The title for this paper came to me in late June in Berlin when I was participating in a workshop on regional security arrangements. The heated debate on the second day was entirely devoted to Kosovo. At the same time, at Unter den Linden a few blocks away from the conference venue, a messy and joyful event was taking place - the Christopher Street Day Gay Parade, a sort of prelude to the Berlin Love Parade held a couple of weeks later. As I left the conference hall and joined the crowds at Unter den Linden, it occurred to me that Kosovo and the Love Parade have a great deal in common. They are both fin-de-siecle phenomena, carnivals of simulation and narcissism. One is a techno-music parade; the other, a military techno parade. Our century ends with invisible B2s bombing Serb cities in the name of human rights, a Chilean dictator arrested in London on Spanish government charges, a human fetus cloned (and killed for moral reasons), and a million people celebrating flesh under the Brandenburg gate in a reunified Berlin. Did somebody say postmodernity?
In Europe, at the end of the 20th century, ethnic cleansing must be defeated, and must be seen to be defeated.
- Tony Blair
Kosovo is the first war in history that is said to be fought in pursuit of principle, not interest. What is at stake is a radical revision of the moral (and, perhaps subsequently, the legal and institutional) basis of the international system. The Westphalian principle of sovereignty - originally created by monarchs to ensure their position against popular movements and systematically (mis)used by rulers against their own subjects - is eroding. In fact, the Weberian principle of the state as possessing a legitimate monopoly on violence seems to be failing. Sovereigns no longer hold this monopoly; it now belongs to the international community. The West has defined basic human rights as universal principles that transcend sovereignty.
In the new normative paradigm of Idealpolitik, sovereignty is no longer an ontological given, no longer inviolate. In some cases, it may be restricted (for example, Milosevic's token sovereignty over Kosovo or Saddam Hussain's over Iraqi skies); in other instances, it is simply revoked. As a result, sovereignty and governance can arguably be made more responsible and accountable, encouraging greater public participation and observance of human rights. (However, the question remains, responsible and accountable to whom? Is it to indigenous constituencies or to the moral authority of the West, which in some cases is external to domestic discourses? We shall try to answer this question later.)
This seems well and good in theory, but the reality test has turned out to be much more confusing. As Viktor Chernomyrdin has put it in another context, "We tried to do better, but it went as it usually does." To put it simply, interests of power compromised what looked like an attempt to execute normative Idealpolitik. In The Twenty Years' Crisis, E.H. Carr criticized the hypocrisy of morality in the anarchy of international relations; he argued that it led to disaster by ignoring real relations of power.1 NATO's operation in Kosovo proved to be no different. Idealpolitik was mixed (one could say compromised) with all sorts of traditional interests, strategies, and mischief.
Interests at play in the conflict in Kosovo were numerous and conspicuous. They ranged from NATO's desperate search for a post-Cold War role to play and for a clear enemy to Clinton's determination in his post-Lewinski phase to show, urbi et orbi, that he is, after all, a morally responsible statesman. From the United States' wish to reassert its position in transatlantic relations in the wake of the Amsterdam Treaty and the arrival of the EMU to the desire of EU states to prevent the influx of a million Kosovar refugees. From the military's self-depiction as a sort of a transnational elite (paradoxically, General Wesley Clark is probably more highly regarded by Serb and Russian generals than on Capitol Hill) to the interests of the military industry and technology.
In the world of postmodern technology, hardware, like computers, communication networks, and state-of-the-art weapons, acquires a certain agency and generates interests of its own. Anton Chekhov said that if there is a shotgun hanging on the wall in the first act of a play, it is certain to be fired in the third act. Likewise, B2 bombers, our civilization's "top guns," need to fly actual missions - and fly they did, taking off from a base in Missouri, refueling over the Atlantic, bombing targets in Serbia, and returning to Missouri in the same evening. As an American pilot confided in an interview, "The great thing about flying a B2 is that you start in the morning, accomplish a mission, and you're back home in the evening, with your wife, your kids, and a cold beer." "Hi Dad!" - welcome to the world of postmodern warfare and computer morality. Never mind cost-effectiveness of these B2 missions, they were all about media-effectiveness and a display of technological supremacy. "The medium is the message." The B2 bomber is a message; it does not even have to do the dirty job of dropping bombs; all it has to do is fly, engaging in a communicative action rather than physical contact with the enemy.
Another twist to the theme of technology as a relevant actor was added by defence analysts who suggested that some members of the NATO alliance were using as many guided bombs and missiles containing chips with potential Y2K bugs as possible rather than have them undergo a costly testing program. There are still a few months left before the year 2000 and quite a few spots around the world where future unreliable munitions may be usefully employed.
The overwhelming interest in waging a war against Serbia, however, belonged not to a specific agency, or a group, but to a certain power discourse, the post-Cold War dominant moral discourse of the "West." Claiming to have norms at its core (for example, NATO as a "community of values"), this discourse is about expansion and power, much like the Christian discourse and the White Man discourse that guided Western colonization for the last 500 years under the banner of morality. After all, any ethical discourse is a discourse of power working by way of exclusion and punishment, by surveiller et punir (as per Michel Foucault) and the West's current moral assertiveness simply follows a centuries-old tradition.
In seeking to establish itself as a norm for global conduct, the moral discourse of power is rather indiscriminate with respect to specific conflicts, instrumentalizing them to its own advantage. In some cases, this discourse supports sovereignty (Kuwait), sometimes it supports human rights (Kosovo), and sometimes it supports neither (Turkish Kurds). The ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, real and terrible as it was, seems not to have been an overwhelming reason for Western intervention, but rather a convenient pretext.
