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Germany, U.S., and the Yugoslav Crisis

By Sean Gervasi

Winter 1992-3 Number 43

The Civil War As Lethal Shadow Play

The horrors in the Balkan region displayed daily on television and in the newspapers show a country apparently torn apart by civil war.  But what lies behind images of gaunt refugees, artillery duels, blood-spattered walls, combat patrols and devastated towns and villages?  The only answer that most of us can give is that it is the struggle of Yugoslav against Yugoslav, of Croats against Slovenes and Serbs, of Muslims against Serbs, and of Serbs against all of the others.

That is what the mass media have been telling us, and that is all they have been telling us.  There are, however, other forces at work in the Yugoslav crisis beyond ethnic tensions.  Yugoslavia has for some time been the target of a covert policy waged by the West and its allies, primarily Germany, the United States, Britain, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia, as well as by Iran, to divide Yugoslavia into its ethnic components, dismantle it, and eventually recolonize it.  Not that, given hundreds of years of hatred and tension, that is a particularly difficult job.  After all, the term Balkanization entered the political vocabulary to define a process of national fragmentation and fratricidal war.  But while the internal dynamics of the war are well documented, the external forces of destabilization which were put into high gear years ago have received scant attention.

The basic issues in Yugoslavia have always been independence and economics.   Yugoslavia has been at the center of a tug of war.  The Soviets sought its incorporation into the USSR; the West has tried to pull Yugoslavia--along with other countries of Eastern Europe and the Balkans--"into Europe," that is, into the capitalist world economy.

To this end, the West has promoted de-industrialization and dependence and unleashed an arsenal of modern power including threats and pressure, a U.N.-sanctioned economic blockade, and covert arms shipments.  Under Marshall Josip Tito's leadership, Yugoslavia established its independence from Moscow and formed a de facto alliance with the West and NATO.  By the end of 1990, however, while Eastern Europe was well on the way to European integration--and economic crisis--Yugoslavia began to suspend the "reforms" to which it had initially agreed.  That resistance brought down the wrath of certain Western powers, which then sought to break Yugoslavia by promoting separatism and igniting the ethnic tensions that had haunted the country for centuries.

Yugoslavia and the Reagan Doctrine

Since World War II, Yugoslavia--prized by both sides--has been molded by the forces of Cold War.

Early in the first Reagan administration, the U.S. escalated the Cold War with an aggressive, secret strategy to undercut the Soviet economy, destabilize the USSR, and ultimately bring about the collapse of Communism. (1)  In 1985, then-Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick dubbed this new strategy, which went well beyond containment, "the Reagan Doctrine." (2)

At about the same time, according to recently declassified documents obtained by CovertAction, the U.S. adopted a similar strategy toward the countries of Eastern Europe, including Yugoslavia.  In September 1982, when the region seemed stable and the Berlin Wall had seven years to stand, the U.S. drew up National Security Decision Directive (NSDD) 54, "United States Policy toward Eastern Europe."  Labeled SECRET and declassified with light censorship in 1990, (3) it called for greatly expanded efforts to promote a "quiet revolution" to overthrow Communist governments and parties.   While naming all the countries of Eastern Europe, it omitted mention of Yugoslavia.

In March 1984, a separate document, NSDD 133, "United States Policy toward Yugoslavia," was adopted and given the even more restricted classification:   SECRET SENSITIVE.  When finally declassified in 1990, NSDD 133 was still highly censored, with less than two-thirds of the original text remaining. (4)   Nonetheless, taken together, the two documents reveal a consistent policy logic.

The "primary long-term U.S. goal in Eastern Europe" as described explicitly in NSDD 54 was "to [censored...] facilitate its eventual re-integration into the European community of nations." (5)

Since the Eastern European states could not have been "reintegrated" into "the European community of nations" as long as they remained under Communist rule, the basic U.S. goal required removal of Communist governments.  The implication of ending Soviet influence extends to the more cautiously worded remnants of NSDD 133.   The goal of "U.S. Policy [toward Yugoslavia]," it states, "will be to promote the trend toward an effective, market-oriented Yugoslav economic structure...[and] to expand U.S. economic relations with Yugoslavia in ways which benefit both countries and which strengthen Yugoslavia's ties with the industrialized democracies." (6)

Thus, the basic U.S. objective for Yugoslavia was much the same as for Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, the GDR, Hungary, Poland and Romania:  a capitalist transformation.   The list of policy instruments described in NSDD 54 to promote change in Eastern Europe may help fill in some gaps in the more highly censored Yugoslavia-specific NSDD 133.  The mechanisms included most-favored-nation status, credit policy, IMF stewardship, debt rescheduling, cultural and educational exchanges, information programs, high-level visits, and restrictions on diplomatic and consular personnel. (7)   Even in this document, some items were completely or partially deleted in the declassified version.

