping NATO by supplying information, including bomb damage reports." In all likelihood the United States and its allies have already begun to arm and train the KLA, just as they did the Croat and Bosnian Muslim forces in the mid-1990s, even though they continue to regard Kosovo as legally part of Serbia.

These developments are likely to bring yet more disaster on the Kosovan Albanians. A weak national liberation movement such as the KLA, confronted with a stronger opponent, is often tempted to rely on the support of the Great Powers. The effect is to turn the movement into a plaything of these powers, to be backed or abandoned as it suits them.

The Iraqi Kurds are a particularly tragic example of this. In the mid-1970s the Iraqi Ba'ath regime was closely allied to Moscow and in conflict with the pro-Western regime of the Shah of Iran. Washington and Tehran were therefore happy to back the Iraqi Kurds, at least until the Shah made a deal with the Iraqi regime. Then in 1978-9 the Shah was overthrown, and the West looked to Saddam Hussein in Iraq as a bulwark against the Iranian Revolution. The US, Britain and France cheerfully supplied arms to Saddam, which he used not merely to wage war on Iran, but also to butcher the Kurds. But during the 1991 Gulf War between the West and Saddam, Washington and London suddenly rediscovered the Iraqi Kurds and encouraged them to rebel against Saddam. After the war the Kurds were forced to flee from Saddam's revenge to the far north of the country, where a Western protectorate was established.

Here the Iraqi Kurdish nationalist organisations, the KDP and the PUK, have degenerated into a mafia, living off the black market trade between Turkey and Iraq, and balancing politically between Saddam and the West. Shamefully, they collaborated with the recent Turkish military offensive against the Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK), which is fighting for the liberation of the Kurdish minority in Turkey.

This is the fate which awaits the Kosovan Albanians should their leaders continue their present strategy of allying with NATO and the other Western powers. The Kosovan Albanians have the right to national self determination, just like all the other peoples of the Balkans. But that does not mean that socialists should support the KLA. Nationalist movements which allow themselves to become subordinated to the designs of the Great Powers cease to be independent political forces. All the signs are that the KLA is becoming an instrument of NATO. Backing the KLA does not offer a soft option. This is NATO's war. Those who want the killing to end must campaign for NATO to stop the bombing and get out of the Balkans.