There was no contradiction between Idealpolitik and Realpolitik in Kosovo, as they are both manifestations of the same historical force, the same discourse of power. In Kosovo, it was principle exercised as power, and power disguised as principle.
Europe's approach to the Balkans has been based upon narcissism, rather than a genuine tolerance based on compassion.
- Peter van Ham, "Simulating European Security: Kosovo and the Balkanization/Integration Nexus."
One of the great paradoxes of the war in Kosovo is that it was not just one campaign but two: there was the ethnic cleansing campaign in Kosovo and the Allied bombing campaign against targets in Kosovo and all over Serbia. At times it seemed that these campaigns were taking place in separate dimensions. This was made particularly evident in daily television news reports. First, there would be a report on the arrival of thousands of new refugees at the Kosovo-Albanian (or Macedonian or Montenegrin) border. A correspondent in all-weather gear would be positioned before a backdrop reminiscent of scenes from Schindler's List: ceaseless columns of refugees slowly walking on railway tracks. This would be followed by a smartly dressed correspondent at NATO Headquarters in Brussels, going live to NATO's daily briefing, where an ingratiating and smiling Jamie Shea would provide the numbers of sorties flown, targets hit, and would assure of the ever-increasing success of the bombing campaign. Sometimes, pictures from Serbian television would be included; they showed destroyed bridges, factories, and residential quarters as well as people wandering amid the debris. (In Russia, the images were served in reverse order: first, the destruction in Serbia and then Kosovar refugees).
It seemed that each campaign was following its own course. Serb troops were completing the ethnic cleansing of towns and villages in Kosovo and NATO aircraft were completing the orderly and meticulous destruction of Serbia's infrastructure. NATO was running short of targets and, at times, hitting the same site two or three times; meanwhile, it did nothing on the ground to stop ethnic cleansing. At best, one can say that both campaigns were carried out relatively independently of each other. At worst, one can argue, as did The Economist, that "this was a war to stop ethnic cleansing, but the main effect was to intensify it. The bombing campaign accelerated the killing - no more than 2,000-3,000 people had died in the province before the bombing began, quite a few at the hands of Kosovar guerrillas - and it accelerated the emptying of the population at large. In humanitarian terms, the Kosovo campaign turned into a disaster."2
Indeed, it turned out to be a vicious circle and a self-propelled enterprise: NATO bombs accelerated ethnic cleansing, and the stronger outflow of refugees (escaping not only from Serb atrocities but from NATO bombs as well) prompted still more bombs. The entire population of Kosovo and civilians in cities all over Serbia turned into NATO's hostages and bargaining chips in a geopolitical game. Rather than helping the refugees, NATO seemed to be exploiting them in its narcissistic display of military power. In the 79 days of the air campaign, the Alliance failed to pursue such larger goals as toppling the Milosevic regime, installing a new order in the Balkans, or sending a strong message to the world. Now, as forensic evidence of the genocide in Kosovo is being recovered, the news is met with horror in Western capitals, but also with a kind of relief, providing retrospective moral justification for the bombing.
The first war in history said to be fought on moral grounds was tainted by hypocrisy. It is hard to reconcile self-appointed "normative politics" with the embracing of an ally like the KLA, an organization with a well-documented history of terrorism, drug trafficking, and ethnic cleansing. It is difficult to reconcile it with the use of cluster bombs that proved to be "surgical" in the most brutal sense of the word, that is, resulting in amputations. Likewise, it is hard to reconcile calls to abolish the death penalty (as the Council of Europe has urged its member states) with the killing and punishing of innocent civilians for crimes committed by their leaders, which in effect was Europe's stance during the course of NATO's attacks.
Even if one admits that the war in Kosovo had moral foundations, it was the morality of an action movie and a computer game, the morality of Western messianism and "chasing monsters" (Milosevic as the Castro of Europe), the Manichaean morality of Good and Evil, Us and Them.
The Serbs, as vehicles of ethnic cleansing, are at the forefront of the construction of Europe. For it is being constructed, the real Europe, the white Europe, a Europe whitewashed, integrated and purified, morally as much as economically or ethnically.
- Jean Baudrillard, The Perfect Crime.
It is the binary mapping of the conflict in Kosovo (in which, for instance, an ambiguous force like the KLA fell into the "Us" category as Western journalists glorified these guerrillas on their mountain trails, while Russia, identified as a "Serb ally," was relegated to the "Them" camp) that leads one to suggest that Europe was not simply looking to establish morality and justice, but rather to establish its own identity represented as morality. It was not that some pre-established European norms have compelled Europe to intervene in Kosovo, but the converse: the intervention in Kosovo was used by Europe to re-invent itself and to imagine itself as a moral fortress. Europe needed Kosovo for the construction of its own identity and for the consolidation of the European project on a higher moral ground.
A "community of values" is by and large an exclusive project working by way of dissociation from the Other. For decades (indeed, centuries), Russia, and later the Soviet empire, served as the Other, creating a necessary external environment for European identity. After the Soviet empire crumbled, the European project suddenly lacked "otherness." While it is true that Russia still produced alien images ("Russian nationalism" and the "Red Mafia" chief among them), these were far from sufficient for reconstructing a post-Cold War European identity that would provide the basis for EU and NATO expansion to include the nations of East Central Europe. The eruption in the Balkans in the early 1990s provided a new opportunity to invent another kind of "otherness," one comfortably rooted in the collective memory of Europe. A new Other emerged in Europe, and a new fear: the fear of Balkanization.
