Free Life 29, April 1999, More Thoughts on the Serbian War, by Sean Gabb

From Free Life, Issue 29, April 1999
ISSN: 0260 5112

Still More Thoughts on the Serbian War
 Anthony Furlong (Sean Gabb)

In his lead article, Sean Gabb asks why we are fighting in Serbia. He wrote on the third day of the war. I have the advantage over him of writing in the third week. During this time, it has become easier to see what is really happening.

If you look at the Internet news groups – the one uncensored, and therefore genuine, medium of fact and opinion in this country – you will see that the explanations divide mainly under two headings. On the one side is the reducing band of enthusiasts who see the war as a defence of human rights against a gang of genocidal maniacs. On the other are the various conspiracy theorists. Some talk about the shape of Mrs Albright's nose, others about the supposed needs of "late capitalism".

We can dismiss all of these. Conspiracies do happen, but hardly ever so grandly and effectively as the conspiracy theorists claim. As for human rights, I have no doubt that the Serbs are doing horrible things to the Albanians in Kossovo – if also a strong suspicion that equally horrible things have been done the other way. But the Western powers did nothing in Rwanda, are promoting unimaginable chaos and bloodshed in Sudan, are resolutely ignoring Algeria, and are giving all assistance to the building of a tribalist apartheid state in South Africa. Nor, as Dr Gabb argues, have the British or Americans any balance of power interest in what happens in the Balkans. There is no need to worry that the Russians will get an opening to the Mediterranean unless we intervene there as we did after 1945. And if there is now a risk of general war involving Turkey, Greece and Bulgaria, that is purely the consequence of the NATO intervention there.

So what is the reason for this war? My answer is that there is no single reason. There is no overall agenda. It is simply the result of special interest group pressures – for once all in the same direction – on a set of more than commonly stupid politicians. Let us review these forces:

First, there are the media. These feed on big events like wars and other disasters. A good set of reports – preferably spoken to camera looking straight into 20 million living rooms – is what every television journalist dreams about. It means prizes and promotion. It means having filed the report "that challenged the nation's conscience". Equally, newspaper editors like to fill up pages with maps and analyses, and to turn out ringing calls that "something must be done". Since 1991, there have been more journalists in what used to be Yugoslavia than attend the average Olympic Games. They have all been crying up the atrocities there and demanding intervention.

Second, there are the armaments companies and all the other business interests that benefit from war. Around 1990, these moved abruptly from 60 years of unlimited funding to an age of straitened military spending. They have been reduced for the past decade to selling weapons at bargain prices to every third world government with any credit at all, while arguing in the West for more spending on rapid deployment and peacekeeping forces. There is an elegant economy about the process – though it would be more elegant still and far economical if they simply cut out the middlemen and declared war on each other.

Third, there are the international bureaucrats. These are not all actively conspiring to impose a fascist New World Order: things do not work like that. But they certainly benefit from any problem – real or imagined – that puts more power and money into their own hands. The New World Order is merely an effect of such actions, not its intended outcome. The long death of Yugoslavia has been one of their best opportunities yet. It has allowed them to look concerned, even to alleviate some local hardship, and to believe that they are enlightened citizens of the world doing a good job against the forces of paranoid nationalism. They mostly approve of the war. Those who do not are against because they see NATO as trespassing into a problem that they see themselves as existing to solve.

Fourth, there are the chiefs of staff and foreign policy advisers. It would be nice to think that some old General had taken the politicians aside and given them a lecture about the limitations of air power – how it was the Russian steamroller that defeated Germany and not the bombing offensive, and how the Americans lost Vietnam and the Russians Afghanistan in spite of total air supremacy. But there was probably none. These people have the same interest as the arms makers. With still no sign of the Islamic or Chinese threats that were supposed to replace the Russian one, they need an excuse for surviving uncut. Except it will be horribly expensive in lives and money – though not their own – they have every reason for cheering on the rush into a war that might drag on for years. For the chiefs of staff, indeed, the war has the added benefit of testing their equipment. The fact that Stealth Bombers can be brought down by small arms fire, and that Harrier Jump Jets hardly work at all, is not the prelude to massive sackings of procurement staff, but rather the excuse for bigger budgets.

Against this coalition, men like Tony Blair and Bill Clinton stand no chance at all. They have no historical education worth the name – they probably have only the haziest knowledge about the two big wars of this century, let alone about the English and American civil wars, and have almost certainly never read Thucydides on the Sicilian Expedition, not even in English. What practical knowledge they have of strategy is confined to knowing how to get and keep power within the rules of their own oligarchy.

Nor have they any principles – that is, any settled and independent means of understanding what is happening in the world. They see the deaths and suffering on television. They listen to the united pressure for intervention. They puff themselves up and think themselves doctors to a suffering humanity. They look forward to what they are assured will be quick and easy victories, and plunge straight into the bottomless swamp of Balkan hatreds. They never consider the futility of bombing without a land offensive, or the swarms of refugees, or the enmity of Russia. By the time they realise what they have done, it is too late to pull back without an utter loss of face.

It is obvious that we are governed by fools and liars. What need to look for conspiracy in a mass of lies and folly?

© 1999 – 2017, seangabb.

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