Today, the revelations in the two documents may seem banal.  It should be remembered, however, that for many years, the government felt the need to keep secret even the more overt means of pressuring for change.  Furthermore, significant parts of U.S. policy in the region, particularly in Yugoslavia, remain secret even today.   Covert policies, which undoubtedly were implemented, are not usually discussed at any length in a National Security Decision Directive.

The U.S. and Yugoslavia's Internal Crisis

The existence of a separate document for Yugoslavia reflects that nation's special relationship with the U.S.  After Yugoslavia left the Warsaw Pact in 1948 over disagreements with Stalin, the West saw it as a buffer state against Soviet expansionism.   When the Soviet Union made threats against it in the early 1950s, Yugoslavia asked the U.S. for help and quietly undertook "certain military obligations" towards the West in the event of a conflict with the Soviet Union. (8)  The agreement included a commitment to "protect northern Italy from penetration by Soviet troops based in Hungary."  (9) According to a knowledgeable Yugoslav analyst, the "alliance with the West," along with expanded educational, diplomatic and commercial ties, "forced Yugoslavia Communists to open up to Western cultural and political influences." (10)

During the post-war years, Western aid--amounting to several hundred billions of dollars, most of  which came from the U.S.--helped to create a boom in Yugoslavia.   And, although Yugoslavia remained poorer than most of the countries of the industrialized West, the relatively equitable distribution of the fruits of industrialization carried much of the country out of poverty.  By the end of the 1980s, Yugoslavs were better off than most people in Portugal, Spain, Turkey, and parts of Greece.  That economic success was crucial in diminishing regional and ethnic tensions.

Thus, the Yugoslav socialist experiment was generally viewed as successful, even in the West, both for its economic progress and for the unity which Marshall Tito brought to an ethnically diverse state.

Yugoslav planners, however, strove to combine structural change with rapid economic growth.  And that policy was costly; it created a large trade deficit and weakened the country's currency.  The oil crises of 1973-74 and 1979 exacerbated Yugoslavia's problems. (11)  By the early 1980s, the country faced serious balance of payments problems and rising inflation.  As usual, the IMF, in the name of financial rectitude, stepped in and prodded the Yugoslav authorities to slow growth, restrict credit, cut social expenditures, and devalue the dinar.  Although the trade deficit was reduced and the balance of payments showed a record surplus by 1970, (12) the IMF "reforms" wreaked economic and political havoc.  Slower growth, the accumulation of foreign debt--and especially the cost of servicing it--as well as devaluation, led to a fall in the standard of living of the average Yugoslav.

The economic crisis threatened political stability.  Not only did the declining standard of living undermine the authority of the country's leaders, it also threatened to aggravate simmering ethnic tensions.

The 1980 death of Marshall Tito--the one leader whose authority could hold the country together--plunged Yugoslavia into a dual crisis.  And without leadership, the economic crisis suddenly become more difficult to resolve.

Moreover, since Yugoslavia was linked to the world capitalist economy, it had suffered the same economic stagnation that affected Western Europe and North America during the 1970s.  When the Reagan administration's supply-side economic policies precipitated a recession in 1981-83, the effects were felt everywhere, not least in Yugoslavia.

It is hardly surprising that Yugoslav planners found it difficult to arrest economic decline in their own country.  Some observers claimed that the inability of the economic system to respond to the 1980s crisis demonstrated the failure of the Yugoslav model of socialism.  While there is some truth to the charge that the system was rigid, Yugoslavia's troubles were caused first and foremost by the transmission of the Western economic crisis to those countries on the edge of Europe which were closely linked to the West by aid, trade, capital flows, and emigration.

The uneasy U.S.-Yugoslav alliance persisted throughout  1980s.  Because of Yugoslavia's unique "buffer" position, the U.S. had a special stake in its stability.  Despite discomfort with its communist "ally," the new Reagan administration preserved the relationship, hoping to benefit from the developing instability in Yugoslavia in order to install a more amenable government.

In the late 1980s, three factors suddenly altered the dynamics of the U.S.-Yugoslav relationship.  Yugoslavia began to suspend its market-oriented "reforms."   The Cold War ended and Yugoslavia was no longer so useful.  And a newly united Germany, staking out a larger role for itself in Europe, demanded that the Bush administration adopt the German policy of working for the "dissociation," that is, the dismantling, of Yugoslavia.