East Central Europeans were the first to feel that the Balkans were the referent against which they could construct their new European identity and they started a "flight from the Balkans."3 As Pal Dunay observed,
[T]here is a tendency in the countries of the region not to be identified with the Balkans. Countries want to be East Central European, or preferably simply Central European. No country wants to be considered part of the Balkans as if this were not a geographical term but an incurable disease. The result is a situation that the Balkans exist "without Balkan countries." The situation has emerged that except for Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and FYRM - obsessed with other priorities - almost every country in the area has proposed its own non-Balkan identity card.4
There is some kind of self-esteem among countries like Romania and Slovakia to be situated "north of the Danube," as if the Danube were the Styx, a border between life and death, Europe and the Balkans. (In this paradigm, however, Austria and Bavaria fall into the negative side of this ontological dichotomy.) Instead of trying to find a cooperative (integrationist and/or neo-liberal) solution for the Balkan challenge, the Balkans, in the best tradition of identity-politics, were consciously alienated and turned into a ghetto of Europe. As Ole Waever wrote in 1995, "Balkanization is a tool for legitimizing an international order without a named enemy."5
In the second half of the 1990s, the enemy was given a name: it was "Serb nationalism" and it was identified with the neo-Communist regime of Slobodan Milosevic. There is no denying the corrupt nature of the Milosevic regime and its genocidal practices (for instance, the "horseshoe plan" to empty Kosovo), but the fact is that this regime was instrumentalized by Europe in its identity project and in the re-formulation of Europe's security discourse. As mentioned above, Milosevic was portrayed as the "Castro of Europe," a scandalous occurrence in the emerging European order, at the heart of white civilization. All Western leaders observed in unison that a villain like Milosevic, and the practice of ethnic cleansing, must be defeated "in Europe at the end of the 20th century." But does this mean that ethnic cleansing is less worrying in other parts of the world as, for example, in Rwanda, where over a million people have been killed on the grounds of ethnic identity? Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter was right in pointing out in several interviews in May 1999 that the West's war in Kosovo had strong overtones of racism.
For ten years following the fall of the Wall, European security and identity increasingly lacked a frame of reference and direction; it had become a simulation exercise. Serb nationalism and Milosevic have provided Europe with a missing referent, furnishing a signified to the obscure signifier of "European security." Or rather, European security has constructed, or simulated, its own referent, imagined its own enemy. In fact, Milosevic is not better or worse than most of the Balkan leaders of the 1990s (for example, Croatia's Tujman), and Serb nationalism is no more reprehensible than that of the Croats or Albanians. It is Milosevic, however, who has become a symbolic figure and a point of reference for Western security narratives. (Choosing the Serbs as Europe's chief villains over their Croat or Muslim neighbours merits special consideration. It may be largely explained by the history of Serb domination in Yugoslavia and only partly by religious divisions). As Peter van Ham has argued, "In all its perversity, 'Europe' has mis/used Serbia as well as Kosovo to acquire a sense of Self, to temporarily and spatially define what it is not. Europe's simulated security is a travesty, it is an apparent and transparent fake."6
To be fair, there was hesitation and confusion in Europe in reaction to the bombing. There was a certain degree of objectivity and balance in media reporting and some astonishment at "what we are doing." But there was no audible protest. As cluster bombs were dropped on the residential quarters of Serbian cities and "collateral damage" was tolerated, Europe asserted its new identity. This was accompanied by a stunning "silence of the lambs," the peace movements, the anti-war generation of the 60s and 70s, and of former NATO critics like the German Greens who hastily developed the concept of a "just war." It looked like Europe had re-discovered atavisms of modernity, with essentialist narratives of identity, security, heroic politics, and outright militarism. Wasn't it all about modernity, the war in Kosovo?
The Balkan wars are a "prelude to a future in which audiences will have been reduced to postmodern Romans watching bloody spectacles in the electric arena comprised of televised images."
- Stjepan G. Mestrovic, The Balkanization of the West: The Confluence of Postmodernism and Post-Communism.
At first glance, it seems that the war in Kosovo was an outburst of modernity. Modern history was returning with a vengeance, in particular the Balkan history, with its post-Ottoman, post-Habsburg and post-Tito conflict potential. The shadow of Kosovo Pole 8 suddenly loomed large over Europe, along with a number of other unresolved territorial disputes, unsettled borders, and ethnic rivalries in East Central and South Eastern Europe. The conflict over Kosovo demonstrated that the East had not yet completed the tasks of modernity, that is, forming nations, states, and defining borders. In the age of globalization and European integration, it turned out that pockets of violent modern nationhood still existed.
Indeed, the Balkans are often interpreted as the reserve of the archaic, reminding one of a Baudrillard piece about a stone-age tribe discovered in Papua New Guinea. As the story goes, the international community decides to completely isolate the tribe in order to "preserve" its unique biosphere and to simulate the undiscovered. Likewise, the West could theoretically preserve the "unique multi-cultural environment of the Balkans" as a UNESCO Heritage Site, a Jurassic Park of ethnic strife and territorial disputes.
On the other hand, the West, too, seems to have relapsed into modernity, making use of war and power politics, and waving national flags. British defence analysts on Sky News would jealously count the number of attack sorties flown by the Royal Air Force during the air campaign.
