Beyond Assets and Liabilities Ruthless Criticism

Did the Kosovo war “pay off”? Notes on the relationship of economics and imperialist aggression

Beyond Assets and Liabilities

[Translation of article by Peter Decker in Konkret, August 1999]

If critics declare that the reason for and goal of a war is an economic advantage, then they deny the war’s morality and reject the war’s loftier motives. Their objection is that the war is for money and the economic interests of those in charge of killing and death: “no blood for oil!” As a criticism of a war, they publicly name its private beneficiaries. The armaments industry, which earns money from government orders, is for them its clients’ client. Wherever the weapons of the west strike, they always discover undiscovered sources of oil, rare raw materials, indispensable trade routes or ideal pipelines routes. The more difficult such an exposé – and in the case of the poorhouse in the Balkans it is very difficult – the bolder the construct. But this does no harm: the persuasiveness of their criticism does not depend on proof, but on the beauty of their moral message. They proclaim the war’s dishonor: the government declares that it fights for the highest human principles and the values of the community, but it sends the young into the line of fire only for the wealth of the rich. This criticism does not deal with the criteria for a responsible national war, but uses it with a critical intention against the war. It recites the economic advantages the war pursues, and thereby can only disgrace it, because war is a fundamental mission of self-assertion by the nation in which petty profit and loss accounts have no place.

If the critics allude critically to the fact that war actually involves a higher form of state competition in which the question of money does not play a role, then they should stick to it in their explanation of the war goals. If they want to reject the lie of the unselfish humanitarian use of weapons and denounce their state’s interest in the subjection of another state, then it will not do to point to a (not at all existing) enrichment through war. The materialism of the belligerent state has yet to be clarified.

1. Capitalism and imperialism

The question about a special economic reason and goal for this war is incorrect; there is probably no such reason, although there actually is an economic reason for the imperialism of capitalistic states. They have established an economy that constantly expands and must expand. The political power opens the use of markets, raw materials and workers beyond its own national borders for its capitalists. Of course, the government makes sure that its service for the growth needs of exporting and importing capitalists benefits itself and the national wealth as a whole: transnational business must promote domestic growth, and its balances must not undermine national solvency in relation to the foreign country. Both are not a matter of course. Because only one of the two governments involved can always have a positive balance of trade, payments and capital. When capitalists chase profits over their borders – buying, selling and investing – they make at the same time decisions about the one-sided enrichment or impoverishment of states. States do not bend easily to the judgment of the markets; they demand their enrichment from international trade at the expense of other nations and do not allow themselves to lose economic power from the results of the international competition of the capitalists.

Therefore, a state determines permissions and prohibitions, tariffs and investment conditions on external business so that it is protected from one-sided national success. With its political specifications, a state meets the foreign state power (today they are capitalist everywhere) which on its side approves or forbids all economic activity in its sphere of influence, calculating according to whether its economic power is thereby promoted or damaged. In the intergovernmental agreements that partner states mutually approve for their businessmen, a conflict is negotiated – between sovereign subjects. When it searches for its advantage, the political sovereign does not have to remain, like its private subjects, under higher laws; it makes its own laws and subordinates itself to nothing higher than its own egoism. The decision between antagonistic national legal claims is a question of force – by no means only when states seize their weapons. Peaceful diplomatic interaction is only mutual extortion: each partner makes clear to the other that it cannot afford to reject its demands; everyone threatens consequences for their entire mutual relations in the event of such a rejection and, if need be, openly reminds the dear partner of the military power that it has, thus the rights and privileges it has to respect. Peace between capitalistic nations prevails if, and as long as, they recognize each other as the powers they are. Deterioration of relations up to the level of war lines up if one partner comes to the conclusion that the other one is not willing to recognize the extortionate power and legal claims which it attributes to itself from its position in the rank of powers – when the force, which a state is, must be newly proved.

