TFF logoFORUMS Meeting Point

Western militarism and democratic
control of armed forces*



Dr. Jan Oberg, TFF director


"From one point of view the modern militarist Western society furthers democratic control; it has become easier since there is more contact, co-operation, trust and more common values between those in uniform and those in three-piece suits. From another angle, war has - in contrast to what is often stated - become much more acceptable precisely because of the integration, the civilianisation-cum-militarisation of the two spheres of society. And it goes without saying that when democracies fight wars and make interventions they know how to legitimate it with reference to highly civilised norms such as peace, human rights, minority protection, democracy or freedom - and they do it as a sacrifice, not out of fear. In contrast, "the others" start wars for lower motives such as money, territory, power, drugs, personal gain, because they have less education, less civil society, less democracy and are intolerant, lack humanity or are downright evil."



The need for discussing democratic control of armed forces

The concept of armed forces

The blurring of civil-military relations

Towards an understanding of post-Cold War, contemporary militarism

Militarism - and unchanged cultural phenomenon nonetheless:

1) The West itself is democratic.

2) The West has democratic control of its armed forces (in a broad sense).

3) The West knows best, and it knows how local parties ought to solve their conflicts.

4) The West has only the noble motive to promote peace. It is an impartial Third Party peace-maker or mediator, not a historical or contemporary party to a local conflict.

5) Thus, the West has a God-given right to intervene in other people's conflicts - and not be an object of intervention itself by anyone.



The needs for discussing democratic control of armed forces

One reason we talk about democratic control of armed forces and not about democratic control of, say, schools or hospitals may be that armed forces constitute a special category in social affairs. There are several reasons for that. They are related to the national and international interests of the state which in itself is traditionally defined as the actor that exercise the monopoly over the tools and methods of violence.

The armed forces are related to the institution of war and to warfare; but when war occurs, democratic decision-making is usually more or less suspended. Armed forces, whether state, para-military or otherwise non-state, are used to turn over governments in processes that negate democracy.

In short, there is a problem by nature since the armed forces are (also) part of society's arsenal of violence and destruction which, we would like to believe, are incompatible with democratic governance, with the very nature of the democratic ethos and operations. This uneasiness with armed forces can be dealt with, to a certain extent, by assuming or asserting that armed forces are there to not be used for which reason arguments in favour or balance of power, deterrence or , in the post-Cold War era, peace-keeping and/or peace-enforcement.

Another reason for the mentioned unease or perceived incompatibility between democracy and armed forced is, of course, that the classical military organisation is perceived as less than ideal from the viewpoint of democratic values. Generally, it is centralised and hierarchical with little opportunity for dialogue and consensus building and operating under very limited time constraint, i.e. permitting less dialogue. It is also much more male- than female. The relationship of armed forced to secrecy in military and security affairs, to intelligence and covert operations, to death squads, clandestine arms and ammunition exports, to human rights violations and other less noble realities of our world, make yet another argument for the fact that armed forces may constitute a problem inside the framework of the open society that operates according to standard definitions of democracy.

There are many other reasons for discussing the possibility of democratic control with armed forces around the world. If one accepts that there is such a thing as a military-industrial complex, MIC, (sometimes extended to include words such as bureaucratic, media, research) - a concept that has existed since President Eisenhower's farewell speech - it is difficult to deny that they can be a fundamental conflict between democratic society and such complexes as they tend to be 'societies within society' and virtually unaccountable.

Most democratic societies discuss the allocation to various sectors on the state budget, but that of national defence is seldom in focus. World military R&D is, by far, the largest single research effort; world military expenditures today equal the combined income of the 49 per cent poorest people on earth, i.e. almost half of humanity. The leader of the democratic world, the United States, consumes about 40 per cent of it all, having recently decided to increase its budget to mind-boggling 328 billion dollars for the year 2002.

Most people, when told, find such figures deplorable but find, also, that there is little they can do about changing them. Facts like these speak about wrong priorities from a humanitarian viewpoint, they speak of privileges and lack of globally democratic participation in resource allocation decision-making. They remind us of the gaps between the haves and have-nots.