It would be too simplistic, however, to read the war in Kosovo as a sudden recurrence of modernity, nationality, and military security in late 20th-century Europe. To begin with, Serbian, Albanian, and other nationalisms are staged in a postmodern setting, that is, this is nationalism as a response to globalization, integration, and emergence of transnational diasporas. Each of the nationalist movements in the region is surprisingly global, positioning itself with respect to the "West," that is, the EU, NATO, the United States, but also with respect to Russia (as does Serbia). Ethnic leaders are vying for the West's attention, and their strategies are addressed to the international community as well as to their direct opponents and domestic constituencies. That is to say that someone like Milosevic is hardly an archaic nationalist, obsessed with ethnicity, and trying to defy the West. On the contrary, he is a pragmatic politician, playing the strategy of a regulated conflict with the West, and in fact using the West for the purpose of consolidating his own power. Provoking NATO's attack may have been Milosevic's strategic (mis)calculation, yet it had unforeseen consequences. Likewise, international PR has become a major activity for the KLA and Kosovar leaders.
Secondly, the war in Kosovo marks a major infringement on the modern principle of sovereignty as the ultimate legitimate monopoly on violence. Milosevic is a classic sovereign: he is legitimate (elected) and he uses various forms of violence against his Serbian and Albanian subjects. It is precisely this monopoly that is being challenged by the international community. In addition, the West is now also questioning the sovereign political choice of the Serbian nation, refusing aid to Serbia "while Milosevic is in office." In a sense, one can call this limitation of sovereignty a "humanitarian Monroe doctrine" (or "Brezhnev doctrine").
It is interesting, however, that the war in Kosovo also violated the sovereignty of Western nations. It subjected their alleged national interests to supranational purposes (NATO's search of action and leadership, preserving the Transatlantic relationship, shaping ESDI and CFSP, preventing the refugee pressure on EU mechanisms, etc.) and to transnational technologies. The leading actors in the war were not states (with a possible exception of the U.S., the last surviving nation-state), but institutions. The story of the war in Kosovo took place not in the realpolitische field of traditional state interests, but in the highly virtual institutional field of "European security."
Thirdly, this simulated field features a new concept of agency that roughly corresponds to what the post-structuralist literary critics, following Roland Barthes, call "the death of the author." The story of Kosovo has no author, it is written by impersonal forces like "Europe," or the "West," or the "community of values," or the New World Order." Discourses have no face or personality, and war in Kosovo is written by a collective body of the West, emerging in an electrified field of symbolic exchange and simulation. The most striking thing about the war in Kosovo was that it materialized "out of the thin air" of late modernity. It has no author or mastermind behind it (even though there are interests involved), and NATO is no more than an instrument, an executor, a performer. In this way, the war in Kosovo resembles Russia's war in Chechnya: it is now in its sixth year and yet remains absolutely anonymous. It is not known who made the decision and gave orders to start it, and the role of the President, the Security Council and the Ministry of Defence is unclear. Considering the covert and Byzantine nature of Russian politics, the "truth" about the start of the Chechen war is not likely to be revealed any time soon (if this "truth" exists at all).
The new concept of agency represented in the conflict in Kosovo largely explains NATO's spectacular planning failures and a general ad hoc and ad libitum mode of operation. When, early in the air campaign, it became clear that NATO had failed to deflect Milosevic from his course of ethnic cleansing, it seemed that the Allies had no agenda whatsoever except to continue bombing with reckless abandon, as though driven by Napoleon's motto on s'engage et puis on voit. Given the improvisational nature of the bombing and alarmed at the evident inefficacy of air strikes, NATO began to look for alternative mechanisms of conflict management and/or retrospective justification of its own action. It looked to players it should involved from the outset: the OSCE, the United Nations, the Hague Tribunal, and finally the EU and Russia.
Indeed, the Chernomyrdin-Ahtisaari mission virtually saved NATO, which by late May 1999 seemed hopelessly stuck in the Kosovo quagmire, unable to stop bombing on the one hand, and unwilling to employ ground forces on the other. Had a political solution not been mediated in early June, one can quite imagine that now, in late summer 1999, the bombs would still be falling (with "collateral damage" mounting). The ethnic cleansing in Kosovo would be completed, Serbian troops damaged but far from defeated or driven out of Kosovo, cracks within NATO growing, and the Balkan winter looming. The West's impersonal war machine had to turn for help to personal-style politics from the European peripheries (Finland and Russia); a marginal discourse was needed to save the Grand Narrative of the New World Order.
Fourthly, on the subject of de-personalized actors, one cannot fail to notice the immense role played by the mass media in the war in Kosovo. Just as in the Gulf War, this conflict was produced, fought, and consummated in the field of televised images, that is, it was virtualized and simulated to a high degree. In a darkly ironic coincidence, shortly before the start of the air campaign, the movie Wag the Dog was released that featured some imaginary, simulated "Albanians." The media is wagging the dog of world politics, or rather the media has become the dog, waiting, in Pavlovian spasms, for more food, like Kuwait or Kosovo, it can digest and communicate as politically relevant and melodramatic.
The mass media we are talking about is total and global. Reports may be biased and distorted, but media as such does not belong to either side in the conflict (for example, in 1994-96, the Russian media almost entirely sided with the Chechens, angering the Russian generals). In arguing that Serb TV should be exempt from bombing, CNN was much more likely driven by hunger for information than by humanitarian concerns or professional solidarity.
Indeed, the media dominated the war in Kosovo. B52 bombers joined the dissident Belgrade radio, B92, as mass media devices. State-of-the-art military technology has become a department of the mass media. Much like the cameras installed in racecars whose function is to show the race (including the occasional crash, from the driver's unique perspective, which can be replayed in slow motion), today's bombs and missiles with built-in cameras are designed not only to destroy but also to show. They allow viewers to savour the entertaining process of destruction. The purpose of the guided missile that hit the bridge in Novi Sad was primarily communicative, that is (a) "to send a message" to Milosevic and the world and (b) to televise the final approach of the missile to the target, followed by an eloquent blackout. The bombing of Novi Sad bridge turned into a media spectacle, drawing hundreds of millions of viewers around the world. Maybe in the future broadcasting companies will sponsor missiles and bombs with on-board cameras as they now sponsor Formula One cars.
