What is the realpolitik reason we went to war in the Balkans in the 90s

There are usually two reasons a nation goes to war. The reason given to the public (self defense, protecting human rights, stopping or containing an aggressor, etc) and the real reason (promotion of ideology, political strategy, financial gain, etc).

We went to war to defend Kuwait in 1991 by saying it was about democracy and human rights, the real reason was stopping the Hussein regime from controlling too much of the world’s oil reserves. Second Iraq war, I’m guessing the real reason was the promotion of neocon ideology with the goal of reshaping the muslim world (the given reason was WMD).

So what was the real reason we went to war in Kosovo? The US looked the other way in Rwanda and Sudan, I don’t see why human rights alone would motivate us in Yugoslavia.

Somalia and Rwanda had been heartbreaking, but were remote and impenetrable tribal conflicts. Seeing it happen in Europe was just too much. The logistics were not so straining, the interests to be protected (functioning nation-states in a newly freed Eastern Europe) were easier to identify, and French leadership had recently changed. The looming prospect for the US was having to go in and rescue UN peacekeepers (in an election year) with nothing but retreat to show for it at the end. When Bosnian Serb soldiers overran the city of Srebrenica and murdered more than 8,000 defenseless men and boys, it was too much, and Pres. Clinton set in motion a forceful NATO response.

The relevant transcript from the American Experience biography "Clinton."A contemporary LA Times account.

First of all, who is “we”?

Here’s an excellent talk by historian Michael Parenti in which he not only deals with that question, but also the question you asked in your post, among other things.

Even though Yugoslavia’s story goes back a long way, let’s start with the Second World War, in which the Kingdom of Yugoslavia was invaded and butchered by the Nazis, Italian Fascists, and local fascist parties like the Croatian Ustashe and Bosniak Muslim Jihadis recruited by the Nazis. These elements fought one of the most vicious counter-insurgencies of the modern era, against two main groups of resisters: The Chetniks, who were basically conservative nationalists. They weren’t just Yugoslav monarchists, they were Serbian first and foremost; and the Partisans, who were multiethnic leftists led by Josip Broz Tito. The Chetniks sometimes collaborated with the Axis, but the Partisans had purer motives, and largely succeeded in liberating Yugoslavia without Red Army help.

Independent Yugoslavia was thus not under the Soviet boot, and so it was feasible, a few years later, for Tito to split with Stalin after Tito’s economists explained to him that the Soviet Union wasn’t really a good model to follow. Yugoslavia developed a form of socialism with a great deal of power decentralized and devolved to workers’ councils, rather than dictated from Belgrade. Look up workers’ self-management, autogestion, Titoism, and so on. Economically, it has a lot in common with anarchism and council communism. The Yugoslav economy did very well, taking a ravaged country that was not terribly wealthy before the war, and building considerable broad-based prosperity.

There was no “Yugoslav Wall,” and citizens could travel and emigrate. It was not a free country, but most of Tito’s repression was directed at ethnic nationalists and such. Discontent still erupted, and some of the first 1968 protests occurred there. Tito got a bit too ambitious, and borrowed money from the IMF with few other options, and before there was a clear understanding of just how much of a loan-shark that institution is/was.

In 1980, Tito died, and the usual story is that his successors could not keep a lid on ethnic tensions. That’s part of it, but the full story is that Washington (and London, Bonn/Berlin, Paris, etc.) did not look kindly on a state developing outside (and against!) the neoliberal capitalist model, and getting away with it. Documents from that era state this, and not only were the harsh IMF reforms tearing apart the economy and society, groups like the National Endowment for Democracy were funding and supporting separatist elements in the different republics.

The war broke out in the early 90s, and notably the Slovenians were able to get out of the war and out of Yugoslavia very quickly, because there were few Serbs living there unhappy with their new leaders. I’m not saying that Serbian nationalism wasn’t a big factor, but a lot of that was due to Milosevic and company being completely unwilling to let Serbs (and other anti-secessionists) get marooned in breakaway republics, under regimes that were tearing apart the union. To Americans, this should sound familiar.

It took a few years and some domestic and international political wrangling, but NATO intervened briefly in 1995 to assist Bosnia and Croatia’s exit, and on a much greater scale in 1999 to dismember the rest of Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro, effectively creating a semi-independent Kosovo). The motive wasn’t humanitarian. The Serb atrocities were usually larger, but that’s often due to circumstances of ability and opportunity. Hell, the Kosovo Liberation Army started the last phase of the war, and Serbs (and Romani/Gypsies) have been ethnically cleansed from Kosovo ever since.

Yugoslavia never recovered from all of this, and thus several of these republics are part of the general European neoliberal system, even if they aren’t in the EU. They can look over at Greece, the only NATO member to adamantly refuse to participate in the 1999 bombings, and see the results of decades of welfare for the rich and free markets for the rest. Interestingly, in Greece, there is apparently a movement of people responding to the crisis by taking control of workplaces and running it themselves … like a workers’ council! The powers that be don’t like that.

I’ve read, but I don’t have any cites, that there was a moment where it looked like fundamentalist Muslims were making inroads in Bosnia. Given the Clinton administration’s views on the threat posed by Islamic fundamentalism, that doesn’t seem unreasonable to me.

Additionally, that sort of instability was happening on our allies borders in Europe. So, my feeling is that the location played a big part of our intervention.

Keep in mind though, that we attempted numerous diplomatic overtures and negotiations before we finally intervened. It wasn’t like fighting broke out and we dispatched forces immediately. I don’t think the situation in Rwanda is comparable in that regard. IIRC, the Bosnian war broke out in 1992, but NATO didn’t intervene until 1994 (I’m too lazy to look it up).

