The 1999 NATO bombing of Serbia

Beginning in April 1999, the major imperialist powers launched an unprecedented multilateral war against Serbia. NATO, led by the United States but including forces from Britain, Germany, France, Italy and other allied countries, rained bombs down on the tiny country, the largest fragment of the former Yugoslavia.

The nominal pretext for the war was the conflict in Kosovo, a Serbian province with a predominately Albanian population. A separatist movement, closely linked to gangsters and drug smugglers, received backing from the US and Germany and grandiosely and misleadingly called itself the “Kosovo Liberation Army.”

The middle-class “left” groups, which had opposed imperialist bullying of small countries during the war in Vietnam, the US attacks on Cuba and Nicaragua, and the French colonial war in Algeria, rallied to the side of Washington, London and Berlin during the breakup of the former Yugoslavia, first backing US intervention on the side of the Bosnian Muslims, then defending the bombing of Serbia.

The World Socialist Web Site maintained a strong and principled opposition to the US-NATO bombing of Serbia, which killed thousands of innocent civilians and decimated much of the country’s infrastructure.

As the WSWS explained, the devastating bombing campaign had nothing to do with preventing a “humanitarian disaster,” as government and military officials cynically claimed, but was the product of an increasingly bellicose US foreign policy. Washington saw the collapse of the Soviet Union as an opportunity to create a “unipolar” world order, with the United States as the unchallenged hegemon.

The analysis presented by the WSWS cut through the pretense of concern for the fate of the Albanian Kosovars and revealed the real reasons for the war, most notably in a May 24 statement entitled “Why is NATO at war with Yugoslavia? World power, oil and gold,” which outlined the world-historical context of the bombing campaign.

We warned that with the outbreak of the first armed conflict within Europe since World War II, escalating antagonisms among rival powers threatened to extend the war well beyond the boundaries of the former Yugoslavia. It was the precursor to far wider and more dangerous military adventures.

The WSWS also analyzed the origins of the breakup of Yugoslavia in the economic and social crisis of the late 1980s, which led to the demise of the Stalinist-ruled regimes throughout Eastern Europe. In the late 1980s, millions of Yugoslav workers were laid off as state firms were shut down and state services slashed. The ex-Stalinist leaders of the various Yugoslav republics turned to chauvinist rhetoric in an attempt to divert widespread anger and social misery away from revolutionary channels.

This process underlay the rise of Slobodan Milosevic, the former Stalinist who came to power as the advocate of Serbian nationalism. While the media propaganda in Europe and the United States presented Milosevic as a new Hitler, he was in reality a former favorite of Washington, which backed him because he was a proponent of the capitalist market.

In “After the Slaughter: Political Lessons of the Balkan War,” published June 14, after Serbia’s surrender, David North noted that a vast historical retrogression was underway: “The dismantling of the old colonial empires during the late 1940s, 1950s and 1960s appears more and more, in light of contemporary events, to have been only a temporary episode in the history of imperialism.”

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