Since most contemporary wars are positioned in a global context, the art of "sending messages" (not only to the enemy but also to the world at large) plays an ever-increasing role in the conduct of war, sometimes eclipsing operational efficiency. In earlier times, it was mostly military parades that were part of PR, but now war itself, like NATO's operation in Kosovo, can be turned into a PR campaign. Apparently, one of the reasons for starting the bombing in late March 1999 was the illusion of an easy victory - a victory that would fit nicely with the festivities surrounding NATO's fiftieth anniversary in April. Witness Javier Solana's repeated pronouncements that the campaign would be over by the Washington summit - NATO's birthday present to itself.
What likens NATO's air strikes to a PR campaign is the goal of zero casualties among the Allies, which is quite normal for a parade (unless an unfortunate onlooker falls under a tank), but not in a war. This obsession with safety revealed a paradoxical nature of the postmodern mind. On the one hand, a Western man is ready, indeed willing, to wage wars, releasing his archaic instincts, but on the other hand, his willingness to sacrifice has been irretrievably lost through forces of hedonism, consumerism, and atheistic humanism. That was the main problem of the war in Kosovo, a campaign that the West wanted to fight in gloves. The reluctance to endanger "our boys" culminated in an outspoken Apache story. The 24 battlefield helicopters were heralded as ultimate weapons able to hunt down Serb tanks in Kosovo. It took a month to prepare their arrival, then they were flown into Albania with much pomp, but they never got off the ground for fear that they would have to fly too low, becoming vulnerable to anti-aircraft fire. The Apaches stood idle while the Serbs were completing the ethnic cleansing.
Kosovo was a truly postmodern war, an Oscar-winning action movie, a new 3D-computer game where one can employ emotion and skill, and even be morally rewarded for defeating the Evil - without risking one's life. However, there was blood behind the screens. There is a story by Borges in which two kings play chess on a hilltop; at the bottom of the hill, two armies are fighting in accordance with the moves on the chessboard. One king gains the upper hand, and so does one of the armies. As the winning player declares checkmate, the other falls dead.
Postmodernism is an entertaining game on a computer screen, or on the chessboard, but, to our sheer confusion, there happen to be real people somewhere underneath. The more virtual a game becomes for "us," the harder it turns out for "them." The safer is an American pilot's flight in the high-tech skies over Kosovo, the bloodier the mess on the ground (both from bombs and ethnic cleansing). The bigger the speculative flows on global financial markets, trading in virtuality, the bitterer are conditions for the "real" economy in the Third World. Calls for curing the injustices brought on by global interdependence, such as making NATO answerable to the UN, or imposing the 1-percent "Tobin tax" on global speculative transactions, will hardly change the fundamentally post-moral nature of the New World Order. We thought that ketchup simulating blood in movies and burgers would eventually replace the blood in the veins of postmodernity, but it has not. Catch up, ketchup.
Thanks to Mr. Primakov, Russia has lost 15,000,000,000 dollars.
- Front page headline in Kommersant-Daily. 24 March 1999. 9
The war in Kosovo was an implicit competition between the two most publicized essays on international affairs of the last decade, Francis Fukuyama's End of History and Samuel Huntington's Clash of Civilizations. The prize in the contest was Russia. Had she chosen to join her Slavic/Orthodox brethren in Serbia in defying the West, Huntington would have prevailed. Had she, on the contrary, acquiesced with the military power, moral arguments, and, most important, economic instruments of the West, the title would have gone to Fukuyama.
In the first round, it seemed that Huntington was pulling ahead. The reaction in Russia to the start of the NATO air campaign was overwhelming and unanimous. Deep political divisions and partisanship were put aside in the protest against NATO and the show of solidarity with the Serbs. The West had given Russia eloquent and powerful evidence of her loss in the Cold War. In fact, the bombing helped to consolidate Russia's political elite and a large part of the population in the anti-Western camp, playing directly into the hands of the Communists and nationalists. 10
Psychologically, there was a meaningful difference between this situation and Russia's former geopolitical losses. Withdrawal from Eastern Europe and the reunification of Germany were seen as a unilateral gesture of goodwill on Russia's part (were they not?). NATO expansion, for all its alleged strategic damage for Russia, was still negotiated with Moscow, and received Russia's reluctant consent (the Founding Act). But here, for the first time in the post-Cold War decade, something had been accomplished without Russia's participation.
This was a revelation. The taboo of Russia's defeat was lifted, with some profound psychotherapeutic effects. What followed was a two-week carnival of national ambition. It was a ritual exorcism, complete with spontaneous mass demonstrations at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, the sign-up of volunteers for combat in Serbia, threats of supplying arms to Milosevic and of re-targeting Russian nuclear missiles, and a sharp increase in the domestic role of the military. This emotional outburst proved once again, as in the 1993 and 1995 parliamentary elections, that the post-Cold War post-traumatic syndrome runs deep in the national consciousness. However, once the taboo subject of Russia's defeat is raised, resentment and aggression are reified in a symbolic, verbal manner (popular demonstrations, declarations in the Duma, etc.) and, thus, somewhat mitigated and healed.
Indeed, the steam of the Russian nationalist engine all emanated from the whistle. By mid-April, nationalist fever had fallen. Admitting to the impossibility of opposing the West or halting NATO bombing, Russia took on the rather sensible position of wait-and-see, criticizing NATO's action, and gradually resuming cooperation with the West along financial lines.
