The Rebirth of NATO/NATO Today> Dismembering Yugoslavia: Lies, Propaganda, & Deceit

The Myth of Humanitarian Intervention

[This article is the second of a series on NATO by WAMM and Antiwar Committee members, first presented at a forum on NATO on April 7, 2012.]

In November of 1999 a new important movement against globalization emerged with massive protests against World Trade Organization (WTO) in Seattle.  Disturbingly, only months before NATO had launched its first aggressive war by bombing Yugoslavia.  There was very little protest.  Anti-globalization activists, and frankly many on the left, didn’t grasp that the violent advance into southeast Europe was intimately related to the globalization process under protest in Seattle.

The current CANG8 call to rally and march on NATO and the G8 and their war and poverty agenda in Chicago on May 20 is an enormously important advance in bringing the antiwar and the economic justice movements together in a substantial way.

 The NATO bombing of the Serb areas of Bosnia in 1995 and Serbia and Kosovo in 1999 marked a turning point in expansion of US military hegemony.  NATO abandoned its defensive posture.  Until then NATO had never fired a shot.  How did this happen?  How was NATO able to get away with this new aggressive role and how was public opinion manipulated to go along with such a change?

 When the cold war ended in 1991, the so-called “peace dividend” was anticipated with great relief. Remember that?  The thinking went without the Soviet Union as an adversary we could begin to cut the huge military budget and put that money toward human needs.

 NATO seemed to be having an identity crisis.  Its original reason for being,  to thwart expansion of the Soviet Union, was gone.  As one author said, it was also to keep the Russians out, to keep the Germans down, and the Americans in.

But US military planners had other plans: a Defense Planning Guidance, excerpted in a 1992 New York Times, asserted the need for complete US world domination in both political and military terms:

 Our first objective is to prevent the re-emergence of a new rival.  First, the US must show the leadership necessary to establish and protect a new order that holds the promise of convincing potential competitors that they need not aspire to a greater role. . . .It is of fundamental importance to preserve NATO as the primary instrument of western defense and security.

 Retired Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Michael J. Dugan wrote in an opinion piece for the New York Times nine months later, “A win in the Balkans would establish US leadership in the post-cold war world in a way that Operation Desert Storm never could.”  Dugan went on to describe a plan for a massive bombing war against Yugoslavia.

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The collapse of the Soviet Union drastically impacted Yugoslavia.  It lost its strategic position as a buffer between Europe and the Soviet Union.  The imperialist forces of the west, primarily Germany and the US, moved in and inflamed and manipulated, to put it mildly, inter-ethnic and religious tensions and set about dismembering the country for their own hegemonic interest.  One prize was control of a pipeline route that would carry oil from the rich fields of the  Caspian Sea to foreign markets.

 Prior to the breakup, Yugoslavia was the size of Pennsylvania.  It had eighteen national minorities, six distinct nationalities, was made up of six republics and two autonomous provinces.  The four religions practiced were  Catholicism, Orthodox, Islam and Judiasm.

 In 1990 the republics of Croatia and Slovenia, economically, better off than the rest of Yugoslavia, became independent nations.  Germany, which has strong ties to Croatia and Slovenia, recognized the breakaway republics.  France and Britain opposed the breakaway.

The US was indifferent because it was preoccupied in destroying Iraq.  But Washington, recognizing the threat of the growing influence of Germany in the area, knew it couldn’t be tolerated.  So the US moved into Bosnia to assert its own hegemonic interests.  Washington aligned itself with the fundamentalist Muslim Izetbegovic, leader of an independence movement in Bosnia.

 To make this work, a skillful and deeply dishonest propaganda campaign based on lies and distortions was waged by the media, paid propagandists, prejudiced editorialists, ambitious politicians and liars.  It demonized both Slobadon Milosovic the president of Yugoslavia and the Serb people.

 This distorted and incomplete story was developed and repeated relentlessly and endlessly.  Essentially it claimed that Yugoslavia was a prison of peoples,  oppressed by Serbs.  That the evil leader Milosovic, a brutal dictator (never mind he was elected) wanted to create a greater Serbia by eliminating all others through ethnic cleansing.  When people sought to escape him and his plan by creating their own independent states they were invaded, massacred and oppressed by the Serbian army.

 It was said the only way to stop Milosovic was with force,  i.e., NATO/US bombing. Facts and investigations that questioned the validity of specific incidents and stories that helped create the myth of “humanitarian intervention” were reported but not highlighted, because the mainstream corporate media was part and parcel of the selling of the breakup of Yugoslavia, beating the drums to bombThe fact Milosovic was trying to hold his country together was not to be mentioned.

 In order to justify military intervention, there have often been reports of Gulf of Tonkin type incidents:  atrocities such as the alleged unplugging of Kuwati babies in incubators, or in Iraq fabricated photos showing trailers for weapons of mass destruction.  In Yugoslavia this type of false information was promoted time and again, often leading to intervention by NATO.  On the other hand, there was no mass call for military intervention when thousands died during the forced expulsion of 250,000 Serbs from the Krajina region of Croatia.

