Clinton's Kosovan Vision
Keith Rankin, 16 May 1999
A few weeks ago I watched US President Clinton give a speech about why the war against Yugoslavia over Kosovo must continue.
The first reason given was the humanitarian one. This is a compelling reason as I suggested last month ("Kosovo: more than a US / IMF / Mafia conspiracy?"). Civil wars are never civil. They are at their least civil when they are about ethnic or sectarian "cleansing".
In 1938, Neville Chamberlain's appeasement policy in the face of Hitler's war machinations neither averted war nor genocide. A liberal world must have an internationally enforceable code of human rights; a code that proscribes ethnic and sectarian murder. This was implicit in the President's vision, and I applaud that.
Mr Clinton went on to talk about NATO's "strategic vision". NATO wants to create a Europe (and by proxy a world) in which each nation was a multi-ethnic democracy, and in which national borders would be depoliticised; like the border between Belgium and the Netherlands, or even that between Serbia and Montenegro. Nations would be defined by territory rather than ethnicity. The mythical ties between a "people" and a piece of land would be consigned to the past. (This is a liberal vision very different from that of Harry Truman when Israel was established in 1948.)
Mr Clinton , very sensibly concerned that tribalism and ethnic nationhood had no future in the new millennium, was at pains to note that the mix of ethnic or sectarian nationalism was particularly dangerous in a world with modern weaponry. Indeed, knowledge of New Zealand history can confirm the importance of that point. The Maori tribes of Aotearoa nearly wiped each other out in the first two-thirds of the 19th century, thanks to their acquisition of British muskets.
The President's vision was not one of global federation. Rather it was based on regional unity; the European Union was the model. Eastern Europe needed to be fast-tracked into the politically liberal structures already established in Western Europe.
This vision - liberal though realist - could be described as 'neomercantilist' [#]. It was not the economically liberal internationalist vision of the IMF (International Monetary Fund) that portrays countries as 'black box' analogues of competing companies. Nor is it a vision of capitalist globalisation, in which global laissez-faire in a governmentless world confers global sovereignty onto the international capitalist class. Clinton's is a vision in which a limited number of large economic nations supply continent-wide public goods (including security, justice and agricultural subsidies) while providing a degree of global political contestability (though united through a global consensus on human rights).
It was a fine vision; realisable too. But do we have to bomb a nation to bits to impose a vision that by definition (of liberalism) must be won by argument? The maxim of liberality is that you reason with your opponents; not murder them. And does it make sense to add to the suffering of the Kosovan people you claim to be helping?
President Clinton is not only using means that betray his fine strategic vision. He is also using means that debase his vision in the eyes of those who he seeks to convert. Clinton bombs. Clinton's personal morality led to his impeachment. And the society he presides over is so sick with violence and economic injustice that children commit murder with impunity, and the right to bear lethal weapons is regarded as more important than the right to security. A person is more likely to be murdered in America than murdered or executed in China. How can an Eastern Europe governed by US liberal principles expect to avoid the violence of modern weaponry when small town Middle America cannot?
The bombing of Yugoslavia is making Clinton's vision less rather than more realisable.
The solution is a new Marshall Plan. Now, not after Serbia's President Milosevic is subjected to further attempts to humiliate him. The money used to bomb should be used instead to fast-track all of Eastern Europe (excluding Serbia and perhaps the former USSR) and Turkey into the European Union. If ever there was a case to use the carrot rather than the stick, this is it. Montenegro, in particular, could use plenty of carrot, for both political and economic purposes.
In order to join its neighbours, Serbia would have to agree to an enforceable EU human rights charter. Yugoslavia could be reformed under a federal constitution which gives Kosovo and Vojvodina the same status that Montenegro enjoys today. FYROM [*] and the two parts of Bosnia might even want to join, helping to resolve their ambiguous statuses. (I would like to see Sarajevo become the federal capital of a new liberal Yugoslavia. It is that kind of city.)
The economic cost of European reconstruction after World War 2 was surprisingly easy to meet. Intransigent economic problems were readily solved when the will was there to solve them, and when common sense prevailed. The cost of reconstruction in Serbia is well within the resources of the NATO countries.
In the meantime, I am convinced that NATO is bombing Serbia for a third, unstated, reason. NATO is waging war because it fears the humiliation of losing the war that it is waging. Given that this is a war that NATO cannot win by military means, NATO is locked into a disastrous catch-22. It is depleting its stocks of missiles and bombs for no reason other than to save face; to justify its past misjudgements. Each week the civilian casualties (and, no doubt the casualties faced by Yugoslav conscript soldiers) increase in some geometric ratio, while western concentration spans fade. The marketplace atrocity last week in Nis (the birthplace of the first Christian Roman emperor) was virtually ignored by our media.
NATO can save face through a 'pause' in the bombing, and by immediately embarking upon its new Marshall Plan. The more the bombing continues, the greater will be the political humiliation of President Clinton, NATO and the liberal west, when the end finally comes. Mr Clinton will go down in history as a well meaning president with an appalling sense of judgement.
# By 'neomercantilist', I mean that the vision is based on the presumption that these large economic nations (eg the EU [European Union] and NAFTA [North American Free Trade Association]) are trade rivals. From a 'mercantilist' perspective, each mega-nation is seeking to run a balance of payments surplus with respect to all others. From a neomercantilist perspective, when an economic nation gets away with a trade restriction in support of its own producers, it scores a goal. Retaliation is justified from this point of view. On the other hand, from the perspective of international economic liberalism, to impose such a trade restriction is an 'own goal'. It is irrational to retaliate to an own goal! This kind of neomercantilist rivalry is seen as benign - even healthy - under the Clinton vision. The WTO (World Trade Organisation) becomes a kind of neomercantilist referee. The Americans see no contradiction between their intense trade rivalry with Europe and their military alliance under NATO.
* Let's hope that Macedonia will be spared in Sydney the humiliation of having to march in the Olympic Games opening ceremony under the letter "F", as it did in Atlanta in 1996.
© 1999 Keith Rankin
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