Destroying Serbia in Order to Save It

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Whether or not recent diplomatic breakthroughs bring an end to NATO's air war against Yugoslavia, one thing is clear: President Clinton has insisted that the United States has "no quarrel with the Serbian people" and that NATO's bombs are directed only against "President Milosevic's ability to make war against the people of Kosovo." Similarly, NATO spokesman Jamie Shea assures the world that NATO's daily bombing raids "are not aimed against the Serbian people" but against Serbia's "ability to direct and prosecute its continuing campaign of aggression" in Kosovo.

Prof. Mladjan Dinkic, a free-market economist at the University ofBelgrade,sees things differently. Two and a half years ago he and hundreds ofthousands of Serbs boldly took to the streets of Belgrade to protest theMilosevic regime and demand justice and democratic reform.

Today, Dinkic is appalled by NATO's de facto war against Yugoslavia'seconomy: "NATO politicians keep repeating that the goal of the militaryaction is to punish Milosevic's so-called war machine and to prevent ahumanitarian crisis in Kosovo," Dinkic explains. But after 14,000 NATOsorties and 6,000 bombs, "many Yugoslav industrial facilities have beendestroyed, as well as a great deal of transportation, telecommunicationsandother infrastructure. . . . It does not take much reckoning to realize thatthe destruction of factories, bridges and other civilian installations hasbrought no damage, political or otherwise, to Mr. Milosevic, but only tothecitizens of Yugoslavia, whose president happens to be Mr. Milosevic."

According to Dinkic's figures, Yugoslavia's GDP for 1999 has already beenreduced by 25 percent, and it could be reduced by as much as 50 percent,depending on the duration of NATO's air war. That level of economic losswould be greater than that inflicted on Yugoslavia during World War II, andDinkic estimates that if the bombing were to stop today, it would takeYugoslavia 10 years to get back to where it was economically just twomonthsago.

Dinkic's appraisal of the economic devastation would not be challenged bythe chairman of NATO's military committee, Gen. Klaus Naumann. Naumannagrees that Yugoslavia's economy has already been set back by at least adecade and estimates that the alliance's air campaign could eventually turnback the clock half a century. Milosevic, insists Naumann, "may end upbeing the ruler of rubble." NATO is willing to reduce a country of 10million people to a heap of worthless debris if its leader doesn't complywith NATO's demands. Perhaps the general intends to replace theVietnam-eracontradiction, "We had to destroy the village in order to save it," with"Wehad to destroy the country in order to save it."

Dinkic also predicts that the destruction of industrial facilities inYugoslavia will leave many workers with nothing to do and that Yugoslavia'sexceptionally high prewar unemployment rate of 27 percent could soondouble.Moreover, he worries that with its industry destroyed and annual per capitaincome likely to fall below $1,000, Yugoslavia will not be able to sustaineven its current low level of health care and social services. If theaerial onslaught continues, Dinkic fears that Yugoslavia's civilianpopulation could be endangered by the secondary effects of a prolongedbombing campaign: shortages of food, fuel and medicines; poorly functioninghospitals and destruction of water, sewage and sanitation systems.

The U.S. Air Force commander in charge of the Kosovo campaign, Lt. Gen.Michael Short, wouldn't disagree with Dinkic's predictions. In fact, Shortrecently admitted that NATO is trying to do more than just hurt theYugoslavmilitary. It's trying to break the will of the Serbian people and makeordinary Serbs so miserable and fearful that they will force Milosevic topull out of Kosovo. NATO planners, the general explains, hope Serbs willreact to the economic devastation of their country in the following way:"Ifyou wake up in the morning and you have no power to your house and no gastoyour stove and the bridge you take to work is down and will be lying in theDanube for the next 20 years, I think you begin to ask, 'Hey, Slobo, what'sthis all about? How much more of this do we have to withstand?' And atsome point, you make the transition from applauding Serb machismo againstthe world to thinking what your country is going to look like if thiscontinues."

In other words, NATO is deliberately causing civilian suffering to createpolitical pressures inside Serbia. What President Clinton and NATOadvertise as an air war against Yugoslavia's military capabilities isreallya war of attrition against the Serbian people to get them to forceMilosevicto do what the West wants. Unfortunately, NATO is not only destroyingYugoslavia's economy but also creating another failed state in theBalkans -- thereby creating one more obstacle to regional stability.

Gary Dempsey

Gary Dempsey is a foreign policy analyst at the Cato Institute.