-- begin forwarded message: --

Date:  Fri, 4 Jun 1999 00:08:45 +0900
From: Hendrik
To: Multiple recipients of NETSOURCE-L <netsource-l@mail.think.service>
Subject:  [NS] NATO and the new imperialism

June 1999

NATO and the new imperialism

By John Rees

There are currently over 20 wars raging around the globe. So why is NATO so
concerned with the one in the Balkans? The plight of the refugees is the
stock pro-war answer. Yet there were 15.3 million refugees made homeless by
war in 1995 alone. So why does the war in Kosovo, where US military might
alone is 99 percent greater than the arms spending of the state it is
fighting, command the attention of the world's great powers? The causes of
NATO's Balkan War cannot be found in the Balkans alone. Neither can they be
found in the events of the last few months. The origins of the war are much
wider and go back much further than Serbia's relations with Kosovo. To see
the whole picture we have to go back to the fundamental fact of European
history in the last decade, the fall of the Stalinist states in 1989.

The end of these regimes, and German unification soon after, gave all the
institutions of international capitalism an unrivalled opportunity to
expand into central and eastern Europe. International capital began to
'cherry pick' those sites and markets which were most profitable.
Investment quickly followed, which, though large in comparison to the
capitals which made it, was not large enough to sustain a turnaround in
most of the east European economies. The European Community also talked of
eastward expansion. But, in a Brussels bureaucracy which still regards
Greek membership of the EU as a mistake because the economy is
insufficiently prosperous, the integration of east European states was
always more of a carrot to encourage pro-market reform than an immediate
policy goal. So it was that the fastest expansion into eastern Europe came
from NATO. 'NATO', reports the International Institute for Strat egic
Studies, 'has confidently extended its collective defence provisions to
three new members of the former Warsaw Pact...while the EU's enlargement
process remains mired in bickering over fundamental issues such as reform
of the Common Agricultural Policy.'

Historians of the 1999 Balkan War will no doubt marvel at the fact that so
little comment has been made about the fact that, in the very month that
the war broke out, NATO integrated Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary
into the alliance. The southern flank of NATO between Hungary and Greece is
now pierced by the states of the former Yugoslavia. This alone gives NATO a
considerable strategic interest in controlling the Balkans. But there is
more at stake. The effect of NATO enlargement is to swing the Iron Curtain
to the east. Where once it used to divide Germany, it now runs down the
eastern borders of Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary. It ends at the
borders of the former Yugoslavia. The next three states to be considered
for NATO membership are a former republic of Yugoslavia itself, Slovenia,
and Serbia's neighbours, Romania and Bulgaria. Thus the whole ten year long
process of NATO's eastward push is now caught up with the fate of the
Balkans in general and the former Yugoslav states in particular.

The new Iron Curtain between western and eastern Europe is not the end of
the Balkans' strategic importance for NATO. If we look along the southern
flank of NATO, through Greece and Turkey, we see how closely the fate of
this region is tied to another crucial area of post Cold War instablity-the
arc of oil states running up from the traditional spheres of western
interest in Iran and Iraq to the Caspian Sea and the newly independent
states on Russia's southern rim. Just as NATO expansion into eastern Europe
was being celebrated at the alliance's 50th birthday party in Washington a
few weeks ago, another pro-NATO alliance was being constructed in the wings
of that summit. At the Washington meeting Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and
Moldova joined with Uzbekistan to form GUUAM, a new alliance aimed at
strengthening the member states' economic and political ties with the west.
Three of these states-Georgia, Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan-only pulled out of
the Russian dominated Confederation of Independent States' collective
security pact this spring. GUUAM has agreed low level military cooperation
but claims it is not a military alliance aimed against Russia. But GUUAM's
formation comes hot on the heels of the Ukrainian parliament's decision to
rescind its previous order to get rid of nuclear weapons, a direct result
of the Balkan War.

So it is not surprising to find Russia's foreign minister asking, 'How
should we understand the fact that this new regional organisation has been
created in Washington during a NATO summit?' An answer to this question was
provided by Eduard Shevardnadze, president of Georgia, who said, 'When I
met Javier Solana [NATO secretary-general], I asked him, "When will you
finally admit Georgia to NATO?" He whispered in my ear, but I can't reveal
what he told me.' In all likelihood what Solana told Shevardnadze was that
NATO won't be signing Georgia up in the very near future. This is because
the main significance of the GUUAM area for the western powers is more
economic than military at the moment.

GUUAM's main task, according to the Financial Times, 'is to develop the
area's rich oil and gas deposits to the exclusion of Russia'. To this end,
'aligning with GUUAM from the outside are Turkey, Britain and the
US-nations that have proved far more able than Russia to invest in and
trade with the region.' There is indeed a rich prize at stake in the
Caspian Sea region. Its proven oil reserves are estimated at between 16 and
32 billion barrels, comparable to the US's reserves of 22 billion barrels
and more than the North Sea's 17 billion barrels. Total reserves could be
as high as 179 to 195 billion barrels, according to the US Energy
Information Administration. These reserves are all a long way from the
Balkans, but the routes by which the oil must come west are not. In April a
new pipeline was opened carrying Caspian Sea oil through Azerbaijan and
Georgia. The oil will continue its journey by tanker through the Black Sea,
the Bosphorus and on past the Turkish and Greek coast. Other possible
western pipeline routes lie through Turkey to the coast near Cyprus or
through the Ukraine, Bulgaria and Greece-which are, respectively, a GUUAM
member, an aspiring member of NATO and an existing NATO member.