In addition, the MIC operates according to principles that negate the market. Giant, world-wide operating corporations produce the systems needed by the armed forces. The state(s) is, normally, the only buyer of these products, forming what is sometimes called a monopsonistic market. Competition is minimal, surplus capital and resources from the civil economy are absorbed and, when wars are fought, materials objects destroyed. This combination of surplus capital absorption and material destruction that call for new investment serves a balancing, calibrating function in the modern, globalising market capitalism, not the least in what is usually called democratic societies.

Finally, there is the huge problem of nuclearism, term that covers a way of thinking, an ideology and - of course- the weapons and command structures as well as the strategies on which they are based. No country or government possessing them has offered its people a referendum about their existence or their use in defence of the domestic territory. The nuclear arsenals which in the eyes of some promise peace promise and to others threaten the destruction of humankind several times over are operated by less than 1000 politicians, technicians and high-level military world-wide. Nuclear weapons have been considered fundamentally at odds with the basic provisions of international law. In spite of all, they exist, they are developed further - and they are not a focal point in the debate of democratic societies.

In summary, irrespective of the constructive, peaceful or humanitarian or other roles armed forces may perform in democratic societies, there remains a problem given their very nature as based on violence (whether in use or not). They exist to be able to perform violent actions. The relationship of violence versus non-violence to democracy is curiously under-researched in political science as well as in social science. Their interaction with culture and norms - western and non-western - is likewise neglected; he dominant paradigm of the West seems, at least for a quick glance, to make such analyses less relevant or urgent.

The present author tends to deplore this state of affairs. If a society increasingly base its survival and development on the interaction between structural and direct violence (domestic and/or globally), the hypothesis can be advanced, and merits study, that democracy in a broad sense will consequently suffer. The opposite hypothesis also merits further study and discussion, namely that non-violence, or the minimisation of violence, will serve to increase democratic sentiments and governance.



The concept of armed forces

What is meant by that term today? If by "armed" we mean organised forces that operate by means of arms, i.e. violence, there is a quite broad spectrum. First, of course, there are conscript armies, but they are vanishing, giving way to professional, more elite-based, highly professional structures. Then there are popular liberation armies or movements fighting for collective purposes against what they perceive as an oppressor. There are mercenaries, people who fight for whatever cause as long as they are paid.

There are a variety of categories of para-military forces, more or less crime or mafia-related, and we have seen "warlords" operating their own small personal armies based on loyalty, a sort of post-modern banditry on the rise world-wide. There is a wealth of Special Forces which co-function more or less openly with regular armed forces and are instruments of the state.

Then there is terrorism; it may be defined as the use, and usually threatening the lives of, innocent people not party to the conflict at hand to achieve certain political goals. This definition covers the "private" terror or terrorist groups that often hit the media front pages; however, there is a considerably bigger - in terms of power and people killed - state-based terrorism which may hold thousands or millions of innocent people as hostage which less frequently hits those same front pages.

The sanctions against Iraq is a particularly cruel example and could also be seen a mass-destructive weapon. Likewise, the Kwangju massacre in South Korea in 1980 (endorsed by the U.S. State Department), the decade of sanctions hitting people all over the Balkans and NATO's (terror) bombing of civil targets in Yugoslavia would fall in the category of state terror in its consequences, irrespective of the humanitarian motives that allegedly legitimated them.

We also find private military companies (PMC) operating in combined training and advisory roles, engaged in logistics, military training, base operations, personal and other security services, Their clients may be government as well non-governmental forces and they are frequently the de facto result of "outsourcing" of operations from defence ministries in, say, the United Kingdom or the U.S.. In spite of being formally private and independent of governments, they are staffed by former military and intelligence officers and promote, one way or another, the national interests of their governments. Examples here are Vinnell Corporation, Military Professional Resources Incorporated (MPRI), DynCorp, Sandline International, Executive Outcomes, etc.

The extent to which this type of military corporate development is compatible with democratic control merits more debate, particularly since they are usually 'outsourced' - i.e. perform functions with which governments would rather not be associated in the public eye.

