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Mick Hume

Who's next?

Imagine the reaction of the British government if Russia announced that Northern Ireland peace talks were to be held in Moscow, and chaired by ex-Soviet foreign minister Shevardnadze. Yet Britain thinks it right and proper for talks on the future of the former Yugoslav republics to be held in London, under the supervision of ex-Tory foreign secretary Lord Carrington.

Or think what the French government would have done if the president of, say, Romania had flown uninvited into Paris in June, and declared that he would bring in his troops to break the blockade by French lorry drivers. Yet France believes that its president Mitterrand was perfectly within his rights when he helicoptered into Sarajevo in Bosnia, and threatened to bring in French helicopter gunships to break the blockade of the airport.

In the New World Order, it seems that the Western powers have the unquestioned right to interfere as they see fit in the affairs of all other nations and peoples. The West can treat the entire third world and the old Soviet bloc as corners of its own backyard, and treat the billions who live there as pet dogs to be given a bone or a big stick, depending on how they behave.

The casual assumption that the West must know what's best for Bosnia or anywhere else is both arrogant and dangerous. Bush, Major, Mitterrand and Kohl are not social workers or reconciliation counsellors. They are hard-nosed capitalist statesmen. So ask yourself this. What motives do their governments have for wanting to poke their noses (and their guns) into other people's business? And who benefits when they do so?

Western governments have constantly assured us that their intentions towards Bosnia are purely 'humanitarian', while the media has bombarded us with images of orphans and invalids who must be saved. Nobody could object to the provision of humanitarian relief. But since when were the Western powers concerned about saving children and rescuing refugees?

The 'humanitarian' argument with which the West has justified its intervention in Yugoslavia sounds suspiciously like the line used to legitimise previous foreign invasions. The Western powers' humane concerns have never been what they seem.

Remember the plight of the Kuwaiti babies torn from incubators and left to die by Iraqi troops? That was a key emotive issue used by politicians and the press on both sides of the Atlantic to whip up support for the Gulf War. A year after the war, the New York-based human rights organisation Middle East Watch had to concede that the incubator story was untrue, and that the 'eye-witness' used to broadcast it in the West was in fact a member of the Kuwaiti royal family. In the meantime, the US-British military had killed many Iraqi children and orphaned countless more. And the children of Iraq are still suffering today as a consequence of the West's continuing economic sanctions.

Then there were the desperate Kurds who cried out for Western protection at the end of the Gulf War - just as some in Bosnia cry out to the West today. The Americans and the British launched a 'humanitarian' mission to save the Kurds from Saddam Hussein, by occupying northern Iraq and creating military 'safe havens' for Kurdish refugees. Before long those safe havens had been turned into killing fields, as Turkey - a close Nato ally of the West - bombed the Kurds within them. The humanitarians of Washington and Whitehall seemed to think that was fair enough.

Now they tell us that their intervention in Bosnia has been to stop Serbian aggression. The Serbs have been paraded across the Western press as apes and murderers, condemned as 'barbaric' by American and European leaders, subjected to sanctions and threatened with worse. While the ire of the West has been directed against the creation of a 'Greater Serbia', few seem to have noticed the fact that a 'Greater Croatia' has been carved out with just as much force.

The Croats have had 50 000 troops in Bosnia - the same number as the Serbs. They have set up their own regional government, imposed their own laws and currency, and held talks with the Serbian leadership about partitioning the republic at the expense of the Muslims. Yet by the middle of July, when the Serbs had been heavily pilloried and punished by the Western powers, Croatia had received one small diplomatic wrist-slap from the United Nations. Reports of that were tucked well away inside the same papers which carried banner headlines about Serbia's crimes.

Humanitarianism, stopping aggression, saving the world: these are all causes which the Western powers will use and abuse as it suits them. The manipulation of such issues and images provides the West with a pretext for pursuing its own decidedly non-humanitarian and aggressive interests in somewhere like Yugoslavia.

