The former Yugoslavia, secessionism and liberal warmongering

Just for a bit of a break from the budget(s), eh?

States of independence: how liberal meddling destroyed both sovereignty and national liberation

Proceedings are underway at the the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to make a deliberation on the legal status of Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence. By the middle of 2010 the court will announce its decision on whether or not Kosovo is in fact a sovereign state. (1)

Although the decision is in fact already a fait accompli – Kosovo will be given some kind of sub-sovereign status that will be passed off of sovereignty – it is still worth looking at the backdrop to this debacle and its roots in liberal-inspired ‘humanitarian intervention’.

‘Humanitarian intervention’ is one of the most disingenuous geopolitical concepts ever devised. The basic idea is that countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom and, increasingly, the European Union acting as a single entity, have not only a right, but a responsibility to prosecute murderous wars on sovereign states in the name of the citizens of those states. In this bizarre topsy-turvy world the West is not an aggressor but a liberator. With support not only from typical militarists but also well-meaning liberals, civil wars, often bloody and nasty but ultimately none of our business, become international conflicts because of demands that Something Must Be Done.

  • 6countyprod

    Intersting thoughts, Jason.

    Of course, during the 20th century, it was Democratic presidents who took the US into numerous wars, for various reasons. When the US entered WW1, WW”, Vietnam and Korea, Democrats were in charge.

    In more recent times Clinton got involved in the Balkans. Obama alluded to this in his speech today:

    The service and sacrifice of our men and women in uniform has promoted peace and prosperity from Germany to Korea, and enabled democracy to take hold in places like the Balkans.’

    Apparently, only wars entered in to by Democrats are to be praised.

  • RepublicanStones

    Interesting Jason. Kosovo is an intriguing case study. One aspect of debate which is absent from your piece however is whether or not Serbia’s actions in Kosovo voided any moral legitimacy it had to sovereignty over what was essentially one of its own provences.

    Also your belief that raising international law in respect of the Iraq war underscored the shallowness of the anti-war argument is a bit harsh. Many opposed the war for reasons other than international law. And as you say international law is basically big boys rules, the best example being one of the oldest, the classification of war crimes after world war 2, which was essentially listed as being anything the allies didn’t do.

    Are you in favour of letting corrupt and unsavoury govts do as they wish to undesirable populaces and should the whole concept of interventionism be binned?

  • 6cp,

    Yes, very true. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.


    Yeah, to a degree. I don’t believe that liberation can come from without, only from within. Iraq, for example, could not be liberated from Hussein by anyone other than Iraqis. As we have seen…

    If you (that is, one) supports a foreign cause then by all means help it: protest, send them money, go and fight in an international brigade. Just don’t expect governments to contribute anything but mayhem.

    As for anti-war sentiment, I’m sure some people did have serious arguments but the big one – ‘the UN hasn’t said yes’ – was crap. Who gives a damn what the UN says?

    And “not in my name” is a crap slogan, is it not? “It’s all about meeeeeeeeeeeeeee!”

    “whether or not Serbia’s actions in Kosovo voided any moral legitimacy it had to sovereignty over what was essentially one of its own provinces.”

    That’s certainly an argument but it’s not within the scope of my article. That’s a problem for Serbia.

  • RepublicanStones

    Have you read Seymour’s ‘The Liberal Defence of Murder’
    Or Marshall’s ‘Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing’?
    Was leafing through them today in Waterstones, I think they touch on this issue, likewise Bricmonts ‘Humanitarian Imperialism’.

  • No, can’t say I have. Will stick them on the list, though. Thanks.

  • Drumlins Rock

    Kosovo is a much more interesting case technically than either Iraq or Afghanistan, and its most obivious comparison is ossetia and georgia last year, which will not be lost on russia, its a win win situation for Putin, if they rule kosovos independance is legitimate them its back up their argument for ossetia and several other regions, but if the declare it illegal then thier serbian friends will have a strong position to re-negotiate the de-facto partition.
    I never liked how the Kosovo deal was done totally ignoring serbia, it sets a bad precedent technically allows any region to declare independance.

  • kensei


    Yugoslavia disintegrated long before Kosovo; the traumatic experience of watching the prior Balkans conflict, along with genocide in genocide in Rwanada must affectt he decisions going into that war. It isn’t “Something Must Be Done”, it’s “We can’t Allow This To Happen Again”.