In summary, when we talk about 'the armed forces' there is a plethora of types, formations and functions. The armed forces of democratic states may be seen as more simple cases and thus more easy to control. However, they too can be 'tainted' with their more or less direct relations to and co-operations with less democratic varieties such as those mentioned above, if not in times of peace quite often in times of crisis and war.



The blurring of civil-military relations

There is a number of reasons why, over the last few decades, it has become increasingly difficult to distinguish between "the military" and the civilian spheres of society in modern Western democracies. Here are some of them, taken from various levels and spheres:

o The military increasingly takes up civilian functions from civilian institutions and operators, e.g. humanitarian catastrophes, humanitarian intervention, and civil peace-keeping. Add to that transport and general security including body guards and other protection measures and special forces in action when, say, heads of states meet.

o Democratic Western societies have increased the technical capacity to do surveillance of public space and bugging all types of communication (Echelon). This is often done for both industrial and military or police-related reasons. Democratic states like Norway have been revealed to collect information on, say, domestic peace researchers and activists not for spying in the service of other nations but for having politically incorrect views on matters of national defence, security and conflict-resolution. Trends like these combined with the routine registering of citizens in an average of 50-100 data bases point in the direction of control of the people and not by the people; in short, toward the authoritarian state.

o Technological sophistication is another factor. Earlier we armed men to make armies, now we man weapons systems and conduct wars over mind-boggling distances and swiftly. Complex technology systems require highly sophisticated expertise, civilian as well as military. The 'technological soldier' is more likely to wear a shirt and jeans than a green uniform.

o Much intelligence consist in gathering information from open sources about civilian affairs and psychologically important features (PSYOP), not only in knowing about the opponent's latest weapons systems or military plans.

o During the 20th century, the proportion of civilians killed in wars have increased dramatically, modern warfare aims at a series of civilian targets whether ethnic cleansing or NATO bombing from the height of 10 kilometres which is bound to increase the probability of civilian casualties.

o What is with a contemporary buzz word called civil society - another blurred term - can wage wars more easily. It costs only a few dollars nowadays to obtain a Kalashnikov and some radio transmitters; warlords spring up in war zones and intimidate other civilians in ethnic cleansing operations. All of it militates against the more gentleman-like moral code of conduct and concepts of honour of the classical, professional soldier.

o By consistently covering wars and violence, the media in general promote, whether intentional or not, military and other violence-related values and, so to speak, 'civilianise' them. This coincides with violence having become an indispensable and quite unchallenged ingredient in entertainment, particularly movies and television.

o During the last decade or so, we have also witnessed an overall weakening of leading, predominantly civilian, conflict-resolution organisations such as the United Nations and the Organisation of Security and Co-operation in Europe, OSCE. The fundamental purposes of the UN to "save succeeding generations from the scourge of war" (Preamble) to bring about peace "by peaceful means" and (Charter Article 1) have been systematically undermined by leading powers and, by many, considered "unrealistic." Simultaneously, NATO has emerged as the dominant peace-keeper (or, at least, conflict-management instrument) and the European Union (EU) is undergoing a rapid process of militarisation not the least in the wake of the handling of the Yugoslav-Kosovo/a conflict in spite of the fact that it was always know as a civilian institution.

o A generation of people born in the 1960s and 1970s - Greens, feminists, leftists and humanists as well as their NGOs - used to be committed to peace and non-violence and an alternative, just world order. With the end of the First Cold War (another could well be in the making) they have, at least in part, embraced the new liberal ideology part of which contains a wholehearted endorsement of conflict-resolution with violent means. Whatever else may be said about that development and why it has taken place in the 1990s, it tends to make the use of armed forces look rather more civil, even civilised, than less. It also, implicitly, convey a common understanding that there is a "we" who are civilised and try to prevent "others" who are a bit more primitive from fighting each other. It seems, simply, to be the Zeitgeist in which we live at the beginning of the 21st century.



Toward an understanding of post-Cold War, contemporary militarism

So, the armed forces simply look more civil than before and, in certain respects, society as such looks more militant. Once upon a time, social science textbooks would define militarism or militaristic values along the lines that the military sought to dominate every corner, the values and the "culture" and the ways people thought, thus preparing it mentally for war fighting. Some advanced the "garrison state" hypothesis while others saw a "1984" coming.

