Lessons of the Yugoslav War: A Discussion by Three Antiwar Leaders

On June 26, a public debate was planned to take place between pro-war supporters and antiwar activists at James Lick Middle School in San Francisco. But when pro-war advocates either declined to appear or failed to show up for the scheduled debate, the event was transformed into a public indictment of the just-concluded air war against the people of Yugoslavia.

Those invited to defend their pro-war views included Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.). Also scheduled to appear was Michael Lerner, editor of Tikkun magazine, who reportedly supported the use of ground troops.

Printed below are the presentations of antiwar activists Paul George, Carole Seligman, and Alexander Cockburn. The event was sponsored by the Ad Hoc Coalition to Stop the U.S./NATO War in the Balkans.


Paul George

Director, Peninsula Peace & Justice Center; Editor, PeaceWORKS Journal; Producer of “Other Voices” on Cable TV Channel 6; Past Western Regional Coordinator, Quest for Peace; Co-coordinator, Jan. 26, 1991, Mobilization to Bring the Troops Home Now!



At the heart of any debate over what has just occurred in Yugoslavia is the question of “humanitarian intervention.” More than any other military intervention in recent or faded memory, this war has been the liberals’ war, a sad state of affairs enabled, no doubt, by Bill Clinton’s uncanny ability, against all logic, to parlay his participation in a couple of antiwar marches three decades ago into a reputation as a full-blown antiwar, pro-human-rights president.

Vaclav Havel, president of the Czech Republic-who has a much more deserved reputation as a supporter of human rights than Bill Clinton could ever aspire to-said that the war on Yugoslavia was perhaps the first war waged “in the name of principles and values.”

While noting that NATO’s attack on a sovereign nation was a violation of international law, Havel excused this transgression by claiming that NATO was acting in behalf of a higher law, “a law that ranks higher than the law which protects the sovereignty of states: human rights.”

Let us just note in passing, and without further comment, that Havel presides over one of NATO’s newest member states.

From the very beginning of this war, many analysts have examined the U.S. record, in particular, of staunch defense of human rights. Noam Chomsky, especially, has analyzed the U.S. record in great detail and concluded, as might be expected, that a humanitarian intervention by the United States “anywhere in the world would be difficult, impossible, actually” to reconcile with the historic record.

Chomsky has detailed the U.S. response to humanitarian catastrophes in places as diverse as Laos, Colombia, Turkey, and Indonesia and has found the U.S. to be-and let us put this charitably -lacking in its affections for the people of those countries and their immense human suffering.”

I find the situation in Turkey to be a particularly good example of this approach to analyzing U.S./NATO actions in Yugoslavia, because it represents a nearly perfect analogy to the situation in Kosovo prior to the NATO attacks.

You might recall that in his speech to the nation, which purported to explain why our tax dollars were about to be used to level a sovereign country, Bill Clinton lamented the fact that the Kosovar Albanians weren’t permitted to use their own language in their schools-which is also true for many families in California, by the way-that villages had been shelled, that there were some 20,000 internal refugees, that substantial numbers of civilians had perished as a result of the civil war between the KLA and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia-well, he didn’t actually mention in that speech that there was a civil war raging, but let’s not sweat the details.

All of this, of course, was accurate and is lamentable. Then, he went on to say, “Imagine if we just looked the other way while this was happening on NATO’s doorstep.” Oh, the shame, the shame.

In Turkey, the Kurdish ethnic minority, brutally repressed by the central government, has been engaged in a decades-long struggle for autonomy, let alone independence, and has seen its aspirations blocked at every turn.

Years of frustration eventually resulted in an armed struggle for freedom. As a consequence, the Kurds have seen 3000 villages burnt to the ground by army forces. There are over one million internal refugees. There have been 2000 documented cases of assassination of Kurdish political activists.

And what has been the U.S. response to this humanitarian catastrophe? We provide them with the helicopter gunships they use to strafe and terrorize the civilian population. Of course, Turkey isn’t on NATO’s doorstep. No, Turkey is a member of NATO, it is sitting in the living room with its feet up on the coffee table, sipping brandy with the rest of the big boys.

So, Chomsky and the others are absolutely correct: there is nothing in the historic record that could possibly lead us to believe that what we have just witnessed in Yugoslavia arises out of humanitarian concerns. But, just for the sake of argument, or simply to be charitable to our liberal friends for a moment, let us allow the possibility that there has been a shift in U.S. foreign policy, that the “radical leftist” who now occupies the White House has brought a new set of priorities to the national agenda.

What would a truly humanitarian intervention, one rooted, remember, in the highest ideals of humanity, what would this humanitarian intervention look like? First, we might expect that all diplomatic avenues to resolve the situation be thoroughly pursued and truly exhausted before resorting to violence. That would be the idealistic, humanitarian course of action.

Second, if diplomacy did indeed fail, then we would expect that the military intervention would be designed in such a manner so that the number one priority would be to protect and shelter from harm the people on whose behalf the intervention is taking place and, secondly, that the military action also be designed to preserve and protect the human rights of other civilians not engaged in the conflict.

I think these items constitute the most basic aspects of what one might expect in a truly humanitarian intervention. Let’s examine how the attack on Yugoslavia stacks up in comparison.

First, as to exhausting all diplomatic efforts: Not only were the diplomatic options not exhausted, they hardly raised a sweat. “Mad dog” Albright’s team-excuse me-Madeline Albright’s team arrived at Rambouillet with a “settlement” already drafted. The document was not a draft framework for a negotiated deal, but the final document, not one word of which was to be negotiated.