National economic interests are the stuff of intergovernmental quarrels; their argument and decisive means is violence. Because the enforcement of every question depends on it, the fight for the rank of highest power becomes an independent, real competition between nations. They always work to change the balance of power on the globe and struggle in principle for respect for their status: Which state may do what? Which can make different rules? Which can issue dictates? Hostilities are roused by refusals of respect, weapons ambitions by the opposite side, or one’s own arrogation of status advancement. A retranslation of the power competition of states into an object of economic disputes is impossible – but also not needed, because the materialism of national advantage belongs perfectly in the harping about principles of sovereignty: All conditions of use can be regulated if power and subordination between states is clarified. This applies even to conflicts and wars which have their starting point in an economic quarrel. If a state attempts to break an opposing state’s will and destroy the basis and means of its power, then the conflict is much more fundamental than the advantage to be obtained or lost from a market regulation. In economic matters, the hostile powers have only discovered where their relationship was unhealthy: the neighbor violates its rights and ignores its ability to extort; therefore, it becomes fundamental. The peace treaty, which war brings about sooner or later, formulates the new basis on which the government authorities are willing to respect each other again, and sets the subordination and prerogatives whose rightness the weapons have proved. The tasks that are demanded of the war loser – disarmament, evacuation of territory, reparations or industrial disassembly – are the insurance and the lever for its lasting subordination under the victor, but not itself the purpose of the war.

2. The Balkans war – a fight for supremacy and regional hegemony

The ten years of continuous destruction of Yugoslavia, up to the point of direct war by NATO against the remnants of this state – once the most important in South East Europe – offers from the beginning no occasion for mistakes regarding an “economic background” for the western intervention. The former Yugoslavia was long oriented economically toward the European Union and ready to accept its terms for the hinterland of Western European capital; for a long time it functioned as a transit country for European Union traffic to the Greek partner; as a cheap vacation country for wage-earning European Union citizens, as a supplier for the auto and electrical industries and others as well. Yugoslavia never rejected any capitalist use by the western economic powers; rather, it had already requested investments and a far greater inclusion into the Western European integration. The enmity, at first against the Yugoslav central power, later the remaining Serbia, took its starting point directly from the uppermost floors of the sovereignty question, without which limited conflicts of interests would never have become important.

It was the luck of Tito’s state that its world-political self-sufficiency after the end of the Eastern Bloc and its internal structure – a multinational state – came into crisis at the same time that Germany and Europe decided to harvest the fruits of their victory in the cold war and to enforce an upgrading of their own status. First, reunified Germany used the nationalist discontent in some republics to claim a role for itself similar to the one the USA exercises in its Central and South American backyard: the role of the superpower in whose sphere of influence the wills of other sovereign states count for nothing. Germany conquered this right by merciless demands: without being asked, Bonn decided that Slovenes and Croats are not Yugoslav separatists but their own peoples who are entitled to the right to their own state. It promoted the illegal (from the Yugoslav point of view) establishment of states by diplomatic recognition and thus announced its claim to decide points of internal contention in Yugoslavia. To question what the Bonn Minister of Foreign Affairs Genscher intended is not an option: to take nothing other than this role and to give Germany an imperialist status of equal standing with the victorious powers of the Second World War.

The European Union partners registered this attack on their traditional privileges in relation to the “economic giant” and rejected German intervention in Yugoslavia. Of course, not in principle, but in such a way that it was to be made the common cause of all European imperialists. Not Germany, but the European Union as a whole claimed the right to rule over the existence or non-existence of other states in Europe. Besides, they did not have to stop Germany for an intented solo effort, because to Germany it was also about nothing other than German leadership in the development of the European economic alliance into an imperialistic powerhouse. The Yugoslavia wars mark the beginnings of the “Common European Foreign and Security Policy.”

It was even more bad luck for the Yugoslav state that the preeminent European powers only had to agree on a perception of their united supervision and goals. They did not interfere in the Balkans because they wanted to reach something specific there, but to develop ideas on organization because they wanted to intervene at all costs and be in charge. The supervising powers not only did not have economic goals, they also had no specific strategic-political goals. And if one party somehow had its national influence in mind, then the need to agree guaranteed the European Union partners that such things would not come about: the subjection of the backyard of the European Union had to be a subjection under very abstract, supranational principles – and how these principles would fit these conditions, one only had to see on whom they were imposed. Germany wanted the splitting off of Slovenia and Croatia; England and France wanted, in the beginning, to retain Yugoslavia. They united over the requirement that the parties to the Yugoslav conflict had to obey. On the one hand, the right to self-determination of peoples should apply; the rank of peoples applied to the nationalities that constituted Yugoslavia – thus the right was given to the principle of nationalistic re-assortment. On the other hand, new states were allowed to develop only within the old Yugoslav republic’s internal borders – thus re-sorting state populations according to ethnic principles was directly forbidden.