This is not what contemporary militarism is about; rather, it is precisely about the organically intertwined processes of the civilianisation of the military and the concomitant militarisation of civil society. This globalising and more "one-dimensional" society (Marcuse) may, precisely for that reason, have become increasingly difficult to decipher and, thus, move in the direction of genuine 'inner' peace and a just world order. And, indeed, the idea of abolishing weapons and wars - which could be perceived as one step towards higher levels of mankind's civilisation - seems pretty much neglected.

Being anti-military was never a useful attitude if for no other reason because it targeted the person in uniform rather than the overall system that had produced him. But anti-militarism could have that focus: against what was perceived as a dark corner, an authoritarian aberration or "deformity" built onto society. Take it away, the pacifist would say, and everything will be fine!

Being anti-military today has to mean a strong opposition to considerable parts of our Western civil society and codes which have, over time since 1945 and the advent of nuclearism, integrated the military in a increasingly civilian(ised) mode. Popularly speaking, the military and the rest of society could be clearly distinguished (and separated) in the past, while in contemporary society they are much more like Siamese twins: one can't be changed without changing the other.

So the armed forces have gained much more legitimacy in both their military and their (newer) civilian operations; the price was to become much more modern, integrated and professional, adopting Western values of democracy and development rather than remaining in the barracks with self-isolating authoritarian values of the classical officer. The soldier has increasingly become a citizen with a profession like anyone else. He - or she - is paid to do a job, highly educated, and devoid of the traditional norms such as patriotism, willingness to die for a cause, chivalry, honour and paternalism.

Seen in this perspective, it is complete folly to believe that militarism is incompatible with modernity. On the contrary, if both spheres so to speak adapt, it is as manifestly present; it is just much less visible, much more embedded in the structure of society. Which means much more difficult to do away with. The soldier no longer lives outside society at large, he or she swims like a fish in contemporary Western social formations, inside our democratic order and norms.

This kind of reasoning can help us explain why, in the general discourse, humanitarian intervention does not refer to, say, changes in the direction of a new economy or world order that would, by political means and human empathy, create a more just world where everybody would have their basic needs satisfied. It implies, instead, that military action is taken within the present order to protect people who find themselves and their human rights threatened provided they are also are interesting for one or the other reason to the interventionist. The principled altruistic war and wars fought for high principles whenever violated, is a myth. The defining criteria is and remains self-interest, state or corporate, or both. But the policies are not conducted by generals but, rather, by civilians in suits, academics and, as in the case of Clinton, Fischer, Solana, Cook, and other by former sceptics to the military in general and NATO in particular.

And thus, peace or peace-keeping means the extended, long-term and/or long-range deployment of forces to keep levels of violence lower than they would otherwise have been. It means to try to manage - but not solve - the conflicts. It seldom, if ever, means doing something about underlying root causes in all their nasty complexity or help create a peace that is defined by the parties themselves. Whatever the United States or NATO have done, whatever the EU will be doing, with military means will be legitimated by the stated commitment to peace. That is anyhow completely non-controversial as no journalist would ask somebody like Javier Solana what he means when he talks about peace.

Croatia, Bosnia's two - or rather three units - Kosovo, Serbia and Macedonia are examples of perpetuated peacelessness. While the West may have managed to reduce the direct violence to a certain extent (by introducing stronger means of violence and not by intellectual force) , it has not begun to address the structural violence which is a since qua non of its own global role and dominance, neither has it begun to address the cultural dimensions of its own conflict with the local conflict region in the past and the present.

In summary, from one point of view the modern militarist western society furthers democratic control; it has become easier since there is more contact, co-operation, trust and more common values between those in uniform and those in three-piece suits. From another angle, war has - in contrast to what is often stated - become much more acceptable precisely because of the integration, the civilianisation-cum-militarisation of the two spheres of society. And it goes without saying that when democracies fight wars and make interventions they know how to legitimate it with reference to highly civilised norms such as peace, human rights, minority protection, democracy or freedom - and they do it as a sacrifice, not out of fear. In contrast, "the others" start wars for lower motives such as money, territory, power, drugs, personal gain, because they have less education, less civil society, less democracy and are intolerant, lack humanity or are downright evil.



