War for war’s sake? U.S. military interventions after the Cold War

By Håkan Wiberg

Written 2000????

In the debate on a war on Iraq, many interpretations are proposed as to what it is “really” about: Disarming Iraq of possible weapons of mass destruction to satisfy UN resolutions? Toppling the Iraqi government by invasion and/or subversion? Introducing democracy by occupation? Getting US control over the Iraqi oil by occupation? Getting US geopolitical control over the whole oil region with bases, etc.? Fighting terrorism? Deflecting domestic criticism of various scandals – or international criticism on, e.g. Palestine? Feeding the military-industrial complex? Testing new weapons, tactics and strategies on the ground?

Rather few of these really contradict each other, unless presented as the one and only motive – which is in our complex world a very unlikely situation. It will obviously take many years to get a balanced and well-documented picture of the true motives of the US administration and its various factions, so no attempt at such a premature assessment will be made here.

The point of the present article is merely to locate one apparent lacuna in the debate, which only seems to get visible when we collate several cases to see what they have in common. Few seem to have pointed at “war for war’s sake”. By this I do not refer to any grotesque pre-WWI (and later fascist) ideologies about war as being healthy in itself, but rather to the advantage the initiator expects to have from a war, whatever its outcome. The main thesis is that having a war now and then is a way for US administrations to try to counteract the global long term changes in the distribution of economic power (where it has gone down) and military power, where it is stronger than ever. More specifically, the thesis is that the relative weight of these kinds of power has been shifting in favour of economic power for a long time, which gives the USA an interest in greater relative weight being given to military power.

Distibution of power: the long-term perspective

When USA emerged as a great power in the late 19th century, that was originally on the economic dimension, as a competitor to first Great Britain and then even Germany. Its level of armament was by comparison quite modest – and returned to that level after tipping the military balance in Europe in 1917-18: enough for interventions in and occupations of states in Central America, but not much more. Nor did it show much ambitions for a global role, not even joining the League of Nations. In fact, Hitler had spent two years of war to subdue most of Europe before USA got dragged into the war by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, which radically changed public opinion in one day.

After World War II, USA was the first and foremost of the victors, clearly superior to anyone else in both military and economic power and – in most parts of the world – prestige. After some initial vacillation, it also decided to establish itself permanently as a global power, as already foreseen in the strategic assessment of the postwar situation and aims made in 1944: eventually controlling Eurasia by one pincer in Western Europe and another in East Asia. (In Western Europe, Great Britain had a similar position: military power equal to all the rest of it, the biggest economy with the richest population and high prestige – it was even common to speak about The Big Three for a few years after 1945 before Great Britain had to give up that role). It is the development since then that is interesting.

Let us first use the lens of static military power, as counted in resources. The Cold War soon created blocs around the two superpowers, each incomparably bigger than any other potential competitor, so there was a bipolarity in various forms. Which side was biggest, in particular if we look at Europe, was to some extent a matter of what kind of counting one engaged in; seen in hindsight, the commander of NATO would probably at no time have liked to change sides with his Warsaw Pact colleague.

In any case, the Soviet Union dropped out within rather short time from the late 1980ies, first dismantling its set of distant clients and satellites, then the Warsaw pact and finally (and unplanned) itself. After the Cold War, we indeed have unipolarity in this particular respect: the USA accounts for about two-fifths of global military expenditures (equaling the six or seven closest competitors together), NATO as a whole for about two-thirds and the entire alliance system of the USA for about five sixths. Still, there were political voices on both sides of the Atlantic for this superiority not being enough; they grew stronger after September 11, when US military expenditures alone grew by 60 billion dollars.

The lens of static economic power provides a rather different picture. The time since WWII has been one of relative downslide for the USA: from about one half to just over one fifth of global production, from being the world´s biggest creditor to being its biggest debtor, from having by far the biggest trade in the world to being about the same size as Germany around 1990, from being by far the world´s biggest aid donor to being about the same size as Japan (or Scandinavia plus the Netherlands). Something similar is true for the relative position of Great Britain in Western Europe, passed by first West Germany, then France and finally Italy. The pattern for the USSR was slighly different: moving up for a couple of decades – but reaching at best a size between Germany and Japan, far behind the USA – and then an increasing stagnation into relative insignificance. When the biggest fragment of the late USSR, i.e. Russia, is given some kind of position as “number 7½” among the G-7, that is more for political than economic reasons.

If we continue limiting ourselves to these two dimensions of power, the next and very important question is what happened to their relative weight. Giving any “objective” and detailed measure for this would be quite difficult, even if it seems obvious that the Cold War was quite decisive for this “rate of exchange” favouring military power. As long as a major potential military threat was perceived, the main guarantor against it could count with obedience in many other matters. For instance, when the USA and European states disagreed, merely hinting at possible US troop reductions in Europe would often suffice for the USA to have its way, in terms of German currency reserves, EU diplomacy in the Middle East, etc.