Serbia was by no means the common enemy of Europe from the outset. However, it necessarily grew into this role because it was the center at whose expense the European-supervised dismantling of the Yugoslav state took place, and because it was the main inheritor of the traditional instruments of power, with which it opposed the ever further dissolution of the Federal Republic. If the Yugoslav army withdrew ever more from other parts of Yugoslavia, the remaining independent part became ever more Serbian and anti-western as a result of the European intervention, to save its state cause. The only state in the Balkans that did not originate from the blessing of the European Union and still calculated according to its own rights in relation to the dictates of the imperialistic supreme power became an obstacle to the EU’s competence in the region. Therefore it was not about nothing more than the retreat of the Yugoslav army from the other separatist republics. In the Kosovo war, it was a matter of destroying Serbian power and the economic basis of its independence in order to destroy the Serbian capacity for war.

3. The economics of the Kosovo war

consists first of the fact that money plays no role and also must not play one; war is not business, it does not earn money but destroys huge amounts of capitalistic wealth. There it checks into (as the fascists would say) the “crematorium” of capitalism. The opponents no longer want to earn money, they do not seek relative advantages in gains and winnings; rather it becomes a matter of principle: either one’s own will takes effect or the other’s. In order to break the foreign state’s will, its instruments of power – human and material – are destroyed as effectively as possible.

The transition to enmity between states destroys business and ruins the profit opportunities of the capitalists engaged in mutual trade or who have invested in the country now declared to be an enemy – for example, the Yugoslav Telekom was bombed and belonged to Telecom Italia. Oil and technology exporters find that their businesses, as of yesterday legal with Yugoslavia, are now illegal because of the ally’s embargo.

Every military-technological achievement is then used in the bombardment. The expenditure is calculated, first of all, by how much means of war a NATO country can apply and contribute to the destruction of as many of the enemy’s weapons, infrastructure, factories, and people as possible; secondly, it is measured by how intensively and how long the bombing must last until the enemy waves the white flag. Afterwards, the billions are added up: the stationing of soldiers, the operation of bombers, the replacement of lost equipment and ammunition fired – all this costs money. Even if costs do not play a role, money must be raised and paid.

After the victory, the Serbian industrial nation is set back for decades. Use of the country as a trading partner and as an investment site for foreign capital lies far in the future; it is also no longer suitable as a cheap wage country and “extended work bench.” In Kosovo, half of the buildings were destroyed, and there was not much of an economy even before the war. The neighboring states, which were given short shrift as deployment zones before the collapse, and the periphery of Southeast European states (Bulgaria, Romania) have to register a catastrophic collapse in the already meager level of regional business.

There is nothing in the entire region for European capitalism – on the contrary. With their own people and their own means, the victors themselves must restore state order and living conditions so that the destroyed Balkans, for which they have taken responsibility, becomes halfway “stable.” For an estimated 20 years an occupation regime will have to force a multi-ethnic peace on the hostile groups of peoples in Kosovo which do not want it. That costs. The same applies to the reconstruction of the destroyed houses and a minimal infrastructure. The talk is already of a “Marshall Plan” for the destroyed region. If nothing about the historic parallel is correct and the victims of the war cannot expect benefits, one thing nevertheless remains: their supervision over the Balkans costs the EU states a certain amount of money, without their own spokesmen promising themselves a “blossoming of capitalist landscapes” and an increase in European growth from it. The imperialistic adventure of the European Union costs tax funds and at the same time damages the source of taxes: business and growth in Europe. Minister of Finance Eichel really knows why he denies that taxes must be increased and pensions lowered because of the Kosovo war.

It is the opposite of those who believe in searching for an “economic background” to the Kosovo war: the recklessness with which states which dedicate themselves to the growth of capital put business in the service of war and damage it is the nicest proof of how much violence the peace of profit-making is based on.