The Balkans – a European Vietnam?

Source: 24 Hours daily

Author: Professor Krum Krumov, Director of the Sofia University Center for Analyses

 

If we imagine the world as a chess board on which the great ones move their knights and pawns, we should remember that even the grand masters make mistakes.

Kosovo is on the chess board now – a small etude for the great powers. The latter think that the solution is a combination of two clever moves. And they do not notice the fatal geopolitical trap.

The world politicians of today stick to the school of the famous Zbignev Bzhezhinski, synthesized in his not less famous book “The Great Chess Board. The American Superiority and Its Geo-strategic Imperatives”.

And since several of Bzhezhinski’s schemes have proven true, the politicians probably do not see that one very important part has turned out to be wrong.

According to Bzhezhinski, obviously influenced by his Polish stock, Ukraine should have already been at enmity with Russia. In this case Russia would have been a secondary power, pushed to the border of Siberia.

One of the conclusions, perhaps, is that the Balkan conflicts will be localized. In fact, Bzhezhinski himself disregards this region.

Bzhezhinski’s mistake

What happened was just the opposite – the moment Ukraine separated, it started gravitating to Moscow, driven by economic and socio-psychological realities, which Mr Bzhezhinski underestimates. The tendency is not centrifugal but centripetal. Russia, Ukraine and Belarus are on the threshold of forming a political, economic and military union. Obviously, it cannot remain indifferent to the Balkan conflicts.

And if the West continues to overlook the fact that the tendency has gone wrong, this union could join Germany and France, resulting in a powerful Eurasian axis, which could change entirely the total world system. Such a change would be unexpected and unpleasant to the White House. The chess board of Bzhezhinski would turn upside down and the status quo established by Reagan, Thatcher, Miterrand and Gorbacev will collapse irretrievably.

The irony in the whole situation is that the Amercians themselves are about to put this process in motion. Fascinated by the schematic geopolitics, they are on the way to tread on the mine in Kosovo.

Kosovo itself is a typical historical fuse – there is a fundamental antagonism between two ethnic communities. The peculiar thing is that this territory is not a bomb in itself but a part of another, bigger bomb.

The two Europes

It is evident that contrary to the expectations of the West, the new world order finds it difficult to penetrate the Balkan peninsula. Whereas in West Europe the ethnic barriers fall and the state boundaries disappear, the Balkans produce new states, which establish new boundaries and accumulate fresh instances of enmity.

It seems that Europe enjoys a continental integrity only in the geographical sense. In the socio-political sense it is divided into two continents. Moreover, the West applies two different political approaches – it is bad to the bad ones and good to the good ones. And everyone knows where are the bad ones – here on this long-suffering peninsula. Or like the Bulgarians say, the carrot is there and the cudgel is here. The good cop is there, the bad one is here. While in the good Europe any re-tailoring of boundaries is impermissible, on the Balkans it is possible and even desirable.

The greatest world dramas began here, triggered by the principle of “the two Europes”. The latter also made Stalin appropriate the continent, which later led to the Iron Curtain and the Berlin Wall.

A characteristic feature of this division is that where “the bad Europe” is concerned the West permits political decisions, which it would not accept at home. Integration, single currency and tolerance are in fashion in the West. No one puts a bee in one’s own bonnet. Eastern Europe, however, still follows the so-called “divide-and-rule” principle. Maybe, this is a residue from the colonial thinking. What can be achieved through it, however?

The West continues to fight with the USSR

It seems that with the help of Kosovo, the West wants to free Serbia from the Russian influence. Now, when Russia is weak it should be deprived of its last strategic point on the Adriatic Sea. In this way it will be locked between the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea. The Russian nuclear-powered submarines will not find a quay in the Mediterranean Sea and the Sixth U.S. Fleet will become the sovereign ruler.

Russia itself wants to use Kosovo as a trap for the self-confident West. If NATO launches a military attack on Serbia or at least deploys its troops there without the consent of Belgrade, it will sink into a “bog” like the Vietnamese one.

