August 17, 2001

Balkans Pacification and Protecting an Oil Pipeline

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George W. Bush’s recent announcement that the United States is committed to stay in the Balkans comes as no surprise. Despite his rhetoric about helping the people there, it’s really about the transportation of massive oil resources from the Caspian Sea through the Balkans, and maintaining U.S. hegemony in the region.

Although NATO ostensibly bombed Yugoslavia for 78 days in the spring of 1999 to stop ethnic cleansing, the bombing was actually part of a strategy of containment, to keep the region safe for the Trans-Balkan oil pipeline that will run from the Black Sea port of Burgas to the Adriatic at Vlore, and pass through Bulgaria, Macedonia and Albania. The pipeline is slated to carry 750,000 barrels a day, worth about $600 million a month at current prices.

Cooperation of the Albanians with the pipeline project was likely contingent on the United States helping them wrest control of Kosovo from the Serbs. The United States seeks to contain Macedonia as well, supporting both sides in the conflagration there. Military Professional Resources International, a mercenary company on contract to the Pentagon, has trained both the Kosovo Liberation Army and the Macedonian army. MPRI also supplied and trained the Croatian army in 1994 and 1995 before the Croatians cleansed more than 100,000 Serbs from the Krajina region.

The bombing was not aimed at ethnic cleansing. It was part of U.S.-run NATO’s eastward expansion as a counterweight to Russia, which wants the Caspian oil pipeline to run through its territory. NATO, created during the Cold War to protect Western Europe from the Soviets, should have disbanded after the breakup of the Soviet Union.

But a 1992 draft of the Pentagon’s Defense Planning Guidance advocated continued U.S. leadership in NATO by “discouraging the advanced industrialized nations from challenging our leadership or even aspiring to a larger global or regional role.” Secretary of State Colin Powell recently said, if we decide to expand NATO, “we should not fear that Russia will object; we will do it because it is in our interest.”

Although Bush has tried to downplay the tension between the United States and Russia by warming up to Putin and looking “into his soul,” this is nothing more than posturing to reassure the countries of Europe that they shouldn’t fear Russia’s reaction were they to support Bush’s missile defense plan.

The United States has invested too much in the Balkans to pull out. After the NATO bombing campaign, the United States spent $36.6 million to build Camp Bondsteel in southern Kosovo, the scene of Bush’s recent tightly controlled four-hour visit. The largest American foreign military base constructed since Vietnam, Bondsteel was built by the Brown & Root Division of Halliburton, the world’s biggest oil services corporation, which was run by Richard Cheney before he was tapped for vice president.

America’s commitment to remain in the Balkans can be measured “in years,” according to a recent characterization of the White House’s position by The New York Times.

NATO’s bombs, never sanctioned by the United Nations, were not “humanitarian intervention.” Even the Marine Corps Gazette concluded after the bombing that the “resulting deaths of thousands of Serbian soldiers, civilians, and Kosovar Albanians and the displacement of hundreds of thousands more can hardly be viewed as a victory for humanitarianism.”

It is the purview of the United Nations, not the United States, to authorize humanitarian intervention. If the United States really wanted to provide humanitarian assistance to the people of Yugoslavia, it would encourage the International Monetary Fund to forgive $14 billion in loans from prior regimes, finance reparations to rebuild the infrastructure destroyed by its bombs, and remove the U.S. troops from the region.