In November 28, 1998, the New York Times wrote that “a policy struggle stirs within NATO.”  This struggle was over US plans to expand NATO’s use beyond Europe.  Washington wanted NATO forces ready to intervene, not only in the Balkans, not only against countries like Iraq or Iran in the Middle East, or Libya, Sudan or Congo in Africa, but against any attempt at a popular revolution anywhere, from Russia to Zimbabwe, and it wanted all NATO powers to follow Washington’s lead.

Washington also drew Poland, Hungary and Czech Republic into NATO over the objections of other NATO members.  Washington launched the war on Yugoslavia and used that war to impose its changes on NATO in 1999.

 By now after a decade of demonization, the Serbian president had been successfully set up as the total bad guy and his political adversaries as the good guys. So the NATO bombing was a fairly easy sell.  It was called a “humanitarian intervention.”

The pretext used was a massacre in a Kosovo village, Recak, which was later found to be staged.  There had been a fire-fight between the Yugoslavian army  and the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA).  The KLA dressed the dead fighters to look like civilians.  The possibility of deception was suggested by the Red Cross, but the US/NATO took the opportunity and intervened in an internal conflict inside a sovereign non-NATO state with a massive bombing campaign.  Therefore the action was not to defend NATO members but to force a non-NATO state to halt its actions against a rebellious ethnic minority.

 NATO had to intervene on its own authority at the initiative of the US because Russia and China would not go along with it.  NATO chose not to ask for UN authorization, disregarding the UN charter and international law.

 This brutal bombing campaign was designed to destroy the economy of Serbia by targeting its infrastructure; bridges, factories, power plants, the state TV station and the Chinese embassy.  The bombing of Kosovo that drove thousands from the country, making them refugees, was strangely accepted by US and European citizens as a “humanitarian intervention.” A precedent was set and we, or rather the people of Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, and Libya, have been living and dying with the consequences ever since.

 On its 50th birthday in 1999, NATO had successfully morphed from an anti-Soviet alliance to become the hired guns of the 1%, with the US firmly in control.  NATO had grown enormously, and there were now bases in Croatia, Bosnia, Hungary, and the enormous Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo.  Yugoslavia is the gift that keeps on giving, held up as the shining example of “humanitarian intervention.”

 In reality a country was torn apart; people who live in the areas where there was bombing live with the effects of Depleted Uranium (DU).  In Kosovo ethnic cleansing really did occur. Only a handful of Serbians survived; they now live with the threat of harassment from the majority.

 Join us on May 20th in Chicago to march on  NATO, the hired guns for the 1%.  For information on buses going to the protest from the Twin Cities call 612-823-5989 or go to


JOHN CATALINOTTO.  U.S. Imperialism and Aggression, International Action Center. June 10, 2000 International Tribunal for U.S./NATO warcrimes in Yugoslavia.

Workers World

More on Depleted Uranium:

DIANA JOHNSTONE. Fools’ Crusade: Yugoslavia, NATO, and Western Delusions Monthly Review Press (January 1, 2003) ISBN 158367084X

Used for general reference and specifically:

Chapter 2

Uses of Rape:  pp 72 and 73; pp 78-90

Srebrenica:  pp 109-118.

Chapter 5

Racak:  pp 238-244.

Also by Diana Johnstone, The Recak Incident.



  1. wammtoday April 21, 2012 at 3:01 PM

    Well, you are certainly entitled to your opinions. Hmmm, then the extensive quotes from the New York Times are not valid either? About the U.S. plans for the Balkans, or the Defense Planning Guidance, written by Libby, Wolfowitz, and Zalmay Khalilzad under Cheney, that clearly shows their plans for NATO? History shows that the U.S. intervenes when U.S. geopolitical and monetary interests are involved.
    Actually, I like this sect concept: The fascist party line of the ultra-right Republican sect and the war-mongering, civil-liberty-destroying party line of the pro-war, pro-national security state Democratic sect. Makes me think of our party system in a whole new way.
    On the more serious side, I thought of a quote from the Bible, Matthew 7:4:
    Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye?”
    So I ask, what about the war criminals in our own country? George Bush—and by extension all of us as Americans, no matter how many antiwar marches we went to—is responsible for the deaths, maiming, and illness of a million and more people in an unnecessary war on Iraq. Our soldiers in Afghanistan have gone crazy, urinating on bodies, perpetrating killing sprees on innocent civilians, playing with human body parts like toys, and committing suicide in numbers. Yet they are victims, victims of those who sent them to war, victims of the officers who allowed them to become insane and inhumane, and those who forced them or allowed them to return for term after term after term to war. Who is being held responsible for these crimes against our soldiers? Who is being held responsible for the deaths of civilians in Afghanistan, speaking of atrocities. . . .

  2. Andy Berman April 20, 2012 at 8:28 AM

    Virtually all the sources listed for this article come from publications of the “Workers World Party”, a Leninist-Trotskyist sect with a ridiculous ultra-left party line, including a strong defense of mass murderers such as Slobodan Milosevic. who was sent to The Hague by the Serbian government to face trial as an international war criminal. Are there no other sources for information on NATOs role in Serbia? Must everthing come from party papers?

    The problem is not merely lazy scholarship, WAMM members and supporters are not naive. This piece leaves a strong impression that WAMM is being used as a vehicle to advance a party line from a narrow sectarian group. That demeans WAMM and threatens its credibility.

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