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The New World Order
16 Jun 1999 - IGNACIO RAMONET, Le Monde diplomatique
The present period is dominated by economic globalisation. That process needs to be backed up by a new global security arrangement, and the Kosovo conflict has provided the opportunity to sketch in its main components. In this respect, Nato's first war has a truly inaugural quality. For the international community it was a leap in the dark, a move into unexplored territory that doubtless has many surprises in store, as well as many pitfalls and dangers.
Above all, the causes, methods and aims of this war have nothing in common with those to which we have been accustomed.
Basing its case on the atrocities committed by the Belgrade regime, Nato claimed humanitarian, moral considerations as the cause of the conflict. According to the French prime minister, Lionel Jospin, the values of civilisation itself were at stake (1). History, culture and politics - the causes of conflict since time immemorial - have suddenly become obsolete. This is more than a military revolution. It is a revolution in our way of thinking.
Humanitarian intervention is now being posited as an overriding moral imperative. On that basis, Nato has unflinchingly breached two fundamental principles of international politics: the sovereignty of states and the statutes of the United Nations Organisation.
Sovereignty used to reside in the person of the king, who ruled by "divine right". Following the Enlightenment, the American and French Revolutions of 1776 and 1789, like all subsequent democracies, vested it in the people. Article 3 of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen, promulgated in August 1789, states that "the principle of all sovereignty resides essentially in the nation".
It is that principle that entitles governments to settle conflicts within states according to their own laws, without any outside interference. On 24 March of this year, after more than 200 years, that principle was broken. So much the better, some people say, not without reason. Too many abuses have been committed by states against their own citizens under cover of a principle that forbids other states to come to the help of the victims. And in the case of Yugoslavia, many consider Slobodan Milosevic to be a dictator, even if he was formally elected by democratic process - and a dictator who was charged with war crimes by the International Tribunal in The Hague on 27 May. Since a dictator does not derive legitimate authority from the people, the sovereignty of his state is a legal fiction that allows him to indulge in arbitrary rule. Such sovereignty does not deserve to be respected. Especially when the dictator breaches human rights and commits crimes against humanity.
In recent months even sovereign decisions of an undeniably democratic country like Chile have been ignored - ie, those concerning Augusto Pinochet, which were taken jointly by all the major political parties of right and left. They did not prevent the former dictator's arrest in London or the request for his extradition to Spain where he could be put on trial for crimes against humanity.
And the very purpose of setting up an International Criminal Court (to which the United States is still opposed) is to try the perpetrators of crimes against humanity, for which there is no statute of limitations irrespective of any legal decision by a sovereign state.
State identity and sovereignty is also being undermined by globalisation which abolishes frontiers, homogenises cultures and flattens out differences in its path. The distinguished French writer, Alain Joxe, has pointed out that the establishment of an American world empire through the spread of the market economy has a balkanising effect by abolishing the regulatory prerogatives of traditional states (2).
So where does state sovereignty now reside? Are we moving towards the establishment, under the aegis of the West, of a world-wide system of "limited sovereignty" similar to that envisaged by Leonid Brezhnev and the Soviet Union in the 1960s and 1970s for the states in the communist bloc? Is the old colonial device of the protectorate to be revived for the purpose, as envisaged for Somalia in 1991, as currently practised in Bosnia and Albania, and as proposed for Kosovo now the war is over?
Sovereignty passed from God to the nation. Is it now to be vested in the individual? After the nation state, will we witness the emergence of the sovereign individual, endowed with all the attributes and prerogatives hitherto vested in states? Globalisation and its ultra-liberal ideology would doubtless accommodate to and even welcome a transformation of this kind, which the new communication and information technologies make technically feasible.
And what about the UN? The bombing of Yugoslavia was decided by Nato without a resolution of the Security Council. It was the first time the UN, the only international body responsible for conflict resolution and peace-keeping, has been side-stepped on such an important issue.
Since the beginning of the 1990s there have been many indications that the US no longer wishes to see the UN play its rightful role. Boutros Boutros-Ghali's mandate was not renewed. Instead, he was replaced as secretary-general by Kofi Annan, reputedly more amenable to pressure from Washington. The Dayton accords on Bosnia were signed under the aegis of the US rather than the UN, as was the Wye River memorandum on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The decision to bomb Iraq was taken unilaterally, not by the UN.
It would seem that the US no longer wishes to be restricted by the UN. It is no longer prepared to let the organisation's legalistic procedures stand in the way of US hegemony. We believed that the UN and its forerunner, the League of Nations, which have existed for almost a century, testified to an advance in civilisation. It turns out that they owed their existence simply to a stand-off between competing powers of comparable size, none which was able to defeat the others, at least on the battlefield. The balance was upset by the demise of the Soviet Union. For the first time in 200 years, one country - a "hyper-power", to use an expression coined by the French foreign minister, Hubert Vedrine - overwhelmingly dominates the world in the five key areas of political, economic, military, technological and cultural power. That country, the US, sees no reason to share or accept limits on its hegemony when it can exercise it without restriction, unchallenged by anyone, not even the UN.