Yugoslavia was given a choice: sign or be bombed. That is hardly what one would call “negotiating.”

I think it is fairly well known, by now, just what was in the Rambouillet document, but let’s review it briefly, anyway. I think there are two major points to look at. First, there was the now famous, or infamous, Appendix B, which would have allowed the occupying NATO troops full, unrestricted access to all of Yugoslavia.

This passage has been mentioned by many commentators as constituting the “poison pill” specifically designed to insure that Yugoslavia would not, indeed, could not, sign on to the agreement. That clearly seems to be the case.

George Kenney, a former State Department officer at the Yugoslavia desk, has reported that he heard from what he terms unimpeachable sources that State Department officials at Rambouillet told reporters during “deep background” briefings, that they had intentionally “set the bar too high” for Yugoslavia to be able to sign the Rambouillet agreement.

His source quotes the State Department official as saying, “the Serbs need some bombing and that’s what they’re going to get.” If this is true, and that seems to be the case, then clearly the West arrived at Rambouillet not with the intention of exhausting all diplomatic possibilities, but with the intention that nothing remotely resembling diplomacy would even be allowed to arise.

There is another aspect to Appendix B that has gone less remarked. There is also language that would insure that all NATO personnel would be immune from any and all Yugoslav and Serbian legal processes and would be immune from “arrest, investigation or detention.”

Furthermore, the NATO personnel would be permitted to “detain” individuals and hand them over to unspecified “appropriate authorities.” And remember, this would be the case throughout all of Yugoslavia.

State Department and White House officials have implied that the Rambouillet accord was based upon the Dayton agreement, which permitted the entry of UN forces into Bosnia. This is simply untrue. The Dayton agreement allowed only “free transit through the territory of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia” and made no mention of NATO personnel being able to detain or arrest anyone.

Yugoslavia not only indicated a willingness to negotiate the terms of the enforcement mechanisms, but actually made counter-offers. In his March 24 speech to the nation, Bill Clinton said, “Serbian leaders refused even to discuss key elements of the peace agreement.” This was a blatant lie to the American public and, in any case, hypocritical in the extreme for someone who arrived at the bargaining table with a take-it-or-leave attitude.

One final note about Rambouillet. The document also had language in it that would call for a referendum of some kind, apparently a vote on independence, that would occur three years hence. This was a very troubling aspect to Yugoslavia and was one of the points they insisted on negotiating. I think it is interesting to note that the agreement which was finally reached after 78 days of bombing, omits this part entirely.

In any event, it is clear that the first required element of a “humanitarian” intervention was not met. Let’s take a look at the conduct of the military attack and see how well that lived up to the lofty ideals of humanitarianism and human rights.

First, and perhaps most astonishingly, was the total lack of preparation to deal with the fully anticipated flow of refugees. The military planners knew there would be massive refugee movements and yet they made no plans to deal with them: no tents, no water supplies, no food supplies, nothing! Apparently, Clinton’s and Blair’s executioners had been so busy selecting bombing targets during the previous months that they completely forgot about the Albanians! Never gave them a moment of thought.

If the well-being of the Albanians was uppermost in the thoughts of the U.S. and NATO planners, you would expect that they might have done at least a little contingency planning for the Albanians. Military and CIA analysts had predicted that mass expulsions would take place once the bombing began. Those predictions were totally ignored by the “caring, humanitarian” upper echelons of the NATO governments.

While we’re on the topic of refugees, it is important to note that while the first waves of refugees were clearly victims of the reprehensible ethnic expulsion policies of the Yugoslav forces, it is also clear that by April and May, the massive refugee exodus continued because of the bombing. It was repeated over and over throughout this war that no one knew what was going on in Kosovo because foreign reporters weren’t allowed in there.

But major media outlets like The Los Angeles TimesThe New York Times, and the BBC all had reporters on the ground in Kosovo. Not many, true, but they were there. And by April they were all reporting that the refugees were fleeing the bombs; not on the front pages, of course, but they were reporting that fact.

While the Serbs were burning houses, NATO was leveling the rest of the country, including the infrastructure. And it is here that we see the final lie of this “humanitarian” intervention.

The way in which NATO conducted this war, the targets selected, the weapons used, all lead us to one conclusion: NATO engaged in war crimes from beginning to end of this murderous campaign. Civilian targets were attacked from literally the first night of the bombing, when a tractor factory in a Belgrade suburb was hit.

NATO spokesmen throughout this campaign told us time and time again that NATO doesn’t target civilians and that, even though NATO bombs are the most accurate in history, “collateral damage” was still inevitable.

The “mistakes” that NATO made included hospitals, town centers, churches, apartment buildings, markets, and refugee convoys. But the list of intentionally hit targets is also a litany of civilian targets: roads, bridges, and railways which were hundreds of miles from Kosovo; civilian factories, including a shoe factory, a car manufacturing plant, a cigarette factory, and food and sugar processing plants.

The list goes on and on: chemical plants, gas stations, civilian airports, heating plants for civilian apartment buildings, oil refineries, and television and radio stations.

It is clear that NATO’s strategy was not to attack the Yugoslav army directly, but to destroy Yugoslavia itself and thereby hope to weaken the army. This strategy was no secret as it was reported by virtually all media outlets that NATO had selected what it happily termed “political” targets rather than strictly military targets.

