A war to save face, not lives

by Alex Callinicos

TONY BLAIR claimed last week that the war against Serbia is being waged by "a new generation of leaders in the United States and in Europe...who hail from the progressive side of politics." Joschka Fischer, foreign minister in Germany's Red-Green government, declared that NATO is waging an "anti-fascist war" and compared it to Spain in 1936.

What is certainly true is that many people who were once active socialists and peace campaigners are among the most frenzied advocates of an all out war. Glenys Kinnock on Question Time last week had obviously put her support for CND far behind her as she seemed positively to glory in the slaughter. Meanwhile more serious representatives of ruling class opinion are considerably sceptical about the war. Take Denis Healey, for example. As head of the Labour Party's international department after the Second World War he played an active part in splitting the European working class movement along Cold War lines. A strong supporter of NATO, he campaigned against CND from the 1950s to the 1980s. But in an article in the Independent last week Healey said that "the end of the Cold War has made NATO a biological monstrosity—an organ without a function", and called for Russia to broker a peace settlement in the Balkans.

A round table discussion in last Sunday's Observer revealed similar scepticism. Of the panellists, only Shirley Williams of the Liberal Democrats displayed enthusiastic support for the war. Balkan expert Mark Almond said, "It's very difficult for me to see that what was a bad situation, an oppressive situation, has not been made catastrophic." The newspaper columnist Andrew Marr was equally scathing: "I think at some time something had to be done about Milosevic, but I think this was the worst possible way of doing it, and catastrophic in its consequences."

Yet Marr was representative also in arguing that having launched the war NATO must win it. As Jonathan Eyal of the Royal United Services Institute put it, "So in a way we are committed to a policy which is quite frankly idiotic but which in a way would have to be continued to save some credibility." "Credibility"—that's the key word. This war is not being fought for democratic and humanitarian "values", as Blair claims. It is being waged to save NATO's face.

The same position was put forward very lucidly a couple of weeks ago by Financial Times columnist Martin Wolf. He was damning about the way in which Bill Clinton launched the war, arguing that "this action has been fundamentally frivolous." But Wolf was also cynically clear about what is really at stake; "This is worse even than a humanitarian disaster. The credibility of the West is now at stake. If Mr Milosevic gains the day, NATO's viability is in question, at least in out-of-area interventions." Wolf concluded, "To enter the war may have been a mistake; to lose it would be a disaster."

So the attitude of a wide spectrum of ruling class opinion might be summed up as one of critical support for the war—not for the sake of the wretched Kosovans, but for the sake of NATO. For the US ruling class NATO provides the framework through which the US maintains military and political dominance in Europe. The West European ruling classes continue to believe, with differing degrees of enthusiasm, that there is no alternative to relying on US military power for their security. It will be the peoples of the Balkans who pick up the tab for defending these strategic interests.

Another Financial Times columnist, Philip Stephens, spelt out what this may mean on Friday last week, saying, "The allies are bombing roads, bridges, and fuel dumps with the specific objective of cutting the lines of retreat. They want to lock the Serbian army in Kosovo. Every exit for tanks, heavy equipment and vehicles is being closed. Only when the enemy is stranded and immobilised...shall we see the start of the real war. It will not be pleasant. Kosovo will become a shooting gallery for those fearsome Apache helicopters and A-10 ground attack aircraft." Stephens is close to the Blair court, so this scenario probably reflects the thinking in Downing Street.

What it means is that those splendid "progressives" in Washington, London, Berlin and Paris are planning to re-stage the carnage we saw along the Basra road at the end of the Gulf War in February 1991. How Clinton and Blair imagine that such an air offensive can be mounted against this tiny plateau thronged with hundreds of thousands of refugees, without considerable civilian casualties, is beyond me. The butchery last week on the Prizren-Djakovica road is likely to be only the beginning.