Imperialist Sharks Circle Kosovo

By Ralph Schoenman

As the blood flows across Serbia and Kosovo, the imperial sharks seek to crowd each other out as they circle in a scarcely concealed feeding frenzy to devour the cadaver of a destroyed Kosovo.

“Rivals Compete to Administer a Postwar Kosovo”, reads the headline in the Wall Street Journal (May 24). The underlying dynamic of the devastation of Yugoslavia is described in brutal detail:

“Even as diplomats seek an end to the Kosovo conflict, jockeying has begun over another thorny question: Who will run civilian operations in the Serbian province after the war?”

The stakes are considered high not only because of the mineral wealth in Kosovo, coveted by rival imperial aspirants, but because it is considered a stepping stone towards the transformation of neighbouring countries and entire regions into like protectorates.

What is particularly ominous is the vast destruction of regions and peoples which precedes the carving up of the corpse.

“A half-dozen international organizations are vying for such sensitive tasks as rebuilding a police force ... and promoting economic reforms tied to billions of dollars.”

The relationship between the policing of the population and the imposition of economic “reforms” is transparent. The economy of Kosovo will be reorganised to service the predatory requirements of US and European banks and corporations.

The scrambling over the spoils centres on which international instruments of finance capital will have hegemony. There is no pretence of “preserving” popular or sovereign authority in Kosovo.

“The debate is far from academic: The North Atlantic Treaty Organization intends to lead a peacekeeping force that will secure Kosovo after the war. A precedent for the civilian side of such an operation lies nearby in Bosnia, the Balkans country that international organizations are now virtually running.”

The administration of Bosnia as a protectorate, however, where virtually no “reconstruction” of the destroyed infrastructure has occurred, is not sufficiently authoritarian. In fact, whatever was once produced in Bosnia is now sent in from outside. No single economic decree can be issued except by administrators of the World Bank. Even the currency has disappeared, replaced by chits, treated as the equivalent of deutschmark food stamps.

Yet an even worse fate is being prepared for Kosovo as imperial rivals jockey for control:

“If a single agency is put in charge in Kosovo, a power struggle is inevitable between the U.S., which has borne most of the burden of the military campaign against Yugoslavia, and the European Union, which is likely to fund most of the reconstruction.

“`Whoever spends the money should have the influence', argues Hans Koschnick, a top German adviser on Balkans issues.”

Koschnick worries out loud that, money aside, US hegemony is unavoidable: “If American troops stay there, Americans will say `It should be our man'.”

In Kosovo, however, unlike the protectorate in Bosnia, lessons will be both learned and applied. The colonial apparatus will be run with an iron hand.

There will be no “patchwork administration ... of bureaucratic Balkanization that has hampered efforts in Bosnia, veterans of that four year struggle warn. Different organizations ... wasted energy fighting each other. `There's no one whose command all the others must obey,' says Jacques Klein, the American diplomat who is second-in-command of the Office of the High Representative in Bosnia.”

The US is letting its European junior partners know now they will have a fight on their hands for hegemony in Kosovo.

“The Brussels organization spawned by the Dayton Agreement ... started working only to be supplanted in a bitter battle by the Vienna-based Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) officials in Sarajevo say. Even within organizations, Bosnia has a `cacophony of interests and ambitions since international staffers are on loan from their governments,' says Mr. Klein.

“`We all know what the mistakes have been, but correcting them won't be easy,' with Kosovo, he says. `You can be sure it's going to be a turf war.'”

The Wall Street Journal further reveals the plot to seize control of Kosovo for rival imperial interests.

“Western diplomats had similar struggles while negotiating the Rambouillet `agreement.' Ultimately, the agreement gave top civilian authority in Kosovo to the OSCE, a 54 nation body ... It was to have been responsible for setting up local government, police and general `institution building.'”

The stakes are considerably higher in Kosovo than in Bosnia. More money is to be made, and it is a prelude to a larger Balkan design which goes beyond Yugoslavia.

“Now, NATO's bombing campaign has made the job of running Kosovo tougher. It is also more prestigious and the funding is likely to dwarf the five year $5 billion Bosnia reconstruction. Balkans experts think Serbia will be forced, through negotiations or an invasion, to accept an international protectorate for Kosovo with outside peacekeepers [sic] getting much more control than they had in Bosnia.”

The European Union has put its own plans into play but the US intends to run things on its own.

“European think tanks have been churning out Balkans blueprints, including a `stability pact' to be discussed in a Bonn conference this week. Detractors say EU leadership, besides unfairly cutting out the U.S., would put a sensitive task in inexperienced hands. The EU's only on-the-ground experience in the Balkans has been running the town of Mostar in Bosnia.”

Policing the populace and administering the area as a direct protectorate at the behest of imperialism is precisely the cover role prescribed for the United Nations.


“The United Nations also sees itself as `uniquely capable' for the Kosovo job, as Shashi Tharoor, a senior aide to secretary general Kofi Annan, puts it, adding that the agency has run 45 similar efforts around the world. He expects the U.N. would at least look after refugee ... and police matters in Kosovo. The U.N. has carved out a big role in peace negotiations over Kosovo.”

The colonial administrative aspirants show their respective credentials by demonstrating how efficient they have been in subjugating other peoples:

“The U.N. set up a `Lessons Learned Unit' and tried to redeem itself with a police-training mission in Bosnia ... The West European Union, the EU's attempt at a military alliance ... has trained police in Albania but is deemed a long shot. Then there is the OSCE which supervises police in eastern Croatia. The OSCE has ballooned in recent years ... on the strength of new missions in Croatia, Bosnia and even Kosovo where it ran a mission that fled to Macedonia in March. Now OSCE officials are busy writing new plans for how they might organize a police force ... in postwar Kosovo.”

