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Cold War II

Photo by Doug Mills, AP/Wide World It’s an ugly peace, to say the least, when the victors keep chortling over each mass grave they uncover. “See, we were right to pulverize Serbia!” they crow — not noticing that the mass graves are material evidence of NATO’s own ineptness and, it must be said, savagery. For 78 days of war, that proud alliance refused to let the ethnic cleansing in Kosovo deter it for one moment from the urgent business of bombing Serbia back into the era of candlelight and campfires. It would have been too risky for our airplanes to take on the Serbs in Kosovo, so NATO contented itself with terrorizing their wives and children back in Belgrade. What was the conflict all about then, other than providing an unplanned excursion to Macedonia and Kukes for a million ethnic Albanian Kosovars lucky enough not to have stayed behind in the graves?

One theory afoot is that the true purpose of the war was not to provide aid and succor to the Kosovars, but to establish America’s absolute world domination. But considering the war’s aftermath and taking into account the global picture, one can only say: Would that it were so! What’s a little Pax Americana compared to what now appears to have been NATO’s real goal all along — the restoration of the Cold War? We could have had one superpower, calmly enforcing the reign of the IMF and McDonald’s, but the masters of NATO, in their passion for symmetry, determined that there must be at least two if the world was to enjoy a healthy and productive level of conflict. And if they achieved nothing else in Yugoslavia, they at least managed to restore order and sense to the universe, in the form of fresh tensions between the West on the one side and Russia and China on the other. In fact, you can stop worrying about Y2K — just set your calendars back to 1958.

A prescient observer could have seen this coming exactly a decade ago, when it became clear that the other side was no longer willing to play its role in what will be known, soon enough, as Cold War I. At the news of perestroika and Gorbachev’s intention to start scrapping his warheads, did Washington officialdom don funny hats, swill champagne and run out to foxtrot through the streets? Not at all; in fact the White House inexplicably derided the Soviet leader as a "drugstore cowboy" and hinted that perestroika was a diabolical trick. When then–Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney proposed a microscopic 0.3 percent reduction in defense spending to mark the sudden disappearance of any plausible enemy, outraged screams issued from Congress. "You are putting Grumman out of business," complained the congressional representative of that particular weapons company. What would have been welcomed as peace almost anywhere else looked to Americans like an enemy shortage.

Bill Clinton was supposed to lead us out of the old Cold War mentality that had Bush so firmly in its grip; he was to have been a fresh young president willing to serve Warner Bros. and Coke as well as Boeing and Lockheed. But in 1994, with no Soviet Union in sight, his administration began pushing for the expansion of NATO to include a passel of former Soviet subject states. Yeltsin yelped, and even Pat Buchanan, whom no one has ever accused of being a pacifist, was aghast. The logic was impeccably bonkers: What made NATO’s expansion possible was the disappearance of the only rationale for its existence, the Soviet empire.

Now if NATO were just a club for white people of non-Slavic origin, a place for them to gather over sherry and reminisce about the fun times at Normandy and Ypres, what would it matter how big it got? But it is of course a military alliance, meaning a kind of armed gang, and the first thing new members have to do is take a sacred oath to increase their military budgets. This is called "modernizing" and is justified by the need to have all members, including the paupers among them, achieve "NATO-compatible" levels of armaments. As noted by many in the press, the biggest U.S. supporters of NATO expansion were not the Polish-derived citizens of Chicago, but the manufacturers of missiles and fighter jets.

But what is a military alliance without something militaristic to do? Serb atrocities in Kosovo seemed to present the ideal mission. No one can reasonably deny that Serbia has excelled in the atrocity-production business (although the Croats and even the Kosovar Albanians can claim some success in that department too). So Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, consummate hostess that she is, launched her war according to a timetable designed — her aides have since revealed — to get the whole business over with in time for NATO’s 50th anniversary bash in April. This was to be the inaugural war of a beefed-up NATO, proof of its lasting relevance. So what if Serbia’s long-standing ally, Russia, had started growling about re-aiming its nuclear warheads at Foggy Bottom?

No victory in sight, NATO held its birthday party in April anyway, with the diplomats all feigning the gravitas appropriate to people simultaneously engaged in acts of random airborne vandalism abroad. But there were no long faces among some of the partygoers, no indeed. U.S. weapons manufacturers’ stocks were booming, thanks to the "excitement in Kosovo," as one American market analyst put it, and the arms dealers not only showed up at NATO’s party, they actually sponsored it. Well, to be fair, some communications firms like Ameritech pitched in for the hors d’oeuvres too, but the bulk of the sponsors were defense companies like Boeing, which contributed $250,000, and Raytheon, which has seen its stocks soar by 17 percent since NATO’s war began. As a reward for their generosity, the executives of sponsoring companies were allowed to mingle with the assembled diplomats, no doubt using the occasion to whisper little pleasantries like, "Boy, do I have a cluster bomb for you!"

But you can’t have a meaningful Cold War solely against poor old basket-case Russia, whose soldiers can usually be found roaming the streets, panhandling for vodka and turnip money. Even in their proudest moment, as occupiers of the Pristina airport, they had to beg NATO for basic supplies like bottled water. Hence the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade; and this "hence" does not derive from any privileged insider information. It would just be too painful to admit that NATO’s great moral undertaking included bombing a crowded city without an up-to-date map. Never mind that China today is no more communist than Connecticut: At least its military is in good enough shape to have funded an American presidential campaign.

Welcome to Cold War II. True, for the moment Russia has been appeased by giving it a piece of Kosovo to patrol. But the really scary collateral damage remains: China’s suspension of all top-level military and arms-control contacts with the U.S., and the pissed-off Russian parliament’s refusal to ratify the START II treaty. Buried among the rubble left by NATO’s bombs may be our species’ slender hope of averting a planetwide nuclear blowout.

If Cold War II ever gets hot, it could be the first conflict that even Boeing can’t win. So stop chortling, NATO, the next mass grave you look into — should the dignity of graves of any kind remain an option — may be our own.

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