NATO Bombing Widens Conflict In The Balkans

By Argiris Malapanis, The Militant, Vol.59 no.33, 11 September 1995

Washington Seeks To Impose Partition Of Bosnia

Some 60 combat aircraft, 48 of them from the United States, launched widespread bombing raids against positions held by Serb troops loyal to Belgrade around Sarajevo and elsewhere in Bosnia August 29. The NATO air strikes, spearheaded by Washington, deepen military intervention by the imperialist powers in the former Yugoslav republic, escalate the bloody war, and threaten a broader Balkan conflict.

The military action began the day after Serb gunners shelled a crowded market in central Sarajevo, killing 37 people and wounding 80 others. U.S. officials claim the NATO bombing campaign is in retaliation for the murderous assault on civilians in the Bosnian capital and is designed to protect Bosnians from continued Serb aggression. It is clear, however, that Washington has latched onto the marketplace slaughter as a pretext to use military might to impose the partition of Bosnia and widen its influence in the region.

U.S., French, and other aircraft flew more than 200 sorties the first day of their attacks, in the largest bombing in Europe since the end of World War II. The planes took off from NATO bases in Italy and from the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt steaming in the Adriatic Sea just off the Bosnian coast. Bombs hit the Bosnian Serb army barracks in Pale, east of Sarajevo, and a thick plume of smoke hung over the town. Large fires burned in Vogosca, a Serb-held suburb of Sarajevo, and Lukavica, south of the Bosnian capital. British, French, and Dutch artillery recently installed on Mt. Igman near Sarajevo joined the assault, firing at least 600 rounds.

NATO and UN officials said their attacks were limited to military targets, but Bosnian Serb officials claimed there were civilian casualties.

On August 30, a French Mirage jet fighter was shot down near Pale. Its two crew members parachuted from the burning plane. The pilots' fate was unknown at press time. Five Spaniards—two military observers, a diplomat, a driver, and an interpreter who were monitors for the European Union—were killed near Sarajevo, the government of Spain announced. Bosnian Serb radio said they died in the air attacks, but other media reports claimed they may have been killed in retaliation by forces loyal to chauvinist Bosnian Serb leaders Radovan Karadzic and Gen. Ratko Mladic.

Lt. Gen. Bernard Janvier, the UN commander in the former Yugoslavia, told Mladic that the NATO air strikes will continue until his forces withdraw heavy weapons from around Sarajevo and other so-called safe areas in Bosnia and accept a cease-fire.

But Mladic told Bosnian Serb television he rejected the demand that heavy weapons be withdrawn. Some shelling of Sarajevo by Mladic's troops continued during the initial NATO air strikes.

Karadzic, the most well-known leader of the Bosnian Serbs allied with Belgrade, also sounded a defiant tone, accusing NATO of declaring war. “This is a precedent which could jeopardize world peace and trigger the Third World War,” he said, according to Associated Press.

The Bosnian government, headed by president Alija Izetbegovic, on the other hand, hailed the bombing raids as the “beginning of peace.”

Clinton-Dole: one voice The U.S. government and the big-business media sounded a unified voice in support of the decision by president Bill Clinton to order the air strikes. Robert Dole, the Senate majority leader who is the Republican front-runner for the presidential nomination in next year's election, has recently criticized the administration's Bosnia policy. This time, however, Dole wholeheartedly applauded the military action. “This long overdue demonstration of resolve could signal an important shift in the war in Bosnia,” he said.

“It was about time NATO got serious with the Serbs, who have spent years making the UN and NATO look weak and foolish,” said an editorial in the August 31 Wall Street Journal.

Other big-business newspapers sounded alarm bells at the same time as they joined in supporting Clinton's move. “Yesterday's Western military intervention in the Balkan war may lead to wider fighting and Bosnian Serb reprisals,” wrote the editors of the New York Times, stating nonetheless that “it was a risk worth taking.”

“It is conceivable that a show of U.S. support for the Bosnian government will provoke Serbia, and possibly Croatia, as well, to intervene in an attempt to crush their neighbor,” warned the Financial Times of London, whose editors urged even firmer action by Washington.

British prime minister John Major also rallied behind the U.S. action. “The UN and NATO commanders have taken the right action and have my full support,” he said.

Russian president Boris Yeltsin, whose government has consistently backed Belgrade, denounced the NATO assault, calling it a “cruel bombardment” and urging a rapid UN Security Council meeting. Russia is the only country that has maintained 450 troops, as part of the UN forces in Bosnia, in territory occupied by Karadzic's forces. The UN removed all other troops from vulnerable positions after Serbian troops took hundreds of UN soldiers as hostages in May, following earlier NATO air strikes.

The regime of Slobodan Milosevic in the republic of Serbia is the main culprit in the drive to carve up Bosnia's territory and resources and trample on the Bosnian people's right to self-determination. Milosevic is attempting to assert himself as the main spokesperson for Bosnian Serbs and broker a deal with the imperialist powers.

Assistant Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke, the chief U.S. negotiator, met twice with Milosevic in Belgrade as the NATO raids were under way. Following these talks, the Serbian president announced he would now make final decisions for the Bosnian Serbs in the talks. Milosevic spoke favorably of the U.S.-proposed “peace plan,” which would give the Belgrade-backed forces control of 49 percent of Bosnian territory and 51 percent to what is projected as a Muslim-Croat federation. “It creates a genuine perspective for peace, and is a good design of a political solution to the crisis,” he said. The self-declared Bosnian Serb parliament, meeting in Pale August 29, also endorsed the U.S. proposal as a starting point in negotiations.

Objective of NATO bombings An article in the August 31 New York Times pointed to the real aim of the NATO air strikes.

“The true objective of the ongoing NATO assault clearly went further than an attempt to silence the Serbian guns,” it stated. “It is a big stick wielded to press weakened Serbian leaders to accept a peace deal.”

Washington is seeking to bolster its leverage in the former Yugoslavia, using its recent closer relations with the Croatian regime of Franjo Tudjman based in Zagreb. Tudjman's army dealt a major military blow to the Belgrade- backed forces by routing Serbs from the Krajina region in Croatia in early August. Washington and Bonn gave the green light to Zagreb to launch that offensive. The U.S. government is now taking advantage of its support for Zagreb to push through the partition of Bosnia and increase its influence on the different regimes dominated by would-be capitalists in the former republics of the Yugoslav workers state.

Both Belgrade and Zagreb are vying for control of mineral resources, land, factories, and other infrastructure in Bosnia. Their campaigns for “ethnic cleansing,” with Milosevic and his Bosnian allies in the lead, are nothing but a crude justification and cover toward this goal. And Washington is intervening to cut a deal in order to expand its military and political influence to the detriment of Bonn, Paris, London, and other imperialist rivals.

“It is the Bosnians, however, who may have the most to lose in the American initiative,” says Warren Zimmerman, a former U.S. ambassador to Yugoslavia, in an article to appear in the September 21 New York Review of Books. Zagreb still wants Eastern Slavonia—a piece of Croatia occupied by Belgrade's army—back, as well as parts of Bosnia, Zimmerman says, while troops loyal to Karadzic and Milosevic aim to hold onto territory they have seized.