Diplomatic Coercion and Reform in the East

The summer before the Berlin Wall fell, the major Western powers decided in Paris to press the emerging East European governments to establish "democracies" and market economies.  (13)  This goal was advanced by the 1990 elections throughout Eastern Europe, which produced broad support for non-Communist governments seeking to implement precisely the kinds of "reforms" (14) which the U.S. and its European partners had hoped for and worked toward.

In an exercise more in coercive diplomacy than in persuasion, the Western powers determined to offer aid and trade only to those countries that agreed to market-oriented structural and policy changes.  Furthermore, noted Richard Portes, chief economic adviser to the European Community (EC), the West must "build in ways of committing the authorities not to deviate from their basic policies."  To this end, planners demanded four major and irreversible "reforms" in Eastern Europe:   an opening to the world economy, i.e., to the Western  system;  the liberalization of prices; privatization; and stabilization of of state finances and national currencies.  These "reforms," argued Portes, should mark "a definitive exit from the socialist planned economy."  (15)

The governments of Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Poland acceded almost completely, while Bulgaria and Romania complied in part.  Only two years later, the northern tier countries of Eastern Europe were

"in the throes of a deep economic depression...[T]urmoil and starvation stalk the Balkans, social crisis and wild political swings plague Poland, nationalism threatens to tear apart Czechoslovakia, and social discontent in Hungary has led to a virtual boycott of existing political parties.  Quasi-fascist movements have emerged on the far right, while the governments of the region have all considered initiatives to restrict civil rights."  (16)

Yugoslavia Steps Out of Line

A crucial change in Yugoslav relations with the West occurred when Yugoslavia balked at carrying out the reforms urged by the west.  As Yugoslavia had initiated market-oriented policies before any of the countries in the former Eastern bloc--tasting some the the bitter consequences--its halting of "reforms" in 1990 particularly rankled the U.S.  The Bush administration set out to farce the recalcitrant nation to accede to Western demands for a "change in regime."  (17)

In January 1989, when Ante Marcovic was named federation premier, the U.S. had anticipated a cooperative relationship.  "Known to favor market-oriented reforms,"  (18) the new Prime Minster was described by the BBC correspondent as "Washington's best ally in Yugoslavia."  (19)

In Autumn 1989, just before the Berlin Wall fell, Marcovic visited Bush in the White House.  The president, the New York Times reported, "welcomed Mr. Marcovic's commitment to market-oriented  economic reform and to building democratic pluralism."  In this friendly atmosphere, Marcovic asked for "United States assistance in making economic and political changes opposed by hard-liners in the Communist Party."  He requested a substantial aid package from the U.S., including $1 billion to prop up the banking system and more than $3 billion in loans from the World Bank.  He also tried to lure private investment to his country.  In exchange, Marcovic promised "reforms," but warned, as the Times put it, that they "are bound to bring social problems [including] an increase in unemployment to about 20 percent and the threat of increased ethnic and political tension among the country's six republics and two autonomous provinces." (20)

Marcovic's new austerity plan, announced two months later in Belgrade, deepened the Yugoslav crisis.  The plan called for a new devalued currency, a six-month wage freeze, closure of "unprofitable" state enterprises, and reduced government expenditure.  Believing it would lead to social unrest, Serbia, the largest republic, immediately rejected it.  Some 650,000 Serbian workers staged a walkout in protest. (21)

Marcovic's proposal for some first steps toward political democratization--a multi-party system and open elections--fared a bit better and, in January 1990, was accepted by the Central Committee of the Yugoslav League of Communists.  Not long afterward, however, the Slovene League of Communists seceded from the Yugoslav League.   In April, Demos, the Slovene opposition coalition, described in the U.S. as "an alliance of pro-western parties,"  (22) won a majority in parliamentary elections in Slovenia.

Thus, as the unity of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia weakened, a pro-Western, pro-"reform" camp consolidated and pushed for separatism as the only possible way to realize nationalist aims--which would shatter the Yugoslav economy.

By June 1990, when Prime Minister Marcovic introduced the second phase of his austerity program, industrial output in Yugoslavia had already fallen some ten percent since the beginning of the year, in part as a result of the measures introduced the previous October.  Nonetheless, the second phase of the prime minister's plan called for further reductions of 18 percent in public spending, the wholesale privatization of state enterprises, and the establishment of new private property rights.  To make the package more palatable, Marcovic also proposed lowering interest rates and conditionally lifting the wage freeze.