On May 21, newspapers around the country ran comments from NATO generals about this strategy: “Just focusing on fielded forces is not enough. The people have to get to the point that their lights are turned off, their bridges are blocked so they can’t get to work.”

The final outrage came in late May when night after night NATO targeted water pumping stations throughout Serbia. Those few pumps that were left operative were rendered inoperative by NATO’s targeting of the electrical grid of Serbia. At one point, nearly 1 million civilians in Belgrade alone were without running water and Belgrade’s reserves were down to their last 10 percent.

And what about casualties, civilian and military? Wartime statistics are notoriously difficult to verify, but I think we now have a general idea of what befell Yugoslavia. In a report entitled “Serb army unscathed by NATO” filed after the war by Robert Fisk of the The Independentnewspaper out of London, Fisk says, “NATO officers have been astonished that thousands of Yugoslav tanks, missile launchers, artillery batteries, personnel carriers, and trucks have been withdrawn from the province with barely a scratch on them.”

He goes on to note that some 60,000 Yugoslav troops were withdrawn, far above the 40,000 estimated to be there.

Sources as diverse as the Yugoslav army, the federal government, humanitarian aid workers and Western journalists all come up with a figure of around 600 Yugoslav soldiers killed in Kosovo. Of these, about half were killed by the KLA during the guerrilla war that continued during the NATO assault. So, NATO killed about 300 soldiers.

Meanwhile, the civilian tally sheet is quite different. Most sources put the civilian toll at about 1500 killed and some 6000 wounded. Of the 1500 civilian deaths, about 450 are attributed to NATO’s endless series of “mistakes.” That leaves over a thousand civilians who were killed intentionally by NATO.

When the civilian death toll outnumbers the army death toll by a factor greater than three, it is clear that the civilian population of Yugoslavia was the intended victim in this war, and that the Yugoslav army represented the “collateral damage.”

Humanitarian war, my ass. From start to finish, NATO’s war strategy was undeniably, unmistakably criminal in intent and execution.

Let’s rewind a little bit and go back to earlier this year, as a way of concluding this examination into the “humanitarian” nature of this war. What was the humanitarian crisis that provoked this whole adventure in the first place? We’ve heard a lot of loose talk about the genocide that was taking place in Kosovo. Let’s examine that briefly.

In February of 1998, a major KLA offensive began, opening a new chapter in the Kosovo Albanians’ long struggle for self-determination. For years, that struggle had been a nonviolent one, perhaps the greatest example of massive nonviolent resistance since the days of Gandhi. The Albanians received no support from the West during that period.

Throughout 1998, what was clearly a civil war raged throughout Kosovo. International mediation resulted in occasional cease fires, which were routinely violated by one side or the other. During the course of that year, about 2000 civilians lost their lives. Tragic, yes. Genocide, decidedly not.

In October of last year, again as a result of international mediation efforts, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), a non-military coalition of all European countries, and excluding the United States and Canada, sent in almost 2000 civilian, unarmed human rights monitors.

The intent of the monitoring mission was to keep to a minimum the number of civilian casualties and gross human rights violations. And it was, for all intents and purposes, working.

The number of civilian casualties in Kosovo from the start of 1999 until the bombing started was somewhere around 60. And this is while the civil war continued, a guerrilla war, which means the fighting, as a rule, takes place in and around civilian population centers.

That the Yugoslav forces were fighting a war against a guerrilla army is recognized by even the State Department. That the broad, major offensive by the Yugoslav army started after the bombing began is also tacitly recognized by the State Department.

In a report issued on May 12 of this year, the State Department says, “In late March 1999, Serbian forces dramatically increased the scope and pace of their efforts, moving away from selective targeting of towns and regions suspected of KLA sympathies.”

Here’s State Department acknowledgment that there wasn’t a major offensive aimed at civilians before the bombing began. Bill Clinton’s own response to a question about this matter, posed at a press conference, is also enlightening. He said, “It would have happened anyway.” Outside of the fact that this statement apparently indicates that U.S. foreign policy is based on reading tea leaves and other prognostications, it is also a tacit admission by the president that that massive ethnic cleansing offensive was not happening when the bombing began.

So why did NATO bomb Yugoslavia? To be brief, because they could. Read NATO’s “New Strategic Concept” paper, issued in April at its 50th anniversary celebrations in Washington. In that paper, NATO reserves for itself the right to intervene wherever and whenever it pleases, whenever and wherever it detects “instability or the threat of instability.”

And what leads to instability? According to NATO’s Strategic Concept paper, “Ethnic and religious rivalries, territorial disputes, the abuse of human rights, the dissolution of states, inadequate or failed efforts at reform.”

Inadequate or failed efforts at reform. Very interesting. Refuse to get on board the West’s globalization bandwagon, refuse to surrender your national economy to Wall Street, insist on a level of national sovereignty, and you are running the risk of being bombed for the sin of causing “instability.”

At the end of the Persian Gulf war, George Bush proclaimed a “new world order.” The truth of the matter is that a new world order was in the works, and the slaughter in the Persian Gulf gave us a strong hint of what it might be like. But the Cold War had just recently ended and, after 50 years, it wasn’t clear what the new world political structure would be.

Now, the new world order is becoming clear. The NATO bombs that just destroyed a sovereign nation constitute a draft outline of the new world order. Military might and economic power rules the day, with no equivalent power to stop it-except us, the people, organizing to stop it.