Following the old schemes, both sides considerably exaggerate the possibility for success. What will be NATO’s gain if Russia is isolated from the Mediterranean Sea? It would have been strategic ten years ago. Now, however, it is only tactical and it is not worth the risks. Because Russia is no the USSR. It has been a long time since this country withdrew from the dominance of the world ocean by means of aircraft carriers and nuclear-powered submarines. Russia has already re-orientated its military doctrine to new and more realistic targets.

In the near future, its strategic military doctrine will be markedly defensive and dominated by the Earth-Space relation, which diminishes to a great extent the significance of the Adriatic point of support. Instead of the queen, the West gets a pawn. Is the loss of quality worth anything?

What will Russia gain if NATO attacks Serbia and occupies Kosovo? Indeed, if the West gets involved in a Balkan Vietnam, this could lead to the disintegration of the Alliance. On the one hand this could help Moscow set up a regional union and achieve its integration with part of Europe.

History does not need a midwife any more

On the other hand, if Kosovo becomes a second Vietnam it could develop into a large-scale European conflict or even a world one. Russia will surely be involved. And this will happen at the most inappropriate moment for her. The country has not been so poor and weak for 80 years.

It appears that the West and Russia are ready to stake more than they could win. Then why do they fail to see the trap?

Maybe the political talents are also passed on through generations. And the previous generation was very pronounced – Thatcher, Reagan, Kohl, Miterrand and Gorbacev. They were the midwives who delivered history of the new European order.

The successors, however, obviously do not see that history does not need midwifes any more. And they always dream of Caesarian operations.

According to the Western scheme, Yugoslavia should have broken up and its parts should have embraced an entirely pro-West orientation. The break up happened but Serbia turned out to be a hard nut to crack. It could not create a strong pro-West opposition, which would be able to take the power. The country remained in the left political space in a frail coalition with Cherna Gora. Those who know the Balkans well could not expect anything else.

However, Serbia disrupted the scheme. It must be punished in order to fall into line. At this point the scenario becomes dangerously naïve. Belgrade will be forced to give a broad autonomy to Kosovo and to accept the three-year stay of NATO troops on its territory. During this period, Kosovo will establish its own administration, conduct a referendum and declare independence. Most European countries will recognize the new state and the Serbs will not dare to attack it.

And what if the Kozlodui nuclear power plant explodes?

The screenplay writers are obviously great optimists. They find it more realistic to expect the familiar Balkan fire, which would make Bulgaria’s western neighbor a European Vietnam.

Probably in the 60s the presidents Kennedy and Johnson believed that the Vietnamese would become reconciled. Serbia is expected to do the same now. But the Serbs are disobedient and militant people, who are ready to take serious risks.

Nearly half a century ago, Hitler conquered the whole Europe. The French, the Belgians and the Czechs obeyed. But not the Serbs. They had a numerous partisan army and free territories.

In the case of Kosovo, the Serbs will treat every foreign soldier as an aggressor because they consider this province the cradle of the Serb spirit. This is the old Serbia, treasured in the hearts of all patriots. If NATO bombs Serbia and enters Kosovo by force, it should get ready for a partisan war.

What will happen to the governments of the United States and the other West countries when their young men start coming back home in coffins? Do they believe that they will remain in power?

Moreover, one act of NATO bombing could not destroy all Serb mobile missile complexes and war planes. It is logical to expect a counter strike directed to NATO troops as well as to one or another of the neighbors involved, namely Bulgaria and Macedonia.

A few bombs over Sofia and Skopje would not frighten Europe. But if the bombs hit the N-plant in Kozlodui (Bulgaria), a new European nightmare will begin.

In fact, the plant is the only hostage that the Serbs could take. The only real trump. It is naïve to think that they will not play it. Furthermore, Bulgaria is involved in the conflict without a specific binding contract with NATO.

The West, of course, hopes that Serbia will surrender and the bombs will be avoided. Past experience should at least raise certain doubts. Let us assume that at last Milosevic yields and NATO troops settle in Kosovo for three years. After three years another dispute will arise.