Economic "reform" was the crucial issue in 1990 multi-party elections held throughout Yugoslavia.  In Slovenia, Croatia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina, separatist coalitions ousted the League of Communists.  In Serbia and Montenegro, the ruling party--renamed the Socialist Party in Serbia--won.  The federal government, including Prime Minister Marcovic, denounced the separatist tendencies to the two northern republics.  President Borisav Jovic resigned as federal president when his proposal for a national state of emergency was rejected.  (23)

The line was drawn.  The new separatist governments in the north wished--at least in the flush of their electoral victories--to join Europe and the parade toward capitalism.  The federal government and some of the republics, including Serbia, balked.  One European scholar summarized the West's view:

"With the ending of the Cold War...Yugoslavia was no longer [a] problem of global importance for the two super-powers...The important factor was the pace of reforms in the East.  What lasted nine months in Poland, took only nine weeks in the GDR and only nine days in Czechoslovakia.  Yugoslavia lagged enormously behind [in] this process of democratic transformations. " (24)

In an ideal world, there would have been a long national debate on the way forward, and the separatist republics, if still bent on secession, would have proceeded through the complex process provided for in the Federal Constitution.

That was not to be.

Germany's New Expansionism

The years following the general adoption of the Reagan Doctrine saw the pace of change accelerate in all the countries of the Socialist bloc.  Developments were carrying them toward the "quiet revolutions" the West desired.

By the end of 1989, moreover, an equally important change--the third major one in Yugoslavia's relationship to its emergence as the giant of Europe would prove decisive for the fate of Yugoslavia.

As Yugoslavia continued in crisis, a much-strengthened industrial and political leadership in Germany looked east.  Its influence was rapidly becoming "pervasive, in personal contacts, business investments, and intellectual life."  (25)  In the post-Cold War era the means for expansion are economic, political, and cultural, rather than military.  In Eastern Europe, German trade groups and banks suddenly became very active and  German firms sought lower costs, especially lower wages and taxes.  By 1991, one third of the trade between Eastern and Western Europe was based in Germany, according to a U.N. study, (26) and Germany became the major foreign investor in Eastern Europe, especially  in Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Poland.  German firms now have 1,500 joint ventures in Poland and 1,000 in Hungary.

But it was not just economics that drove Germany eastward.  Form many Germans, the expansion also made historical sense.  Their firms were reviving ties to the East which went back to the pre-Communist era and even to the time of the Austria-Hungarian Empire.

And perhaps even more disquieting for partially recolonized Eastern Europe were the cultural campaigns which accompanied economic expansion.  These promote the use of the German language, German books, and German culture in general.  The German foreign broadcasting service recently announced "a media and cultural offensive in Central, Eastern and Southern Europe."  Its director called the new Germany "the most important media and cultural bridgehead between East and West."  (27)

The aims and scope of Germany's drive east were summed up by the Chair of The East Committee, the industrial group promoting business in the East:  "it is our natural market...[I]n the end this market will perhaps bring us to the same position we were in before World War I.  Why not?" (28)

German expansion has been accompanied by a rising tide of nationalism and xenophobia, igniting old Yugoslav fears.  These have been fed by evidence  that Germany has been energetically seeking a free hand among its allies "to pursue economic dominance in the whole of Mitteleuropa." (29)

In 1990, Yugoslavia lay in the path of that gathering German drive.  Given Germany's economic and political power, and its aid and trade ties with Yugoslavia, many expected Bonn to try to draw the region into its orbit.  The most obvious beginning would be in the northern republics which had historically been considered part Europe, and especially in Croatia, which had strong German links.

During the Second World War, Nazi Germany had installed a clerical-fascist state in Croatia.  (30)  After the war,  more than half a million Croatian émigrés moved to the Fatherland, where their organizations had considerable political influence.

Milovan Djilas may have had these considerations in mind, when, more than a year before the secession crises of 1991, he warned:

"It is definitely in the interests of the majority of other nations--for example, the Unites States, Great Britain, the USSR--to support the unity of Yugoslavia.   ...But I doubt that Yugoslavia's neighbors...are so well-intentioned.  I also suspect that in some states, for example, in Germany and Austria, there are influential groups who would like to see Yugoslavia disintegrate--from traditional hatred, from expansionist tendencies, and vague, unrealistic desires for revenge.  (31)

Europe Intervenes

Yugoslavia walked a tightrope through the 1980s until economic and political crisis, particularly the fall in the standard of living, broke its balance.  As rival ethnic groups shook the rope and the state teetered, European Community (EC) intervention helped push Yugoslavia into the abyss of disintegration and horrific civil war.

After World War II, Yugoslavia brought together communities which had historically been at odds:  Slovenes, Croats, Serbs, Muslims (the descendants of converted Slavs), Albanians, Hungarians, etc.  At the same time , the federal government made enormous efforts after World War II to create a state which gave full play to "national identities" and entrenched the rights of minorities.

Since there was, however, no way to draw the map of Yugoslavia to enclose each group in its own republic or autonomous region, large minorities would always exist within any republic or region.  Thus, for instance, large numbers of Serbs--more than two million--found themselves living in Croatia or Bosnia or elsewhere where the boundaries of Serbia were drawn in 1945.