Here’s a short version, from a 1999 anti-war protest, in which Parenti (and Gloria LaRiva, who I wish was affiliated with less authoritarian tendencies) spell it out. The “target” symbol some in the crowd are wearing refers to a symbol many Serb civilians wore after NATO began deliberately bombing civilian infrastructure. Serbs (and maybe others) would hold dance parties on bridges, defying NATO.

If you go to Youtube and search for “The Weight of Chains,” you will not only find that documentary, but also trailers for it and the sequel, some deleted scenes, excerpts, et cetera.

Two reasons.

The first reason is because the people of Kosovo are white. The U.S has never (and will never) scramble any jets to intervene in conflicts with or among dark-skinned populations out of compassion, it will always be about the resources and political gain to be had. Europe has spent centuries pillaging the continent of its precious metals, rubber, oil, and diamonds and there’s nothing in Africa that America wants anyway.

The second reason is that the western world dehumanizes darker skinned people, thus, there’s no political capital gained in helping them. Why would we intervene in Sudan or Rwanda? There’s no reason at all. The only way the U.S would intervene is if you have a dark-skinned population terrorize or oppress white people or if white people are oppressing other white people. The blood of the non-whites is cheap.

  • Honesty

Personally, I think we went to war for the reasons stated. The difference between Serbia and Rwanda is that in Serbia we gave clear warnings which were ignored, and eventually we acted. In Rwanda, everything happened pretty fast.

Which African nations would let an former Imperialist army pass through their territories to stop the Rwanda killings?
I forget.:dubious:

Never say never. Operation Restore Hope.

Note the date of the Somali Invasion: 5 Dec 1992, one month into George H.W. Bush’s lame duck era after he failed to get re-elected. GHB invaded Somalia because he knew it was an unwinnable quagmire and the incoming president, some smarmy Arkansas guy with bad taste in women, would take all the blame for it. Somalia was 100% political and despicable.

Rwanda was a heartbreaking situation but I don’t think anyone could have believed that it would get as bad as it got. I’d like to believe our country would have done different with 20/20 hindsight, but the sad fact is that after Somalia, the U.S. wasn’t about to get involved in ANY part of Africa that might blow up in our face.

America may be the most powerful nation on earth, but never forget that many nations, even supposed allies, really don’t like us very much.

Interesting opinion, for certain definitions of “interesting”. Anyway, Honesty said “never” and he was wrong. End of story.

No, he said never out of compassion. Or, more precisely: “The U.S has never (and will never) scramble any jets to intervene in conflicts with or among dark-skinned populations out of compassion, it will always be about the resources and political gain to be had.” You countered with one incident which you then conceded was for political gain only.

Care to try for round two?

No, he certainly didn’t concede it was “for political gain only.”

You asserted it was and he mocked your rather stupid assertion.

Okay, please cite any such documents (that are not mere political opinion). Thank you.

Pfft. That’s just a No True Scotsman fallacy.

Prove that it was out of political gain. You can’t.

Didn’t HOnesty just get through touting the virtues of government and condemning anti-government conservatives in another thread? I can’t imagine a more harsh condemnation of our government than what Honesty said in this thread.

I think that was the major reason. Several world leaders, and Clinton specifically, were pretty upset by the disaster in Rwanda and the Wests failure (or inability) to stop it. And unlike Rwanda, the Balkan problem was fairly tractable, given that it was reachable from allied powers and there were (more) unified gov’ts that could be negotiated with.

There was also a desire to develop NATO into something like a “UN-lite” in the post-coldwar world. This would give Western powers an instrument to legitimize foreign intervention without the challenges of getting the UN to sign off on something. The Balkans seemed like a pretty good test of this idea.

Finally, the Europeans were (and are) understandably still extremely wary of European wars after the two World Wars, and have put a lot of work into creating a post-war Europe that would be free of that type of nationalistic violence. Thus, a nationalistic war taking place in the same place (and involving many of the same issues) that had sparked the first World War was extremely difficult for them to ignore.

None of these reasons were secret though. They were all widely discussed at the time. And I don’t think any really count as “realpolitik”, they’re all at least somewhat idealistic in nature.

A who in the what now? :confused:

Prove that your brain isn’t made up of stinky-foot cheese and seasoned offal. You can’t.

NSDD 133 starts by mentioning how useful Yugoslavia has been as a buffer, but, later on, it mentions the US desire to work with others to “overcome [Yugoslavia’s] financial difficulties” (think IMF) and "promote the trend toward an effective, market-oriented economic structure."

We know what that means.

A few years later, Yugoslavia was not any sort of buffer, and Bush I’s government passed legislation with a name that seems inconsistent from source to source, but it deals with appropriations and the number is 101-513. Under section 599a, debt-ravaged, shackled Yugoslavia was cut off financially, unless all six of Yugoslavia’s constituent republics held free and fair multiparty elections without human rights violations.

Not only is the intent there pretty obvious, those standards are far more stringent than any applied to the regimes the US was supporting, then and now.

Do you want more, regarding the NED and G17?

The Balkans were the flashpoint for the First World War and many of the tensions which existed during the early 20th century remained extant at the end. Failing to intervene could have allowed a regional conflict to ignite ethnic conflicts throughout Eastern and Central Europe.

With deference to our European friends, they have done a rather poor job at quelling the myriad ethnic tensions which are present in many of their own nations as well as their neighbors. The economically dubious split of the Czech Republic and Slovakia is a key example of this and the on-going tension between the Flemish and Walloons in Belgium is yet another.

Had the NATO not intervened in the Balkans, the same type of conflict could taken place elsewhere in Europe.