As this threat perception receded during the Gorbachev years and then largely disappeared after the collapse of the USSR and the “official” end of the Cold War, we would expect military power to get less weight. This, if true, would be good news for, e.g., Japan and Germany, but bad news for the USA, the UK and the late USSR. In particular, we would then expect US influence to recede, getting more proportional to its share of the global economy rather than that of global destructive capability. It would still be heavy, however, the USA definitely being primus; but it would be decidedly less than before, since it is really only primus inter pares, EU and Japan being the main competitors of today. Some projections, for whatever they are worth, even forecast India and China to be bigger economies than the USA around 2050.

NATO had been a main instrument for controlling aspects of Western Europe, its origins aptly described as “empire by invitation”. It would now be threatened by the general tendency for grand coalitions to dissolve once they have won. So the question would boil down to the following: if we have two superpowers and subtract one, how many remain? A frequent answer is: One! The alternative answer is: None! The argument for the latter is that it takes a threat of the magnitude of another superpower to be able to mobilize the resources and allies that are necessary to behave as a superpower oneself. To cling to a superpower position – which is the predominant sentiment in the USA – would therefore call for new threats so as to retain a high rate of exchange for military power and preserve NATO.

Let us now see what this perspective on the post-Cold War may make visible.

New threats and their treatment

The simplest assumption to base predictions on would be that the USA is a “normal” superpower, great power or (aspiring) hegemon, a role filled or aspired to by, e.g. Germany, Great Britain, France, Spain, etc. back in history. It would then be expected to maximise power as economically as possible – and even more strongly expected to counteract loss of power.

There seems to be more to it, however. What is unusual about the USA is that much of its influence is based on a vast pact system, some of it now defunct (CENTO, SEATO), other parts still active (NATO and various bilateral treaties with Japan, etc.) – so vast, indeed, that it would certainly normally dissolve. This defines a puzzle.

One part of this puzzle might be resolved by looking at the USA itself. It is not unusual for great powers to define “missions” for themselves, but this seems to be so to an extreme degree for the USA: in its national self-perception, heavily coloured by Protestant fundamentalism, the USA is decidedly not an ordinary great power, but has a unique and God-given role to make the world better by fighting the forces of evil, if necessary by armed force – the world´s policeman, to use another cherished simile.

This mission making the USA exceptional, it does not really see itself as bound by, e.g., the red tape of international law if that creates problems. In some cases, the conclusions from that perception and traditionally ascribed national interests may coincide, in others they do not; the important point is that the USA has a strong need for enemies already to preserve its identity. The social psychology of enemy images shows that the perfect Enemy is strong and active apart from being evil. British – and other European – imperialism filled that role until a century ago, when the USA was at the brink of war with Great Britain in 1895 and then attacked Spain in 1898 to grab some of its last colonies. When the USA eventually got convinced that one European imperialist was worse than the others and entered World War I, “the war to end all wars” and “national self-determination” belonged to the things officially fought for.

After that, Communism soon emerged as one Enemy, but soon had competition from Japan, Pearl Harbor creating instant unanimity to see Fascism as the Enemy. It was soon defeated, at least militarily; Communism quickly reappeared with virtual monopoly on enemyhood, the USA misreading various national liberation movements as Communist expansionism directed from Moscow, against which it fought a couple of major wars (Korea and Indochina). It also engaged in a couple of hundred military interventions, ranging between naval demonstrations and more substantial things: sometimes backing up regimes (which often were so nasty that they eventually fell) by arms, money, propaganda and, occasionally, troops; sometimes involved in various ways in toppling democratically elected regimes while denying it or finding some pretext (Iran, Guatemala, Greece, Chile, Nicaragua).

Gorbachev very perceptively said: “We will do something horrible to you – we are going to deprive you of your enemy”. He did indeed, which in this respect made the 1990ies a crisis period. Wars or close-to-wars against second- or third-rate military powers were difficult to blow up into full -isms to be crusaded against, “Communism” now largely limited to Cuba and East Asia. Ideologists like Samuel Huntington worked hard at “enemy repair”, e.g. by loose speculations about a “clash of civilizations”, with “the rest against the West” as the extreme case, expected to make this West rally behind the (US or NATO) flag.

Let us now have a closer look at the major cases and ask some questions:

1. What interests might be involved?
2. Who was the Enemy?
3. What means were tried?
4. What role, if any, did the USA have in starting the war?
5. How was the – initial or later – intervention legitimized?
6. What happened during and after the intervention?

I.  The first major case appeared in August 1990, when the negotiations between Iraq and Kuwait broke down after coming very close to agreement. Iraq, which had been military supplied by the USA and several allies (and many other states) when useful against Iran, now clearly violated international law by occupying Kuwait and later annexing it.

1. Some combination of defending international law, oil and demonstrating US leadership and importance of military means.
2. Saddam Hussain was the Enemy, but could neither be generalized to “the Arabs” (some were allies), nor to “Islam” (the same applied – and the Baath party is secularist), so he was made a person and his ruthless domestic dictatorship added to the image.
3. The Arab League tried to mediate. The first action taken by the UN included condemnation and economic sanctions. In January 1991, the USA went to war with UN authorization together with a broad ad hoc coalition and won it militarily in about seven weeks.
4. Through most of the 1980ies Iraq had lots of military supplies from the USA and its allies (and many others). It is debated to what extent the USA did “encourage” the invasion by in some formulation declaring itself disinterested in the conflict behind the war. It managed to block all attempts at mediation (the Arab League, France, the USSR), reducing the possible outcomes to three: a humiliating retreat for either Iraq or the USA – or a big war.
5. Formal legitimacy: Iraqi aggression and a UN mandate to counteract it “by all necessary means”. Additional themes: the character of the Iraqi dictatorship, the need to “protect the oil lanes”.
6.The war killed some 100,000 Iraqi soldiers and a great number of civilians and destroyed most of Iraqi infrastructure, including the electricity plants necessary to provide most or the population with fresh water. The sovereignty of Kuwait was restored and the royal dictator reinstated. Domestic war in parts of Iraq (see below). Saddam Hussein remained in power. Economic sanctions killed a half to one million people in ten years. (See also below).

