The banana war and Kosovo

There are currently two wars in progress at the moment involving the US and Western Europe. The war against Serbia is currently on the front pages. The second war, the "Banana War" has currently been eclipsed by the former but has also been in the media recently. According to the capitalist media the two wars are separate topics and completely unrelated. In the former the US and Western Europe are overtly allied against the global might of Serbia. In the latter the US and Western Europe are in a state of conflict. In the former the stated motivations are political and in the latter, economic. According to the capitalist press these are two separate categories and the two conflicts are completely unrelated. But to the critical minded in the "materialist tradition", the supposed separation between the political and the economic arenas of conflict is always worth further scrutiny.

First of all, as Tariq Ali (amongst others, e.g. Chomsky) has pointed out, the US stated reasons for this military aggression is the defence of high-minded principles they have clearly never defended elsewhere. As usual the official line as to their own motives doesn't stand up to even the most cursory scrutiny. Those spokespeople who feel a need to defend their position against accusations of inconsistency, state that Kosovo is different because it is in Europe. Indeed, there is perhaps an element of accidental honesty here, because it seems most likely that Europe, and not ex-Yugoslavia, is the US' main concern in this armed struggle.

Let's move to the "Banana War". This is a seemingly straight-forward trade dispute between the US and the EU. However neither the EU or the US actually produce bananas. The argument is over protectionism and work conditions for workers who are citizens neither of the US or the EU. This is an argument over who has the right to decide issues that affect the lives of workers in Third World countries - leaving aside any judgement on the merits or demerits of either case, we can see that the issue is at base a struggle between competing imperialist powers. Indeed Britain and France explicitly cite their legacies as ex-colonial powers as the basis of their "responsibilities" to small producers in the West Indies. Some might say that the choice of this issue, rather than any of the many outstanding disputes over, say, the Common Agricultural Policy which would pit EU and US workers directly against each other, is a coincidence purely due to Chiquit! ! a Bananas' generous campaign contribution to the US Democrats. The fact that this particular issue divides the EU along the lines of ex-colonialists and ex-wannabes seems an unlikely coincidence. In particular this is an issue that pits the UK and France against Germany with its large consumption of bananas and lack of any colonial ties in the Caribbean. Certainly even many of capitalist media's economists sees the Banana War as part of a more strategic attempt by the US to test their ability to dictate world trade terms to the EU in the changing situation.

Anecdotal evidence from Europeans living in the US is that there are some amongst the political establishment in the US who have added up the EU's population and economic figures and have simplistically concluded that the EU, now that the project of monetary union is underway, is a potential future rival to US world economic power. Certainly there are a fair few amongst European politicians and chattering classes who fancy themselves in this role. Witness the wishful thinking around the Euro as potential challenger to the dollar as a world reserve currency. How realistic these fantasies are is another matter, the point is that significant forces in the US establishment are afraid of them.

But if there are worries about a challenge to world economic power, can worries about a challenge to world political and military dominance be far behind? After all even most capitalists recognise that economic and political power go together. Could this is the "strategic interest" that the capitalist press say the US is missing in impoverished and oil-free Kosovo. The lack of any credible new-found "ethical" motivations lead those of us whose bitter experience of the cynical reality behind US and European propaganda from Chiapas to Creggan help us to retain our critical faculties in the face of media whitewash.

In this war EU is split in a different direction, Britain is (as ever) obedient to the US, while Germany is unhappy with US dictating the military pace in Europe - a neat reversal of the respective stances over the trade war. Certainly the US has been able to use this conflict to forestall any idea of the Western European Union (the EU military alliance, invested with so many hopes by the Franco-German axis - witness the efforts to set up "show" units of joint forces) taking responsibility over Europe. Other European countries such as Italy are also less than enthusiastic (not to mention Greece, of course). Equally the US has moved to exclude any UN involvement to make sure that Russia, China and the rest of the world know that European affairs are US property. In their drive to defend their politico-military hegemony the US, by withdrawing international monitors, precluding any possible solution involving UN peacekeeping forces from "neutral&quo! ! t; countries, and now with the bombing campaign, has quite knowingly been prepared to sacrifice thousands of Kosovan civilians to pursue their strategic interests. Would they have done this if the lives and safety of Kosovans were their main priority? I, for one, do not believe so. It seems clear to me that the Banana War and the Kosovo War are simply aspects of a struggle by the US to reassert its hegemony over any possible competition from Europe.

No War But The Class War.
29 March 1999 Tariq Ali's article follows for those who have not had a chance to read it: (no endorsement of any of his other politics implied).


Former anti-war activists are supporting a liberal imperialist adventure, says Tariq Ali

Many despairing liberals and kind-hearted social- democrats, understandably upset by the images of fleeing Kosovan refugees on television, have become keen warmongers. And so have many former anti-war activists. In a simplistic political culture dominated by life-politics, the shedding of tears for one set of victims is coupled with dropping bombs on their oppressors, and if the process means creating new victims, that's fine as long as we don't have to watch on our screens.

The Balkan conflict has divided left and right. Tony Benn, Alan Clarke, Denis Healey and Lord Carrington are opposed to the bombing, while Tony Blair, William Hague, Michael Foot, Paddy Ashdown, Ken Livingstone, Vanessa Redgrave and the editor of the Sun are supporting the Nato offensive.

