At the Turn of the New Century
The capitulation of Serbia to the US-NATO onslaught brings to an end the last major strategic experience of the twentieth century. Its bloody conclusion endows the century with a certain tragic symmetry.It began with the suppression of the anti-colonial uprising of the Chinese Boxers. The century closes with a war that completes the reduction of the Balkans to the status of a neo-colonial protectorate of the major imperialist powers.
It is too early to appreciate the full extent of the devastation wreaked upon Serbia and Kosovo by the missiles and bombs of the United States. The number of military deaths suffered by the Serbs is estimated at 5,000. Military casualties are thought to be twice that number. At least 1,500 civilians have been killed. In the course of nearly 35,000 sorties, the US air forceabetted by its European accomplices shattered a vast portion of the industrial and social infrastructure of Yugoslavia. NATO estimates that 57 percent of the country's petroleum reserves have been damaged or destroyed. Nearly all the major highways, railways and bridges have been extensively bombed. The electrical transformers, central power plants and water filtration systems upon which modern urban centers depend are functioning at only a fraction of their pre-bombardment capacity. Several hundred thousand workers have lost their livelihoods because of the destruction of their factories and workplaces. Several major hospitals have suffered extensive bomb-related damages. Schools attended by a total of 100,000 children have been damaged or destroyed.
The estimated cost of rebuilding what NATO has demolished is between $50 billion and $150 billion. Even the lower figure is far beyond the resources available to Yugoslavia. It is expected that the country's gross national product will decline by 30 percent this year. During the last two months consumer spending fell by nearly two-thirds. Economic researchers have already calculated that, without outside assistance, Yugoslavia would require 45 years to reach even the meager level of economic prosperity that it knew in 1989!
The bombing of Yugoslavia has exposed the real relations that exist between imperialism and small nations. Economically, small nations are at the mercy of the lending agencies and financial institutions of the major imperialist powers. In the realm of politics, any attempt to assert their independent interests brings with it the threat of devastating military retaliation. With increasing frequency small states are being stripped of their national sovereignty, compelled to accept foreign military occupation, and submit to forms of rule that are, when all is said and done, of an essentially colonialist character.
The assault on Yugoslavia can be defined more appropriately as a massacre than a war.A war implies combat, in which both sides are exposed to at least some significant degree of risk. Never in history has there been a military conflict in which so great an imbalance existed between the contending forces.
This imbalance in the military resources available to the opposing sides is a defining characteristic of this war.At the end of the twentieth century, the economic resources commanded by the imperialist powers guarantees their technological supremacy which, in turn, is translated into overwhelming military advantage. Within this international framework, the United States has emerged as the principal oppressor imperialist nation, utilizing its technological dominance in the sphere of precision-guided munitions to bully, terrorize and, if it so chooses, lay waste to virtually defenseless small and less-developed countries that have, for one or another reason, gotten in its way.
From a military standpoint, the bombing campaign has again demonstrated the lethal capacities of the United States' war-making machine.Its defense contractors are congratulating themselves and smacking their lips in anticipation of the revenue stream that will flow from purchase orders as the Pentagon replenishes its arsenal of weapons. But the capitulation of Serbia is a Pyrrhic victory. The United States has secured its short-term objectives in the Balkans, but at tremendous long-term political costs. Despite the bombastic propaganda campaign to portray its destruction of Yugoslavia as a humanitarian exercise, the international image of the United States has suffered irreparable damage. In the atmosphere of political confusion surrounding the collapse of the Soviet Union, the prestige of the United States rose to heights not seen since its glory years of World War II. Illusions abounded in America's "democratic" and "humanitarian" role.
Much has changed in the course of this decade.The endless series of cruise missile attacks against one or another defenseless enemy has provoked a sense of revulsion among the broad masses. All over the world the United States is perceived as a ruthless and dangerous bully which will stop at nothing to secure its interests. The rage which erupted in the streets of Beijing after the bombing of the Chinese embassy was not merely the product of the Stalinist regime's propaganda and incitement of chauvinism. Rather, it is now widely understood that what was happening to Belgrade could happen within the next few years to Beijing. More astute representatives of American imperialism fear that the deterioration in the international image of the United States will carry with it a serious political price. In a roundtable discussion on the ABC news program Nightline following the initial announcement of Milosevic's acceptance of NATO's terms, former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger opined: "We've presented to the rest of the world a vision of the bully on the block who pushes a button, people out there die, we don't pay anything except the cost of the missile ... that's going to haunt us in terms of trying to deal with the rest of the world in the years ahead."
Even among its NATO allies, there is nervousness over the international appetites of the United States and its willingness to use all methods to get what it wants.Publicly, European presidents and prime ministers genuflect obediently before the United States and proclaim eternal friendship. Privately, among themselves and in "safe" rooms that they hope are not bugged by the CIA, these leaders wonder where, or against whom, the United States will make its next move. What happens if and when the interests of Europe collide directly with those of the United States? Last year the covers of Time and Newsweek ran mug shots of Saddam Hussein. This year, of Slobodan Milosevic. Next year, who will it be? Whom will CNN proclaim to be the latest international villain, the first "Hitler" of the new century?
Far from representing a humanitarian break with the past, the Balkan War of 1999 signals the virulent resurgence of its most malignant characteristics:the legitimization of the naked use of overwhelming military power against small countries in pursuit of strategic "Big Power" interests, the cynical violation of the principle of national sovereignty and the de facto reestablishment of colonialist forms of subjugation, and the revival of inter-imperialist antagonisms that carry within them the seeds of a new world war. The demons of imperialism that first arose at the beginning of the twentieth century have not been exorcised by the international bourgeoisie. They still haunt mankind as it enters into the twenty-first.