    I concur that successful solutions must come from within; but that doesn’t mean external actors can’t give space for that to happen. Or prevent massive blood letting. And there is a cost in blood and treasure that must be paid by the external actor, and in the case of Kosovo, for what, really? The rationale behind Kosovo is certainly one that can be abused. I’m not convinced it is entirely wothout merit.

  • hairy_mary

    The destruction of Yugoslavia, some contend, started when Slobo opened his big mouth in Kosovo Polje, April 24, 87.

    The excellent “Death of Yugoslavia” series should still be online somewhere, have a look at him light the fuse.

  • hairy_mary
  • Adolf

    My Pantzers tried to bring peace to the Balkans after italy sent peace keeping forces to Greece. Because of my efforts in Yugoslavia, my peace keeping misison in the USSR was delayed with the terrible consequences for Berlin women now happening overhead.

    However, since the wars of the Yugoslav succerssion, the USA has now pushed the Soviets back from Berlin almost to the gates of Moscow. Interviention in Serbia was to emasculate Russia.

    Germany and the Vatican had their own nefarious reasons for recognising the fascist state of Croatia.

    Outside interference, something Obama Hussien Barrack would know a lot about. Nice prize btw. How many people do you have to kill to get one?

  • Branka

    Came upon this by accident and found it very interesting. Not least for the comments. Thank you for taking the time to talk about my country (Yugoslavia).

    Nothing happened in the break up of Yugoslavia which the West did not assist with. Germany encouraged Slovenia and Croatia. The US armed the Croats and gave miltary advice on how to expel more than 250.000 Serbs from their ancestral homes in the Krajina. This was the largest ethnic cleansing and yet passed with hardly a mention from the press and media.

    The Albanians did not start leaving Kosovo en masse until the 78 days and nights of NATO bombing began. They bombed schools, hospitals, markets, bridges, targeting, in particular civilian structure.

    This in itself is a war crime but to do it with depleted uranium and cluster bombs makes it a monstrosity and to call that “humanitarian” bombing!

    It would give people a different perspective if they actually read Milosevic’s speech in Kosovo Polje. rather than take the press’s spin on it.

    “Yugoslavia the avoidable war” is a film that should have a much wider viewing. I would highly recommend it.

    All the people’s in the former Yugoslavia must take their own share of blame for the death and destruction. There is no one single victim or perpetrator here.

  • bigchiefally

    This seems a very insular view. If you were a Rhwandan living there 10 years ago would you not have liked the old colonial powers to drop in 50000 troops to stem the killing?

  • hairy_mary,

    Well aware of the history but the version of history that paints the Serbs as lone agressors is simply not correct. Germany used Slovenian secession to reassert its presence on the international stage.

    Anyway, it doesn’t matter what you or I think about the ex-YU (and I’m not taking sides in that dispute). I’m simply saying that foreign meddling ends in lots of deaths.

  • Conor Foley has an interesting take on this subject, arguing that ‘humanitarian interventions’ and ‘liberal interventions’ are not the same thing:’s-verbal-flip-flops/

  • #4 My book, ‘The Liberal Defence of Murder’, does indeed have an extended section on Yugoslavia, from the secession of Slovenia to Operation Allied Force. It is, I must stress, more concerned with puncturing liberal moralism than with giving a detailed account of the conflict itself. If it’s the former you’re after, it will be of some use (and the book does historically contextualise the arguments of the cruise missile liberals, in a genealogy stretching from Locke to Ignatieff). Fwiw, I think the best source for the origins of the Balkan conflict is Susan Woodward’s ‘Balkan Tragedy’, which deals with the often neglected political economy of the breakdown of Yugoslavia, and as a result is far more analytical than the journalism-inspired writing. Branka Magas’ early writings on the conflict, though marred by her later stance on Croatian secessionism, are also quite useful.

  • “This seems a very insular view. If you were a Rhwandan living there 10 years ago would you not have liked the old colonial powers to drop in 50000 troops to stem the killing?”

    No, I wouldn’t.

    The old colonial powers can go and f**k themselves. They have more than enough blood on their hands and plenty of these conflicts have their roots in their self-serving actions in the first place.

    Why do Westerners think they have a right to push Africans around?

    The new colonial powers can clear right off too. Would you have liked the UN to come in to (Northern) Ireland and make the place an international protectorate?