 

After three years – another conflict?

This period will allow Serbia to rest and muster strength for a new conflict. And Milosevic will lay down conditions as well. One of them will be the lifting of the embargo on Yugoslavia so that the Serb economy could achieve stabilization.

The next step will be a military intimacy with Russia. It is highly probable for Belgrade to join the union of Russia and Belarus. The Serb army will be equipped with Russian missiles SS-300. The Serbs in Bosnja and Kosovo will consolidate and will establish secret organizations for resistance.

Meanwhile, Belgrade will stabilize its international positions and will sign bilateral agreements with countries such as China, India and others.

After the lapse of the three-year period the troops of NATO will have to leave and Kosovo will become an autonomous province in Serbia. By no means an independent province, as the Kosovo Albanians want. If the military contract between Russia and Serbia becomes a fact and the latter has the missiles SS-300, which could reach the borders of five NATO states, the West would hardly insist on a referendum or on the sovereignty of Kosovo.

 

The Russian bear will wake up

In the meantime, the atmosphere in the whole out-of-NATO Eastern Europe will change. Russia, for example, at present reminds of the Weimar Germany. There are signs of a radical change in the feelings of the broad masses in favor of the leftist nationalistic forces. One serious cataclysm will be enough to harden the traditional authoritarian and nationalistic cement.

This could be the humiliation of the brotherly Slavic Serbia. We should not forget that the Russian nationalism is inspired by the Pan-Slavism and that Serbia itself has been closely related to Russia for 150 years.

If NATO bombs Serbia, President Yeltsin will immediately fall from power. The Russian society will consolidate under the national flag in a few days. The economy will be militarized and revived. The Russian bear will wake up from the lethargy hungry and aggressive.

 

 

This cataclysm will immediately speed up Ukraine’s re-integration in Russia and the West will face again the mighty East European super-power. As it is, at the moment 80 per cent of the Ukrainians want the restoration of the old union.

The same holds true for Slovakia but to a certain extent. Ignored by NATO and the EU, it could form a defensive alliance with Russia, its traditional brother, and thus become a strategic blade stuck in the heart of Europe. Then the West will realize that the integration of the Czech Republic and Poland in NATO is far from being a guarantee of its sound sleep.

 

Bulgaria will not get off

Now or after three years, the military conflict in Kosovo is highly probable. And it cannot but drag into a war Albania, Macedonia and Bulgaria not because any of them is willing to fight but because irreconcilable interests and claims will come out into the open.

The Albanians in Macedonia are waiting to see what will happen in Kosovo and decide whether to apply the same model or not. Bulgaria would not be happy if Macedonia breaks up into fragments or annexed to a Balkan country. At present, Bulgaria is equipping and training the Macedonian army.

In a word, the regional defensive union of Bulgaria and Macedonia is almost at hand. However, Bulgaria has its delicate regions as well. What would happen if the compact population of ethnic Turks along the south border of the country suddenly became inspired by the Kosovo example?

The answer is clear – a total war on the Balkans. Besides, the Bulgarian army is equipped with planes Igurovich - 29 and missiles SS-300, which could cause a lot of pain and suffering.

Only after the hot spot of the Kosovo crisis explodes, it will become clear how the other small players at the Balkan chessboard will group together. The cooperation with NATO makes Bulgaria, Macedonia and Turkey enemies of Greece. The friendship between Bulgaria and Turkey is cemented by the enmity between Ankara and Athens, but it could be blown up by the Turkish minority in the country. One more piece was needed to complete the puzzle.

The missing piece was Ocalan

All elements should fall in place so that the quantity will be transformed into quality. For example, the Berlin Wall would have hardly fallen in 1989 if Gorbacev had not become a secretary general, if the USSR had not sunk in the Afghanistan bog, if the nuclear catastrophe in Chernobil had not taken place as well as the technological blockade of the socialist block and the Star Wars program of Reagan.

The Balkan puzzle needed a real hot potato. And what ensued was the arrest of the Kurdish leader Ocalan.