Welcome to the future.


Carole Seligman

Ad Hoc Coalition to Stop the U.S./NATO War in the Balkans; National Committee member, Socialist Action


It is important for the antiwar movement to discuss what our country did to Yugoslavia and Kosovo because it isn’t over yet. U.S. and other NATO forces are occupying Kosovo, and it is likely to be repeated.

The movement must come to grips with the success the U.S. government had in tricking a large number of war opponents into supporting this U.S./NATO war, or supporting some form of imperialist intervention, say, by the United Nations, based on the argument of humanitarian motives.

There are a number of excellent responses by Noam Chomsky, Steven R. Shalom, Ralph Schoenman, and many others, including the newspapers being sold here tonight, debunking the argument that the U.S. waged this war for humanitarian reasons.

I will highlight six:

1) The results of the bombing itself are the most powerful argument against the U.S. justification for it on so-called “humanitarian” grounds. These results were summarized in the most cogent and fact-filled rebuttal to the U.S./NATO arguments at the United Nations on June 10 by the ambassador of a small, fiercely independent country (I’ll name the country after the quote-maybe you will guess who it is):

“There is no doubt now … about the real goal of this disproportionate aggression. For 79 days, a colossal military, economic, and technological force attacked with impunity a small developing country, carrying out 35,778 combat and support missions.

“The aggressors’ combined Gross Domestic Product is 1163 times that of their victim: their population is 77 fold; their territory 226-fold, and their regular troops are 43 fold. The Serbian people’s resistance has been heroic, at the cost of thousands of civilians dead or wounded, enormous deprivation, the destruction of their country, the indelible trauma of the bombardments in their children’s minds. The aggressors deserve no laurels.

“The Security Council’s silence will not erase the images of the bombed … passenger train; of the Djakovica-Pec convoy of Albanian refugees; of the civilian facilities in Belgrade and Novi Sad; of the Paracin, Kralijevo, Sremska Mitrovica villages; the Serbian television station; the Luzane bus; the Surdulica neighborhood; the Lucani factory; the power generators; the potable water grids; the Valjevo hospital; the Greek convoy near Vlac; … China’s embassy; the Nis marketplace and hospital complex, the Kosovar-Albanian Korisa village; 18 diplomatic premises; the Istok prison; tens of bridges, railways, and roads.

“It has been a genocide. The systematic actions to deprive millions of people of food, heat, drinking water and medical services; the deliberate and daily strikes on non-military targets where civilians were known to be; and the use of internationally banned weapons like the uranium-coated shells and cluster bombs; or the indiscriminate use of seismic bombs in urban areas and graphite bombs against power grids-so as to paralyze every vital service-cannot be described otherwise.

“These acts are in violation of the Geneva Conventions, International Humanitarian Law, and War Practices and Customs. Those responsible must be exemplarily punished. This war’s environmental impact on the region is really inestimable….

“They argued that they wanted to prevent a massive exodus of refugees and [they] created a true and readily predictable humanitarian catastrophe: 860,000 refugees left their country after the bombings began. The main attacking countries have received only 30,703 refugees, 3.6 percent of the number they created by their bombings. The United States and the United Kingdom, as a whole have received 0.9 percent.

“Two-thirds of the Bosnia refugees whose return had been planned for this year have not returned and nobody is in charge. They wanted to defend the Kosovar-Albanian people’s human rights and prevent the so-called ethnic-cleansing: those who are bombing have too many old and current sins for anyone to believe in their sincerity….”

“The United States contributed 74 percent of the fighter planes, and 97 percent of the airborne refueling planes. Ninety percent of the bombs were … U.S.-made. It used thousands of cruise missiles, deployed for the first time its B-2 [Stealth bombers], and spent billions of dollars financing almost the entirety of the operation.”

I have just quoted Bruno Rodriguez, Cuban ambassador to the UN, who dared to tell the NATO countries to their faces the truth about the real results of the so-called “humanitarian” war.

2) A second way that we know that the “humanitarian” argument of the government is false is that the majority of the killings, the worst of the home burnings, and the greatest number of mass forcible deportations of the Kosovars took place after the bombing began, which, according to NATO Commander Wesley Clark, was “entirely predictable”.

In other words, the U.S./NATO leaders knew what would happen if they were to start bombing, and they did it anyway!

Noam Chomsky has an accurate summary of the extent of the human catastrophe prior to the U.S./NATO bombing campaign: “There has been a humanitarian catastrophe in Kosovo in the past year, overwhelmingly attributable to Yugoslav military forces. The main victims have been ethnic Albanian Kosovars, some 90 percent of the population of this Yugoslav territory. The standard estimate is 2000 deaths and hundreds of thousands of refugees.”

The threat of NATO bombing led to a sharp increase of atrocities by Serbian military and paramilitary forces and the departure of international observers. The actual bombing itself led to the attempt to rid Kovovo of its Albanian inhabitants.

3) A third response to the U.S. claim of “humanitarian motives” is:”What hypocrisy!” Disastrous human crises-in terms of deaths, suffering, and number of refugees-are going on now in many regions: Colombia (with political killings by government and paramilitary forces equal to the level in Kosovo, and the flight from those killings of over 1 million people); Turkey (with political killings and harsh repression of Kurdish peoples struggling for their national rights and the flight of over 1 million from the countryside); Indonesia’s killing of one-third of the people and continued bloody repression of the East Timorese; Guatemala’s genocide against its indigenous peoples (with the murder of 200,000); the genocide against the Tutsi ethnic minority of Rwanda-and these are only a few of the recent and current human catastrophe’s plaguing the world.