So what has the West been up to in Croatia and Bosnia behind this smokescreen? The Western nations have not really been all that concerned about who does what to whom in the local conflicts. Instead, the Germans, the Americans, the French and the British have been cynically using the battlefields as a bloody chess board on which to play a power game against one another. The pawns in this game - and the biggest losers by far - have been the ordinary Serbs, Muslims and Croats of the former Yugoslav republics.

As Joan Phillips explains elsewhere in this issue, the current tensions among the ethnic groups in Yugoslavia were created by the uneven impact of the Western-backed market economy. And those tensions were exploded into war by the political intervention of one after another of the Western governments: first the Germans and French, then the Americans and British, all trying to put one over on the rest (see pages 14-17).

The Western powers did not want to get involved in a messy conflict like the Yugoslav war. They would probably rather have built a wall around it and let the combatants kill each other. But each of the major capitalist nations has been pushed in by the dynamic of international competition, and the fear that if they didn't intervene, their Western rivals would monopolise the issue.

The change in America's attitude best illustrates this process. In an interview with the New York Times in June, the last American ambassador to Belgrade explained how he had at first advised the republics of Slovenia and Croatia to remain within Yugoslavia. So why did the USA then flip-flop and become a supporter of the breakaways? Because, said the ambassador, of 'the German initiative' in getting the EC to recognise Croatia and Slovenia.

In other words, America came to back the fragmentation of Yugoslavia not because of any belief in the national rights of Croatia, but because it wanted to keep up with the pace of Germany's international crusade against Serbia. Next thing you know, the USA had become the loudest critic of Serb 'barbarism' in Bosnia, in a bid to get ahead of Germany in the global anti-Serbian stakes.

These West-West rivalries are the decisive factor in shaping conflicts from the Gulf to the Balkans today. Economic disputes over trade and interest rates are matched by rows over political and military matters. The battle is on to gain the highest position possible in the New World (pecking) Order. The people of places like Yugoslavia are getting caught in the crossfire.

Gone are the days of the Cold War, when the USA could call the shots in international diplomacy through Nato and the United Nations. Now there are many institutions, different ones favoured by rival powers, all vying to be Number One. That was why the West's diplomatic manoeuvres over Bosnia descended into a round of summitry among a bewildering array of acronyms: the G7, the CSCE, Nato, the UN, the EC, the WEU, all of them trying to outdo one another with threats and counter-threats of military action. You could almost hear the fault-lines give way as the Western Alliance fractured.

As the contest among the capitalist powers comes to dominate world affairs, it is establishing a pattern of militarised international relations. One group of people after another is being demonised and set up as a target against which Western powers can demonstrate their authority.

Last year the Iraqis were used as a convenient whipping post for America's attempt to prove that it is still on top of things. Now the Serbs have found themselves turned into the punch-bag for a test of strength among the Germans, French, Americans and British. So who's next? The Muslims of Bosnia? The people of some former Soviet republic? Another Arab nation?

Whoever it is, they will face an increasingly formidable display of military might. Despite all the talk of peace dividends and defence cuts, the Western powers are acquiring a new generation of weapons said to be 'better suited to post-Cold War conditions'. That means weapons for rapid and incisive displays of force against small countries, rather than for a long, sterile stand-off with the Soviet Union. The USA is even reported to be 'planning a new kind of nuclear weapon for specific use in the third world' (Guardian, 2 July 1992).

Welcome to the New World Order.

Nigel Lewis

Nigel Lewis, one of the leading supporters of Living Marxism, died on Wednesday 15 July after suffering a brain haemorrhage. He was 29. Nigel had been a member of the Political Committee of the Revolutionary Communist Party, an organiser of RCP branches in the Midlands and London, and, most recently, leader of the national Workers Against Racism campaign.

The sudden death of somebody of Nigel's age and talents is truly a tragedy. But at least he did something worthwhile with the time that he had. He spent his adult life fighting against injustice and for freedom. Nigel was a real revolutionary, a tough comrade, and a good bloke. We send our deepest condolences to all of his family and friends.

Reproduced from Living Marxism issue 46, August 1992

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