Vol 0, No 37
7 June 1999
B A L K A N   E N C O U N T E R:
Millenarian Thoughts on Kosovo
Dr Sam Vaknin
"English persons, therefore, of humanitarian and reformist disposition constantly went out to the Balkan Peninsula to see who was, in fact, ill-treating whom, and, being by the very nature of their perfectionist faith unable to accept the horrid hypothesis that everybody was ill-treating everybody else, all came back with a pet Balkan people, established in their hearts as suffering and innocent - eternally the massacre-ee and never the massacre-er."
(Rebecca West, Black Lamb and Grey Falcon: A journey through Yugoslavia, Penguin, 1994, p 20)
Rebecca West's book was first published in 1940. By that time, it was common wisdom that the Balkans are the place where the destiny of our world is determined or, at the very least, outlined. Had she lived today, she would have had no reason to revise this particular judgement of hers. The NATO "air campaign" in Kosovo has exposed and brought to culmination a series of historical processes whose importance cannot be exaggerated.
The Russian revolution
Forced to choose between nationalist delusions of imperial grandeur and modern capitalism, with its attendant individualism, Russia chose the latter. The ever-surprising Yeltsin completed the revolution he started in 1990 by disposing of the last vestiges of stagnation as personified by Yevegeny Primakov. The remnants of the former nomenklatura, the figures of the establishment - the fossils in the ideological swamp that Communism had become - were given the penultimate slip. Russia was forced to peer into the abyss of its own corruption, nepotism, criminality, social and political disintegration and military impotence. It was forced to do so by the developments in the Kosovo crisis. It was made to elect between pan-Slavism and pan-capitalism.
For a while, it seemed to have been choosing the former - leading to an inevitable and suicidal confrontation with the victorious civilisation of the West. Then it recoiled and chose the IMF over the KGB, material goods over ideological fervour, the new myths of modernity over the old ones of blood-steeped patriotism.
It was a momentous event, the consequences of which cannot yet be fully fathomed. Extrapolating Russian history, it would be reasonable to expect a backlash in the form of a counter-revolution. A Communist counter-revolution being unlikely, we can expect a fascist-criminal counter-revolution.
Setbacks aside, it is as safe to assume that the revolution is irreversible. It is irreversible because for the first time, it has generated vested interests not only for a select elite but for everyone. Prosperity tends to trickle down and, as it does so, it knows no boundaries of class. The real revolution has just been completed in Russia: 70 years after Lenin's death, all classes are about to win.
The second Cold War
The outlines of a second Cold War have emerged. It is to be fought between a prosperous, almighty, vainglorious, narcissistic, self-righteous, contemptuous and increasingly disintegrating USA and a similarly disintegrating China on the economic ascendant.
The second Cold War (already in progress) is being fought not between foes but between partners. The extent of economic interests common to the two current combatants far exceeds anything achieved in the high moments of detante between the USA and its previous rival, Russia. This Cold War is about dominance of markets and culture - not sheer, projected, military prowess. It is a throwback to earlier days of colonialism and mercantilism, and it is laden with historical memories and sensitivities.
The aims also differ. China wishes to force the USA to throw open the gates of the global marketplace, currently zealously guarded by the only superpower. The IMF, the World Bank and the WTO are all believed to be extensions of America's economic clout, applied to its geopolitical interests. Russia may have forced its way into the G-8, but China has much loftier ambitions. It is not in pursuit of membership in gentlemen's clubs - it aspires to real, raw power. It wants to carve up the world between itself and the West. In short, it wants to dominate and to export, and it wants the West to help it do so. In return, it promises regional and internal stability and access to its markets.
To convince the West of the quality of its wares, China demonstrates its capacity for destabilisation in various corners of the world. It transfers weapons technology, supports international terrorism and rogue states and, in general, places formidable obstacles in the path to Pax Americana, the New World Order.
Americans regard this as a reasonable deal, but they wish to reverse the cause and the effect. First, they want to gain unhindered access to the potentially infinite Chinese market and to have the Chinese deliver the regional and international stability they claim to be able to deliver. Only then would they be willing to contemplate the coveted prize of the co-ownership of the world financial and economic architecture.
China is fighting for legitimacy, recognition, access to markets, capital and technology and the ability to reshape the world in its favour. The USA is fighting to check the progress of the Chinese on all these fronts. Such fundamental differences are bound to lead to conflict - as, indeed, they have.
In this sense, the bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade has been an auspicious event, because it allowed both parties to break through and unlock a deadlock and to make progress towards a fuller integration of China into the WTO, for instance. It also legitimised the airing of grievances against the style and conduct of the USA in world affairs. In short, it was cathartic and useful.
The demise of the client states
The concept of client states is so well entrenched in our historical consciousness that their demise has been denied and repressed. There are no longer alliances between powerful political units (such as the USA) and smaller, dependent, satellites. The aleidoscopically shifting interests of the few remaining global powers dictate geopolitical transience and ideological transparency. These adaptive processes lead to a myriad of alliances, forever changing to fit the needs and interests of the moment or to cater to future contingencies.
Thus, Russia ignores Yugoslavia's pleas for help, China allows the USA, Japan and South Korea to conduct direct negotiations with North Korea, America bullies Israel into a settlement with the Palestinians (who support Iraq), the UK and the USA impose a peace plan on the IRA, Russia respects an embargo imposed on both Iraq and Yugoslavia and so on. These are the roots of a truly global order. They also mark the death knell for rogue and "insane" states. Devoid of their patronage, these countries are gradually tamed by the awesome twin forces of the global market and international capital and information flows. Iran moderates, Libya surrenders, Yugoslavia succumbs. The only exception thus far is Iraq.
This is not to say that warfare is a thing of the past. On the contrary, in the absence of the overwhelmingly restraining impulses and impositions of the superpowers, ethnic strife, border skirmishes and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction are all likely to increase.
But these are already affairs of limited importance, confined to parts of the world of limited importance, fought amongst people of ever more limited importance. War marginalises the warriors because it takes them out of the circulation of capital, information and goods. Separated from these essential flows, warring parties wither and shrivel.
The convergence of alliances
The Kosovo crisis started out as an exercise in self re-definition. NATO used it to successfully put its cohesiveness to test. It acted sanely, and its very complex set of checks and balances and more checks was an impressive success. As a result, the limited aims and means of the campaign were maintained, and NATO was not dragged into either British belligerence or Italian and Greek defeatism. It was the second time in recent history (the first being another multilateral military campaign in the Gulf in 1991) that a military move did not degenerate into the full scale insanity of carnage and bloodshed.
NATO emerged as a self-restrained, well-choreographed, well co-ordinated body of professionals who go through the motions of off-the-shelf plans with lifeless automatism. While somewhat aesthetically repulsive, this image is a great deterrent. We fear cold-blooded, impartial machines of war more than we do any hot-blooded, sword-wielding fanatic. NATO acted with the infamous, German industrial efficiency that gave warfare a bad name. It was "surgically precise" and civilian casualties were alchemically converted into "collateral damage." The well-practised Jamie Shea proved to be an exceptionally chilling sight.
Thus, a policeman was born to police the emerging world of international commerce, true multinationals, infinite flows of data and chaotic reactions to changes in local variables. This policeman is NATO and it wields an awesome club. As it chooses which criminals to discipline, it transforms the nature of previously unruly neighbourhoods. For this, at least, we should be grateful.
Dr Sam Vaknin, 7 June 1999
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