Within the Balkan tinderbox, two specific actions set off the current war in Yugoslavia:  the secessions of Slovenia and Croatia and the intervention of the EC.   The former might not have occurred without the intervention of the latter.   Continuous EC intervention from early 1991 could not have been more likely to set off a war if it had been deliberately designed to do so.  It turned a manageable internal conflict into appalling fratricide.

Slovenia and Croatia were clearly driving toward independence well before widespread fighting broke out between the Yugoslav National Army and Slovene territorial forces in the spring of 1991.  Their separatist aspirations received quiet encouragement and assistance from several European powers, particularly Germany and Austria, for some time prior to the outbreak of hostilities.

In early February 1991, he Council of Europe stated that, to join Europe (as some Yugoslav leaders wanted), Yugoslavia would have to resolve its crisis peacefully and hold multi-party elections for the Federal Parliament. (32)  This bland-sounding precondition was, in effect, an invitation to Slovenia and Croatia to push towards secession, for it linked economic advantages to "restraint' in federal dealings with those republics.

By March, when its was clear that Croatia intended to secede, Croates and the Serb minorities began to clash.  Croatian nationalists organized violent demonstrations in Split, besieged a military base in Gospic, and generally intensified their national campaign.  On May 5, the federal government authorized the Army to intervene in Croatia (33) and two days later, the military began calling up reserves and deploying units in western Yugoslavia.  "Yugoslavia," said Defense Secretary Gen. V. Kadijevic, "has entered a state of civil war."  (34)

The EC then began openly to apply pressure on Yugoslavia.  In June, the EC foreign ministers gathered in Dresden and warned that future assistance would depend on "respect for minority rights,"  "economic reforms," etc.   The EC was no longer posing conditions for Yugoslavia's entry into Europe, but simply for normal economic relations. (35)

When Slovenia and Croatia declared independence on June 25, 1991, the EC openly intervened again, and again its actions prompted separatism.  Within three days after the Yugoslav Army deployed units in both republics, the EC threatened the "cut-off of $1 billion in scheduled aid" unless Yugoslavia accepted mediation by three EC foreign ministers. (36)  Slovenia and Croatia would otherwise have been occupied by Yugoslav troops and the secession halted.

The foreign ministers imposed a cease-fire which called for a three-month suspension of the Slovene and Croatian independence declarations;  withdrawal to barracks of all federal troops; and acceptance by Serbia of Stipe Mesic, a Croat, as federal president.   (37)  There was no settlement of the federal dispute with Croatia, and federal troops remained in parts of that republic--those inhabited primarily by Serbs.  The Yugoslav Army ordered the withdrawal of its troops from Slovenia shortly thereafter.

Although the EC intervention halted the secession temporarily, by preventing Yugoslavia from defending its own unity and territorial integrity, it worked to the advantage of Slovenia and Croatia.  (How would President Lincoln have treated a similar foreign intervention in the U.S. Civil War?)

In October 1991, the EC called a Conference on Yugoslavia in The Hague.  The aim, in theory, was to end the crisis and negotiate a new federal structure for the Balkan nation.  The Draft Convention on Yugoslavia prepared by the EC announced that the republics "are sovereign and independent,  with [as] international identity." (38)  Thus, while the Conference adopted seemingly reasonable principles for resolving the conflict, at the same time, in effect, it abolished Yugoslavia as a unitary state.  Within a short time, and upon expiration of the three-month delay imposed in July, both Croatia and Slovenia formally seceded from Yugoslavia.

One is left to wonder whether the EC wanted a unified Yugoslavia and acted consistently and stupidly to defeat this goal, or whether other factors were quietly at work.  The key to the seeming contradiction between stated goals and actual consequences may be found in the behind the scenes maneuvering of an expansionist Germany.  As William Zimmerman, former U.S. ambassador to Yugoslavia, noted:

"We discovered later that [German foreign minister] Genscher had been in daily contact with the Croatian Foreign Minister.  He was encouraging the Croats to leave the federation and declare independence, while we and our allies, including the Germans [sic], were trying to fashion a joint approach." (39)

In fact, reunited Germany has been throwing its weight around for some time, and not just on Yugoslavia.  (40)  "The Germans," said a U.S. State Department official, "are now so much more stable and so much more powerful than anyone else in Europe that they can get away with almost anything."  (41)

From 1990, Germany was forcing the pace of international diplomacy on the question of secession.  In December, within a few months of the de facto recognition of Slovenia and Croatia at the Hague Conference, Germany itself recognized their independence.   "Germany virtually forced its allies to reverse themselves and grant recognition to Slovenia and Croatia." (42)