None of these has brought a bombing campaign to save its victims. Nor would such a campaign have been the humanitarian way to solve these crisis. Neither the United States nor NATO proposes to bomb the oppressors of the Tutsis, the Mayan Guatemalans, the Timorese, the Kurds, the Palestinians, the Colombian peasants. No, there is no proposal or action to bomb their oppressors, because in all these cases the United States and /or NATO nations were supporting the oppressors.

The hypocrisy consists in the fact that the victims of these catastrophes are victims of the same powers that bombed Yugoslavia. Britain is the chief weapon supplier of the Indonesian government, France supported the genocidal regime in Rwanda, Germany is Turkey’s second largest arms supplier.

The U.S. supports and supplies the repressive governments of Indonesia, Turkey, Colombia, and Guatemala that wage wars against their own peoples and was complicit in the disaster in Rwanda. It is the financial mainstay of the State of Israel. Its economic policies are responsible for the fact that impoverished countries pay enormous interest on debt, which is owned largely by rich citizens of the United States, instead of using their resources to develop their economies and fund their basic needs for food, shelter, and medical care.

It must also be said: The human catastrophe in Iraq, including the deaths of 5000 children each month, the proliferation of cancers and birth deformities caused by the wholesale use of nuclear weapons in the form of depleted-uranium-coated bombs and bullets, is the result of the U.S. war of bombings and sanctions started in 1991 and continuing to this day. “Humanitarianism” spoken by the authors of these disasters is the foulest hypocrisy!

4) For a fourth answer to the “humanitarian” cover story we must go back in time to learn how the imperialist powers, in collaboration with the Stalinist bureaucrats of Yugoslavia, set in motion the near ruin of the economy. This set of events forms the only rational explanation (for me) of how a multi-ethnic society could come unraveled and enter a spiral of inter-ethnic wars.

I’ll begin with a brief quote from the Left Business Observer’s article called “This Kosovo Thing.”

The name of this article comes from a statement from President Clinton that America must have a strong economic relationship that “includes our ability to sell around the world”, and that to have this relationship, Europe “has got to be the key. And if we want people to share our burdens of leadership with all the problems that will inevitably crop up, Europe needs to be our partner. Now that’s what this Kosovo thing is all about … it’s about our values.”

A very revealing statement don’t you think? But, let’s explore these values a bit more.

To quote again from the Left Business Observer: “It’s no mere detail that Yugoslavia came under the tutelage of the International Monetary Fund in the early 1950s, and that the country borrowed heavily and disastrously. Over the decades, the IMF promoted decentralization, competition, and a weakening of development policies that favored poorer regions, and the promotion of market principles. In the 1970s, market liberalization and nationalism went hand-in-hand…”

What happened next? In the early 1980s the economic growth of Yugoslavia slowed down. By the late 1980s there was a decline in the Gross Domestic Product. By the early 1990s there was a severe economic crisis and a sharp fall in all sectors of economic activity with employment down in all the socialized sectors such as mining, agriculture, construction, etc.

A key statistic to illustrate the profound economic crises to hit Yugoslavia is this: in 1979 the poverty rate was high, 19 percent, but by 1988 the poverty rate was 60 percent.

A few other statistics: The 1994 infant mortality rate in Serbia was 21.4 deaths per 1000 live births. By 1997 there was a 40 percent unemployment rate.

Between January 1992 and January 1994, according to an April article in The Wall Street Journal of this year, “…what was left of Yugoslavia endured the second highest and second longest hyperinflation in world history. It peaked in January 1994, when the official monthly inflation rate was 313 million percent.”

Quoting further from this same article, “Long before NATO struck Yugoslavia … monetary madness had destroyed the economy. Wreck an economy, then start a war. It’s an age-old power-preservation ploy.”

During this period of hyperinflation in Serbia, the per capita income plunged over 50 percent. And during this time more than 80 percent of Yugoslavia’s budget was earmarked for military and police forces.

The inflation that destroyed the economy flowed directly from the Structural Adjustment agenda set by the World Bank and imposed by the IMF. This is how the United States and other NATO rich nations bear responsibility for setting a process in motion which led to today’s catastrophe.

The attack on the economy and destruction of the Yugoslavian currency, the dinar, was combined with an assault on the economic and social gains of the workers of Yugoslavia in the form of unemployment, ending of funding for social services and support for housing, education, health services, and pensions.

The transfer of federal revenues towards payment of the interest on the national debt to international banks and financial institutions starved the federal government of funds while it was paying interest over four times the amount of the principle owed. The combined impact of the destruction of the currency and the IMF shock therapy caused industrial growth across Yugoslavia to plunge from over 3 percent annual growth to minus 11 percent.

Despite the mobilizations of hundreds of thousands of Yugoslavian workers against their government’s collusion with the IMF starvation plan in massive strikes by miners, teachers, metalworkers, auto and arms workers, and others, the Stalinist leaders attacked the workers movement, and set in motion a vicious cycle of reactionary nationalism, in order to keep themselves in power one way or another at the expense of their own people.