This seemed to be a clear demonstration of the importance of military power, and the USA asked those states (except China) with whom it had its greatest trade deficits (Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Germany) to finance much, all, or even more than all of the war costs (depending on the accounting methods used). They all paid up, although some with little enthusiasm. Yet, this apparent demonstration that military power was still heaviest did not last long. The G-7 meeting in May 1991 saw an undramatic German-Japanese counter demonstration when they were asked by the USA to lower their rates of interest to get the wheels rolling and support the economic dynamism of the USA. They declined, which is likely to have cost the US economy more than the about 10 bn. dollars each they had just donated. Something had changed.

II.  Next case was Iraqi Kurdistan in 1991. In the aftermath of the Gulf War, USA had encouraged Kurds (and Shia Arabs) to rebel against Baghdad, but initially did nothing to prevent the rebellions from getting slaughtered, but later imposed “no fly zones” to keep the Iraqi air force out of much of them.
1. Humanitarian concern, including Turkey´s worry about the many Kurdish refugees entering it (and possibly joining the oppressed Kurds there). Some of the important oil fields are in Iraqi Kurdistan. New demonstration of US leadership and the importance of military means.
2. Saddam Hussein was still the Enemy.
3. We got the first “humanitarian intervention” resolution in the Security Council. Against Chinese protests of the resolution being abused, the USA interpreted this so as to force Iraq to tolerate a Western military presence for a while.
4. The revolt leading to the refugee situation when crushed was explicitly called for by the US administration.
5. Formal legitimacy: UNSC resolution about a grave humanitarian situation with a couple of million refugees inside Iraq and fled to Turkey.
6. The net result became a de facto independent Kurdish state (with its own army, currency, flag, etc.) with 4-5 million inhabitants, including the refugees returning from Turkey. Initially, it suffered even worse that central Iraq from the economic sanctions, but after a few years these were de facto lifted and the economy improved. The two main political forces (PUK and DPK) came into war with each other, looking for support to Tehran and Baghdad neither trusting the USA, while Turkey repeatedly invaded Kurdistan with tanks and air force and much destruction, allegedly to hit PKK. After four years, the USA brokered a ceasefire in 1998, giving one part of Kurdistan to each major party.  At present, USA tries to get Turkey into the planned war by promises to let it occupy the countryside of Iraqi Kurdistan  (which would lead to years of guerilla resistance).

III.  Somalia in 1992. The demise of the Siad Barre regime had led to anarchy, a complex civil war with many parties and widespread starvation.
1. No economic interests. Cold War residue: In the late 1970ies, USA and USSR had swapped partners in the area, the USA now supporting Somalia a bit. Humanitarian concern. Demonstration of the importance of military means.
2. One of the main clan leaders, General Aidid was soon made the Enemy (and a price set on his head).
3. Humanitarian aid had been sent in, one problem being that some of it was hijacked by various warlords, and some of that traded across boundaries for drugs (Qat) and arms.
4. The war was largely endogenous, but to some extent also encouraged by Ethiopia (with bad relations with the USA).
5. Another “humanitarian intervention” UNSC resolution (there being no recognised Somalia government to object to it) authorizing military support for aid deliveries.
6. A mission under UN command included military parts (with US, Pakistani and other troops) to secure the provision of food aid. Making Aidid the Enemy led to a realignment of the complex clan system in his favour, many fearing that his main competitor would get dominant by US support. In a pitched battle between Somali forces and the US Rangers unit (which was under direct U.S., not UN, command), 500-1000 Somalis and 18 US soldiers were killed. When the latter were dragged along the streets by Somali crowds, the U.S. pulled out, soon followed by the others. Some of the major cities had been disarmed, making them defenceless against the countryside warlords. The wars went on for several years, the northern part of the country eventually de facto setting up an independent state, Somaliland.

IV.  Bosnia from 1992. The first “miracle” in the Yugoslav wars was that although the war in the north went on since June 1991, the three nationalist parties (Serb SDS, Moslem SDA, Croat HDZ) managed to keep peace with each other after failing to persuade Slovenia not to secede and even after EU inviting Bosnia-Herzegovina to secede and the Badinter commission proposing the insane idea about a referendum (insane, because it would presuppose precisely what was bitterly controversial: that B-H was an indivisible unit). At the Lisbon meeting on 18 March 1991, they agreed about principles for constitution and for drawing internal boundaries to be used in further negotiations. These negotiations broke down after the EU recognition of B-H, which changed war from being a grave risk to being unavoidable – and de facto changed the coalition pattern from Croats and Moslems against Serbs to Serbs and Croats against Moslems.