Not Just a Civil War

Just as foreign intervention helped foment the war in Yugoslavia, (43) outside forces have also helped sustain and exacerbate the conflict.  Croatian political organizations in the Diaspora--especially in Germany, Canada, the U.S., and Australia--often espouse extremist, right-wing, and sometimes openly anti-semitic views.   Through the generation which left Yugoslavia after World War II, they have maintained close ties to the Nazi-sponsored Croatian independent state led by Ante Pavelic and Archbishop Alois Stepinac. (44)

Since 1945, Croatian émigrés and émigré organizations have actively and consistently supported the cause of Croatian independence.  "These separatists," said a prominent Slovak émigré, "want to prove that they were right 50 years ago, and they try to pass the mythology on to their kids...that things will be perfect when independence comes."  (45)

International émigré support has been financial as well as political.  According to the Los Angeles Times, overseas Croatians were largely responsible for funding Croatian President Franju Tudjman's victorious presidential election campaign in 1990.  (46)   After he won, the money continued to flow.  "Canadians," said Toronto businessman Dick Bezic, "bankrolled [Tudjman's] new state and its army."   (47)  In December, Tudjman acknowledged the importance of the émigrés' role.   "Croatians, in Canada," he told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, "have helped a great deal in the establishment of a democratic Croatia." (48)

In addition to cash, overseas Croatians have sent arms.  Croatian and Bosnian Croatians claim that Bosnian Serbs possess large amounts of modern weapons and munitions.   While the charge is true, it must be remembered that the arms factories in Bosnia are still producing, and the Yugoslav army left behind large stocks of weapons which were grabbed up by all sides in the conflict.  Furthermore, in addition to their own supplies, the breakaway states are covertly receiving large amounts of arms from the Western powers despite the U.N. arms embargo. (49)  Recently, overseas Croatians established an extensive network designed to evade the Untied States embargo on arms shipments to former Yugoslavia. (50)  Documents indicate that weapons were moving to Croatia from Austria and Slovenia or Hungary, and senior U.N. officials acknowledge that "the Croatians are armed to the teeth."  (51)

The network existed well before Croatia declared independence.  More than a year ago, a U.S. Customs official blocked a large, illegal shipment of weapons from Croatian activists to Yugoslavia.  It included $12 million worth Stinger and Red Eye missiles, as well as thousands of M-16 assault rifles.  The arms smugglers, a clandestine military organization known as OTPOR, had an alternative plan to ship weapons through a German front company. (52)

OTPOR members had also requested Nigeria to supply end-user certificates for large quantities of weapons, including low-altitude surface-to-air missiles, armored Czech Tatra trucks mounted with launching frames for 122 mm rockets, and 5,000 122 mm rockets. (53)

It was reported in England last year, that there was "a booming trade in arms [supplied by]...Austria, Belgium and Hungary" to the Serbian and Croatian militias.   (54)  As none of the source countries named, with the possible exception of Belgium, was likely to be shipping arms to Serbian irregulars, the supplies were most likely going to Croatia.

Political contributions and arms shipments on such a scale cannot take place without the knowledge of intelligence agencies, in this case, especially those of Germany, Austria, Canada, and the U.S.  In countries actively seeking to destabilize Yugoslavia, these services are likely to have had official sanction to assist the transfers.  There have also been repeated reports of foreigners--including British, U.S., and German nationals with extensive military experience--serving in the Croatian forces or militia. (55) Reportedly, some are absent-without-leave from active military units.  In what amounts to an officially sanctioned policy of covert military assistance, active-duty soldiers (indulging some form the U.S.) sometimes leave undated letters of resignation with a commander and take official leave to serve as "mercenaries" in foreign wars.

The movement of weapons in the region appears to be massive.  German customs officials claim they have evidence of large military convoys of up to 1,500 military vehicles moving out of Eastern Germany bound for Croatia.  In April 1992, east German military vehicles bound for Croatia were seized by Customs officials on the German-Austrian border.  (56)  Recently, there have been reports that Croatia has used German Leopard tanks and MIG-21 fighters in its invasion of Bosnia-Herzegovina.   Although Germany denies these reports, (57) reliable Yugoslav sources state that a number of Leopard tanks were put out of commission by Serb irregulars at Kupres in Bosnia in May 1992.  These sources also claim that a number of MIG fighters from the former GDR have been shot down over Bosnia.