Militarism - an unchanged cultural phenomenon nonetheless

As this author sees it, there are at least five tacit assumptions underlying most of the West's conflict-management policies, particularly as they can be observed in the Balkans. They can be deduced from political statements, media coverage and the major part of the scholarly production. The intellectual's job should be to bring them to light and raise questions about them:

1) The West itself is democratic.

2) The West has democratic control of its armed forces (in a broad sense).

3) The West knows best, and it knows how local parties ought to solve their conflicts.

4) The West has only the noble motive to promote peace. It is an impartial Third Party peace-maker or mediator, not a historical or contemporary party to a local conflict.

5) Thus, the West has a God-given right to intervene in other people's conflicts - and not be an object of intervention itself by anyone.


This means that we are likely to see the West intervene in are either clearly non-western countries or countries that are closer to the West but needs disciplining and then rehabilitation to become truly western. They are also defined as non-democratic. They can only be democratised when treated by the western masters in democracy. Let's now deal a bit with each of these hypotheses.

(1) Western democracy, however, means civil rights, not economic ones. There is very little economic democracy, no elections held for economic institutions, be it the corporations or the World Bank, for instance. If the world is democratising, it is in the sense of more and more countries adopting the western democratic institutions such as elections in multiparty systems for parliaments. That these institutions in, say, former-Communist countries are fraught with the abuse of power, election rigging, authoritarian rule, mafia-connections etc. is indisputable but deferred to the category of "transition" problems, i.e. everything will eventually be fine. In the republics of former Yugoslav republics we now see a concentration of powers in the same hand which used to be on different hands: politics, media, military and economy.

In the West itself, the leading country now selects rather than elects its President (George W. Bush) and mass demonstrations and dissatisfaction is on the increase in western summit cities because citizens feel powerless vis-a-vis increasingly super-national decision-making in ever bigger units. There is a constant talk about a democratic deficit. Anyone acquainted with power games knows that the most important power is to set the agenda, not just discuss its various items.

Citizens in Europe increasingly voice the opinion that it does not meet the essence of democracy to be permitted now and then to vote 'yes' or 'no' to one issue formulated by the powers that be. They, quite correctly, see democracy as defined by common, participatory agenda setting, consensus building and dialogue and a process involving more than one as well as being built from the ground up. In short, they want choice and not just to vote. They want reversibility and not to be told that they must vote now and what they vote for, such a membership of this or that organisation, can't be changed once they have done it.

The era we live in is characterised by what it succeeded but not what it is: we call it the post-Cold War period. Be this as it may, two major trend-setters (and conversation pieces at scholarly conferences) are Fukujama's about the "end of ideology" and Huntington's about the "clash of civilisation." The first helped legitimise the reduction of pluralism and produce the prevailing sentiment that there is only one way to conceive of and do things: only one notion of human rights, of democracy, of peace-making, of economic development, and of organising the world, namely the dominant paradigm of the West. The other, whether intended or not, solidified a sense of western triumphalism over its major challenger throughout the 20th century as well as produced a (non-existent) civilisational threat against that very West. Instead of being descriptive, both curiously turn out to be prescriptive. (And anything but intellectually impressive products).


(2) When it comes to Western handling the last decade or so of other people's conflicts, the Balkans remain a towering example of fiasco, i.e. if the original noble intention were to help the 23 million people who wanted something else but Tito's Yugoslavia.

With regard to the theme of this analysis, it is becoming increasingly clear that the international 'community' - a term which should be used only about the UN but could be said in reality to stand for less than a dozen western leaders - has had not only democratic, transparent activities in the region.