1. EU needed to look active after being fooled by Serbs and Slovenes in Brioni in July 1991 (looking like the broker of a deal that these had already made) and thrown out as mediator between Croatia and rest-Yugoslavia in December 1991 (for being far too partial). The U.S. had kept a low profile, but seems to have joined Germany in pushing for the recognition of B-H, making this the occasion for getting involved with high profile.

2. “Milosevic” and “the Serbs” were already available as Enemy. When the Croat-Moslem war was the predominant one in 1993, with participation of troops from Croatia, there was a brief tendency for it to share the image, until a ceasefire (window-dressed as a Federation) between Croats and Moslems was created in early 1994 by U.S. arms twisting.

3. UN resolutions (on average one every second week), requesting Yugoslavia to withdraw its troops (most were local forces anyhow), creating sanctions against it (not time limited, thus making the U.S. with its veto the arbiter), and generally trying to strengthen the Muslim forces and weaken the Serb ones, e.g. in terms of “safe zones”. UNPROFOR was increasingly asked to join the war, but would not. France and UK, who had large forces there, were also asked, but refused to do so in the absence of U.S. land troops. Several attempts (Lisbon agreement, Owen-Vance plan, Owen/Stoltenberg plan, Contact Group plan) were made at negotiated solutions, but were ditched one way or the other by the U.S. either undermining them by telling or signalling to the Muoslims they could get something better (which, at the end of the day they did not) or making the plan non-negotiable and certainly unacceptable to the Bosnian Serbs (Contact Group) while blocking for any other diplomatic attempts.

When serious negotiations again started in August 1995, the most unacceptable parts had been dropped. In August 1995, Croatia invaded B-H and, after USA getting NATO to bomb out the infrastructure on the Serb side, pushed the Serbs back a bit before a ceasefire preceded the Dayton negotiations.

4. The role of the the U.S. in starting the war seems to have consisted mainly in two things: making the Muslims believe that they could get something better than the Lisbon agreement and pushing, together with Germany, for the EU decision on recognition on 6 April 1992 (which happened to be the anniversary of Hitler´s attack on Yugoslavia in 1941 starting with many thousands in Belgrade killed by terror bombardment). It was then quite active in keeping the war going (see above).

5. The overall legitimization was in terms of “humanitarian intervention” (transports of provisions, “safe zones”, withdrawal of sieges, etc.)

6. The NATO intervention in late August destroyed the infrastructure of the Serb part of the country (it has only been partially rebuilt), permitting the Army of Croatia to capture some territory before getting stonewalled by the Serbs. In the Dayton Accords, Tudjman sold out the Bosnian Croats, Milosevic the Bosnian Serbs and the U.S. the Muslims (the Croats de facto got more territory than they had previously been promised, the Muslims less than they had previously rejected).
Far more money has been spent on the international forces (IFOR, SFOR) than on development: what did function under their aegis was the territorial redivision, demilitarized zones and some disarmament agreements. Western contributions of more than US $ 5 billion have only in part gone into the Bosnian economy (much of it consisting in payments to the West) – and sizable parts of that into the (Serb, Croat, Moslem) mafia part of it.

Very little investment has otherwise been made, the unemployment is still enormous. Quite modest resettling of refugees, mostly in their “own” part of the country rather than their place of origin – and counterbalanced by the same magnitude of people leaving parts of B-H where they were or became in minority (50,000 Serbs from areas of Sarajevo to be taken over by Muslims, most Croats have left Muslim-controlled areas). The High Representatives increasingly behave as proconsuls, especially since late 1997, and have pushed through lots of state symbols (flag, coat of arms, anthem, passports, currency, car registration plates, etc.) in the vain hope that symbols would create a state. Elections show the nationalist parties to be as strong as ever on all sides. The international military presence, which was officially first to be one year only, then a longer period, and finally indefinitely, has now been transformed into a lifetime prison for NATO, although the size has gradually been reduced in the direction of the tripwire function that was in fact all that was called for from the beginning.

V.  Haiti.  The new elected President Aristide was toppled by a junta using methods similar to the earlier Duvalier family. Tens of thousands of people fled the country.

1. The primary threat seems to have been that many of the refugees landed in the the U.S.
2. The junta and its leader, General Cedras, become Enemy, suppressing democracy and human rights.
3. The U.S. made naval demonstrations and apparently threatened to invade unless the junta left voluntarily.
4. The junta had originally been supported by the the U.S., Aristide being regarded as dangerous left wing.
5. The legitimization was in terms of democracy and human rights. No UN support, however: the General Assembly was highly critical.
6. The three top generals left for their estates in France. There were eight elections in as many years, the most recent participation being 5 per cent (nobody takes them seriously), a president elected by 95 per cent of those participating, and the present regime being accused of approximately the same abuses and violence as the junta.

VI.  Albania 1997. The right wing President Berisha had de facto set up personal rule. Widespread swindles (“pyramid games”) had undermined confidence; when he unconstitutionally tried to cling to power, there were revolts – which were joined by many of the military sent out to stop them. All over Albania, groups or masses plundered the arms depots, some 700,000 small arms drifting out into the country (and Kosovo, etc.).