The use of MIGs has been confirmed by senior United Nations officials and supported by Croatia's air force commander.  In February, he boasted that  "within a month...[Croatia] would take delivery of fighter aircraft from unnamed European governments." (58)

The Bosnian government has also reportedly received arms and troops from abroad, notably from Islamic countries seeking to assist fellow Muslims.  The London Guardian has reported major arms shipments from Turkey, Iran, and Pakistan.  A Bosnian government adviser admitted in Zagreb at the the end of August that Bosnian officials had traveled to the Croatian coast to take delivery of arms shipments from the Middle East. (59)

Islamic countries have also sent trainers and "volunteers" to assist and fight with Muslim forces in Bosnia and have established secret training camps there.   The soldiers came from Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Pakistan, Sudan, Afghanistan, Iran, and Syria. (60)

Again, such large-scale activity cannot easily be organized by private individuals or organizations.  The facts therefore strongly suggest the extensive involvement of foreign intelligence agencies and military personnel in what is still being called a purely internal conflict.

During the past 18 months, the Western media have steadily hammered home the idea that Yugoslavia is in the middle of a civil war brought about the "aggressor" Serbia's attempt to "conquer" Slovenia and parts of Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina.  While the internal factors of nationalism and ethnic strife are real, they are not sufficient to explain the bloody dynamic.  External forces must also be considered.  This more complex analysis does not deny that Yugoslavs are killing another and dying, nor does it dismiss the suffering of the hundreds of thousands who have been affected.  Rather it recognizes the clear indications that the secessions of Croatia and Slovenia--which were crucial in the development of the Yugoslav conflict--were prepared with the assistance of foreign power.  These powers also sustained and extended the conflict by sending arms, money, and personnel to Croatia and, more recently, to Bosnia-Herzegovina.

During the 1980s, the West followed a dual policy.  First, it pushed Yugoslavia toward a gradual political and economic transformation. The struggle to force changes in Yugoslavia was driven less by tensions between socialism and capitalism than by those between independence and recolonizaiton.  In a central Europe dominated by Germany, the policies urged by the West will lead to de-industrialization and dependence as they have already in Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Poland.

The other edge of the West's policy sword was the promotion of separatism in the northern republics.  When Yugoslavia balked at "reforms" that had exacerbated economic conditions and ethnic strife, some Western governments turned up the pressure.  Germany, strengthened by reunification and expanding its influence throughout Europe, was impatient with Yugoslavia.  Its push for quick recognition of Slovenia and Croatia set off a violent chain reaction.  The U.S. and other nations faced a fait accompli and accepted Germany's demands that the west support German policies.   Nonetheless, they saw Germany's strategy as a useful way to ensure that Yugoslavia carry out the political and economic changes they wanted.

After World War II, the Yugoslav people struggled to achieve independence and a decent standard of living.  The war in former Yugoslavia has shattered the nation and its many peoples.  It is an unnecessary tragedy which can only be stopped if its real causes are understood.

Sean Gervasi is research professor at the Institute of International Politics and Economics, Belgrade, Yugoslavia, from where he recently returned.  He was a consultant to the U.N. (1969-84) and professor of Economics, University of Paris.


1.  See Sean Gervasi, "The Destabilization of the Soviet Union," CovertAction, Number 35 (Fall 1990) and Sean Gervasi, "Western Intervention in the USSR,"   CovertAction, Number 39 (Winter 1991-92).

2.  Jeane Kirkpatrick, "The Reagan Doctrine and U.S. Foreign Policy,"   The Heritage Foundation, Washington, D.C., 1985, p. 5.

3.  National Security Decision Directive 54, "United States Policy Toward Eastern Europe," SECRET, the White House, Washington, September 2, 1982.

4.  National Security Decision Directive 133, "United States Policy Toward Yugoslavia," SECRET SENSITIVE, the White House, Washington, March 14, 1984.  The SECRET SENSITIVE  classification indicates that a significant amount of the information was based on intercepted communications or revealed the existence of confidential relationships with Yugoslav citizens or organizations.

5.  NSDD 54, p. 1.

6.  NSDD 133, p. 1.

7.  NSDD 54, pp. 3-4.

8.  Predrag Simic, "Yugoslavia:  Origins of the Crisis," Southeastern European Yearbook 1991, Hellenic Foundation for Defense and Foreign Policy, 1992, p. 109.

9.  Ibid, p. 120.

10.  Ibid., p. 109.

11.  "Eastern Europe and the USSR," Economist Intelligence Unit, London, June 1990, p. 212.

12.  Ibid, pp. 109-10.

13.  See Peter Gowan, "Old Medicine in New Bottles:  Western Policy Toward East Central Europe," World Policy Journal, Winter 1991-92, p. 4.

14.  Ibid., pp. 1-33.

15.  Ibid., p. 5.

16.  Ibid., p. 1.

17.  Academics and bureaucrats concerned with developments in the former Socialist bloc use this term to describe fundamental political change.  In practice, it refers to the capitalist transformation of Communist societies.