The two breaches of the international order - non-respect for state sovereignty and non-acceptance of the authority of the UN - were committed on grounds of humanitarian concern. But even on that level they raise a number of problems. For how is humanitarian concern to be reconciled with the use of force? Is there such a thing as ethical bombing, especially when persistent targeting errors cause hundreds of civilian deaths? Is it possible to speak of a "just war" when there was such a colossal military and technological gap between the two sides? And by virtue of what moral principle must the legitimate defence of the Kosovars involve the destruction of the Serbs? These questions are troubling the consciences of most social-democratic leaders, many of whom are former 1968 militants - erstwhile Trotskyists, Maoists, communists or pacifists. They belong to the flower-power generation who once chanted "Make love, not war" and fiercely opposed the Vietnam war (a just cause by today's criteria).
Some Green party leaders had trouble reconciling gung-ho support for the war with their usual concern for the environment. They could see that the war in Yugoslavia, like any war, was in itself an environmental disaster. The destruction of oil refineries was poisoning the air with toxic fumes; the bombing of chemical factories was polluting rivers and destroying animal life; graphite bombs were spreading cancerous dust; depleted uranium bombs were raising radiation levels; fragmentation bombs were releasing into the environment hundreds of devices that can properly be described as anti-personnel mines (the US having refused to sign the Ottawa treaty banning their use); and live bombs jettisoned in the Adriatic were endangering the lives of sailors and fishermen.
Other people are asking why Nato does not intervene on humanitarian grounds in other countries where whole populations are suffering - in Southern Sudan, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Angola, East Timor and Tibet, for example. Still others point out that humanitarian concern is not always free from double standards. The US and United Kingdom are still bombing Iraq daily without any international mandate. France, Russia and China are in favour of lifting the UN embargo on humanitarian grounds, but the other two permanent members of the Security Council, the US and UK, remain doggedly opposed to lifting an embargo that has directly or indirectly caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians since 1991.
Again, some people ask why the right of humanitarian intervention should be confined to the strongest. But how could it be exercised by the weak? Can we imagine an African country intervening in, say, Mississippi to protect blacks from civil rights violations? Or a Maghreb country intervening in a European state where North Africans are suffering systematic discrimination?
And if intervention is justified, what about a right of social intervention? Ii is scandalous that 50 million people in the European Union are living in poverty. Does it not count as a major violation of human rights? In fact, one human being out of two on this planet has less than two dollars a day to live on. And a billion people are living in dire poverty on less than a dollar a day. The 59 million dollars Nato is spending every day on bombing Yugoslavia would feed 77 million people.
The conflict in the Balkans was also an entirely new type of war in terms of its conduct. General Wesley Clark, Nato's supreme commander, was waging it in a manner unprecedented in military history. "Zero casualties" has become an absolute imperative. In the course of two months' bombing, not a single Nato soldier died in action. That is something never seen before.
Material losses are apparently insignificant. General Clark planned for a war without loss of aircraft (3). More than 35,000 sorties were flown and only three planes lost. (Even then, the pilots were picked up from enemy territory by special commando groups and returned safe and sound.) What is more, not a single Nato ship, tank or helicopter was damaged in action.
Yugoslavia, however, has suffered extensive material losses. The military and industrial infrastructure (including power stations) has been badly damaged or rendered unusable, as have the main transport links (including bridges, railway lines and motorways). All the country's electronic systems have been scrambled and telephone communications permanently tapped. Several thousand Serbian soldiers are said to have been killed. According to certain US generals, the country has been set back 20 years and Serbia could find itself back where it was at the end of the second world war. Fifty years of reconstruction, the work of two generations, have been wiped out in a matter of weeks.
The balance of forces between Nato and Yugoslavia is so unequal that it is improper to speak of war at all. This was punishment - punishment such as no country (except Iraq) has ever received. Nato's strategy was such that Yugoslavia could not fight back because the enemy was always beyond its reach.
There were actually two wars going on. The first was a war of the strong against the weak - Nato against Yugoslavia. The second - Serbia against the Kosovars - was a war of the weak against the weaker, pitting the troops of Belgrade against the KLA. On one hand we had sophisticated electronic and technological warfare; on the other, chain-saw massacres, mass deportation, rape and summary executions.
Another peculiar feature of the war was Nato's avowed aim of not killing anyone. Not even Serbian soldiers, let alone civilians. It was a war of hardware against hardware, machine against machine - almost like a video game. As soon as anyone was killed owing to a targeting error, Nato fell over itself apologising, beating its breast and begging forgiveness.
Crushing an abstract enemy is all right. Killing a flesh-and-blood enemy is not. Umberto Eco has pointed out that in what he calls "neo-war", the side that kills too many people loses the fight for public opinion (4). That is the new rule and the media are there to make sure it is applied. So manipulation of the media remains one of the main objectives of both sides. Here, there has been no major innovation since the Falklands model, which was based on experience in the 1982 war and perfected during the Gulf war in 1991. The media control system deployed by Nato was essentially the 1980s version improved in the light of Gulf war experience. In a nutshell, the aim was to render the war invisible and make Nato itself the main source of information for journalists. While journalists have become much more prudent, they cannot always evade this new form of democratic censorship or remain immune to the soft-pedalled propaganda. Especially as the traditional form of censorship and crude propaganda practised by Belgrade are even less conducive to discovering the truth.