1. The main concern seems to have been that the country would collapse completely in civil war, which would exacerbate the threat already manifested: thousands of refugees, primarily to Italy.
2. No clear Enemy. Berisha was pressed to step down however.
3. The EU got itself an invitation to deploy troops in Albania (Operation Alba) to prevent further fighting and make it possible to rebuild some kind of state apparatus.
4. The U.S. had had good contacts with Berisha. It later assisted in training of UCK fighters in territory controlled by his clan alliance before being sent into Kosovo. It took no part in the military intervention however.
5. Since there was consent from Albania, it is the intra-EU legitimacy that is interesting: primarily concerns about stability in an explosive area where EU countries were already involved.
6. After the troops were withdrawn (with very little success in retrieving the plundered arms), Albania has the trappings of a parliamentary democracy and there is no major open fighting, but it remains largely anarchic with quite limited central control.

VII. Iraq II. After the 1991 war and its aftermath in parts of Iraq, the major part by of Iraqi arms of mass destruction had been destroyed by 1995 (according to Scott Ritter), but the economic sanctions continued and got worse (the U.S. having veto power in the UNSC as well as control over the Sanction Committee). Iraq was therefore recalcitrant and obstructed some of the work of the inspectors, drawing increasing criticism. The U.S. and Great Britain, who had been bombing the country all these years, wished to increase that and therefore had the inspectors pulled out of the country in 1998.

1. Primarily U.S. great power interests; ideas about a “regime shift” started to come up again.
2. Iraq, personalised into Saddam Hussein, remained the Enemy.
3. The U.S. tried to get a Security Council resolution to legitimize a new war, but France joined Russia and China in opposing it.
4. The U.S. started the war, with Great Britain as sole ally.
5. The war was legitimized in terms of SC resolutions on inspection and destruction of WMD, although no resolution actually supported the war.
6. Further destruction of Iraqi infrastructure. The inspectors were not let back in until late 2003.

VIII. Kosovo
1. What interests might be involved?
2. Who was the Enemy?
3. What means were tried?
4. What role, if any, did the USA have in starting the war?
5. How was the – initial or later – intervention legitimized?
6. What happened during and after the intervention?

Kosovo was different. After a long period of non-violent resistance against Serbian oppression, led by Ibrahim Rugova and his party, there was a negotiation deadlock in the late 1990ies, the parties disagreeing on the agenda as well as form. The nonviolence in the resistance was eroded by the UCK engaging in sporadic political killings in 1996-97, and the situation changed drastically in February 1998, when the UCK made major offensives to control large areas, even cities, before Yugoslav offensives turned the scales later in the year.

A monitored ceasefire was agreed in October 1998 after heavy U.S. pressure, some 2,000 OSCE monitors to “verify” it. Nobody familiar with the problems of monitoring (see Biermann & Vadset 1998) can seriously have believed that this would work. The monitors could only cover a minor fraction of all the foreseeable incidents and hot spots. Neither side had much incentive to keep the ceasefire, the OSCE monitors reporting many violations from both, and the dirty but limited war between a guerilla and a regular army (plus paramilitary units) went on much as before, with no victory in sight for either party within foreseeable future.

Diplomatic intervention (which was still made in the name of the Contact Group) was objectively rather meaningless: when two parties have quite incompatible aims, no proposed plan can get agreement unless the self-appointed mediators convince one party (or both) that the other will be cheated. The first Rambouillet round in January 1999 was a frustration for U.S. ambitions, the delegation of Kosovar Albanians flatly rejecting the demands made, while Yugoslavia vaguely declared them negotiable. A second set of demands was then made, a military appendix with extreme demands on Yugoslavia now added (without adequately informing Russia or, apparently, most NATO partners). It strikingly reminded of the Austrian demands in July 1914, which were not made to be accepted but to be sure to be rejected and provide a pretext for war. When threatened that the Serbs otherwise would not be bombed, the Albanian delegates eventually signed.

No attempt was now made to get UN legitimacy; the Security Council was simply disregarded and NATO went to war, more than half of its members participating in the bombings. NATO unity was preserved by not bringing up the issue of land forces until much later. The first proclaimed motivation for the bombings was to demonstrate resolve and bring compliance; this clearly failing, the new one after a few days was that they were to curtail the ability of Yugoslav forces to do harm in Kosovo. When a ceasefire eventually came, NATO had retreated on several counts. The most unacceptable demands made in Rambouillet were gone (free movement of NATO in Yugoslavia, settlement of Kosovo´s future by a referendum). Hopes for a capitulation were abandoned when NATO had to accept mediation. Marginalizing the United Nations failed: the negotiated deal was legitimized by a UN Security Council resolution (No. 1244). Yugoslav generals successfully haggled in Kumanovo on the terms and speed of their withdrawal and were able to bring their heavy equipment home rather than having to abandon it, as the NATO demands implied.

Victory was then declared by NATO, the Yugoslav Army and the UCK, and KFOR marched in, followed by UNMIK and a plethora of IGOs and INGOs. Yet the situation in Kosovo was even less amenable to any rapid improvement than in Bosnia-Hercegovina. The amount of killings, kidnappings and refugees after the ceasefire has been far greater than it was there, remaining for a long time at approximately the same level as before the bombings and only decreasing when most of the non-Albanian population had fled and the rest was corralled into a handful of more defendable enclaves.