There has been clandestine arms and ammunition exports to all sides in contravention of the UN Security Council resolution prohibiting such transfers to all ex-Yugoslav republics. The United States was complicit in the Croatian campaign to drive out the United Nations and more than 200.000 Serb civilian citizens from Croatia in 1995. This was done by an army that had received much of its equipment from Germany (former Eastern Germany) and training by the United States, including MPRI. The Washington-based firm Ruder Finn masterminded the propaganda efforts of local allies of the West; private companies have trained a series of militant actors. At present the above-mentioned MPRI is known to have trained KLA/UCK in Kosovo and thus also the NLA in Macedonia while also serving the Macedonian government. The German intelligence service BND initially supplied the hardline Kosovo-Albanians with equipment, later allegedly substituted by the US Central Intelligence Agency, CIA. According to German mass media (Hamburger Abendblatt and Das Erste) sophisticated equipment and 17 Americans were evacuated from Arachinovo in late June 2001 by NATO in Macedonia which, as it happens, has no mandate to assist any side in this conflict on Macedonian territory. Furthermore, it is a public secret that CIA infiltrated the OSCE KVM mission in Macedonia in autumn 1998 and that UN and other missions contained staff who were not always related to the official purposes of the democratic West in the Balkans.

Deception, misinformation and PSYOP have been a rather constant feature of western conflict-management-cum-warfare. During NATO's bombing a series of allegations were raised; one was that Belgrade was behind the killing of the 45 people found in a ditch in Racak. Later reports on that event have been classified. There was also constant talk of a Horseshoe Plan to exterminate all Albanians from Kosovo/a; evidence was never brought to the public eye. There was a plethora of figures of people detained, massacred or burnt, but documented cases so far make up a fraction. And there were the constant denials of NATO bombing mistakes and deliberate targeting of civilian facilities.

Later, millions of dollars were transferred from the West to various groups in Serbia and Montenegro to promote the overthrow of the authoritarian, but originally legally elected, regime of Slobodan Milosevic. Hardly any western democracy would accept foreign funds entering its election processes in this manner.

There is more, of course. This will do here to make the point: democracies would hardly always appreciate to have their 'Realpolitik' measured with the rod of the noble motives they profess to have. Indeed, they are sometimes completely incompatible with peace. One question that deserves honest scrutiny is this: to which extent is can it be said to be true that activities by democratic governments are actually the outcome of democratic decision-making or, if at all, the will of the people? To put it crudely: to which extent would citizens in western democracies endorse policies and activities like those mentioned above if they were properly informed about them and given a chance to discuss them? Would they see them as compatible with a democratic ethos and, if so, how and why?

But this pertains only to the direct dimension; there is also an indirect one: western democracies seek to promote democracy and convey democratic values in conflict zones. One reasonable question here is, what means can be selected and which should be avoided in the struggle to convince somebody to adopt our democratic values? In short, what can meaningfully be said, in the sphere of international (power) politics, about the classical means-end problem?


(3) Next, the West seems to know what is best for the locals. While it is truly good to help local conflicting parties to stop using violence and establish a cease fire, this in and of itself should not constitute a license to also force them to accept foreign-manufactured peace plans, constitutions, institutions, economic or financial policies. The process of creating sustainable peace requires completely different competence, education, training and a different organisation from that of producing a cease fire agreement. The "audiences" are also different; a cease-fire is usually agreed among a few top political and military leaders. By definition, peace, normalisation, new social, political and economic development, reconciliation and perhaps even forgiveness are deeply human, civilian and individual as well as collective processes. To be sustainable they require a dogged, long-term engagement by a multitude of parties and experts and not predominantly top-down but from the bottom-up. There is no quick-fix peace.

Most small group mediation and democratic legal processes are conducted by professionally trained experts, e.g. psychologists and lawyers. But it is a conspicuous fact that none of the main mediators and other conflict-managing diplomats who have been engaged in, say, the Balkans since 1990 have such professional training. They are not known to have as much as a one-week training course, let alone a background in academic peace and conflict-resolution, to back up their efforts. This does not imply that only professionally trained "experts" can succeed in mediation; one can also be a great artist without having a diploma from an art school. But it might help reduce the risk of failure.

