America is using the Bosnian crisis to try to reassert its international
authority. Germany, which led the international response to the
war in Croatia, has been forced to take a more backseat role.
The shifting international context of the Yugoslav conflict reflects
the lack of cohesion on the world stage. What has been constant
throughout the war in Yugoslavia, however, has been the demonisation
of Serbia - and radical support for Western intervention.
The decision by the United Nations to impose sanctions on Serbia
has moved the Yugoslav conflict to a new stage. The dynamic behind
the fighting in Bosnia is the same as that in Croatia - the fragmentary
tendencies unleashed by the collapse of the Stalinist bureaucracy
and the differential impact of market forces. However, the degree
of Western intervention has dramatically escalated and the international
context in which the conflict takes place has shifted.
In Croatia, the Western nation leading the international response
was Germany. In Bosnia, the USA is making all the moves. The changing
international aspect is a product not of any developments in the
Yugoslav conflict, but of the uncertain balance of power in the
new world order.
Germany used the war in Croatia to project itself on the international
stage. Bonn's aggressive support for Croatian independence became
a vehicle through which it could promote a foreign policy independently
of other Western powers. Germany used the war to increase its
influence in the region and to legitimise its wider diplomatic
and military aspirations. The result was that the USA was largely
sidelined in the conflict. Indeed America, and the rest of the
European Community, were forced to accept Germany's lead in shaping
the Western response to the war.
Now America is using the Bosnian conflict to reassert its international
leadership role. Washington has effectively bounced the EC and
the UN into taking precipitate action against Serbia. Secretary
of state James Baker's criticisms of the EC's reluctance to move
against Serbia was aimed at putting pressure on Europe to line
up behind the USA. America is using the Bosnian conflict to bolster
the credibility of Nato and to disparage the claims of alternative
organisations such as the Western European Union or the recently
announced Franco-German military corps.
The US attempt to rally opinion against Serbia is different from
its aim in the Gulf War. In launching Desert Shield, the USA was
attempting to maintain its hegemony in world affairs. The fragmentation
of international order, and America's loss of authority on the
world stage, has progressed much further in the year since the
end of the Gulf War. Washington is now concerned not so much to
reassert a world leadership role accepted by all as to bring into
line Western allies who today are less constrained by American
policy and have greater confidence to pursue their own interests.
The shifting international context of the Yugoslav war demonstrates
the instability of the world order. No power is capable of fully
imposing its authority. Each attempts to use every opportunity
to shift the balance of power in its favour. The result is a lack
of cohesion in international affairs.
If the international context of the Yugoslav conflict has changed,
what has remained constant is the targeting of Serbia. In fact
the demonisation of Serbia is far more explicit today than it
was during the Croatian conflict.
The Western media presents the Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic
as a madman, an unreconstructed Bolshevik and a new Saddam Hussein.
Serbians are depicted as barbarians and non-European. A particularly
vile cartoon in the Independent last week portrayed Serbs as apes, echoing the great British
tradition of anti-Irish and anti-black 'humour'.
There is little question that Milosevic is a brutal, self-seeking
politician who has manipulated nationalist sentiment to entrench
his political power. Serbian troops have certainly been responsible
for many atrocities in the region. But, in the context of the
Yugoslav conflict, there is nothing unusual in this. The leaders
of all the republics - most of them former Stalinist bureaucrats
- have manipulated ethnic divisions for political ends. Indeed
it was the leaderships in Croatia and Slovenia which did most
to foment nationalist rivalry in an attempt to bolster their claims
to independence. Not only Serbian troops, but all the various
armies and factions, have been involved in bloodshed and atrocities.
Croatia has been complicit in the attempt to partition Bosnia.
Western commentators have singled out Serbia, not because it is
any worse than the other Yugoslav republics, but because it makes
a convenient scapegoat against which to rally international opinion.
Just as Western radicals accepted the demonisation of Iraq in
the Gulf War and looked to Western intervention to deal with Saddam
Hussein, so now they have gone along with the scapegoating of
Serbia. Indeed the left has led the chorus of condemnation, supporting
the right of Croatia, Slovenia and Bosnia to 'self-determination'
and selectively denouncing Serbian aggression. By supporting nationalist
movements in the different republics, radicals were lending support
to the manipulation of ethnic divisions. Such manipulation having
led to the current conflict, the left now places the blame entirely
Radical commentators such as Tony Benn and Ken Livingstone have
attacked Western governments for failing to implement sanctions.
As far back as six months ago, the New Statesman published an article calling on Britain to 'bomb Serbia'. Not
content with the slaughter in the Gulf, the left now urges the
West towards a new bloodbath in the Balkans.
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