Attempts to create a functioning administration have had very little success (except on paper). The UCK has not been disarmed (except on paper). NATO has put itself into one more prison: it cannot leave until some kind of peace is eventually created and a new Serb-Albanian war and/or a war between different Albanian clan coalitions and parties is not the likely result of a withdrawal. This will probably also take decades and may lead to even greater frustration, if and when the UCK, blocked in its national ambitions, sees NATO as a hostile occupation force. KFOR and UNMIK now administer Kosovo in the name of Yugoslavia. There is a deadlock: the formal status of Kosovo under Yugoslav sovereignty cannot be made real, and it can only be legally changed into independence by changing Resolution 1244 – which would in all likelihood be vetoed, or even voted down, whenever attempted.

The UCK seems to have made one correct and one mistaken political calculation. The first was that by sacrificing a lot of people by escalating to war and provoking a Serb over-reaction they would get a Western intervention. The mistaken one was that this would make the West switch positions on independence, as it had rapidly done in the cases of Croatia and Slovenia. This seemed logical, given these cases, but missed two essential points. First, the West is likely to avoid an independent Kosovo as long as that looks like promoting instability by being a major threat to two actors somehow under its protection: Macedonia and Montenegro. Second, a Western or U.S. change of mind is also likely to be prevented by the high price for it: the very likely question, “If them, then why not us in Republika Srpska and Herceg-Bosna” – and the whole facade of proclaimed success in Bosnia-Hercegovina would crumble.

If the states that the the U.S. hit or threatened with war during the 1990ies have anything in common, it is that they deviated from some widespread norms (“rogue states” in political propaganda), falling short of one or more of the ideals of democracy, free market and human rights that the U.S. self-perception is based on. From the point of view of these ideals, however, they were rather accidentally picked – in almost each case, one could point at regimes in the world that were worse, even far worse, but were left militarily alone for one reason or the other: too great defence capability (China, North Korea, Vietnam, Cuba), too distant and unknown for successful mobilization of the U.S. population and allies (Rwanda, Burundi, Sudan and – for a long time – Afghanistan), or too important as strategic or tactical allies (Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, Morocco).

NATO as an anomaly

NATO is a historical anomaly in the sense that grand coalitions normally dissolve when the conflict for which they were created has been won, e.g., after the two world wars (Riker 1962). The continuing existence of NATO thus calls for an explanation, even before explaining its development. Why did it not dissolve after “winning” the Cold War?

One extreme type of explanation is represented by theories about NATO as a conspiracy for military domination of the world, the opposite extreme by the self-image NATO projects: a value community once primarily threatened by the Soviet bloc but now turning to defend these values by military means elsewhere. More credible explanations can be found however.

Previous grand coalitions joined relatively equal partners; NATO was always under a clear U.S. leadership. In addition to its manifest function during the Cold War, it also serves as a tool to control Western Europe in spite of the many issues where the the U.S. and EU are or were at loggerheads. The U.S. therefore had a clear interest in preserving NATO. This interest was actually also shared by several European NATO members, whether out of a conviction that the the U.S. “saves Europe from itself” or a variety of local reasons: the UK to preserve (its perception of) the “special relationship”; Turkey to somehow remain in a “Europe” where the EU does not want it; Spain and Portugal as one way to symbolize their belonging to the West after dictatorships; some of the minor members to avoid a German-French direktorat. With its original raison d´etre disappearing, there was a problem with legitimizing the continuation of NATO; one proclaimed answer was “out of area or out of business” – and “out of area” apparently means war. The area also increases.

When Mikhail Gorbachev agreed to German unification in 1990, he had been solemnly promised by all major Western leaders that expanding NATO was out of the question. It soon turned out that he was mistaken in trusting this when the Clinton administration went in for an expansion and pushed it through. How likely an expansion is beyond Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary is a matter of speculation; at least it has been excluded that it is excluded.

To make further predictions about consequences, we first have to try to look at alternative hypotheses about explanations.

Interests and policies

Explaining actions and their outcomes in terms of interests is fraught with great problems: 1) It is difficult to know what these interests are, unless we accept simplifying postulates, like those made above, or accept the political rhetoric of the actors and see the interests as very noble. 2) Interests may be compromised, e.g., by actors caught by their own propaganda.  3) There may be obstacles to expressing interests in actions: for instance, by expected costs being too high; and the results of actions often differ from the intentions behind them. For all these reasons, actions rarely permit strong conclusions as to intentions behind them, and it is sometimes difficult to tell whether an action is based on stupidity and ignorance or some Macchiavellian scheme. Let us look at the implications of this.

1. Postulated interests

2. The remaining Cold War: perceptions

The point about being caught in one´s own propaganda is also  important. While the Cold War was declared over as a political phenomenon, its perceptual framework largely remains after being inculcated into politicians and journalists for more than a generation. It can be summarized in three “axioms”:

1) There can only be two parties to a conflict;

2) These are represented by governments of states or something similar to states and often personified by a single person postulated to be powerful enough to rule a whole country all by himself (no first female leader was cast into that role yet);

3) One is Bad, and the other one – by virtue of that – Good.

