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Rebels in Nato's cause

Former anti-war activists are supporting a liberal imperialist adventure, says Tariq Ali
Many despairing liberals and kind-hearted social- democrats, understandably upset by the images of fleeing Kosovan refugees on television, have become keen warmongers. And so have many former anti-war activists. In a simplistic political culture dominated by life-politics, the shedding of tears for one set of victims is coupled with dropping bombs on their oppressors, and if the process means creating new victims, that's fine as long as we don't have to watch on our screens.

The Balkan conflict has divided left and right. Tony Benn, Alan Clarke, Denis Healey and Lord Carrington are opposed to the bombing, while Tony Blair, William Hague, Michael Foot, Paddy Ashdown, Ken Livingstone, Vanessa Redgrave and the editor of the Sun are supporting the Nato offensive.

A few months hence some of the new militarists might have cause to regret their impatience. The American decision to violate the sovereignty of a European state by ordering Nato air strikes against Serbia - the first time a violation of this sort has happened since Brezhnev launched the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia more than three decades ago - poses two basic questions: why? and what next? The answer to the first seems obvious. The American President, his English factotum and various European politicians, not to mention the overwhelming majority of the liberal media, provide us with the reason every day. Milosevic is Hitler. In order to crush such a leader it is necessary to wage war.

That Milosevic is a brutal leader has never been in doubt. But is he alone? Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu is an equally brutish politician, who defies UN resolutions and regularly bombs targets in Lebanon. And what of Milosevic's counterpart in Croatia, Franjo Tudjman? He has authorised the ethnic cleansing of Serbs and, on occasion, Bosnians. He presides over a regime which has rehabilitated wartime fascists who collaborated with the Nazi occupiers during the Second World War. But Netanyahu and Tudjman are on "our side", and that's all that counts.

"Our side" has practised atrocities on a large scale in the second half of the century. In the name of freedom and democracy the Anglo-Saxon powers have backed dictators much worse than Milosevic (who, we should remember, is an elected politician) and helped them to power on every continent. The Indonesian dictator, Suharto, was being armed by Britain and America right till the day he was toppled by a popular uprising which received no support from either Washington or London. Indonesia, admittedly, is a far-away country, not visible from a Tuscan vineyard, but what about Turkey? It can certainly be sighted by a New Labour MP sunbathing on a Greek island.

What successive governments in Ankara have inflicted on their Kurdish citizens is as bad as, if not worse than, the treatment meted out to the Kosovars. The argument used by the Turkish authorities is exactly the same as that employed by the Serb leadership. In torturing, maiming, killing and denying autonomy to the Kurds they are simply defending the unity of the Turkish state. How many TV viewers are aware of the fact that this is still taking place or that Turkey is an important member of Nato? It is the blatant double standard that compels any critical observer to look for the deeper reasons that underlie this conflict.

Are Milosevic and his policies the main reason rather than a pretext for Nato's war? During his recent visit to Britain, Mikhail Gorbachev repeatedly pointed out that agreement could have been reached if the West had been a bit more patient, as they had been in Northern Ireland. He implied that the United States wanted a war. Is this pure fantasy?

The Nato assault on Serbia marks a watershed in European politics. It reflects a decision by the United States to sabotage all notions of a norm-based system of collective security in Europe. This is something that the Russians have been demanding since Gorbachev came to power and it is a demand echoed by a number of EU states, including Helmut Kohl's Germany, ever since the end of the Cold War in 1989. The single, central reason why the Nato operation took place is Russian weakness.

With the exception of the British, all European governments have hitherto refused to sanction any act of unilateral aggression, whatever the provocation, unless it had prior UN sanction. This was Germany's policy throughout the Nineties. A few days ago Volker Ruhe, the former German defence minister, insisted that German soldiers in Macedonia had been sent as "peacekeepers" and "not to make war" and therefore should be immediately withdrawn. It has also now emerged that a major reason for the dramatic resignation of Oskar Lafontaine was his total opposition to the Nato plan. He told the German cabinet that it was reckless to follow the Americans in Kosovo. A German minister informed the New York Times last Friday that "in the end, it was Kosovo that made him go".

What this indicates is that a silent, behind-the-scenes war is being fought across Western Europe to determine the leadership of the EU. The US has used its old British Trojan Horse to lead a neo-liberal drive in the EU. Kosovo is a neat operation in Western European terms to promote a new Anglo-American-French alliance to lead world politics and replace Franco-German hegemony. American strategists, desperate to retain Nato as their battering-ram in the new Europe, manoeuvred Europe into a war in order to prove that Nato had a permanent function and was not a paper tiger.

If the US disengages from Kosovo and negotiations recommence with the Serbs accepting a Nato peace-keeping force, it will be hailed as a big victory and will strengthen the Anglo-America alliance in the EU. If Nato splits, the results would be catastrophic. What is important for Nato planners is not how many Kosovars die in the process, but how these deaths are perceived. If Nato is blamed for them, then they will have failed, and moves towards a European Security Council, including the non- Nato states, might be revived.

This is what the German and Russian states really want and they might yet succeed. Just before the bombing began the Kosovan and Serb leaderships had agreed a three-year period of autonomy, after which the issue could be rediscussed. The discussions broke down on the presence of a "peacekeeping force".

The Serbs, not unreasonably, regarded the composition of this force as Nato-in-disguise. The Russians could have persuaded them that this was not the case if Nato had agreed to a Russian complement, but before matters could proceed further, the United States said "enough". The Serbs left the table and the bombs began to fall.

Negotiations will have to begin again. It is unlikely that the Serbs will accept the presence of any Nato soldiers on their soil. The Kosovars, for their part, will refuse to tolerate Milosevic's special police units or soldiers. Both will be right and a solution might lie in a neutral UN peacekeeping force, which does not contain soldiers from armies that have attacked either side.

Is the West going to think creatively ahead? The break-up of Yugoslavia has already cost the EU and the USA billions of dollars. This war alone has, so far, been costed at $2bn and the figure could rise. If half this amount of money had been spent on economic development, we might have been spared all the conflicts.

The EU could suggest a reconstruction plan based on the experience of Marshall Aid, and encourage, if not the rebirth of a third Yugoslavia, then a new Balkan confederation of states which would deal as a region with the EU. Meanwhile Nato should halt this foolish and unnecessary war and the UN should take charge of new negotiations.