What does this have to do with the U.S./NATO “humanitarian” cover story for its war? I think that the powerful corporations and financial institutions that run this country and whom the government serves, caused the poverty and economic hardship in Yugoslavia, through their loans, and their demands for economic “shock therapy” to get repayment and interest for those loans.

I think that poverty and hardship create the conditions where ethnic hatred grows, especially if its fires are consciously fanned. And I think that hatred was manipulated by a conscious Stalinist leadership-Milosevic, Tudjman, and the others-which was trying to convert itself from being administrative bureaucrats to being owners of newly privatized property.

I think that these facts explain that the “ethnic conflicts” were deliberately inflamed and maintained by the imperialist countries with their Stalinist junior partners as instruments to divide the working peoples of the Balkans.

And if you agree that this explanation makes sense, then how could you ever think that this cruel bombing campaign and occupation of Kosovo, has anything at all to do with humanitarian principles.

5) A fifth refutation of the humanitarianism argument is the recent spectacle of the corporations who funded the gala 50th anniversary celebration of NATO, held in Washington, D.C.

The Washington Post reported “A dozen companies have paid $250,000 apiece in … contributions for the privilege of having their chief executives serve as directors of the NATO summit’s host committee. The group is a private sector support system raising $8 million to finance the April …event.”

“…[M]any of the firms on the host committee sell precisely the kinds of products most in demand….”

“Corporate support for the NATO summit is an outgrowth of the active role many U.S. companies, particularly defense contractors such as Lockheed Martin Corp … have played in the move to enlarge NATO beyond its traditional U.S.-Western Europe axis.”

And U.S. defense contractors such as Raytheon, which makes the Tomahawk cruise missiles, Lockheed Martin, and Boeing have all had big jumps in their stock since the war began.

These war contractors are pleased to see their products in use, replaced, and re-ordered by the U.S. military and the NATO, especially the new NATO members. This is a clearer statement of the interests behind this war than any of the manufactured reasons.

6) We should remember also, that all wars of aggression are given the cover of “humanitarianism” by their perpetrators. Chomsky cites a study of the record of so-called “humanitarian interventions” and came up with these telling examples: Japan’s attack on Manchuria, Mussolini’s invasion of Ethiopia, Hitler’s occupation of Czechoslovakia, and of course the U.S. war against Vietnam.

“Humanitarian” rhetoric is how these wars are sold to the people who may be asked to fight them or pay for them. And while we in this room certainly are not paying the price that our Kosovar and Serbian brothers and sisters have and are continuing to pay, we are paying a heavy price in terms of our society’s use of precious resources, human and material.

7) I conclude this argument hoping to have convinced anyone who may have been swayed by the “humanitarian” arguments of the government. The real values the United States was fighting for in the bombing of Yugoslavia, and now the occupation of Kosovo, are not the “democratic values” touted by President Clinton.

No, the real meaning of the destruction of Yugoslavia’s infrastructure, including the bombing of Kosovo, was first, to teach the world who the world policeman really is; and second, to let the world know that any resistance to the imposition of the “values” of the self-appointed policeman will be dealt with by any and all means available.

Third, to teach the world the meaning of imperialism’s real values-that is the right of imperialism and its institutions to take over and run the banking and financial institutions of otherwise independent countries wherever that serves its purposes; and fourth, to put America’s capitalists in the prime place when the spoils are divided among the imperialist powers.

The only humanitarian response to this war was to oppose it.

That is what San Francisco’s Ad Hoc Coalition did in mounting two demonstrations, a teach-in, endorsing, building, and speaking at the June 5 demonstration in this city, mass publicizing of the first important labor opposition to the war in the form of the resolution passed by the San Francisco Labor Council, and sponsoring this meeting tonight.

The Ad Hoc Coalition also can take great pride in its defense of the Kosovar people in its opposition to the war. The coalition never fell into the trap of supporting or covering for Milosevic’s brutal policies against the Kosovars and other peoples in the former Yugoslavia.

Unfortunately, some sections of the antiwar movement felt that to oppose U.S. and NATO aggression meant they had to cover for Milosevic and Serbia’s military. This was counter-productive in building a mass anti-war movement.

The very people who are revolted by Milosevic and his brutality to the non-Serbian Balkan peoples are potential participants in the antiwar movement against U.S. aggression.

Most antiwar and solidarity movements in the United States-including against U.S. aggression in Vietnam, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Cuba-have been based on support for the rights of those nations to determine their own destinies, free from outside intervention. The Albanian Kosovars also have the right to self-determination, including independence from Serbia.

Now, they are occupied by NATO troops and every aspect of their existence is being dictated by outsiders. The United States has no interest in, or history of, supporting self-determination. The demand for the withdrawal of U.S. and NATO forces is the precondition for self-determination of the Kosovars and all the other Balkan nations.

Alexander Cockburn

Co-editor, Counterpunch Magazine; Columnist, The Nation, S.F. Examiner, & L.A. Times; Co-author, Whiteout: The CIA, Drugs & the Press


I think the two previous speakers have given a pretty good account of the diplomatic lead up to the war, the way it was forced by the U.S. leading the other NATO powers, and I think an excellent portrait of the economic policies that induced chaos and division inside the former Yugoslavia.

So I’ll be a bit more scattered in my observations-and not too long because I think there are a lot of questions.

I mean, as always in left gatherings, a pessimistic tinge enters the air, so I thought we might look at the good side a little bit. What did the war demonstrate? It proved that everything we ever said about liberals and social democrats is true.