As is well known from mediation in smaller groups, an agreement will not hold and nothing will work if the parties do not take active part in the process and experience ownership in the negotiated outcome. But simple knowledge like this is completely ignored in international conflict-management and the international "community's" practices. This is one reason why so-called peace plans such as Dayton for Bosnia-Hercegovina, Erdut for Eastern Slavonia in Croatia, UNSC Resolution 1244 for Kosovo/a and - recently the EU efforts to manage the conflict in Macedonia (as of end of June 2001) - have produced more peace processes than genuine peace.

Conflict-resolution and -transformation processes are dependent on the quality of causal analysis, of diagnosis, of the complex of conflicts underlying the violence. Conceptualisations which assumes that conflicts have basically two parties, that the conflict is located in one (the bad) and not in the structure, the relationship, the situation or the history, and that conflicts can be solved by only punishing the bad side and rewarding the good side, are simplifications. They are bound to lead to conflict-mismanagement and peace-prevention. Unfortunately they are typical for the self-appointed mediating and peace-making West. Combine that with western missionary zeal and the wish to spread western values, multiparty systems, market economy, and NATO expansion etc - and you have a fairly dangerous mixture.


(4) It can safely be assumed that sentiments and domain assumptions such as those of Fukujama and Huntington help permit the West to be seminally ignorant about the right to democratic decision-making in newly sovereign states. It pertains to all the countries in Eastern Europe.

Macedonia, for instance, suffered from western sanctions against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia to the point of economic collapse and mafia-isation. Then its air space was violated by NATO and its territory 'made available' to the Extraction Force. Then the UNPREDEP mission was forced to leave a week before NATO's bombing after a unique diplomatic charade involving a billion dollar promise and recognition of Taiwan. Then the country was converted into a combined refugee camp and military base. Since then it has become the object of western-trained and -supported Albanian extremist (NLA/ONA/UCK) activity out of KFOR- and UNMIK-governed Kosovo releasing de facto (low-intensity, so far) war in what was originally termed the the only'oasis of peace' in the Balkans.

And in June 2001 NATO's back-up forces in Macedonia helped 'evacuate' NLA fighters (including allegedly 17 U.S. citizens) from Arachinovo with their heavy, presumably U.S. and other western, equipment. Writing this in early July 2001, there is reason to believe that it is nothing but a prelude to NATO being deployed in the country.

Is if this was not enough, the country is clearly being told by western powers that it has no choice but to join NATO. Its government is also being told by the EU (Chris Patten) that its counter offensive (what must be seen as an attempt to defend its territory against foreign incursion predominantly from Kosovo) is unacceptable and EU financial support will be withdrawn since the "money should not be used for bombs." Following the domain paradigm of the West, the country, its intellectuals and government alike, do not see any alternatives whatsoever to NATO membership, EU membership and more or less shock-therapeutic marketisation of its economy. So, the Macedonian people might have elections and can vote, but they have no choice.

The one who believes in the fundamental goodness of the West and its professed noble motives to help others live in peace, will hardly look for motives beyond these. They probably prefer to consider the above "dirty tricks" as a necessary evil to attain good goals. My ten years as conflict-analyst on the ground in all parts of former Yugoslavia tells me that this approach deserves to be challenged, sooner rather than later.

It's a fundamental mistake to believe that there can be an isolated view upon or analysis of, say, Bosnia or Kosovo. What huge and powerful actors decide to do in small countries (including partitioning bigger ones into smaller ones) should invariably be seen within a larger, in this case regional and even global, framework. But the academic person who, since his or her student days, have been trained to specialise, focus and stick to one discipline is likely to miss that point. So too is the journalist equipped with the task of bringing home a good 'story' with an individual in focus whom we can sympathise with (victim) or hate collectively (the bad guys and war criminals). In short it is the task also of the intellectual to see the difference of what appears to be (legitimations and official motivations) and what is (the larger picture and Realpolitik interests).

The other fundamental mistake worth mentioning is that of distinguishing between an "us" in the West who come in with no particular interests, serve as impartial mediators and as what is often (mistakenly) called third parties, on the one hand and, on the other, a "them" who are local parties to a conflict and considered less civilised because they use weapons (often, by the way, given or sold to them by "us").