  • Regarding the point about Rwanda, can I just say that 1) there was a negotiable settlement available from before the RPF invasion, 2) the US and the former colonial powers did in fact intervene heavily (in the former case by promoting that RPF’s most untenable maximalist demands, thus ensuring the failure of negotiations, and in the case of France by backing the Habyarimana regime and the FAR), and 3) the RPF behaved exactly as an army of conquest would, carrying out massacres against the civilian population while doing nothing to protect those on the receiving end of genocidal violence by the FAR and associated forces. In an alternative universe, it would be possible to imagine a much more constructive kind of intervention by the imperial powers, but in this case their intervention was driven by the struggle for control of the Great Lakes region and the immense mineral reserves there (predominantly coltan these days) which is still being carried out in the DRC, and which has resulted in 5m+ deaths. In that light, calling for the former colonial powers to intervene in a positive way is self-deluding. In addition, it doesn’t betray much thought as to the consequences of military intervention. Any troops sent in would have constituted an invading force and would have become rapidly embroiled in an unfolding multi-dimensional war quite plausibly producing more deaths and intensifying the genocidal violence. The idea that military intervention is an appropriate way to end mass murder is sociologically and politically naive. For a good discussion of this issue, see Alex de Waal and Bridget Conley-Zilkic’s ‘How Genocides End’:

  • kensei


    It is estimated that between 500, and a 1,000,000 people died in the Rwandan genocide. We’ll not even consider the rapes. You not think it takes an awful lot to simply stand by and watch that?

  • There is a position in-between standing by and demanding that a foreign state involve itself.

    Cf Spanish Civil War.

  • “It is estimated that between 500, and a 1,000,000 people died in the Rwandan genocide.”

    On a point of analytical accuracy, of the 1m total deaths estimated, academic researchers Allan Stam and Christian Davenport say that 100,000 of them were Tutsis being killed in genocidal violence. The causes of most of the deaths were far more complex, and had a lot to do with suppressing internal dissent, waging internecine civil war, local power struggles etc. ( 38/Micro-foundations of Political Conflict_files/rwanda031708c.pdf)

    Of course, those conclusions are highly provisional given that the data they are forced to work with is patchy and the official sources have been reluctant to disclose many of the important facts (because the RPF government does not want attention drawn to its role in the conflict). Nonetheless, to the extent that one can be confident about any research into the Rwandan war and genocide, Stam and Davenport’s study is as reliable as any.

    On the broader point, the former colonial powers didn’t “stand by and watch”. Repeat and underline, they intervened in various ways that were clearly destructive, undermining such chances as existed for a peaceful, negotiated settlement. This automatic assumption of innocence on the part of white/Western states is itself part of a tradition of imperial ideology that has to be overcome.

  • Greenflag

    jason walsh ,

    ‘Would you like the UN to come in to (Northern) Ireland and make the place an international protectorate? ‘

    Yes but on a temporary basis until a new border is carved out by a neutral international agency set up for said purpose .

    I don’t trust the Unionists (all brands ) or SF ever to sort out the politics or to ever create a normal democracy from Nornironstan. It can’t be done even with the best will in the world . So yes bring in the UN and the cartographers and redraw the border and make the f***ing pain in the ass go away 😉

    PS Germany would not have been liberated from within during Hitler’s time and neither would Russia have been liberated from communism during Stalin’s time and the last time I checked Zimbabweans are finding it difficult to be liberated while Mugabe is in power.

    ‘Why do Westerners think they have a right to push Africans around’?

    Why do you think Jim Allister thinks he has a right to push Northern Ireland’s ‘nationalists ‘ and ‘republicans’ around ??

    The answer is very simple . It’s because his forefathers could do so and if they got away with it why can’t he ? It’s also called ‘entitlement’ and is very often nicely garnished with high falutin words like ‘democracy’ ‘values’ ‘civilisation’ ‘the rule of law’ etc etc .

    You say the ‘world has changed ‘ . Not for some I’m afraid and Jim Allister and the RC Church and the Iranian Ayatollahs and Comrade Mugabe are at the head of a long list who will only recognise change has happened when their ‘heads’ are removed 🙁

    Great acceptance speech by President Obama all the same considering the circumstances .

  • RepublicanStones

    Lenin whats your opinion of Hitchens’ volte-face from doyen of liberal literati to Bush’s ‘leftys agree with us’ posterboy?