All of a sudden, the Kurdish problem exploded. And it happened just now, when a very risky military operation is coming into view from the western part of the Balkans.

Ocalan’s capture itself is a strategic mistake of Turkey, unless the country deliberately fans up its conflict with Greece and the Kurdish guerilla action. What could be the gain? If Ocalan is hanged, he will become something more than Levski (a Bulgarian national hero connected with the liberation from Turkish yoke) for the Kurds. His spirit will inspire and mobilize them for an uprising.

If reprieved, however, he will become a Nelson Mandela or a Georgi Dimitrov, the moral victor in the Leipzig trial. Not to mention the feelings in Turkey itself, which balances on the verge of fundamentalism.

Whatever the outcome, the Kosovo model will be before the eyes of the Kurds and Europe. If Kosovo becomes semi-autonomous, the struggle of the Kurds will enter a new and more effective stage. What will Turkey do? There is no alternative but a war with Greece and genocide in the Kurdish territories.

 

Turkey will remove the last obstacle

If something stands in the way of Turkey, it is Greece. The former cannot become a member of the EU because of the latter. Neither can it heal the Cyprus wound or solve its problems in the east. The worst thing is that Turkey is already in NATO.

The only solution is the following: Greece alone should give up its membership. The scenario is plain: Ocalan starts speaking; as a result Turkey declares Greece a terrorist country, which interferes in its internal affairs. At that moment NATO attacks Serbia, the Kurds make a riot again and Turkey crushes them by a total military operation. Following the example of Israel, it starts bombing the Kurdish military bases abroad i. e. in Greece. And why not all Greek military sites?

The United States distance themselves. Europe will be outraged. But no one will expel Turkey from NATO – it has a strategic significance.

Then Athens will drop its membership in the Alliance. Probably, this variant is acceptable to the USA since after 1989 Greece is no longer the last barrier in front of communism but a rather inconvenient ally.

That is how the small and at first sight negligible Kosovo will serve as a catalyst for sweeping changes at a distance of thousands of kilometers. Within weeks the world will set up the chessboard anew. And the Western strategists will be quite surprised by the consequences that they themselves have brought about.

What exactly will be the new arrangement?

So, the West is expected to perform a radical surgical operation in Kosovo, which will ease all contradictions accumulated over the last decades in this tightly packed region.

Do we notice, however, that the world does not have the guarantees of yesterday? The nuclear check is left without its structural basis, namely the rule of the two super powers. The most important European taboo is being discarded now - the sovereignty of the national frontiers.

Instead of hoping to see a limited conflict, the good player should try to imagine how the fight between the countries will get out of control and how every participant will decide to realize its national ambitions at the expense of its neighbors. This process could be named “a continuum of destruction” or “a geo-political collapse”. The starting mechanism can be a NATO attack on Serbia. Then the collapse will unfold as follows:

    1. Serbia launches a counterstrike against Bulgaria and Macedonia. One of the targets is the Kozlodui nuclear power plant.
    2. The Kurds accept the model of Kosovo. Enraged by Ocalan’s trial, they rise in revolt and declare Turkey a zone of permanent war.
    3. Turkey bombs “Kurdish bases” in Greece. The two member-states of NATO start a military conflict.
    4. Yeltsin falls from power and is replaced by a left-oriented nationalistic organization and a new Homeland Father. The militarization of Russia begins.
    5. Civil wars in Bosnja and Macedonia.
    6. The compact ethnic communities in Europe also want the model of Kosovo. This creates tension between most of the countries and destroys the European integration.
    7. The Muslim minority in Bulgaria wants a change in the borders of the country. A total Balkan war breaks out.
    8. The left nationalists come into power in Bulgaria and Romania and abolish all previous democratic gains. The two countries are on the threshold of civil wars.
    9. A great disappointment in West European societies. The governments in Great Britain, Germany, France and Italy fall. Extremely conservative right-wing politicians assume power.

 

Unbelievable? When a conflict gets out of control one should expect precisely the unbelievable. As far as logical grounds exist.