A good search among the conflicts in the world might reveal a few cases where these “axioms” do not grossly misrepresent reality. In most cases, however, they do so, e.g., Lebanon, Somalia, Afghanistan – or the Yugoslav conflicts from A to Z.

The need to mobilize population and allies tends to dictate the propaganda to be cast in such simplistic terms, demonizing the Enemy to create freedom of action. The irony in this is that it simultaneously means lost freedom of action, especially before the US population: if the Enemy represents Evil, one cannot negotiate with him, make deals, etc. The only permissible “happy ends” consist in the Enemy being completely routed and defeated – or confessing his sins, hailing the ideals of the the U.S. and its allies and promising to improve his ways under their firm tutorship.

A further problem is that this “happy end” hardly ever occurs. The Korean War ended in a draw (relative to rising U.S. ambitions to take all of Korea) and half a century of high tension. The Indochina Wars were lost, with attempts to cover this up by a “decent interval” and talk about “Vietnamization”. Saddam Hussain is still there and does not give in to continued U.S. and UK bombing; so is Fidel Castro,  Moammar Qathafi, and so forth. The U.S. military interventions in Lebanon and Somalia ended quickly after small U.S. casualties. After the “humanitarian intervention” in Iraqi Kurdistan, two Kurdish factions fought each other, looking to Teheran and Baghdad for support, while Turkey invaded and bombed a third faction in the “no-fly zone”. The threat of intervention in Haiti made three generals leave for their estates in France, after which one president got 95 per cent of the votes, participation in elections decreased to about 5 per cent and the new regime is accused of about the same abuses as the old one.

In short, most U.S.-backed regimes eventually fell (the royal Arabic dictatorships being exceptions), sometimes with the U.S. itself shifting side to be in at the killing. And a lot of the “good guys” eventually turned out to become big problems and had to be dumped: for instance, in Vietnam, Indonesia, Panama, Iraq, Angola, Chile, Afghanistan and the Yugoslav conflicts.

3. The wages of war

The third problem is important both when considering a war and fighting it. The U.S. had to pull out of Vietnam when its government could no longer convince its people that the war was justified and possible to win at acceptable costs. The U.S. Army, then still conscription-based, was at the verge of collapse: more officers were killed by their soldiers than by the enemy, more soldiers eventually died by suicide than in battle. There has been much talk about a “Vietnam syndrome” and whether it was overcome in the Second Gulf War. So it seemed: the U.S. put land troops of its own at risk and even suffered minor casualties without severe repercussions at home –  the war actually became more popular as it went on and seemed successful, at least until the U.S. pulled out again and had to explain why groups in Iraq heeding the U.S. call to rebel were left to be slaughtered.

Very soon, however, it was succeeded by the “Somalia syndrome”, created by pictures of jubilant Somali crowds dragging along the streets several dead U.S. soldiers – who were supposed to be there to help them. The US administration has ever since been very unwilling to send its own soldiers anywhere, unless guaranteed a “friendly environment”. There were substitutes, however. One of them is epigrammatically described in the British verse from a century ago: “We do not want a war /but by Jingo, if we do /we will not go ourselves / but send the mild Hindoo”. In the ideal war, the the U.S. provides command, control, communications and intelligence and does much of the bombing to prepare for the land war, whereas others put their troops at risk in it.

One test case was Bosnia-Herzegovina, once the the U.S. got overtly politically engaged by the time of the EU recognition. One problem was that the Bosnian Serbs with their support from Yugoslavia were too strong for their opponents to do much; the main attempt to cope with that was several Security Council resolutions designed – whatever their official motivations – to shift the military balance of power in disfavour of the Bosnian Serbs. Another problem the the U.S. had placed itself in, with Croatia as main military protegé and the Muslim leadership in Sarajevo as political protegé, while the war made its Croats versus Muslim part predominant in 1993. This was a main threat against the “Cold War axioms”, solved in early 1994 by arms-twisting the two to agree to a ceasefire and pretend to have a federation. This also saved the war by bringing the situation much further away from the negotiated settlement that seemed very close after the Owen-Stoltenberg plan in the Invincible negotiations.

The “Contact Group Plan”, which was definitely unacceptable to the Bosnian Serbs, whoever else endorsed it, then blocked any serious negotiations for another year. The third problem, therefor, was who would provide the land troops. Repeated attempts to get UNPROFOR into war with the Serbs were rejected by its (civilian and military) leadership. The U.S. then tried to make its NATO allies fight the land war while it would stay in the air. Britain and France already had their experiences and made it clear that they would only engage in company with U.S. land troops.

The army of Croatia eventually appeared as the saviour, now heavily rearmed and willing to risk a major offensive before being up to its full planned strength. NATO destroyed the infrastructure of the Bosnian Serbs to permit Croatia to take large areas, thus limiting the later Dayton negotiations to be about relatively small changes in the status quo by the ceasefire in September 1995. The U.S. – through NATO – then got command of the agreement parts that had some chance of success: redistributing territory, guaranteeing the ceasefire and monitoring some military measures. The responsibility for the parts with – at best – slim chances of success was divided between the EU, the OSCE and UN organisations, who would then be blamed for failure to make NATO look good by comparison.