It’s gratifying, let face it. When I was reading Lenin in my teens, when you got to the bit where Lenin is confidently expecting all the social democratic parties in Europe to oppose the beginning of the First World War, and of course then, first the German social democrats all voted to fight the war, and then all the British social democrats voted, and then all the other social democrats-and Lenin just couldn’t believe it and filled several notebooks with curses and cries of surprise and rage.

So we’re kind of, at this point in the century, 1999, a little bit hardened. But here we did have a spectacle where Europe-every single government there, except for my own dear motherland of Ireland, which you can scarcely describe as social democratic in elected government-were all social democrats: Spain, Italy-social democrats and former communists-and, there they were, hollering for war!

And of course, the second gratifying thing was to see Democrats here behaving exactly as one might expect. After all, when we were talking in the years of Vietnam we’d point out, you know, that the national security state, the intellectuals who really argued for the war in Vietnam, who devised many of its vilest policies, who engineered killing which finished off maybe two million people in Southeast Asia, many of them were or could be described as liberals.

You know, whether they were the Council on Foreign Relations liberals or New Republic liberals, I mean there are many stripes of liberals in the zoo. But, then of course, after the debacle and horror of Vietnam, liberals weren’t quite so feisty for war for a while; they, you know-well, some of them were.

The New Republic, I don’t think a week has passed without shouting for a war somewhere; they have long-distance war lust.

But, I think what we’ve found with this war is that at last a lot of liberals who had previously been a little decorous in their blood lust, really came out from under cover.

And you saw an amazing stretch of opinion. And, I’ll tell you what, it is a pity, I’m sad that Lerner wasn’t here. I mean he signed the letter, I think, urging Albright forward.

You had other people, like Susan Sontag, joining with people like Brezinski. And I think what you see there is the real continuance of the old Cold War; the Democratic Party -I wouldn’t call it a wing-it’s most of the body, most of both wings.

In fact, among the Democrats, we should note that there was some quite heroic resistance to the war by 26 Democrats in the House led by Denis Kusinich, who is by origin-I mean talk about long distance-I met Denis when he was the mayor of Cleveland in the late 1970s, fighting a battle against the businessmen of Cleveland who were trying to nab the municipally owned utility, successfully.

And here was Denis, who is an Irish Croat by origin, fighting successfully, actually-and we should note this again-Congress never assented to the war.

Well, you could say, “so what,” and you’d have a certain point. But, it was important and had that war gone on I think you would have seen the possibility of the suit brought by Tom Campbell in federal court, saying that Clinton had abused the Constitution, Article I-on war-making powers stolen from Congress-which might have gone somewhere.

You had the fact that the War Powers Act of 1973, which was brought through after revelations of the bombing in Cambodia-they always called it the “secret” bombing of Cambodia. Secret bombings are bombings the U.S. press doesn’t write about a lot-everybody else knows.

The Cambodians knew. They absolutely knew on day one that they were being bombed by B52s-they’re very smart people! And they went on the radio-you can actually dig out the transcript which was made available through the CIA. The Cambodians said, “We’re being bombed, we’re being bombed by the United States, this is wrong.” That was a secret war!

You’ll remember that when a New York Times correspondent mentioned this secret war in The New York Times in passing, like paragraph nine, Kissinger was so outraged that he began the wiretapping that led, ultimately, to the whole Watergate scandal.

So the U.S. government never liked secret wars to be discussed. But that did produce the War Powers Act, which said that the president really had to provide a pretty good account of himself after 60 days, otherwise Congress could say no.

Well, he didn’t, and so there was enough resistance, which brings me to the third interesting piece of news, which is we discovered, at least I did, a lot of good friends on the right in this war. The right wing are mostly against it, and I wrote somewhere, and I think it’s true, that the best light on the horizon was the old Republican isolationist tradition. They don’t want the wars.

Now, most of you may feel that you just can’t ever feel any relish for anything Pat Buchanan says, but some of the most spirited, articulate, nicely phrased, and well researched denunciations of this war came from people who normally speak in the language of beasts.

There’s a monster columnist on the Boston Herald who’s an absolute animal normally; he wrote terrific stuff against the war. Robert Novack, the Prince of Darkness-we used to call him that-wrote magnificent denunciations of the war.

And the fact is that I think that Clinton and the others felt a real serious possibility that they could lose the Congress. This was a war fought by them against time. I’ll come back to that because I think until quite near the end, in terms of organizing, in terms of possible rebuffs to this whole mighty war machine, the prospects didn’t look too bad until the Serbs were sold out by poor, pathetic, powerless Russia.

What other things were good news? Well, all our suspicions of the War Crimes Tribunal were soundly confirmed. Not to be confused of course with the World Court, the Special Tribunal on War Crimes in the former Yugoslavia was put together by the UN Security Council; the judges appointed by the UN Security Council; the prosecutor is Louise Arbour, a Canadian judge.

And some people said, from the word go, this is a totally partial tribunal; the game is rigged. It was interesting, on March 16 of this year The New York Times published actually a very interesting story by, of all people, Ray Barnard, who many of you will remember for his work in Central America, for which he nearly got fired by The New York Times.

Barnard actually has written some pretty awful stuff in recent years, but this was a good story. He said that the tribunal had been considering evidence of war crimes in the single biggest ethnic cleansing of the ’90s before this war-well, of the single biggest flight-which was what? Of Serbs! Serbs from the Krajina, where-numbers vary-you see estimates ranging from about 250,000 to 500,000.