OSCE promotes its credentials with claims that it will take into account the interests of more than one imperial power.

“A big advantage for the OSCE, its officials say, is that it is accountable to Russia and to many other countries that deserve a voice. That is just the problem, rivals say: An OSCE administrator might have to consult with many home capitals before taking controversial action, unlike Mr. Westendorp [the Spanish diplomat favoured by the US] who recently dismissed the President of Bosnia's Serb mini-state on his own.”

We learn what underlies the different schemes being canvassed for imposition before Serbia had been bombed into submission:

“Much depends on how the war in Kosovo ends. For instance, the World Bank is likely to play the big role if Kosovo becomes a Western protectorate but not if Kosovo remains part of Serbia. In that case, the U.S. might find the EU taking the big role in economic matters. The U.S. has been encouraging the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development to seek a mandate for advising Balkan governments.”

First Kosovo then all south-eastern Europe -- from Hungary, Rumania, Bulgaria, Macedonia and Greece to Turkey:

“Another potential lever is the new Southeastern European Cooperative Initiative, an American brainchild based in Vienna that is trying to help countries reach ... trade agreements.”

This was the formula for the dismemberment of Yugoslavia. Under the guise of “trade agreements”, the IMF and World Bank imposed the Structural Adjustment Plans which sent currency into hyperinflation while demolishing all social services and dictating measures of drastic austerity.

The instruments of enforcement are before us today: cruise and tomahawk missiles and an air war of such magnitude that it exceeded by multiples the explosive force unleashed on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

In 1991 the United Nations sanctioned the Gulf War in which the US used more explosive tonnages on Iraq than in the entire seven years of World War II in Europe, North Africa and Asia.

The then undersecretary-general of the United Nations was Martti Ahtisaari, whose report of March 20, 1991, on the impact on the Iraqi people is apposite to the plight of people in Serbia, including Kosovo:

“Nothing that we had seen or read had quite prepared us for the particular form of devastation which has now befallen the country. The recent conflict has wrought near-apocalyptic results upon the economic infrastructure of what had been, until January 1991, a rather highly urbanized and mechanized society.

“Now, most means of modern life support have been destroyed or rendered tenuous. Iraq has, for some time to come, been relegated to a pre-industrial age, but with all the disabilities of post-industrial dependency on an intensive use of energy and technology.” (United Nations Report S/22366)

Ahtisaari later described the situation as beyond the remedial capacity of the Iraq regime:

“These conditions ... mean that the authorities are scarcely able even to measure the dimensions of the calamity, much less respond to its consequences.”

The United Nations then proceeded to carry out under “UNSCOM” the “inspections” of Iraqi facilities and to oversee the destruction of pharmaceutical plants and those manufacturing medications on the pretext that such facilities could create biological agents. All this was done in service of UN-supported sanctions which its own reports acknowledge have cost the lives of 1.5 million Iraqi civilians, of whom 700,000 are children.

Marti Ahtisaari went on to become president of Finland. Today, he has been re-enlisted to do in Yugoslavia what he did in Iraq and under the same UN auspices.

The Wall Street Journal (May 17) described the real role of former Russian prime minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, Marti Ahtisaari, Kofi Annan and the United Nations:

“U.S. officials are doubtful that Mr. Chernomyrdin wants to be seen as pressuring Mr. Milosevic to accept NATO's demands. So the allies' plan -- once a rough agreement is reached with Russia -- is for Mr. Ahtisaari to accompany Mr. Chernomyrdin to Belgrade to present the West's list of conditions to Mr. Milosevic.”

The Chernomyrdin and Ahtisaari presence served as a decorative embellishment to US/NATO terror bombing and schemes of conquest even as they provided Milosevic with the cover to capitulate to US and NATO demands:

“As an envoy from a non-NATO country known for its neutrality, U.S. officials believe Mr. Ahtisaari would have credibility with Mr. Milosevic, while the White House is confident he would also stand by the NATO conditions for a bombing halt. United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan also may endorse the mission, giving it further international stature.”

Chernomyrdin and Ahtisaari were to persuade Milosevic to accept a symbolic Yugoslav presence entirely cosmetic and devoid of any dilution of US/NATO suzerainty:

“Insistent that NATO play a dominant role in the Kosovo force, the U.S. has discussed with Russia steps that would enable Yugoslavia to claim that it was wasn't surrendering its sovereignty, officials said. For example, although Mr. Milosevic would still have to withdraw all his military and security forces in Kosovo, he might be allowed to let a small contingent back into the province ... to remove land mines along the border.”

The deal was already in motion as the bombing intensified to coerce it:

“In Belgrade, the first U.N. Team ... arrived. The leader of the team, Sergio Vieira de Mello, said the team expects to be able to travel without restrictions.”

Such are the machinations of the “peacekeepers”. The permanent subjugation of population will proceed in Yugoslavia as it has in Iraq, under the imprimatur of the United Nations and its apologists -- in the service of an imperial design which ensures further dismemberment of nations, deadly divisions among their peoples and yet more brutal wars of subjugation.

The international resistance of working people to these deadly schemes has become a struggle for the survival of humanity.

[This article is reprinted from the new Socialist Organizer pamphlet Tragedy in the Balkans: An Anatomy of Global Capitalist Design.]