Ken Coates on postwar Yugoslavia

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Mon Nov 15 09:53:37 MST 1999

(from electronic mailing list of Spectre, a British left magazine)

Ken Coates

Throughout the eighties, KEN COATES was active in a substantial
pan-European peace movement which demonstrated that cross-border
collaboration was not only possible, but could be highly effective. In the
wake of the NATO attack on Yugoslavia, he hopes to see such collaboration


It has become clear that, after the Yugoslav war, Europe will not be the
same again. Quite evidently, the strategic position is now transformed by
the establishment of what may well become a permanent NATO base in the

This registers a significant shift in the relations between the United
States and Europe, and between both of these and the Russians. In turn
these convulsions will affect relations within Europe, and between Russia
and its allies.

For NATO to hold the gateway to the East, the Americans have been brought
into a new state of hegemony in Europe. The new base symbolises vast power
changes, not simply the occupation of the province of Kosovo.

Whether or not this occupation will result in the pacification of
internecine Balkan quarrels is rather uncertain, since new tensions appear
to be emerging, and there is much scope for new atrocities, in the new
feuds following the intervention itself.

Yesterday's guerilla offensive by the Kosovo Liberation Army, and
yesterday's paramilitary counter repression by the Serbs, are already
giving place to today's new ethnic cleansing of Serbs by Albanians. And the
ethnic and political divisions within the Albanian State, already evident,
are likely, given time, to reassert themselves, exerting new disruptive
influences in the territories now `cleansed' of Serbian influence.

It is therefore unlikely that a more humanitarian order will evolve in the
region, in spite of the elaborate rhetoric which has been evoked to justify
the recent bombardment. The distressing fate of Yugoslavia will continue to
cast its shadow over European affairs.

Even so, the new Balkan presence of NATO may have a far darker shadow to
cast over a very much wider area. There are a whole series of questions
which must be answered by the European Left, if it is to make its proper
contribution to our common future, first of all by avoiding any repetition
of such mayhem, and secondly by restoring an option for common security and
non-exploitative co-operation.


To begin with, we must face up to face up to the geo-strategic implications
of a North American military presence in the Balkans. The official
explanation which is given for this is that will serve to underpin the
emergence of a new democratic order, establishing a protectorate for the
Kosovars. But although the military action may indeed establish such a
protectorate, it has also been designed to achieve much wider objectives,
which have an impact throughout the surrounding area.

In the immediate vicinity, there are dominoes which may fall in Macedonia
and Montenegro. If they do there could be consequences in Bulgaria and
neighbouring countries, possibly in Greece, and if so in Turkey.

The turbulence which may be anticipated, and will need to be avoided, in
this wider region, will almost certainly reinforce demands for stronger
militarisation of the initial base. Already, the British Defence Ministry
is calling for higher military expenditure and the modernisation of forces.
This call will be likely to become louder and more repetitive. The
subordinate allies will renew their dependence on the United States at
every turn.

But far more seriously, the new base will hold the gates to the wider East,
removing a large part of the initiative from Europe to the United States.
Trilateral relations will become bilateral communications: a closed
Euro-American circuit, and another Russo-American one, instead of direct
and open equal three-way communications.

Now, the succession to Yeltsin, which inevitably preoccupies the United
States, becomes a problem in which an interventionist American
administration may feel prompted to take issue. The relations between
Russia and the Ukraine, already the subject of significant American
concern, can move from an agenda of analysis to an agenda for action.

Peter Gowan* has warned us that Brzezinski, the key US policy-maker, has
unambiguously signalled that any security pact between Russia and Ukraine
would require action. `In such a case,' Gowan writes, `when the West would
have to choose between a democratic or an independent Ukraine, strategic
interests - not democratic considerations - must determine the Western


With the prospect of American intervention if Ukrainians make the wrong
decisions about their future, we come to the end of the peaceful option
which was held out, however tenuously, with the collapse of the Berlin Wall.

Once, we were to withdraw the threat of arms from East West relations, and
stimulate the emergence of civil society. A new common security regime
would replace confrontation. But after the war in Yugoslavia, with the
systematic downgrading of common security organisations, the
marginalisation of the United Nations and the OSCE, it is becoming obvious
to the most trusting of statesmen in the East, that it is power, not
humanitarianism, that drives forward American policy, which has now indeed
become hegemony in Europe.

The post-cold war settlement following 1989 provoked uneasiness in the
relations between Europe and America. At the military level, this showed
itself in a marked European reluctance to accept that NATO should act
autonomously, independently of the UN. But the Yugoslav bombardment has
ended this safety mechanism, because it was clear that the Russians and
Chinese would inevitably veto the proposal.

However, once NATO had agreed to act outside the UN framework, it put in
jeopardy the entire machinery of global co-operation. The veto was an
unwieldy mechanism, but its essential function was to make global action
dependant upon the unanimity of the major powers in the postwar settlement.
Once that was gone, international law could no longer rest on any agreed

New foundations are arguably necessary, and might be negotiated: but they
cannot be unilaterally imposed. The moral cost of this decision falls
equally on the just and the unjust, on the guilty as well as those guilty
of infractions.


The Yugoslav war ratified raw power politics in Europe and removed the
pretence of obedience to a constitutional international order.
Henceforward, the Americans will keep the gates between Europe and the
East, and they will police them in the American, not the European,
interest. If it is true that the gatekeepers will owe their position to the
consent of their European partners, it is also true that these will find it
difficult to invent procedures for withdrawing that consent.

What has driven these military decisions? There has been no geopolitical
threat from the East. Indeed, it has taken the triumph of confrontational
politics in the United States to persuade the Ukrainian Parliament that it
may have been premature in its desire to rid itself of nuclear weapons.

Evidently all these military reactions serve in some way the goals of
economic policy.

What are the economic policies which drive the Americans to seek direct
control of relations with the East rather than joint influence through
co-operation? How does the war in Yugoslavia relate to spheres of economic
influence, and the accumulation of capital? In what ways is it connected
with the relationship between the dollar and the Euro? And, in an age in
which the Third Way is disabling the most important labour movements,
undermining the institutions of welfare, and moving towards a nakedly
neo-liberal policy, how can the left recover the initiative, and begin to
develop cogent alternatives to the politics of complicity in exploitation
and endorsement of military aggrandisement?

Evidently, there are connections between the ideological Atlanticism of
Tony Blair, and the tactical accommodations of the Third Way in the joint
Anglo-German Declaration. There are connections between military politics
and the liquidation of welfare.

It is not difficult to see that the extrapolation of these policies offers
an extremely bleak future to the rich capitalist states of the Western
world: guns not butter, missiles not pensions.


Ken Coates is Chairman of the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation and was
until recently a Member of the European Parliament. He hopes to be able to
organise a conference in the near future in the European Parliament to
discuss the establishment of a pan-European peace movement and, through
this and other means, to invite all those who are disturbed by the
developments he describes in this article to consult together and work out
an agenda of analysis and potential action. He can be reached through the
Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation, 112 Church St, Matlock, Derbyshire DE4
3BZ, tel 00 44 1629 57159, fax 00 44 1629 580672.


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Louis Proyect

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