Meanwhile, important domestic shifts were taking place. Primakov's heavy-handed mediation in the conflict in Kosovo gave way to the more flexible and Western-minded efforts of a resurrected Viktor Chernomyrdin. Later, Primakov's fall from grace was confirmed as his Communist-dominated government was sacked by President Yeltsin and Sergei Stepashin was appointed as his replacement. The shaping of the new government and its economic program was closely coordinated with international financial institutions. Consequently, large-scale cooperation between Russia and these institutions resumed for the first time since the financial crisis of August 1998. Finally, President Yeltsin emerged out of the political wilderness, scoring two major victories over the Communist Duma: first, he defeated attempts to impeach him; second, he succeeded in having his selection for Prime Minister, Sergei Stepashin, approved on his first attempt. The economy, thought moribund, started showing signs of revival, the ruble was strengthening, and the stock market was recovering from the shock of August 1998. Suddenly, against all odds, Russia embarked upon a "liberal spring."
In other words, just as Russia's political system managed to absorb the internal shock of the August 1998 financial crisis, it is handling the external impact of the 1999 Kosovo crisis fairly well. Moreover, there seem to be no long-term political repercussions on the domestic scene. The consequences for Russian foreign and security policy, however, are less salubrious. Generally, in the last 5 to 6 years, ever since the Kozyrev line based on liberal internationalism and the abandonment of "national interests" faded away, Russian foreign policy has oscillated between minimalist cooperation with the West and damage control. The Kosovo crisis has once again sent Russian foreign policy into damage control mode, undermining mutual trust and the fragile mechanisms of cooperation with NATO. In a sense, the West's war in Kosovo has undone the political and psychological achievement of the 1997 Paris Declaration and the NATO-Russia Founding Act. From appeasing Russia, the West has turned to sidelining Russia - a policy that is consistent with Russia's dwindling economic and diplomatic resources, but is hardly encouraging for the country's elite.
Damage control seems to be the most likely course for a country still haunted by superpower memories and aspiring for respect in international affairs (in Russian, this post-imperial syndrome is called derzhavnosti). 11 Meanwhile, Russia remained vitally dependent on the New World Order's economic environment, as represented by IMF loans, Western markets for Russian oil and gas, and a vested interest in having the country's elite and ordinary citizens embrace economic openness. Several polls conducted among anti-NATO demonstrators near the U.S. Embassy in Moscow showed that people are ready to burn American flags, but would never agree to give up free circulation of U.S. dollars, or the opportunity to travel to the West. Respondents also did not seem willing to support higher military outlays in the Russian budget.
The crisis in Kosovo has had a dual effect on Russian foreign policy. On the one hand, it caused some immediate damage to Russia's relationship with the West. A more important fact, however, is that Russia proved disinclined to neo-imperialist temptations, and remains unlikely to slide into isolationism and confrontation with the West even under the most adverse circumstances. Russia was disturbed but not displaced. An ailing giant was certainly irritated, but did not care to move. Paradoxically, the story of Kosovo has been somewhat beneficial to Russian-Western relations, demonstrating that Russia is being integrated into the New World Order and will continue to fluctuate between minimalist cooperation and damage control, while maintaining a framework of dialogue with the West.
Other benefits appear in the field of information and international PR. The geopolitical accident in Kosovo suddenly put Russia in the limelight. A lonely Russian reconnaissance boat travelling (at a top speed of 12 knots) into the Adriatic, Viktor Chernomyrdin's shuttle diplomacy, the Russian paratroopers' surprise spurt to Pristina airport ahead of NATO troops - all of these made international headlines. Russia suddenly became interesting.
Moreover, after the West's initial neglect, all of a sudden Russia seemed important, and the West began looking for ways to involve it in crisis management. Semi-isolated, Russia unexpectedly started winning points on the diplomatic front. The crisis in Kosovo created a common information field, a common context within which dialogue with the West resumed. Indeed, one can see similarities with NATO's expansion debates, which also gave Russia a voice and place at the negotiating table of European security for a good four years (1993-1997). Both NATO's expansion and the war in Kosovo gave Russia an interface with the West, providing a forum where she could claim her national interests which otherwise would not even be heard. In both cases, Russia might have come out a loser, but these possible losses have risen the level of global awareness about Russia, her problems, and her residual strengths. One is reminded of a daily ritual phrase, a magical incantation, repeated by U.S. and NATO leaders: "Our goal is to keep Russia involved." In the world ruled by mass media, it is perceptions and images that count, not the actual territorial/strategic wins or losses. In both cases, Russia was a Big Story in the global media, evoking distant memories of her lost glory, and this partly compensated for perceived geopolitical damages.
In general, Huntington's argument was not fully relevant in Kosovo where one can see a clash of ambitions and a collision of destructive policies, rather than a genuine clash of civilizations. Everyone, including NATO and the Serbs, Russia and China, played by the same rules of global civilization. National positions made little difference. Kosovo has demonstrated that Russia is drifting away from the good old world of geopolitics and grand chessboards. After Afghanistan and NATO's expansion, Chechnya and Kosovo, any talk of Russia's "national interests" and "grand strategies" mainly serve to make newspaper headlines and to increase the heartbeat of the Realist die-hards, rather than to position Russia for the future. It is remarkable that, in accordance with the rules of postmodernity, Russia is being "seduced" (in the Baudrillardian sense) rather than coerced into the global civilization, just as is being done with her neighbour, China, and much of the Arab world. The New World Order is a hegemony working mostly by means of seduction, promoting brands like NATO, Lockheed, CNN, democracy, IMF, human rights, the Euro, Mercedes, Pizza Hut, etc. Above all, coercive actions like the one in Kosovo are needed to enhance brand recognition.
