Kagarlitsky on Kosovo

Doug Henwood dhenwood at panix.com
Tue Apr 20 09:41:02 PDT 1999

[From International Viewpoint]


MOSCOW - In 1968, when Soviet forces invaded Czechoslovakia, Western journalists began speaking of a ``Brezhnev Doctrine''. Its essence was simple: the sovereignty of the Warsaw Pact states was limited. If something went amiss, the Soviet ``big brother'' would decide who would be punished and how.

Since then, an enormous amount has changed, but the desire of big brother to poke his nose into other people's business remains unaltered. Now that there is only one superpower in the world, the right to judge and punish sovereign states has been taken over by the president of the United States.

In place of the Brezhnev Doctrine, we now have the Clinton Doctrine. When the bombing of Yugoslavia began, it became clear that what was involved was not just an attempt by a luckless womaniser to restore the nation's respect for him by killing a few hundred or a few thousand people. No, we were confronted with a developed political concept, one that would be consistently put into effect. So what is the Clinton Doctrine all about?

If Louis XIV declared, ``The state? I am the state!'', American leaders are now declaring, ``The world community? That's the US!'' How other peoples, and even their governments, might react to this means nothing. The US, acting alone, decides on behalf of everyone. Any need for the United Nations Organisation disappears.

Democratic procedures in the countries of the West are also superfluous. The second rule of the Clinton Doctrine can be set out in this fashion: if the views of the people contradict those of the US president, any genuinely democratic government will tell the people to go to hell, and will act in line with its duty as an ally. If a government pays any regard to the views of its citizens, then it is not a truly democratic government.

The third rule runs as follows: the US acts simultaneously as accomplice, prosecutor, judge and executioner. The world leader is not bound by any legal formalities. It is for the US president alone to decide what is ``moral'' and what is not.

US leaders constantly declare their determination to punish evil dictators. But starting with Panama's General Noriega, whom the Americans overthrew and put in jail on drug-trafficking charges, a strange principle has applied. All the foreign leaders whom the US has publicly punished have at one stage or another in their careers been political sidekicks of the US. Noriega defended US interests in Latin America, Saddam Hussein was supported as a counter-weight to islamic Iran, and the US relied on Milosevic when it needed to force the Bosnian Serbs to accept the US-formulated Dayton accords.

Naturally, everyone the US punishes is an evil human rights violator. The trouble is - so are those the US supports. No-one was upset by Serbian policies in Kosova when the need was to strengthen the West's positions in Bosnia. Turkey can carry out ethnic cleansing, since Turkey is a NATO member. The US government can bomb whoever it likes without having to answer morally, politically or legally for its actions, so long as the victims are not American taxpayers. The less logic here, the stronger the position of the US as the leading world power, since everyone must feel constantly under threat.

Finally, the last rule of the Clinton doctrine: the technological and military superiority of the US as the leading world power allows it to do whatever it likes with total impunity. This final principle underpins all the others. Victors, as we all know, are not put on trial. Allies know that it is better to share in the triumph of force than to attract suspicions of disloyalty. The victims understand that resistance is useless.

Victory wipes the slate clean. The human catastrophe in Kosova can be put down to the evil deeds of the Serbs, especially since the actions of the Serbian authorities in the region have indeed been shocking. The hospitals and schools damaged by NATO's ``pinpoint'' bombing can be categorised as military targets, and the complaints of the victims can be described as hostile propaganda. But all this works only so long as the victory of the super-power is not in doubt. What if doubts arise?

The Clinton Doctrine suffers from the same problem as the Brezhnev Doctrine before it. Such doctrines corrupt and lead into error the people who proclaim them. Now that American bombs are falling on Yugoslavia, and NATO is preparing to send ground forces, pessimists are warning that for America, the Balkans could become a second Vietnam. The pessimists are wrong. The Balkans will not be a second Vietnam, but a European Afghanistan.

The Soviet intervention in Afghanistan resulted from the complete certainty of the Brezhnev Politburo, confirmed by its experience with Czechoslovakia in 1968, that it could act with impunity. But unlike the civilised Czechs, who knew it was pointless to fight against a superpower, the Afghans had little grasp of geopolitics. Consequently, they fought back, and the superpower turned out to be strikingly weak. The USSR was incapable of waging a drawn-out struggle, and as soon as this became apparent, its psychological and ``moral'' superiority vanished.

In Clinton's response to the conflict in Kosova, there has been a good deal to recall the mental habits of Brezhnev and his colleagues. The destabilisation of the situation in the Balkans gave the United States an opportunity to demonstrate once again the invincible power of the Clinton Doctrine. NATO never tried to settle the conflict. Its aim was quite different - to occupy the region. This was why the West sought to bind both sides in Kosova to terms that were clearly unacceptable, and which the Albanians as well as the Serbs tried to resist; the Albanians agreed to sign the peace agreement only after becoming convinced that the Serbs would not do so.

US policy in the Balkans is justified on the basis that the wicked Serbs have to be punished. But the Serbs now have their own justification, in the need to stop the high-handed Americans. To any normal human being, it is clear that Milosevic's policies in Kosova have been monstrous. But the experience of recent years shows that for a superpower to be able to act with impunity on a global scale is far more dangerous. This is understood even by the Kosova Albanian leader Ibrahim Rogova, who in a vain attempt to stop the NATO bombing signed an agreement with his long-time foe Milosevic. But when the US government has set itself up as the moral standard for the entire world, it cannot take account of the views of Serbs, Arabs, Somalis, or even of its own citizens, trying perplexedly to find Kosova on the map.

The Clinton Doctrine is suffering the same fate in Yugoslavia as the Brezhnev Doctrine suffered in Afghanistan. The resistance put up by the Serbs is totally changing the rules of the game. The string of NATO military failures is turning into a crisis of the whole system. Once the US ceases to seem invulnerable, its special position in the world, which allows it to ignore international law, also becomes subject to doubt. Then everyone remembers their rights, and starts putting up resistance.

The growing military resistance of the Serbs, and the disillusionment of many Kosova Albanians with their NATO ``protectors'', are part of a far more powerful shift whose symptoms are apparent not only in the Balkans. The facade of loyalty mounted by America's allies, like that of Brezhnev's allies in the Warsaw Pact, overlies an enormous potential for popular revolt. During the period of the Warsaw Pact, anti-Sovietism gradually became a general ideology, uniting the profoundly dissimilar Poles, Hungarians, Romanians and Afghans. There is nothing to bring people together like the existence of a common enemy.

NATO has survived the Warsaw Pact by a whole ten years. But there are no eternal empires. The Pax Americana may turn out to be no more durable than the ``fraternal alliance'' headed by the Soviet Politburo.

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