18.  Facts on File, January 27, 1989, p. 57.

19.  Misha Glenny, "The Massacre of Yugoslavia," New York Review of Books, January 30, 1992, p. 34.

20.  "Yugoslav Premier Seeks U.S. Aid," New York Times, October 14, 1989.

21.  Facts on File, December 31, 1989, p. 985.

22.  Facts on File, April 20, 1990, p. 291.

23.  Facts on File, March 21, 1991, p. 197.

24.  Jens Reuter, "Yugoslavia's Role in Changing Europe," in D. Muller et al., eds., Veranderungen in Europa--Vereinigung Deutchlands:  Perspektiven der 90er Jahre, Institute of International Politics and Economics, Belgrade, 1991, pp. 115-16.   Cited in Simic, op. cit.

25.  Marc Fisher, "Eastern Europe Swept by German Influence," Washington Post, February 16, 1992.

26.  Ibid.

27.  Ibid.

28.  Ibid.

29.  Lanxin Xiang, "Is Germany in the West or in Central Europe?", Orbis, Summer 1992, p. 422.

30.  Some 600,000 Serbs and 70,000 Jews and Gypsies died in camps run by the Croatian fascist regime.  See Jonathan Steinberg, The Roman Catholic Church and Genocide in Croatia, 1941-1945, unpublished, Trinity Hall, Cambridge, U.K.

31.  Argyrios Pisiotis, "Peace Prospects for Yugoslavia,"  The Fletcher Forum of World Affairs, Summer 1992, p. 97, quoting from an articles by Djilas.

32.  Predrag Simic, Chronology of the Yugoslav Crisis, January 1990 - May 1992, Institute of International Politics and Economics, Belgrade, 1992, p. 1.

33.  Facts on File, May 9, 1991, p. 342.

34.  Ibid.

35.  Branislava Alendar, European Community and the Yugoslav Crisis, Institute of International Politics and Economics, Belgrade, 1992, p. 8.

36.  Facts on File, July 4, 1991, p. 489.

37.  Ibid.

38.  Alendar, op. cit. p. 10.

39.  John Newhouse, "The Diplomatic Round," The New Yorker, August 24, 1992, p. 64.

40.  See Marc Fisher, "Germany's Role Stirs Some Concern in the U.S.,"   Washington Post, January 23, 1992.  The decision by Germany to raise interest rates also caused concern, as did Kohl's reneging on this promise to produce a compromise on agricultural supports in the GATT talks.

41.  Ibid.

42.  Ibid.

43.  There have been three wars:  1) the war in Slovenia between the YNA and Sloven territorial forces (very brief); 2) the war in Croatia between Croatian military forces and Serb irregulars (many of them local inhabitants); 3) the war in Bosnia between Croatian forces, Bosnian and Croat irregulars and Bosnian Muslims, on the one hand, and Bosnian Serb irregulars, on the other.

44.  Hitler characterized the Croats in the wartime puppet state as "genuine converts national Socialism."  (H.R. Trevor-Roper, ed., Hitler's Table Talk, 1941-1944 (London:  Weidenfiled & Nicholson, 1973), p 95.

45.  Robert Toth, "Émigrés Fuel Old Hatreds,"  Los Angeles Times, February 19, 1992.

46.  Ibid.

47.  Ibid.

48.  Ibid.

49.  See, for example, International Defense Reports, Army Quarterly and Defense Journal (London), July 1991, p. 363.

50.  Christopher Bellamy, "Croatia Built Web of Contacts to Evade Weapons Embargo,"  The Independent (London), October 10, 1992.

51.  Ibid.

52.  Edward Lucas, "U.S. Sting Uncovers Croatian Arms Deal,"  The Independent (London), August 14, 1991.

53.  Bellamy, op. cit.

54.  Army Quarterly and Defense Journal, op. cit.

55.  "German magazine delves deep among the killers," Searchlight (London), November 1992, p. 23; and Michel Faci, "National Socialists Fight in Croatia," The New Order (Lincoln, Nebraska), January-February 1993, p. 1.

56.  Christopher Bellamy, op. cit.

57.  Anna Tomforde, "Germany:  Government Officials Deny Croatia Is Using Their Tanks,"  Guardian (London), August 5, 1992.

58.  Blaine Harden, "Croatia Acquiring Warplanes from European Countries, Air Force Chief Says,"  Washington Post, February 11, 1992.

59.  Blaine Harden, "Bosnia:  Middle East Muslims Send Charity and Weapons,"  Guardian (London), August 28, 1992.

60.  "Help from Holy Warriors," Newsweek, October 5, 1992, pp. 52-53.

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