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IS BELGRADE BURNING?

    Paper no. 51   

 

(To be read in continuation of earlier papers titled "The Kosovo Tragedy: In Perspective" and "NATO's Psywar against Yugoslavia")

The NATO's ill-advised, ill-planned, ill-executed and politically ill-supervised air bombing of Yugoslavia seems to have acquired an uncontrolled and uncontrollable inertia of its own.

There are no tangible results to boast about after 46 days of relentless bombing leaving behind a trail of destruction and human suffering.

The spectre of the war having a negative impact not only on China's relations with the US and the UK, but even on China's internal stability, is now staring the West in the face after the disastrous bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade by the US on

May 8.

For the first time since 1979, the anti-reform and anti-West elements in the Chinese Communist Party and in the PLA, which had till now been marginalised by the outward-looking Jiang Zemin-Zhu Rongji leadership, see a possibility of their being able to turn the tide in their favour by exploiting the genuine public anger against the NATO, and particularly the US and the UK, over the bombing of the Chinese Embassy.

The apparent policy of the Chinese leadership is to let the people blow out steam for the present, in the hope that once this happens, the anti-US and anti-NATO emotions will subside. If, unfortunately, this does not happen, there could be unpredictable consequences for peace and stability in China and even in Korea.

The rapid turn of events has taken place at a time when there have been unconfirmed reports of rumblings in the PLA against the political leadership because of the latter's orders to PLA business establishments to close down. Jiang's ability to bring the protests under control quickly would depend on the co-operation he receives from the PLA.

On the basis of reports available till the recording of this note, the political leadership, though slightly nervous, seems to be confident of being able to prevent the public anger from getting out of control and the PLA seems to be fully behind the political leadership.

A real threat to the leadership could arise if the millions of workers of state-owned enterprises (SOEs) thrown out of jobs since last year in the interior provinces fall a prey to the rhetoric of the anti-reform and anti-West remnants in the Party and join the protesting masses in the urban areas. It should be very easy for these remnants to turn the anger of these unemployed workers against the West and the political leadership by projecting the SOE reforms as carried out by the leadership under the diktat of the US, the very same Satan which has now killed innocent, defenceless Chinese in Belgrade.

Despite China's opening-up and the economic miracle, the traditional anti-foreign and anti-West feelings are still very strong in Chinese society, particularly in the interior provinces, and it required only the Belgrade diplomatic-cum-military disaster to make these feelings come bursting out to the surface.

The developments in China, therefore, need close monitoring for the next few days.

The Belgrade disaster was waiting to happen. When one allows one's policies, thinking and operational plans to be influenced not by a lucid and logical analysis of the ground situation, but by an irrational dislike of an individual (President Slobodan Milosevic) and by an obsessive urge to teach him a lesson, one's judgement gets distorted beyond measure.

The NATO's undeclared war against Yugoslavia was started on the basis of half-baked plans, on the expectation that the war would not last more than a week and that Milosevic would sue for peace after a few days of bombing. This has proved to be a miscalculation.

The NATO's planning was preceded by an intensive psychological study of Milosevic by the CIA's psychological experts, but not by a psychological study of the Serbs---of their ethnic pride, of their emotional attachment to Kosovo, of their indomitable spirit as exhibited against the Nazis during the second World War and against Stalin thereafter, their legendary reputation as guerilla fighters, their willingness to put up with any suffering to face external threats to their culture and civilisation and the tactics employed by them against the Nazis such as forcing them to commit mistakes through carefully-planted false intelligence, harassing them from behind their back etc.

The NATO's war machine became a prisoner of its own Psywar machine and its anti-Milosevic rhetoric and the NATO's political leadership has landed itself and its war machine in a quagmire from which it doesn't know how to extricate itself without loss of face.

The NATO's psywar machine kept telling the people that the NATO was winning the war and that the Serb military machine was being so badly mauled that it was only a question of days before Milosevic lifted his telephone and accepted the NATO's conditions.

This has not yet happened. The daily press briefings at the NATO headquarters disturbingly reminded one, who had grown up professionally during the Vietnam war, of the days of Robert McNamara, whose psywar experts similarly tried to convince themselves and the American people on the basis of a statistical analysis of body counts and infrastructure counts that the US was winning the war.

When the NATO bombing of the so-called military targets in Yugoslavia, particularly in Belgrade, did not cow down Milosevic and the Serbs, they started bombing media centres, an action that an analyst has described as censorship through Cruise missiles, power stations and water supply plants.

These indiscriminate bombings reflect not an iron determination as projected by President Clinton and Prime Minister Tony Blair, but an impotent anger at the defiance of Milosevic . The NATO's hopes that the sufferings inflicted on the common people through the denial of basic necessities such as water and electricity would make them rise against Milosevic have till now been belied.

Hitler tried similar intimidatory tactics against the people of London and of the USSR. Instead of demoralising them, it only steeled their determination to face the onslaught whatever be the sufferings.

Despite over six weeks of relentless bombings of oil refineries, oil storage depots, bridges, roads and railways, buildings housing military and other government offices, the Serb war machine has lost nothing of its resilience, resourcefulness and innovative spirit. Despite the NATO claims to the contrary, the Yugoslav military continues to move freely across Kosovo and frustrate the forays of the CIA-aided Kosovo Liberation Army.

Knowledgeable observers say that only one-third of the so-called military targets struck by NATO bombings were really military targets. The rest of them were all non-military targets, which the CIA had been incorrectly identifying as military targets under mounting pressure from the Pentagon and the NATO headquarters to identify more and more military targets. Just as it had falsely identified the Chinese Embassy as the headquarters of the Yugoslav Weapons Procurement Office.

The Weapons Procurement Office used to be located in an old building at the same spot in the late 1980s. Subsequently, the Yugoslav Government shifted the office to another building and allotted the plot to China for the construction of a new Embassy building.

Belgrade, before the NATO's war, was an open city in which the CIA had a strong presence. Moreover, CIA officers under cover used to visit Belgrade frequently as members of the entourage of Richard Holbrooke, the Balkan envoy of President Clinton. They should have known and they would have known that at the spot where the procurement office stood, now stood the new buildings of the Chinese Embassy.

Under the pressure of the NATO headquarters for more and more target identification to keep up their daily rate of bombing of Belgrade, satellite images of the spot as interpreted by photo-interpreters who had never seen Belgrade and hence did not know that the Chinese Embassy stood there, were rushed to Brussels, without being vetted by CIA field operatives who had served in Belgrade recently. Had the field operatives or even the former chauffeur of the US Ambassador been consulted, they would have told the interpreters about the Chinese Embassy.

In the mad urge to identify and destroy more and more military targets, a disastrous mistake was committed with unpredictable diplomatic consequences.

The Cruise missiles and other precision-guided weapons are only as accurate as the target identification data fed into them. The poor quality of the target information was evident even in August last year when US Cruise missiles attacked a pharmaceuticals factory in the Sudan mistaking it for a chemicals factory and camps of the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen and other Kashmiri extremists in Afghanistan mistaking them to be camps of the Arab mercenaries of Osama Bin Laden.

In this connection, reference is invited to our paper dated November 3,1998, on the US Bombing of Terrorist Camps In Afghanistan.

 

B.RAMAN                                                                       (10-5-99)

(The writer is Additional Secretary (Retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India,and, presently, Director, Institute for Topical studies, Chennai. )

 

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