The Serb Lobby in the United Kingdom
By Carole Hodge
Excerpts on Noam Chomsky
The full article is located here (PDF)
The criticism of NATO action took many forms. For some critics on the left, NATO was seen as the military bastion of capitalism, with the Kosovo campaign used "to provide a focus for a military and propaganda campaign designed to consolidate a sense of community in Britain and the West."168 But the problem of the long-term gross abuse of human rights in Kosovo was not addressed, other than by referring to comparable incidences of human rights' abuse in countries where NATO had not acted, or by arguing that NATO action had simply made the humanitarian situation worse.
Traditional antipathy towards NATO, coupled with traditional sympathy for its target, Serbia, in many cases eclipsed the reasons for the NATO action and gave rise to dubious analysis based on inaccurate information and an insufficient grasp of the local issues. Reputable leftwing analysts like Noam Chomsky, John Pilger, and Edward Said, condemned the NATO action on principle without being able to offer plausible alternatives, using theories often based on a world order which no longer exists.169 In the New Statesman, one week into the Kosovo war, Pilger referred to the NATO campaign in this way: "The most powerful and rapacious imperial power in history is rampant," with US motivation stopping at nothing "to dominate human affairs by the most violent means allowed by their technology,"170 illustrated by the air strikes on Serbia. He saw the rationale for the NATO bombing as a way of demonstrating the purpose of NATO, and shoring up its credibility, while at the same time dispensing with the United Nations, a sentiment which would doubtless find sympathy among leftwing readers with an imperfect grasp of the specific issues involved in Kosovo.
TheNew Statesman was one of a number of British periodicals which chose to adopt a firm anti-NATO stance. In the issue of 9 April 1999, a journalist's account of her journey through northern Albania171 gets sandwiched between the lead article, headed "Let evil go unpunished" and a highly critical analysis of NATO action by Noam Chomsky. The lead article argued that in Yugoslavia, western governments rejected the "unpalatable option," which was to stand aside, and instead chose the "disastrous course," resulting in death, exile, and destitution. In what it saw as a war that was "a cause for shame," the article considered a negotiated settlement as the only alternative to a prolonged ground war.172 Steve Richards' Westminster column in the same issue of New Statesman, entitled "We have only made it worse," assured its readers that the air strikes are not working, while columnist Bill Hayton saw Kosovo as merely the beginning of a series of "out of area" NATO exercises to ensure US leadership worldwide.173
Another New Statesmanarticle two weeks later, "Think, before it's too late,"174 cast doubt on NATO's strategy, and on the solidarity of its member states, arguing that it was becoming increasingly harder for NATO to extricate itself from its Balkan quagmire, in a bombing campaign which was "in defiance of military history." This criticism of the NATO action was reinforced in the same New Statesman issue by a report from America in which Andrew Stephen claimed that "nobody is in charge" of the Balkan war, and by Observer correspondent Nick Cohen, who in a special cover story report entitled "The great Balkan lie" speculated on the government's "bogus concern for human rights."175
The following month, Pilger wrote in the New Statesmanthat the peace negotiations at Rambouillet had been stage managed, and the Serbs given an ultimatum with terms they could not possibly meet. He claimed a fraudulence comparable to Hitler's proposal to Chamberlain in 1938 that Germany occupy Czechoslovakia because ethnic Germans had been "forced to flee" or were tortured,176 calling it a "deliberate provocation." But, if so, why did the Serbs not expose it immediately, or at least once NATO started bombing?177 Of the many TV appearances by Serbian spokespeople in the first week of the bombing, including Vladislav Jovanović representing Former Republic of Yugoslavia at the UN, Serbian Foreign Minister, Zivadin Jovanović,178 the Yugoslav charge d'affaires in Britain, Milislav Paić, Deputy Serbian leader, Vuk Drasković, Serbian Information Minister, and Marco Gasić and Misha Gavrilović, both from the Serbian Information Office in London, none raised objections to what Pilger called "the amazing NATO plan, tabled at Rambouillet, to occupy Yugoslavia." Pilger saw a UN force to monitor a political settlement as a viable alternative to bombing which was ignored by Washington and Brussels. He did not, however, discuss the plethora of difficulties associated with a similar approach which had been adopted by the international community in response to the Bosnian war!