Serbs were driven out of the Krajina by the Croats with the active help and participation of the U.S. ambassador, Galbraith, and a team of recently retired high Pentagon officials forming a private company to advise the Croats on how to do a really sound bit of ethnic cleansing. Although the Croats are pretty good at this, I must say, if you look at the historical record.

It said in this New York Times story that Arbour was considering evidence and testimony that war crimes had been perpetrated by these Croat officers, bombing civilians, driving all before them.

Now, if the Tribunal is to be seen or was to be seen as anything other than a star chamber, they would have said okay, let’s indict a few Croats for balance, but they didn’t, and the story disappeared. It was the only time I’ve seen actually on the front page of the New York Times a reference to the ethnic cleansing of Krajina.

And what happened next? Right exactly at the moment that NATO powers wanted to give a little goose-up to public support for the war, which was flagging, the polls were heading down, no one liked it particularly.

And, of course most people here weren’t particularly involved except on CNN-you watch a bunch of idiots saying that stuff and that’s it. Your children aren’t going to go and be sent to fight in it; I mean a few are from the height of 35,000 feet dropping high explosives on people, but it’s not exactly seriously dangerous work.

At that moment what happens? The tribunal indicts Milosevic.

Now, simultaneously, another good bit of news, there was some good work done by lawyers in three different countries to indict Clinton. They sent papers to the tribunal, to Louise Arbour.

Of course, she’s not going to blot her copybook for a minute. She’s hoping to get a seat on the Canadian Supreme Court, and you don’t get that way by indicting the NATO leaders. It’s not a sort of wise career option, really.

But really, I think we can see that is the end, to me, totally, of any credibility. Not that I particularly thought there was any for most people credibility to the Tribunal, which I think is a thoroughly sinister enterprise-these growing demands for world courts of justice are a very bad thing in my view, a very bad thing.

If you were a right-wing audience you’d be on your feet at that one, I’ll tell you, because if there’s one thing that sends right wingers and isolationists to their feet it’s talk about the world court. And I sort of sympathize.

You know, what goes out the window? Jury trials go out the window and it’s just another piece of international arbitration by judges picked by the NATO leaders. Is that a venue?

More good news. I think, basically, that the level of knowledge among-I’ll say our side, since I think it is pretty much now that the one guy who was going to speak against it isn’t here-unless there’s someone now so intimidated that they are hiding under their seat.

Okay, I know, we’re all disappointed, but there it is. We tried for debate. We can have an internal dialectical process in our heads. But I think that the level of knowledge here was pretty good.

I’ve never been an enormous fan of the internet owing to my enormous technical incompetence, but my trusty co-editor, Jeffrey Sinclair there, co-editor of Counter Punch, we’ve pulled down an enormous amount of stuff.

In our newsletter we were able to print all the targets hit by NATO, we were able to evaluate all the civilian casualties caused by the bombing inside Serbia-around 2000 as people say. People were well educated on the war and I think in many ways the incredible campaign in some of the media, not all.

One of the most vitriolic and long-ranging propaganda campaigns in my memory was circumvented to a large extent. And what an incredible propaganda campaign it’s been. It’s gone on for about 10 years now, displaying utter lack of knowledge of the Balkans, absolutely no knowledge of Balkan history.

Time and again you see this mad comparison of the Serbs to-of Milosevic to Hitler and the Serbs to Hitler’s willing executioners. You would have never have known that the Serbs were on the receiving end of terrible German purges. You know, a million of them lost their lives in Jasenovac concentration camp.

None of this was known, you know, but I think that most people were able to obtain a good deal of know-ledge. I spoke a few times and was always agreeably surprised of how up people were on the facts and how in a way they didn’t seem to be mind-sotted by hours of CNN and Wolf Blitzer.

Anyway, so those are some items of uplifting news. What’s the bad news? The bad news is, of course, NATO did win. I don’t think that they won….


The whole point about bombing-bombing doesn’t achieve much militarily, but it just kills a bunch of civilians. And, of course, what the bombings have done and will do is exactly what happened in Iraq-and they’ve discovered this-it’s absolutely lethal.

You can destroy infrastructure, you bomb hospitals, water purification plants, sewage facilities and, you know, the death toll will start picking up. Life expectancy of kids will go down, infant mortality will increase, and you’ll in the end get those absolutely horrifying figures of the mortality rate in Iraq. It will happen in Serbia.

What have we got now? We’ve got Kosovo, which is going to be the scene of rivalries, and death squads, and shootings, and revenge slayings at a horrible level for years to come.

We’ve got Serbia, which is now an economic basket case; we’ve got Bulgaria, which is losing $2 million a month in lost trade down the Danube; we’ve got ever rapacious firms in the West trying to get a bit of the reconstruction action.

What have we got to figure out? Small countries have to figure out how to shoot down bombers, that’s for sure-they really have to. In our latest issue of Counter Punch we have a good issue on that.

And finally, we have to go on fighting back against this tendency to substitute NATO for the UN, undeclared wars by the executive branch from properly discussed foreign policy. We’ve got to continue informing people. I think the peace movement put on a good show.

I think, you know, the structural reality is that we do live in a uni-polar world. Russia is a pygmy now and they could not stand up for Serb interests against NATO powers. Those are the equations, and those are my thoughts, so let’s get on with your questions and talk. Thank you.

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