  • bigchiefally

    I am really trying to understand point 16.

    If this place went as nuts as Rhwanda did, then yes, I would take any force on earth doing something about it. Wouldnt you? You would rather they just say at home doing nothing whilst 1/2 a million of your countrymen died, mainly from machette wounds? Come on!

    The first concern for any of us is surely not national pride but the defense and safety of ourselves and our families. It is very easy to forget things like this in a cosy rich western democracy like ours.

  • Adolf

    The Yanks stood idly by during the Rwandan bloodbath. They are now there in force, trying to get African oil.

    Serbia had to fall and be demonised to destroy and demonise the Russian bear. Nothing new there.

  • #22 Regarding Hitchens, two over-riding factors have to be taken into account.

    The first is his long term tendency to sympathise with empire. He had always looked for Britain to take on a benevolent paternalistic role in Cyprus, as opposed to its cynical Cold War machinations. He had supported Thatcher over the Falklands. And throughout the 1990s, he forcefully advocated US intervention into Yugoslavia. The decision to support Bush, therefore, didn’t come out of the blue. What did take place very suddenly, in my opinion, was the depreciation in the quality of his prose. Never before had been so demagogic and such a vulgariser as during the period from 2001 onward.

    The second factor is his gradual shift to the right. I interviewed some former colleagues of his for my book, including from the International Socialists (Socialist Workers’ Party today), and the general picture is of someone who was moving to the right from the mid-1970s, more or less toward a left-wing social democratic position. He did shift left again while in the United States, but only briefly. He was also very good on the end of the Cold War and the relationship between the generation of 1968 and that of 1989. But he gradually evolved to a position only somewhat to the left of the Democratic Party mainstream. On many issues, I suspect, he would still be to the left of Obama et al. He is idiosyncratic in this respect, since most apostates of that kind either end up on the lunatic right or in the Democratic centre. Part of the reason for his right-ward drift could be careerism. Back in the old days, he was known by socialist comrades as ‘Hypocritchens’ on account of his tendency to march with the left and dine with the rich. Others remember him being visibly embarrassed by being greeted by socialist friends in a pub when he was making a career in the New Statesman and looking to move to the US. Hitchens himself partially corroborates this view. In a 2006 New Yorker interview, he explained that he had once overheard his mother say to his father that “if there is going to be a ruling class in this country, then Christopher is going to be in it” – hence the Balliol education.

    I do have a very OTT entry on Hitchens’ contortions over Iraq in the NYU Press volume, ‘Christopher Hitchens and his Critics’, but you don’t need to buy the book. You can read the original version online:

  • J


    Who said anything about ‘national pride’? I’m arguing against liberals marauding around the world murdering people in the name of saving them just as I’m against conservatives doing the same in the name of stability or anti-communism or whatever else that has been used as an apologia for slaughter.

    Is a liberal bullet in the head better than a conservative one?

  • Turgon

    An interesting contrast to the way the Kosovo war developed and was ended is the insurgency in the neighbouring former Yougoslav republic of Macedonia.

  • Sam Thompson

    ‘Is a liberal bullet in the head better than a conservative one?’

    socialism has already had its murderous turn, so the suggestion might be that democracy is as untrustworthy as dictatorships? anyone got a new system?

  • RepublicanStones

    Very interesting article Lenin. I wasn’t aware that Hitchen’s slide to the right began so early. For many he had lost any semblance of respect with his criticism of his ‘friend’ Said whilst the latter lay on his death bed. I think it would’nt be unfair to suggest he has become a parody at this stage.

  • bigchiefally

    J – do you not believe there is such a thing as a just war?

    Say we take 500 000 as the number of people killed in Rwanda during the genocide. If foreign troops had arrived and stopped 400 000 of these deaths from happening I am sure they would have killed some people themselves during the operation. Some of these people killed would undoubtedly have been innocent, some not. My point is that if the foreign troops had killed less than 400 000 people, the operation would have saved lives. People who died then would still be living today. That is a good thing is it not?

    I think a lot of anti interventionist views are tainted by Iraq and the view, probably correctly, that the war was completed at least partially if not entirely for national gain, rather than to help out the Iraqis.

    Not all foreign interventions are necessarily so bad. I struggle to see how an organised international response to Rwanda could have led to a worse outcome than the one that did happen.