For two months the media was reduced to commenting on a missing central image, that of the atrocities committed by the Yugoslav army against the civilian population of Kosovo. Many deportees have described these crimes, and their reality is not in question (5). But we have had no images of them and no reporters have seen them with their own eyes. This is a setback for the media machine, especially television, which has spent a decade trying to convince us that informing the public means enabling it to be present on the spot.
Hence too the heated arguments between the defenders of Nato's "official truth" and a few seasoned observers intent on upsetting the apple cart. Britain's foreign minister, Robin Cook, called John Simpson, the BBC's correspondent in Belgrade, an "accomplice of Milosevic" simply for drawing attention to the existence in Serbia of democratic opponents of the regime, to the destruction of schools, etc. The British government (and a Labour government at that) even tried to pressure the BBC into calling Simpson home, which it refused to do. Ennio Remondino, an Italian television correspondent who strongly criticised the bombing of Belgrade and especially the Serbian television building, was fiercely attacked by journalists and intellectuals in uniform who called him an "agent of Milosevic". And in France, Regis Debray was practically lynched for comments he made after a short trip to Kosovo which did not gel with the official truth (6).
For reasons of their own, the EU and the US are each pursuing highly specific aims that have not been made public. The EU's aims are strategic, but the meaning of strategic importance has changed. In the past a region was strategically important if its possession conferred an appreciable military advantage, such as access to the sea, a navigable river, high-lying ground or a natural frontier, or if it gave control over key resources such as oil, gas, coal, iron or water, or vital trade routes such as straits, canals, valleys or mountain passes.
By this definition, Kosovo is of no strategic importance. Its possession would give an occupying power neither a military advantage nor key resources nor control of a vital trade route. However, in the present era of satellites, globalisation and a "new economy" based on information technology, the old concept of strategic importance no longer applies.
For a wealthy bloc like the EU, the strategic importance of a region lies in its potential to cause damage outside its boundaries by exporting phenomena such as political chaos, chronic insecurity, illegal immigration, delinquency and mafia-based drug trafficking. Viewed in this light, two regions have been of prime strategic importance to Europe since the fall of the Berlin Wall. They are the Maghreb and the Balkans.
The Kosovo crisis intensified after the implosion of Albania in 1997. As the country plunged into chaos, it indirectly provided the KLA with a ready source of arms and a safe haven for incursions into Kosovo. In those circumstances the "war of liberation", fought over a territory claimed with fanatical passion by two enemies determined to stop at nothing, was likely to be long and cruel. Could the EU afford to live for five or 10 years with a conflict of this kind on its doorstep? And with all the likely knock-on effects in Macedonia and the rest of the Balkans and with tens of thousands of refugees struggling to get into Italy and from there into the rest of the union? The Nato bombing of Yugoslavia was the answer to these questions.
For the US, which tiptoed into the Balkan crisis in 1991, Kosovo is of no strategic interest either in the traditional or in the modern sense. But the crisis provided an ideal opportunity to wrap up something of prime importance, the need to secure fresh legitimacy for Nato. As a defensive alliance established during the cold war, Nato was designed to withstand attack by a specific enemy, the Soviet Union. After the demise of the Soviet Union in December 1991, the collapse of the communist countries and the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact, Nato ought to have disbanded. And it ought to have been replaced in Western Europe by a specific defence organisation. Opposed to this, Washington is seeking to remain a European power and has done everything it can to strengthen Nato and extend its influence by bringing in three Eastern European countries - Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary. According to the American political commentator William Pfaff, there is no doubt that Nato was maintained because it gives the US political influence in Europe and blocks the development of a European strategic system to rival that of the US (7).
The Kosovo crisis has given the US the opportunity to apply Nato's new strategic concept only a few weeks after its latest version was officially adopted in Washington on 25 April (8). But the outcome is far from clear.
Translated by Barry Smerin
(1) Le Monde, 22 May 1999.
(2) Alain Joxe, "Le nouveau statut des alliances dans la strategie americaine", Cahiers d'etudes strategiques, No. 20, Paris, Spring 1997.
(3) International Herald Tribune, 18 May 1999.
(4) Le Figaro, 3 May 1999.
(5) See William Branigin, "US Details Serb Terror in Kosovo", International Herald Tribune, 12 May 1999.
(6) See the Guardian Weekly, 30 May 1999, for the translation of Regis Debray's article in Le Monde, 13 May 1999. His full response to the storm of protest evoked by the article is published in the French edition of Le Monde diplomatique, June 1999, also available on the paper's website: http://www.monde-diplomatique.fr/
(7) See William Pfaff, "What Good is Nato if America Intends to Go It Alone?", International Herald Tribune, 20 May 1999.
(8) See US Information Agency, Press Communique NACS-S (9965), 24 April 1999, available at http://www.nato50.gov/text/99042411.htm
Translated by Barry Smerin
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