Yet this also meant that NATO put itself into a long term prison in Bosnia-Herzegovina, no matter the naive proclamations that it would arrange things in a year and then pull out. It cannot, having several myths to guard: military intervention was successful; Bosnia-Herzegovina is a state in a deeper sense than just being a UN member; the Croat-Moslem federation exists elsewhere than on paper; the “soft” parts of the Dayton agreement will be implemented in reality. As long as the whole multi-party conflict may re-erupt with an unpredictable who-against-whom, NATO cannot risk the great loss of prestige and raison d´etre if leaving and having to return quickly. We must expect its remaining for decades, ever more frustrated by its imprisonment and the lack of much progress (except in solemn proclamations) that would permit it to leave.

The developments in Bosnia-Herzegovina and elsewhere gradually undermined this apparent demonstration of the relevance of military might. Two events can be seen as attempts at fresh demonstrations. In the second half of 1998, the (theoretically independent) UN arms inspectors in Iraq were pressed to step up their demands to what was predictably unacceptable to Iraq. Yet if this aimed at legitimizing a new war, it failed in the Security Council, where France joined Russia and China. The U.S. and UK therefore started a new air war on their own, with no resulting concessions until now. The second case is Kosovo.

Kosovo – and then?

Finally, if my assumption is somewhat correct – i.e. that USA needs occasional wars to try to demonstrate the priority of military before economic power – it is then likely that the waning sense of success in Kosovo will soon call for a new war to refresh the demonstration within a couple of years.

With more than thirty armed conflicts in the world and several new ones starting every year, the great majority of them fought in ways that fall far short of observing humanitarian law, there will be many candidates for intervention to choose between. Several of them can be excluded however: those fought by U.S. allies or clients, or by governments with good air defence systems; those too distant to threaten the West with having to receive refugees; and the chaotic ones where air power is obviously irrelevant and an intervention must take the form of a land battle.

That seems to indicate that the future high risk zone includes parts of the Balkans, the Caucasus and the Middle East, but more specific guesses would be too uncertain.

Recommended literature

Baudrillard, Jean 1995. The Gulf War Did Not Take Place. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
Biermann, Wolfgang & Martin Vadset, eds. 1998: UN Peace-keeping in Trouble – Lessons Learned form Former Yugoslavia. Aldershot: Ashgate.
Buzan, Barry & Gerald Segal 1996. “The Rise of `Lite´ Powers: A Strategy for Postmodern States”, World Policy Journal, vol. 13, no.3.
Galtung, Johan 1987. United States Foreign Policy: As Manifest Theology. University of California: Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation Policy Paper No.4.
Gantzel, Klaus J. 1997. “War in the Post-World War II World: Some Empirical Trends and a Theoretical Approach”, in Turon, David, ed.: War and Ethnicity. Global Connections and Local Violence. San Marino: University of Rochester Press.
Goldmann, Kjell 1974. Tension and Détente in Bipolar Europe. Stockholm: Esselte Studium.
Huntington, Samuel 1996. The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Journal of Peace Research
Leavitt, Lloyd R. & Paul Bracken 1993. “Nuclear Proliferation: Neither Safe nor Stable”, in Wiberg, Håkan; Ib Damgaard Petersen & Paul Smoker, eds.: Inadvertent Nuclear War: Implications of the Changing Global Order. Oxford: Pergamon.
Møller, Bjørn 1999. “The Faces of War”, in Wiberg, Håkan & Christian P. Scherrer, eds.: Ethnicity and Intra-State Conflict: Types, Causes and Peace Strategies. Aldershot: Ashgate.
Richardson, Lewis F. 1960. Statistics of Deadly Quarrels. Chicago: Quadrangle Books.
Riker, William H. 1962. The Theory of Political Coalitions. New Haven & London: Yale University Press.
Rummel, Rudolph J. 1979. Understanding Conflict and War, vol. 4 (War, Power, Peace). London: Sage.
Sergounin, Alexander A. 1997. “In Search of National Identity: Foreign Policy Schools of Thought in Post-Communist Russia”, International Problems, vol. 44, no. 2-3.
Small, Melvin & J. David Singer 1982. Resort to Arms. International and Civil Wars, 1816-1980. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.
SIPRI Yearbook: Armaments, Disarmament and International Security. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Annual.
Sollenberg, Margareta & Peter Wallensteen 1997. “Major Armed Conflicts”, in SIPRI Yearbook 1997.
Sorokin, Pitirim A. 1937. Social and Cultural Dynamics, vol. III. New York: American Book Co.
Wallensteen, Peter 1973: Structure and War: On International Relations, 1920-1968. Stockholm: Rabén & Sjögren.
Wiberg, Håkan 1983. “Self-determination as an international issue”, in Lewis, Ioan M., ed.: Nationalism & Self Determination in the Horn of Africa. London: Ithaca Press.
Wright, Quincy 1942. A Study of War. Chicago: Chicago University Press.
Zinnes, Dina 1980. “Why War? Evidence on the Outbreak of International Conflict”, in Gurr, Ted R. (ed.), Handbook of Political Conflict: Theory and Research. New York: Free Press.


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