Morality, don't make me laugh

20 April 1999

John Pilger sees only one Balkan winner: the arms trade.

'The struggle of people against power,' wrote Milan Kundera, 'is the struggle of memory against forgetting.' The idea that the Nato bombing has to do with 'moral purpose' (Blair) and 'principles of humanity we hold sacred' (Clinton) insults both memory and intelligence. The American attack on Yugoslavia began more than a decade ago when the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund set about destroying the multi-ethnic federation with lethal doses of debt, 'market reforms' and imposed poverty.

Millions of jobs were eliminated; in 1989 alone, 600,000 workers, almost a quarter of the workforce, were sacked without severance pay. But the most critical 'reform' was the ending of economic support to the six constituent republics and their recolonisation by Western capital. Germany led the way, supporting the breakaway of Croatia, its new economic colony, with the European Community giving silent approval. The torch of fratricide had been lit and the rise of an opportunist like Milosevic was inevitable.

In spite of his part in the blood-Ietting of Bosnia, Milosevic, the 'reformer', became a favourite among senior figures in the US State Department. And in return for his co-operation in the American partition of Bosnia at Dayton in 1995, he was assured that the troublesome province of Kosovo was his to keep. 'President Milosevic,' said Richard Holbrooke, the US envoy, 'is a man we can do business with, a man who recognises the realities of life in former Yugoslavia.' The Kosovo Liberation Army was dismissed by Secretary of State Madeleine Albright as 'no more than terrorists'. Last October, the Americans drafted a 'peace plan' for Kosovo that that was pro-Serbia, giving the Kosovans far less autonomy and freedom than they had under the old Yugoslav federation.

But this deal included, crucially for the Americans, a Nato military presence. When Milosevic objected to having foreign troops on his soil, he was swiftly transformed, like Saddam Hussein, from client to demon. He was now seen as a threat to Washington's post-cold war strategy for the Balkans and eastern Europe. With Nato replacing the United Nations as an instrument of American global control, its 'Membership Action Plan' includes linking Albania, Macedonia, Romania, Slovenia and Slovakia. Like Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic before them, these impoverished countries will be required to take part in a ?22 billion weapons' buildup. The beneficiaries will be the world's dominant arms industries of the US and Britain - the contract for fighter aircraft alone is worth pounds 10 biIIion.

Like the 1991 'moral crusade' in the Gulf, which slaughtered more than 200,000 people, including the very minorities the West claimed to be protecting, the terror bombing of Serbia and Kosovo provides a valuable laboratory for the Anglo-American arms business. Mostly unreported, the Americans are using a refined version of the depleted uranium missile they tested in southern Iraq, where leukaemia among children and birth deformities have risen to match the levels after Hiroshima. The RAF is using the BL755 'multi-purpose' cluster bomb, which is not really a bomb at all but an air-dropped land-mine: readers will recall the Blair government's 'ban' on land-mines. Dropped from the air, the BL755 explodes into dozens of little mines, shaped liked spiders. These are scattered over a wide area and kill and maim people who step on them, children especially.

Britain's new military-industrial-arms trade, which Margaret Thatcher built and the taxpayer subsidises through 'soft loans' to dictatorships, is central to the 'Blair project'. Each time New Labour has sought to bring big business into the fold, arms companies or their representatives have been at the head of the queue. A New Labour backer is Raytheon, manufacturer of the Patriot missile and currently under contract to the Ministry of Defence to build tanks. More arms contracts have been approved by the Blair government than by the Tories; and two-thirds of arms exports go to regimes with appalling human rights records - such as the dictatorship in Jakarta, which is currently deploying death squads in East Timor.

Indeed, it is no exaggeration to say that British-supplied small arms have caused in East Timor the equivalent of the Dunblane massacre many times over. Last year, the Defence Secretary, George Robertson, intervened in a Courtaulds Aerospace deal for armoured vehicles, headed for Indonesia's Kopassus special forces whose commander, General Prabowo, he described (in a letter to Robin Cook) as 'an enlightened officer, keen [on] human rights'. Kopassus is the Waffen SS-style force that spearheaded the invasion of East Timor, murdered five journalists and is responsible for the worst atrocities in the illegally occupied territory. When Prabowo's father-in-law, the tyrant Suharto, was toppled from his throne last year, the general was also sacked.

The parallels with Kosovo and East Timor are striking. However, no bombs will fall on Jakarta. They might hit the local offices of British Aerospace (supplier of machine guns and Hawk fighter bombers) and the Defence Export Sales Organisation, the Blair government's official merchants of death who, as Thatcher used to say, 'are batting for Britain'.

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The John Pilger archive is held at the British Library