A few months hence some of the new militarists might have cause to regret their impatience. The American decision to violate the sovereignty of a European state by ordering Nato air strikes against Serbia - the first time a violation of this sort has happened since Brezhnev launched the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia more than three decades ago - poses two basic questions: why? and what next? The answer to the first seems obvious. The American President, his English factotum and various European politicians, not to mention the overwhelming majority of the liberal media, provide us with the reason every day. Milosevic is Hitler. In order to crush such a leader it is necessary to wage war.

That Milosevic is a brutal leader has never been in doubt. But is he alone? Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu is an equally brutish politician, who defies UN resolutions and regularly bombs targets in Lebanon. And what of Milosevic's counterpart in Croatia, Franjo Tudjman? He has authorised the ethnic cleansing of Serbs and, on occasion, Bosnians. He presides over a regime which has rehabilitated wartime fascists who collaborated with the Nazi occupiers during the Second World War. But Netanyahu and Tudjman are on "our side", and that's all that counts.

"Our side" has practised atrocities on a large scale in the second half of the century. In the name of freedom and democracy the Anglo-Saxon powers have backed dictators much worse than Milosevic (who, we should remember, is an elected politician) and helped them to power on every continent. The Indonesian dictator, Suharto, was being armed by Britain and America right till the day he was toppled by a popular uprising which received no support from either Washington or London. Indonesia, admittedly, is a far-away country, not visible from a Tuscan vineyard, but what about Turkey? It can certainly be sighted by a New Labour MP sunbathing on a Greek island.

What successive governments in Ankara have inflicted on their Kurdish citizens is as bad as, if not worse than, the treatment meted out to the Kosovars. The argument used by the Turkish authorities is exactly the same as that employed by the Serb leadership. In torturing, maiming, killing and denying autonomy to the Kurds they are simply defending the unity of the Turkish state. How many TV viewers are aware of the fact that this is still taking place or that Turkey is an important member of Nato? It is the blatant double standard that compels any critical observer to look for the deeper reasons that underlie this conflict.

Are Milosevic and his policies the main reason rather than a pretext for Nato's war? During his recent visit to Britain, Mikhail Gorbachev repeatedly pointed out that agreement could have been reached if the West had been a bit more patient, as they had been in Northern Ireland. He implied that the United States wanted a war. Is this pure fantasy?

The Nato assault on Serbia marks a watershed in European politics. It reflects a decision by the United States to sabotage all notions of a norm-based system of collective security in Europe. This is something that the Russians have been demanding since Gorbachev came to power and it is a demand echoed by a number of EU states, including Helmut Kohl's Germany, ever since the end of the Cold War in 1989. The single, central reason why the Nato operation took place is Russian weakness.

With the exception of the British, all European governments have hitherto refused to sanction any act of unilateral aggression, whatever the provocation, unless it had prior UN sanction. This was Germany's policy throughout the Nineties. A few days ago Volker Ruhe, the former German defence minister, insisted that German soldiers in Macedonia had been sent as "peacekeepers" and "not to make war" and therefore should be immediately withdrawn. It has also now emerged that a major reason for the dramatic resignation of Oskar Lafontaine was his total opposition to the Nato plan. He told the German cabinet that it was reckless to follow the Americans in Kosovo. A German minister informed the New York Times last Friday that "in the end, it was Kosovo that made him go".

What this indicates is that a silent, behind-the-scenes war is being fought across Western Europe to determine the leadership of the EU. The US has used its old British Trojan Horse to lead a neo-liberal drive in the EU. Kosovo is a neat operation in Western European terms to promote a new Anglo-American-French alliance to lead world politics and replace Franco-German hegemony. American strategists, desperate to retain Nato as their battering-ram in the new Europe, manoeuvred Europe into a war in order to prove that Nato had a permanent function and was not a paper tiger.

If the US disengages from Kosovo and negotiations recommence with the Serbs accepting a Nato peace-keeping force, it will be hailed as a big victory and will strengthen the Anglo-America alliance in the EU. If Nato splits, the results would be catastrophic. What is important for Nato planners is not how many Kosovars die in the process, but how these deaths are perceived. If Nato is blamed for them, then they will have failed, and moves towards a European Security Council, including the non-Nato states, might be revived.

This is what the German and Russian states really want and they might yet succeed. Just before the bombing began the Kosovan and Serb leaderships had agreed a three-year period of autonomy, after which the issue could be rediscussed. The discussions broke down on the presence of a "peacekeeping force".

The Serbs, not unreasonably, regarded the composition of this force as Nato-in-disguise. The Russians could have persuaded them that this was not the case if Nato had agreed to a Russian complement, but before matters could proceed further, the United States said "enough". The Serbs left the table and the bombs began to fall.

Negotiations will have to begin again. It is unlikely that the Serbs will accept the presence of any Nato soldiers on their soil. The Kosovars, for their part, will refuse to tolerate Milosevic's special police units or soldiers. Both will be right and a solution might lie in a neutral UN peacekeeping force, which does not contain soldiers from armies that have attacked either side.

Is the West going to think creatively ahead? The break-up of Yugoslavia has already cost the EU and the USA billions of dollars. This war alone has, so far, been costed at $2bn and the figure could rise. If half this amount of money had been spent on economic development, we might have been spared all the conflicts.

The EU could suggest a reconstruction plan based on the experience of Marshall Aid, and encourage, if not the rebirth of a third Yugoslavia, then a new Balkan confederation of states which would deal as a region with the EU. Meanwhile Nato should halt this foolish and unnecessary war and the UN should take charge of new negotiations.

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