Fukuyama does not score a clear-cut victory in Kosovo. His light-hearted neo-liberal Utopia was devised with a good deal of irony, but in Kosovo the New World Order arrived in an unseemly and sinister manner. This is not the End of History, but rather the re-writing of history with all its pitfalls, enmities, and blood. Fukuyama was probably right in principle, but not in the devilish details.
Utopia has arrived; if you aren't part of it, get lost!
- Jean Baudrillard, America.
In 1970, the Polish director Andrzej Wajda made a film titled Landscape after the Battle that won him wide international acclaim. This is a love story set in a concentration camp in Poland in late 1944, abandoned by the German troops and taken over by the Allies. It begins on a euphoric note, showing prisoners in their striped robes pouring out of the barracks into the fresh snow. However, the long-awaited liberation does not bring freedom. Days go by, and as people are still kept inside the camp, the occupation authorities install a new repressive order, using the prisoners as bargaining chips in the grand game of World Wars. This is a film about the absurdity of heroic myths, a story of hope and disillusionment, of the anguish and torment that remain the lot of individuals under any rule.
The landscape after the battle in Kosovo is murky and dubious. Serb security forces have evacuated the province but remain essentially undefeated. Pictures on TV showed a dignified orderly retreat of armed men, displaying Serb flags and V-signs. This army can still be used for oppressing dissent within Serbia or waging an assault against Montenegro. Kosovo Albanians are returning to what is left of their homes, but KFOR, in spite of all its goodwill, cannot rule out acts of ethnic revenge, the escape of tens of thousands of Kosovo Serbs, and the rise of the para-criminal KLA. Like Bosnia, Kosovo will likely remain the West's protectorate for many years to come.
Moreover, one of the biggest bombing campaigns in history proved far from effective. For 79 days a relatively small Yugoslav contingent with weapons from the 1960s and 70s held its own against the mightiest military machine in the world and retained its capacity to respond with anti-aircraft fire - a remarkable achievement. Until the last two weeks of the war, when the Kosovar guerrillas' kamikaze tactics flushed the Serbs' armour into the open and rendered it vulnerable to NATO strikes, the infamous Serb army had escaped serious injury. 12 Even if Milosevic is toppled, democracy is installed in Serbia, and Kosovo is granted independence (all unlikely events), Serbian resilience and NATO's incapacity to diminish it and halt the ethnic cleansing during the 79-day war send all kinds of wrong signals around the globe.
NATO's decision to attack was a mistake from the beginning. Once the bombing started, the Alliance proved surprisingly obstinate and inflexible as well as hesitant and indecisive. Despite mounting evidence of the ineffectiveness of bombing, loss of civilian life, and the acceleration of ethnic cleansing, NATO did not modify its strategy and opt for a wiser course, a halt to the bombing or a riskier ground operation. This lack of flexibility and resolve is quite understandable, given that NATO is an alliance of 19 nations ruled by consensus and politicians, not by orders and the military; it is also damaging to the Organization's credibility.
In mere technical terms, the bombing campaign has not opened a new chapter in the history of warfare, as some are claiming. It has convincingly demonstrated that air power alone cannot produce victory. Military supremacy and high-tech weaponry provide no substitute for political solutions; on the contrary, they tend to increase tensions and reduce the likelihood for a lasting settlement. NATO's brand of military power may still be relevant in "traditional" inter-state wars and high-intensity conflicts; however, most future conflicts will be medium- to low-intensity, involving great numbers of civilians, just as in Kosovo or in Algiers. Judging by the case of Kosovo, NATO is ill equipped to handle such contingencies.
The conflict in Kosovo is far from over, and NATO's effectiveness was uncertain; as a result, the "message" sent to potential perpetrators and troublemakers around the world is mixed. NATO has yet to prove that it has the skills, tools, and political will to handle any regional conflict effectively. The absence of such proof is a truly dangerous development with consequences reaching far beyond the Balkans. Should similar flare-ups occur simultaneously in places like Tibet, Timor, Chechnya, and Eritrea, is NATO going to intervene, and if it is, has it shown it has the capacity to do so rapidly and efficiently? And if NATO does not intervene, will it appear as a credible remote deterrent? While answers to these questions are doubtful at best, NATO's operation in Kosovo served as a background (and arguably a pretext) for a regional conflict in Kashmir, involving two nuclear powers, India and Pakistan. In general, the new NATO role of a self-appointed arbiter in regional conflicts is likely to increase the reliance on nuclear weapons around the globe. The post-Kosovo world is not necessarily a safer place.
NATO's recourse to a moral argument as superior to the norms that govern international law does not make for a safer world either. Laws, like sovereignty, may be outdated, but they at least tend to be inviolate, providing for stability in the system. On the contrary, norms are always subject to interpretation. Should Russia (or, hypothetically, the CIS Tashkent Treaty on Collective Security) now decide that human rights are being violated in Tajikistan, will the West endorse her intervention? Or what if Iran resumes its war with Iraq on the grounds that Saddam Hussain has violated Islamic norms?
What happens next? Fidel Castro at the EU-Latin American summit in late June 1999 cited the possibility of a NATO intervention in Colombia's cocaine provinces on behalf of the "civilized world."
The problem here is not NATO; it is not driven by an individual's malicious will, nor does it seek world domination. NATO, and the nations that comprise it, is a mere instrument of a rising discourse that is somewhat awkwardly called the New World Order. 13 The post-sovereign, post-Westphalian world need not be endowed with greater pluralism, freedom of choice, and multiculturalism. Old national totalities are giving way to transnational ones, discourses of power are changing location but not the mode of operation; they continue to discipline and punish. Or rather, the discourse of power has become a-local (global) and a-topic (Utopian). It is neither good nor bad, it is the air of postmodernity, and it is not in our power to change the atmosphere.