Many of the listed events might not take place at all. Yet, even darker scenarios are possible, which have to do with nuclear weapons.

For example, Russia could use a total Balkan war for liberating Bulgaria again. In that case the conflict could spread all over the world.

After the geopolitical collapse the countries will regroup into new military alliances, in search of new borders. The result will be a new map of the world. The probable stages are listed below:

    1. Kosovo is granted semi-autonomy.
    2. Serbia joins the union of Russia and Belarus.
    3. Greece leaves NATO.
    4. New autonomies and changes within the frontiers of several Balkan and European states.
    5. France, Spain and the Czech Republic leave NATO. The Alliance breaks up.
    6. A new European military and political union is established. The key figures are Germany, France, Russia, Ukraine and Belarus.
    7. The new union signs treaties with China and India.
    8. An attempt to change the status quo in Indo-China.

An attempt to change the status quo in the Near East and the Persian Gulf.

The end of Pax Americana

These events and processes can unfold during a period of 20 or 30 years. There will be no winners in the end but only losers.

The worst losers will be the Balkan peoples. Europe will be seriously harmed as well. The United States will lose their position of an absolute world leader, especially if they get involved in a local conflict.

The age of Pax Americana, when the world peace was looked after by the White House, will come to an end.

In a more distant future the breaking of the unipolar model will pave the way for the dominance of Russia, China and India.

All countries, however, will lose a new world, in which the frontiers and autonomies will have no significance any more. If this world is given the chance, the local conflicts like the one in Kosovo will become senseless soon afterwards. Just like Europe forgot the wars over Elsass-Lothringen (Alsace-Lorraine).

In another system of coordinates, the world will start integrating and the national ambitions will die out. Internet, the modern communications, customs unions, common currencies and legislation will quickly make borders pointless.

This process could be reversed by the old notions, the old geopolitical structures and “divide-and-rule” methods.

 

The egoism of the old schemes

It is high time that the West abandoned the scheme according to which Europe ends with Prague and Warsaw. It ought to accept the absurd fact that China, for example, is almost a European country. The Berlin Wall fell, Europe made a peaceful annexation in the east and the Balkan Peninsula suddenly found itself at the center of the world. This is the converging point of the interests of the USA, Europe, Russia, Ukraine, Turkey and about the whole of the Near East. The Balkans are not Iraq. Exactly here the West should not do anything, which it would not do at home.

Unfortunately, the great world players still tolerate informal behavior on the peninsula. Here and there a bomb is dropped, here and there a border is shifted. Until the punishment of “the bad Europe” the does away with the world integration.

We see the Old Europe becoming more and more hardened in its egoism, erecting more and more walls. The United States, enthusiastic due to their victory in the Cold War and total supremacy, forget again the limits of power.

The old schemes motivate “the small players” in the Balkans as well. The Albanians consider themselves the oldest nation in Europe and because of that all others are indebted to them. The Serbs live with the ghost of Great Yugoslavia. The Turks are still seen approaching Vienna. The Greeks live with the empire of Alexander the Macedonian (who was not considered a Greek by their antecedents) and we, the Bulgarians are the greatest, the most cultured and the most wronged nation. If there had been at least a bit of justice in this world, Bulgaria would have bordered with France.

Since we live with the past, it will return. This time, however, it will be more sinister due to the technologies, the integration and the globalization.

A Marshal Plan for the Balkans

In conclusion, it could be said that if the world players do not alter their approach, if they do not change the old structures which stifle the new processes, and if they do not exercise control over the latter, these very processes will cause a third European nightmare, which will remind of the frightful “Armagedon”. Indeed, all this sounds absurd but it fits the mad 20th century.

If the West wants to restore the Balkans to “the good Europe”, there is only one tested method. Half a century ago, the USA destroyed the long enmity on the Old Continent through the Marshal Plan. At that time the plan was offered to Eastern Europe as well but Stalin would not allow the new provinces to slip through his fingers.

It is high time that this plan be dusted. Since it succeeded in reconciling France and Germany why couldn’t it help us?

 

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