THE CLINTON DOCTRINE
By Boris Kagarlitsky
MOSCOW - In 1968, when Soviet forces invaded Czechoslovakia, Western
journalists began speaking of a ``Brezhnev Doctrine''. Its essence
was simple: the sovereignty of the Warsaw Pact states was limited. If
something went amiss, the Soviet ``big brother'' would decide who
would be punished and how.
Since then, an enormous amount has changed, but the desire of big
brother to poke his nose into other people's business remains
unaltered. Now that there is only one superpower in the world, the
right to judge and punish sovereign states has been taken over by the
president of the United States.
In place of the Brezhnev Doctrine, we now have the Clinton Doctrine.
When the bombing of Yugoslavia began, it became clear that what was
involved was not just an attempt by a luckless womaniser to restore
the nation's respect for him by killing a few hundred or a few
thousand people. No, we were confronted with a developed political
concept, one that would be consistently put into effect. So what is
the Clinton Doctrine all about?
If Louis XIV declared, ``The state? I am the state!'', American
leaders are now declaring, ``The world community? That's the US!''
How other peoples, and even their governments, might react to this
means nothing. The US, acting alone, decides on behalf of everyone.
Any need for the United Nations Organisation disappears.
Democratic procedures in the countries of the West are also
superfluous. The second rule of the Clinton Doctrine can be set out
in this fashion: if the views of the people contradict those of the
US president, any genuinely democratic government will tell the
people to go to hell, and will act in line with its duty as an ally.
If a government pays any regard to the views of its citizens, then it
is not a truly democratic government.
The third rule runs as follows: the US acts simultaneously as
accomplice, prosecutor, judge and executioner. The world leader is
not bound by any legal formalities. It is for the US president alone
to decide what is ``moral'' and what is not.
US leaders constantly declare their determination to punish evil
dictators. But starting with Panama's General Noriega, whom the
Americans overthrew and put in jail on drug-trafficking charges, a
strange principle has applied. All the foreign leaders whom the US
has publicly punished have at one stage or another in their careers
been political sidekicks of the US. Noriega defended US interests in
Latin America, Saddam Hussein was supported as a counter-weight to
islamic Iran, and the US relied on Milosevic when it needed to force
the Bosnian Serbs to accept the US-formulated Dayton accords.
Naturally, everyone the US punishes is an evil human rights
violator. The trouble is - so are those the US supports. No-one was
upset by Serbian policies in Kosova when the need was to strengthen
the West's positions in Bosnia. Turkey can carry out ethnic
cleansing, since Turkey is a NATO member. The US government can bomb
whoever it likes without having to answer morally, politically or
legally for its actions, so long as the victims are not American
taxpayers. The less logic here, the stronger the position of the US
as the leading world power, since everyone must feel constantly under
Finally, the last rule of the Clinton doctrine: the technological
and military superiority of the US as the leading world power allows
it to do whatever it likes with total impunity. This final principle
underpins all the others. Victors, as we all know, are not put on
trial. Allies know that it is better to share in the triumph of force
than to attract suspicions of disloyalty. The victims understand that
resistance is useless.
Victory wipes the slate clean. The human catastrophe in Kosova can
be put down to the evil deeds of the Serbs, especially since the
actions of the Serbian authorities in the region have indeed been
shocking. The hospitals and schools damaged by NATO's ``pinpoint''
bombing can be categorised as military targets, and the complaints of
the victims can be described as hostile propaganda. But all this
works only so long as the victory of the super-power is not in doubt.
What if doubts arise?
The Clinton Doctrine suffers from the same problem as the Brezhnev
Doctrine before it. Such doctrines corrupt and lead into error the
people who proclaim them. Now that American bombs are falling on
Yugoslavia, and NATO is preparing to send ground forces, pessimists
are warning that for America, the Balkans could become a second
Vietnam. The pessimists are wrong. The Balkans will not be a second
Vietnam, but a European Afghanistan.
The Soviet intervention in Afghanistan resulted from the complete
certainty of the Brezhnev Politburo, confirmed by its experience with
Czechoslovakia in 1968, that it could act with impunity. But unlike
the civilised Czechs, who knew it was pointless to fight against a
superpower, the Afghans had little grasp of geopolitics.
Consequently, they fought back, and the superpower turned out to be
strikingly weak. The USSR was incapable of waging a drawn-out
struggle, and as soon as this became apparent, its psychological and
``moral'' superiority vanished.
In Clinton's response to the conflict in Kosova, there has been a
good deal to recall the mental habits of Brezhnev and his colleagues.
The destabilisation of the situation in the Balkans gave the United
States an opportunity to demonstrate once again the invincible power
of the Clinton Doctrine. NATO never tried to settle the conflict. Its
aim was quite different - to occupy the region. This was why the West
sought to bind both sides in Kosova to terms that were clearly
unacceptable, and which the Albanians as well as the Serbs tried to
resist; the Albanians agreed to sign the peace agreement only after
becoming convinced that the Serbs would not do so.
US policy in the Balkans is justified on the basis that the wicked
Serbs have to be punished. But the Serbs now have their own
justification, in the need to stop the high-handed Americans. To any
normal human being, it is clear that Milosevic's policies in Kosova
have been monstrous. But the experience of recent years shows that
for a superpower to be able to act with impunity on a global scale is
far more dangerous. This is understood even by the Kosova Albanian
leader Ibrahim Rogova, who in a vain attempt to stop the NATO bombing
signed an agreement with his long-time foe Milosevic. But when the US
government has set itself up as the moral standard for the entire
world, it cannot take account of the views of Serbs, Arabs, Somalis,
or even of its own citizens, trying perplexedly to find Kosova on the
The Clinton Doctrine is suffering the same fate in Yugoslavia as the
Brezhnev Doctrine suffered in Afghanistan. The resistance put up by
the Serbs is totally changing the rules of the game. The string of
NATO military failures is turning into a crisis of the whole system.
Once the US ceases to seem invulnerable, its special position in the
world, which allows it to ignore international law, also becomes
subject to doubt. Then everyone remembers their rights, and starts
putting up resistance.
The growing military resistance of the Serbs, and the
disillusionment of many Kosova Albanians with their NATO
``protectors'', are part of a far more powerful shift whose symptoms
are apparent not only in the Balkans. The facade of loyalty mounted
by America's allies, like that of Brezhnev's allies in the Warsaw
Pact, overlies an enormous potential for popular revolt. During the
period of the Warsaw Pact, anti-Sovietism gradually became a general
ideology, uniting the profoundly dissimilar Poles, Hungarians,
Romanians and Afghans. There is nothing to bring people together like
the existence of a common enemy.
NATO has survived the Warsaw Pact by a whole ten years. But there
are no eternal empires. The Pax Americana may turn out to be no more
durable than the ``fraternal alliance'' headed by the Soviet