THE GUARDIAN (U.K.)
Stop the war. Nato should lose
By Richard Gott
Saturday April 10, 1999
The shameful destruction of Yugoslavia by aerial bombardment, a Nato
operation in which the British Government is participating, will be seen as
one of the great climactic moments of the 20th century. When it is over, the
world will never be quite the same again.
Suez, Munich, the futile battles of the first world war, all left the
indelible mark of failure on a generation of politicians, and now Blair,
Cook, Robertson, and Short - the most visible of the absurdly belligerent
gang in the Downing Street bunker - will enter the rogues' gallery of
historical obloquy from which there is no appeal.
Yugoslavia has never been a country about which we know nothing. From the
pistol shot in Sarajevo in 1914 to the assassin's bullet in the Serbian king
on the waterfront at Marseilles in 1934, from the partisan struggle against
the Nazis in the second world war to the heroic Titoist resistance to Stalin
during the early years of the cold war, Yugoslavia has enjoyed a special and
privileged place in British memories and history books.
British officers fought with the partisans, British leftists helped build
the roads and railways that consolidated Tito's independence from the Soviet
Union. People throughout the world applauded when Tito, Nehru and Nasser
embarked on the construction of a Third World free from colonial rule and
the threat of superpower nuclear weapons.
Those achievements, those bonds of solidarity, those visions of an
alternative future, are not the least among the items wiped out in these
nightly orgies of destruction.
Far worse is to come. The bombing of Yugoslavia has already destroyed the
UN, mortally wounded by its pusillanimous role in smashing up Iraq. A
hundred years of radical and well-intentioned effort, to establish an
international system capable of setting limits to the imperial ambitions of
great powers, has been brought to an abrupt end. It will take years to
devise a replacement.
The collusion of the governments of Western Europe with the US bombing, and
their participation in this evil air campaign, has destroyed what's left of
European social democracy, closing down a century and a half of progressive
thought and action originally designed to establish rational governments in
individual states, to promote social and economic justice at home - and
You do not need the mechanistic approach of a fresh century to perceive that
the 200-year-old dreams of the French Revolution of 1789, and the
100-year-old aspirations of the Russian Revolution of 1917, have all been
swept away in the past decade. Now the bombing has rubbed the slate entirely
clean. We are in a new world.
What through the imagination of artists over the centuries we have come to
perceive as Biblical scenes, nightly displayed in awesome aesthetic on the
television screen, are not the machinations of some evil individual, some
new Hitler bent on re-enacting the earlier tragedies of Central Europe. They
are the ineluctable working-out of an historical process.
It is futile to demonise the Serb leadership. They carry their full share of
blame, yet in truth they are cardboard, insubstantial figures, so much
flotsam on the great periodic waves of historic hatred and anger that move
across the face of the Balkans. Just as much to blame are the prevaricating
diplomats and politicians of the western world, and their armchair
strategists in the press.
Also apparently guilty and complicit is an irresponsible public opinion,
lured into parading its conscience and allegedly demanding action, meddling
with an unravelling tapestry of which it can only have the measure of the
At bottom there remains the terrible truth that the volcanic catastrophe of
the sudden Kosovo population displacements were triggered by the Nato
bombing, and by the decision of Western governments to impose impossible
conditions on the Serbian sovereign state. We knew it would happen, the
Serbs said it would happen, and it did happen.
This is not the first time in recent history that the choices made by the
great powers have led to catastrophe for the people on the ground. The
British decision to partition India, granting independence to two successor
states, brought disaster to the Punjab. The British and UN decision to wash
their hands of Palestine brought endless decades of tragedy to the Middle
The effects of those decisions are still with us, yet they seem, in
retrospect, to be the almost inevitable accompaniment to colonial
What we are witnessing today is something entirely new. The West thought it
was going to war against Yugoslavia to prevent something happening, and by
its very actions it has caused that dreaded something to take place. Two
weeks before the bombing there was an Albanian population in Kosovo. Four
weeks later that population has evaporated across the frontier before our
Whether Nato planned for this eventuality, or whether it was unexpected, is
beside the point. Whether anyone ever looked up from the minutiae on the
diplomats' negotiating table to glance at the wider picture will be left to
historians to pore over and to judge. We are left with the results of a
policy that has failed on a cataclysmic scale.
To imagine a fresh policy is not so difficult, to make it happen is
virtually impossible. Britain, the US, and the Nato alliance have suffered
the most dramatic defeat. Their aim of liberating the population of Kosovo
from Serb misrule has been achieved at the expense of the people themselves.
The Serbs may suffer from the bombing and the destruction of their country's
infrastructure, but the ethnic Albanian inhabitants of Kosovo have lost
their country altogether.
First, the bombing must stop. It is not just counter-productive, it is
intrinsically evil, pointless, and degrading to those who order it to be
done - the democratically-elected governments of the West.
Impetuous voices will be heard suggesting that we should ally ourselves to
the Kosovo Liberation Army, and engage ourselves more deeply in their
nationalist struggle. Nothing could be more foolish. Others talk of
establishing 'a protectorate', where foreign troops would establish security
in the Balkans through alien military rule. This would amount to a new
colonialism, a strange development at the end of a century devoted to trying
to rid the world of that particular scourge.
Some are fearful of humiliation. If this defeat is allowed to happen, Nato's
new future is at risk. Yet maybe that would be no bad thing. During the
decade since the collapse of the post-war settlement established in the
years after 1945, the lineaments of a new system have slowly begun to
Strobe Talbott, the malign US deputy secretary of state and the chief
architect of the current disaster, has outlined recently a future
transatlantic military relationship in which the US provides the technology
and the intelligence for future global actions, and the Europeans provide
the body bags and their contents.
This is the redesigned Nato we are being offered in the 50th anniversary
year, and the project to which the Blair Government has signed up. If Nato's
defeat wakes us up to what is being planned, then it may actually serve some
Lastly, we have to abandon the idea of recovering the land of Kosovo and
settling it again in the interests of the ethnic Albanians.
One day, in some future cycle of Balkan violence, the Albanians may do just
that, but that time is not now. The international community, that imaginary
construct, must begin to learn that some questions do not have an answer,
and some problems do not have a solution.
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