However, one is always left with an option of deconstructing the new discourse of power by looking into its innate binary nature. In the story of Kosovo, the dichotomy imposed on the audience by the mass media was the false choice between the clear and present evil of Milosevic (and everything that comes with him, like violent nationalism, ethnic cleansing, etc.) and the seemingly unavoidable use of power by NATO (complete with "collateral damage") - a choice between ethnic cleansing and NATO bombing. Apart from the fact that a "third way" can always be envisaged (for example, an earnest and open-minded search for a political solution or the use of economic mechanisms or the use of seduction - instead of bombing the enemy into submission one can buy him into an agreement by allocating just a fraction of the funds spent on waging war), this dichotomy is clearly simulated. It is simulated because it is produced and communicated within the same binary discourse, making the recipient choose between Us and Them, Inside and Outside, Europe and Anarchy.
Both sides in this dichotomy have power as a goal and violence as its means. But while Milosevic's violence is ruthless and straightforward, the use of power by the West is disguised as principle. A violence of a declining, archaic kind that has no moral pretence is opposed by a violence of the future, endowed with most of the world's resources and moral authority. Choosing between them is like choosing between the atrocities of Dachau and the bombing of Dresden, between Auschwitz and Hiroshima. There are no winners in this contest.
Is there a way out of this vicious dichotomy? "No war, no peace, and disband the army," as Leon Trotsky suggested in Russia in 1918? Make love, not war? Flower power? We have yet to come up with an answer. Perhaps this is the nature of the new world we have to live in, the time of questions unanswered; no longer the Age of Innocence, but the age of complicity and uncertainty.
1. E.H. Carr. The Twenty Years' Crisis, 1919-1939: An Introduction
to the Study of International Relations. London: Macmillan, 1981 .
This paper draws on discussions with a group from Osteuropa-Institut
of the Free University of Berlin (Klaus Segbers, Christoph Zurcher,
Graham Stack, Simone Schwanitz, Simon Raiser, Bjorn Warkalla and
Svetlana Boym of Harvard University). Special thanks to Peter van Ham
(Marshall Center, Garmisch) for his work titled "Kosovo and the
Balkanization/Integration Nexus" and to Henrikki Heikka (UPI,
Helsinki) for a lively e-mail debate on the problem of Kosovo. If one
subtracts these inputs, there is very little left of the author's
own. Well, something.
2. "Messy war, messy peace." The Economist. 12 June 1999: p. 17.
3. Elena Zamfirescu. "The Flight From The Balkans." Sudosteuropa, vol. 44, no. 1, 1995: pp.59-60.
4. Pal Dunay. "The East Central European Countries Look to Brussels: Where Else Should They?" Sergei Medvedev (ed.) From Zwischeneuropa to Wider Europe. Helsinki: UPI, forthcoming.
5. Ole Waever. "Securitization and Desecuritization." Ronnie D. Lipschutz (ed), On Security. New York: Columbia UP, 1995: pp.72-4.
6. Peter van Ham. "Simulating European Security. Kosovo and the Balkanization/Integration Nexus." Unpubl. ms., June 1999.
7. See Christoph Zurcher. Aus der Ostmoderne in die Postmoderne. Zum Wandel in der Fr, heren Sowjetunion. Arbeitspapiere des Osteuropa-Instituts der FU Berlin, Berlin, 1998.
8. On 28 June 1389 Serb Tsar Lazar chose to lead the Serbs into battle against hopeless odds at the Field of Blackbirds in Kosovo rather than capitulate to the Turks. Since then, Kosovo Pole has become one of the foremost symbols of Serb history and martyrdom, and a territorial anchor of identity.
9. A leading Russian newspaper was commenting on Mr. Primakov's famous U-turn over the Atlantic. Learning that the strike against Serbia was to start within hours, Mr. Primakov ordered to turn his plane back to Moscow, canceling a visit to the United States during which credits, aid packages and projects were to be negotiated possibly worth $15 billion.
10. According to figures cited by Viktor Chernomyrdin, before the NATO attack 57% of Russian respondents had a positive attitude towards the United States, and 28% a negative one. In early May 1999, the figures were 14% positive and 73% negative. (Viktor Chernomyrdin, "Impossible to talk peace with bombs falling." The Washington Post. 27 May 1999: p. A39).
11. Derzhava in Russian means Power, and derzhavnosti implies mentality and behaviour of a Power, an aspiration for a Power status. Note that very few in Russia are talking about velikoderzhavnosti, i.e. a Great Power stance.
12. "Messy war, messy peace." The Economist. 12 June 1999, p. 17.
13. The difference with Orwell's Brave New World is the one between modernity and postmodernity.
Sergei Medvedev is a Russian researcher and professor currently working in Helsinki. His writings focus on the Russian state, post-Communism and postmodernity, cultural anthropology and political geography.
This paper draws on discussions with a group from Osteuropa-Institut of the Free University of Berlin (Klaus Segbers, Christoph Zurcher, Graham Stack, Simone Schwanitz, Simon Raiser, Bjorn Warkalla and Svetlana Boym of Harvard University). Special thanks to Peter van Ham (Marshall Center, Garmisch) for his work titled "Kosovo and the Balkanization/Integration Nexus" and to Henrikki Heikka (UPI, Helsinki) for a lively e-mail debate on the problem of Kosovo. If one subtracts these inputs, there is very little left of the author's own. Well, something.