I know of no conflict at present in which one or more western countries have not had serious economic, political, strategic, resource or other interests and been historical 'present' in some kind of way. The Danish journalist Franz von Jessen has written that the Balkans is the exchange coins used by bigger powers in their transactions throughout history. He wrote that in 1913 and it makes a precise statement now almost 90 years later!

For sure the Balkan conflict-management by the West has been about noble aims, about a wish to stop killing, ethnic cleansing and support minorities in harms way. But it has also been about totally different objectives that demolish its presumed impartiality and fundamental altruism. Without going into details here, these objectives have headlines such as (numbers do not indicate importance):

1. The oil in the Caucasus and transport corridors North-South and East-West which will pass through the Balkans.

2. Transformation of NATO to become a 'peace'-keeper instead of the now marginalised UN and OSCE plus NATO expansion.

3. Containment of Russia once and for all.

4. Proliferation of market economies and institutionalisation of western financial institutions inside each of these economies.

5. An outcome of intra-EU conflict and peddling for influence, e.g. the spreading of the DM zone.

6. Rivalry about strategic and other interests and relative strength of the EU and the U.S.

7. The strategically essential triangle involving the Balkans, the Middle East and the Caucasus - in short the "Eurasian" dimension of the present and future world order.

8. The hegemony of the United States and the potential formation of a new Cold War structure pitting the West against China and other non-western, ascending powers.

9. The sophistication of modern military-industrial interests.

10. The relations, conflicts and mind-boggling complexities of the interplay of these nine factors.


(5) The final dimension, the God-given right to intervene. Unfortunately, top politicians in the US and Europe lack every willingness to listen. They do not learn lessons, they teach them. They have too little humility and too much missionary zeal. They see others as standing on the lower rungs of the civilisational ladder, themselves (on its top) as chosen to civilise the savages. Or to make others their disciples. It's the classical colonial mind-set: the noble white man's shouldering his burden while regretting that now and then he needs to use the sword to make them understand his altruism and fundamental goodness.

This whole structure is an integral part of western culture. We can't change it overnight, but we could be more aware of its influence. It seems to require the setting up of one set of rules for "them" and another for "us." Thus, no western country would accept to be an object of intervention by non-western troops, advisers, and diplomats. No western country would deliver a citizen to the Hague War Crimes Tribunal, but they require governments in the Balkans to do so. Since the Tribunal has no law enforcer except NATO, no representative or decision-maker in a NATO country can be indicted for what looks like war crimes committed during the alliance's bombing.

Or, how would we feel if four of the UN Security Council members were Muslim and one a Buddhist country? What if ASEAN countries or the OAU officially termed themselves 'the international community'? What if developing countries put up trade sanctions against the West, including raw materials, low-wage labour products, oil, etc and demanded to be compensated for what the West over centuries has extracted from them?

We are not proposing that this is how it should be. We are merely raising them as heuristic exercises to highlight the guidance we can find in Matt. 7:3 to security and conflict-resolution: be aware of the beam in your own eye, please!

Buddha expressed it differently: The only thing we need to kill is the will to kill; we might add the will to kill other people, other cultures and Nature. The West has been and remains the main killer globally in this sense. Someone has jokenly said that the Occident may turn out to be an Accident!

If we believe in the dynamism of the West, there is also hope that it does not have to be like that. Gandhi was once asked what he thought about western civilisation and answered with a smile that it would be a good idea. All it would take is Matt. 7:3 and a fundamental recognition of this plädoyer for pluralism and cultural nonviolence, formulated by Gandhi and nailed on the wall of his Sabarmati ashram in Ahmedabad:

"I do not want my house to be walled in on all sides and my windows to be stuffed. I want the cultures of all lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any."

What better recipe for global tolerance and local and global peace, for multi-culturally respectful conflict-management? What better guideline to a globalising world? What better philosophy to preserve pluralism and unity in diversity?

But, of course, if the West preaches that there is no alternative to itself , there are only alternatives.


Jan Oberg

July 4, 2001


*) Manuscript for the conference "Legal framing of democratic control of armed forces and the security sector: norms and realities, " Geneva, May 4-5, 2001-07-01. Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forced, DCAF.




© TFF & the author 2001  


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