Edward Said in the same issue of theNew Statesman179 advocated developing "the resistance that comes from a real education in philosophy and the humanities, patient and repeated criticism, and intellectual courage." This, again, would simply mean a repeat of the three-year international impasse in Bosnia, no doubt with similar results. Said's article deals principally with an attack on the media which he accuses of being complicit in
a conspiracy of silence [which] has been fobbed on to the public. The media has played the most extraordinary role of propaganda and encouragement, which seems to get worse every day
Said acknowledges the role of Serbian propaganda, but seems to be unaware that his quite inaccurate picture of British media involvement in the war as unblinkingly behind the NATO action is itself a familiar Serbian propaganda ploy.180
The New Internationalist,181 in an article by Richard Swift, adopted a similar argument on the media's management of the war, claiming that
NATO's propaganda efforts revolved around trying to change our very perceptions of war. They used a specialized military language and technical euphemisms to ease our fears. The media amplified the official line, giving the public reassurance through the illusion of 'special' knowledge. We 'shared' NATO's dispassionate understanding of the conflict.182
This was patently not the case. In the first place, the daily Ministry of Defense and NATO briefings183 were not broadcast on either the BBC or ITN, so that viewers without satellite access were again excluded from what Swift referred to as the "propaganda efforts" of NATO. Furthermore, the military experts called in by Sky television, which did broadcast the briefings, were frequently sufficiently critical of what they heard at the briefings, and often of NATO strategy as a whole, to allay any reassurance the public might otherwise have had in viewing the briefings alone!184 Equally, the Sky anchor-people often accorded a degree of respect with regard to the comments of their invited experts which was not always extended to the NATO briefers.
Noam Chomsky's track-record of critical analysis of oppressive political systems worldwide is second to few. Yet, in the case of the Kosovo issue, his writing also falls into the catalogue of leftwing political analysis which has used a theoretical framework inapplicable, for the most part, to the complexities of the current situation in former Yugoslavia. Not least since Chomsky's work has been used extensively by Serb propagandists in support of their cause,185 his critique of the NATO campaign in Serbia cannot be lightly dismissed. In his article in the New Statesman, "Judge the US by deeds, not words,"186 in which he argues that humanitarian intervention on the part of the US in Kosovo cannot be justified on the basis of its past track record, Chomsky places the United Nations on a pedestal which, on the record of its performance in Bosnia alone, is hardly merited - and especially not, according to Chomsky's terms of reference. Nor in the article is a clear distinction made between the UN Charter, the UN Assembly, and the UN Security Council, the last an imperfect organ dominated by the five major world nuclear powers. In the case of Bosnia, there were sharp divergences between the latter two, and differences in interpretation of the UN Charter.187 Furthermore, of the numerous UN Security Council resolutions on the former Yugoslavia, few were adhered to, often because they were either ambiguous or unimplementable.
Secondly, Chomsky argues that if an exception for humanitarian intervention exists "it must be premised on the 'good faith' of those intervening" which, in turn, must be based "not on their rhetoric but on their record, in particular their adherence to the principles of international law, World Court decisions, and so on." But is the main issue not a matter of faith but judgment? Because the US may be judged to have wrong policies in some areas, this is not to say that its policies areipso facto wrong everywhere else.188 And the quest for historic comparisons (Chomsky cites Colombia, Turkey, and Laos) is not necessarily useful in determining the case for intervention in the former Yugoslavia. On the UN Charter ban on "force violating state sovereignty" cited by Chomsky, does this principle override the universal values of peace and justice? And the fact that the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (namely, Serbia and Montenegro) is not a UN recognized state was not discussed in relation to how this might bear the issue of sovereignty.
Finally, in support of his position on US foreign policy, Chomsky cites Samuel Huntington, whose theories on the world order appear otherwise diametrically opposed to those held by Chomsky himself. The international response to ten years of tragedy in the Balkans is too convoluted in many ways to fit into some of the theories evolved by socialist analysts in recent decades.189 And the situation itself is too complex for observers with only half an eye on the proceedings to tackle. Notably, none of these writers has yet taken up the cudgels after the war to offer a systematic analysis of the situation in retrospect. But the impact of the analyses of respected leftwing writers worldwide has been considerable in shaping the views of individuals and groups who otherwise support their work, a fact well recognized by the Serbian Unity Congress and similar Serb lobbying organizations who often cite their contributions to the Kosovo debate on the internet.
168Mick Hume, "If the Kosovo crisis did not exist, Blair would have to invent it," in LM (6 April 1999), online version <www.informinc.co.uk>.This view was not adopted by a number of prominent leftwingers, however. See, for instance, MP Ken Livingstone's speech: "If I had seen any sign over the past decade that all this was part of some imperial plan by America, I should oppose it ... At every stage, Britain and America have been reluctant to act, and slow to act. There has been no grand imperial grab for power." See "Kosovo," 25 March 1999, Hansard, Commons, col. 573. Jimmy Hood, MP, informed the House: "I have no problem with being on the left of politics and supporting action to defend a humanitarian cause, as we are doing in Kosovo. I just wish that honorable Members who argue against the NATO action in Kosovo, which they have a right to do, would not slant their arguments against America. These arguments lose credence when they are articulated in such a way." See "Kosovo," 19 April 1999, Hansard, Commons, col. 621.
169It is interesting that Pilger in his 650-page book Hidden Agendas, published in 1998, addresses East Timor, Burma, the Gulf War, Cambodia, and other international issues, but makes only passing reference to Bosnia, and none to Kosovo.
170New Statesman (2 April 1999), p. 13.
171Melanie McDonagh, "Journey from the Balkan inferno," New Statesman (9 April 1999), pp. 8-9. McDonagh, however, appears to have been the only writer to have braved the thick of the action.
