Masters of the Universe: NATO's Balkan Crusade

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NATO’s war on Yugoslavia in the spring of 1999 was unleashed in the name of democracy and human rights. This view was challenged by the world’s three largest countries, India, China and Russia, who saw the bombing of Serbia and Kosovo as a naked attempt to assert US dominance in an unstable world.

In the West, media networks were joined by substantial sectors of left/liberal opinion in supporting the war. Nonetheless, a wide variety of figures emerged to challenge the prevailing consensus. Their work, gathered here for the first time, forms a collection of key statements and anti-war writings from some of democracy’s most eloquent dissidents—Noam Chomsky, Harold Pinter, Edward Said and many others—who provide carefully researched examinations of the real motives for the US action, dissections and critiques of the ideology of ‘humanitarian warfare’, and chartings of the unnecessary tragedy of a region laid to waste in the pursuance of Great Power politics.

This reader presents some of the most important texts on NATO’s Balkan crusade and forms a major intervention in the debate on global geo-political strategy after the Cold War.

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Review:

The essays in this book on the Balkans, notes editor Tariq Ali in his introduction, "share one common approach to the region: all regard the break-up of Yugoslavia as a major European disaster." They are also uniformly and often vituperatively negative when it comes to NATO's 1999 war against Serbia. This event dominates the book, and the contributors have nothing good to say about it. The war gave a "green light" for Russia to assault Chechnya ("Could it be that this is Moscow's reward for helping to end the war in Kosovo?"), intensified poor relations between India and Pakistan, and made China more aggressive toward Taiwan and Tibet. Ali even asserts that the Chinese embassy in Belgrade--whose bombing was called an accident at the time--was "clearly included" on the NATO hit list. (Stranger still is Ali's approving quotation from Hitler's Mein Kampf on the subject of English media manipulation; his point is the moral equivalence of NATO's press relations and Nazi propaganda.)

All the views contained in Masters of the Universe? are way to the left of mainstream opinion; essay authors include Noam Chomsky and Edward Said. A spirit of anti-Americanism also pervades the book. Gilbert Achcar, for instance, notes "the current level of the U.S. defense budget corresponds rationally to the U.S. aspiration to imperial expansion and exclusive global hegemony." In other words, the United States fought in Kosovo because it wants to rule the world. Somewhat underscoring this claim, Ellen Meiksins Wood cites an ill-advised comment by President Clinton about Kosovo's importance: "If we're going to have a strong economic relationship that includes our ability to sell around the world, Europe has got to be a key.... That's what this Kosovo thing is all about." But, overall, the left-wing slant of the contributors of Masters of the Universe? makes it a less-than-balanced assessment of what has happened in the Balkans. --John J. Miller

About the Author:

Tariq Ali is a writer and filmmaker. He has written more than a dozen books on world history and politics—including Pirates of the Caribbean, Bush in Babylon, The Clash of Fundamentalisms and The Obama Syndrome—as well as five novels in his Islam Quintet series and scripts for the stage and screen. He is an editor of the New Left Review and lives in London.

Giovanni Arrighi (1937–2009) was Professor of Sociology at Johns Hopkins University. His books include The Long Twentieth Century, Adam Smith in Beijing, and, with Beverly Silver, Chaos and Governance in the Modern World System. His work has appeared in many publications, including New Left Review—who published an interview on his life-long intellectual trajectory in March–April 2009, and an obituary in Nov–Dec 2009—and there are more accounts on his memorial website.

Robin Blackburn teaches at the New School in New York and the University of Essex in the UK. He is the author of many books, including The Making of New World Slavery, The Overthrow of Colonial Slavery, Age Shock, Banking on Death, and The American Crucible.

Noam Chomsky is Institute Professor in the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is the author of American Power and the New Mandarins, Manufacturing Consent (with Ed Herman), Deterring Democracy, Year 501, World Orders Old and New, Powers and Prospects, Profit over People, The New Military Humanism and Rogue States.

Régis Debray teaches philosophy at the Université de Lyon-III and is director of the European Institute of the History and Science of Religion. He is the author of many books, including Media Manifestos, Critique of Political Reason and God: An Itinerary, also available from Verso.

Peter Gowan (1946–2009) taught international relations for many years at London Metropolitan University. He was the author of The Global Gamble and A Calculus of Power, co-editor of The Question of Europe, cofounder of the journal Labour Focus on Eastern Europe, and a longstanding member of the editorial board of New Left Review—who published an interview with Peter Gowan along with an obituary in Sept–Oct 2009.

Edward W. Said (1935–2003) was University Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia. A member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Royal Society of Literature and of Kings College Cambridge, his celebrated works include Orientalism, The End of the Peace Process, Power, Politics and Culture, and the memoir Out of Place. He is also the editor, with Christopher Hitchens, of Blaming the Victims, published by Verso. New Left Review published an obituary in Nov–Dec 2003.

Ellen Meiksins Wood, for many years Professor of Political Science at York University, Toronto, is the author of many books, including Democracy Against Capitalism and, with Verso, The Pristine Culture of Capitalism, The Origin of Capitalism, Peasant-Citizen and Slave, Citizens to Lords, Empire of Capital and Liberty and Property.

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