All these routes give the necessity of security in the Balkans an
additional direct economic importance to add to the primary strategic
concerns which stand behind NATO's war in the Balkans. As US energy
secretary Bill Richardson explained last November, 'This is about America's
energy security... It's also about preventing strategic inroads by those
who don't share our values. We are trying to move these newly independent
countries toward the west. We would like to see them reliant on western
commercial and political interests.. We've made a substantial political
investment in the Caspian and it's important that both the pipeline map and
the politics come out right.' It is the 'pipeline map' to which Richardson
refers that connects the Caspian Sea oil reserves to the security of the
area between Turkey, Greece and the other Balkan states. There are, as the
International Herald Tribune points out, 'profound economic and
geopolitical consequences' stemming from the decisions about the routes by
which the oil will come west: 'Rivalries played out here will have a
decisive impact in shaping the post-Communist world, and in determining how
much influence the United States will have over its development.'

Geographical expansion is not the only way that NATO has altered in the
1990s. It has now explicitly redefined its 'strategic concepts' so that it
is no longer simply a defensive alliance, as it claimed throughout the Cold
War. All the old Cold War NATO practices remain-including its commitment to
'first use' of nuclear weapons if it deems such use to be necessary. But
immediately after the fall of the Stalinist states in 1991, NATO redefined
its aims so that 'out of area' operations became part of a new 'strategic
concept'. At first this was seen as primarily a 'peacekeeping' role. But,
reports the International Institute for Strategic Studies, 'NATO's
exclusive command of the Implementation Force (IFOR) operations in Bosnia
completely changed this view.' Thus the collapse of the east European
regimes and NATO's expansionism fuelled its concern with the Balkans; and
its experience in the Balkans fuelled its determination to use military
weight beyond its borders. At the Washington Summit, a Combined Joint Task
Force for rapid force deployment in 'areas of crisis' was grafted onto a
revised NATO military structure.

The results of these decade long trends are enormous. The Cold War
structure which underpinned the nuclear stalemate between the West and the
Eastern bloc has disappeared. This means that 'hot wars' are no longer
pushed to the colonial and former colonial periphery of the system in the
way that they were during the Cold War. These conflicts continue, though
they are fought less between national liberation movements and colonial or
neo-colonial regimes and more frequently between politically independent
states which can quickly move from clients of the major powers to 'rogue'
or 'terrorist' states if their interests and those of the major powers
diverge. Iran, Iraq and Serbia are just the most prominent examples of the
last ten years. This pattern is going to continue, if only because 75
percent of US arms sales in the past five years have been to countries
whose citizens have no right to choose their own government.

Even more importantly, the collapse of the Warsaw Pact has created a zone
of imperialist conflict stretching from NATO's new eastern border through
the Baltic states, eastern Europe and the Balkans, through to the southern
rim of Russia and the GUUAM states. This economically weak and unstable
region is now a major zone of rival imperial claims. The Balkans have
become a contested area once again because the tectonic plates of the major
powers now grind against each other in this area, just as they did before
the accident of Cold War imperial geography and the long postwar boom gave
them temporary respite.

The New World Order promised ten years ago will not be delivered. The
imbalance between US military power and that of every other state in the
world, once touted as the guarantee of a more peaceful world, now stands
exposed as a source of greater instability. US military spending is greater
than all the military spending of the next 13 countries ranked beneath it.
Yet the US share of world trade and world manufacturing is substantially
less than it was during the Cold War. This is one central reason why
military might is so often the policy of choice for the US ruling class.
The other reason is the economic enfeeblement of Russia. But the policy of
using this weakness to carry Russia reluctantly along with NATO objectives
has its limits, as the course of the Balkan War so far shows. Moreover, as
NATO encroachment comes ever closer to Russia's borders, the still enormous
military machine of the Russian state may once again begin to look to the
country's leaders like its one real asset in a threatening situation.

When we see the Balkan War in context it is no surprise to find that the
1990s have already been one of the bloodiest since the Second World War in
terms of war deaths. Most of those killed have been civilians. Fifty years
ago half of war deaths were civilian. In the 1960s civilians accounted for
63 percent of war deaths, in the 1980s that figure rose to 74 percent, and
in the 1990s the figure is higher still. Only the destruction of the
imperialist system will stop this carnage.


Source: Socialist Review (UK), June 1999


Subscription information, appended by the listserver:
* if you want to leave this list please send an empty message to
* if you know someone who wants to join this list,
please tell them to send an empty message to

-- end forwarded message --