172The position of the New Statesman on the Kosovo war was, interestingly, in direct contrast to its stance in the Bosnian war when, under a different editorship, it had argued consistently for military intervention.
173New Statesman (2 April 1999), pp. 11-12.
174New Statesman (26 April 1999), p. 4.
175Ibid., pp. 15-17.
176New Statesman (17 May 1999), p. 17.
177Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, in answer to similar allegations on Rambouillet from MPs replied that "all that was included in that text was the standard status of forces agreement, which used identical language to the status of forces agreement of the previous Government, with his advice, agreed for the forces in Bosnia. I tell the House that not a single complaint was raised by the Serb side at Rambouillet about that annex. Complaints
have been raised only since then." See "Kosovo," 18 May 1999,Hansard, Commons, col. 884.
178Zivadin Jovanović gave lengthy interviews on Channel 4 News at 7 P.M. and on the BBC TV 9 P.M. news on 26 March, but did not offer this argument in Serbia's defense for having rejected the Rambouillet Agreement.
179Edward Said, "The blind misleading the blind," in New Statesman (17 May 1999), pp. 13-14.
180Edward Said also inaccurately suggested that most TV broadcasters advocated the bombing of RTS, the Serbian television station. In fact, the British media almost unanimously came out against that action. Edward Said's texts opposing the NATO action have been extensively used by the Serb lobby. See for instance the Serbian website <www.serbia-info.com> dated 4 August 1999.
181Richard Swift, "Lies and the laptop bombardiers," in New Internationalist, No. 314 (July 1999), pp. 24-25.
182The New Internationalist which purports, inter alia, to "focus attention on the unjust relationship between the powerful and powerless in both rich and poor nations," has in fact never tackled the issue of former Yugoslavia except in brief articles, although it has produced special issues on Northern Ireland, East Timor, and similar, with studies on Indonesia and Iraq projected over the next few months. Notwithstanding this, New Internationalist chose to include in No. 312 (May 1999) a "stop the bombing" leaflet, which contained a number of contestable assertions. On enquiry, one of the editorial staff (Anouk Ride) confirmed New Internationalist's opposition to NATO bombing, but did not amplify on that position.
183The NATO briefings were also held on Saturdays and Sundays.
184Military expert, Duncan Bullivant, after both MOD and NATO briefings on 2 June, when a settlement was approaching, commented that "it makes sense to have the Russians in the northern part ... essential for Slobodan Milošević to sell it as a deal." (Sky News, 2 June 1999). This would, of course, have meant the de facto partition of Kosovo, an outcome not openly endorsed by NATO. Bullivant also, rather dubiously, recommended Carl Bildt as the interlocutor between NATO and Milošević who "have a problem talking to each other" and that "people with deep knowledge of the regime like Carl Bildt [are needed] to pull things back together again." (Sky News, 10 May 1999). The jury is still out on Carl Bildt's term in Bosnia, but the fact that, just four days before the fall of Srebrenica in his meeting with General Mladić (both hosted by Milošević) in Belgrade, Bildt merely pointed out that "it was inhuman to try to strangle Sarajevo, Goražde, Žepa, Srebrenica and Bihać" spoke volumes of his role as EU envoy in former Yugoslavia. Bildt's record as the first High Representative, monitoring the civilian implementation of the Dayton Peace Agreement in Bosnia, was little better. See Bildt's own account of that crucial meeting in Carl Bildt, Peace Journey: The Struggle for Peace in Bosnia (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1998), p. 53; and of his term as High Representative. Chris Bellamy had earlier actually suggested the partition of Kosovo "which would allow Serbs to keep sacred areas...the only compromise I can see at the moment." (Chris Bellamy, commenting on the NATO briefing of 8 May 1999, Sky News). Colonel Bob Stewart, former UN commander of British troops in Bosnia, consistently argued for the insertion of NATO ground troops from the beginning. Following an MOD briefing of 9 May 1999, Stewart commented: "Milošević is increasingly seeing that he will win. Politically it seems to be a mess - we have mishandled it all the way through." (Sky News, 9 May 1999).
185It is cited in detail, for instance, on the Serbian Unity Congress website <www.suc.org> under "NATO aggression against Yugoslavia."
186New Statesman (9 April 1999), pp. 11-13. Cover story.
187The UN Assembly, for instance, repeatedly opposed the arms embargo on Bosnia and Hercegovina, to no effect. It was sidelined by the Permanent Five at the Security Council who maintained the embargo from 1991 until 1995, although (significantly) America unilaterally broke it in late 1994 on the Adriatic.
188In the case of Somalia, for instance, the widely held perception of US failure in its recent intervention is based on the killing of a number of US troops. But it is often overlooked that the intervention at the time ended the turmoil in that state.
189Noam Chomsky, similarly to John Pilger, omits mention of the Balkan war, apart from a couple of passing references, in World Orders, Old and New (Sydney: Pluto Press, 1997 edition), p. 343, a study of global politics, which offers in-depth analysis of the situation in the Middle East and Central America, and discusses foreign intervention, the United Nations and Russia, and other areas and issues central to 'the Balkans debate.