The Edifice Crumbles

The American Empire of today was born in the Balkans, during the 1990s interventions in Bosnia and Serbia. It was there that the concept of "benevolent global hegemony" was tested and cloaked in the rhetoric of "humanitarian intervention" and "preventing genocide." Last year, starting with the establishment of the "Independent state of Kosovo" and culminating with the installation of a client regime in Serbia, was the pinnacle of Empire’s success, a "victory" that stood out from the colossal failures of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Yet the only actual victory was that of wishful thinking over reality. No amount of American force, bribes or propaganda has sufficed to conjure into being a Bosnian nation-state, while the quisling regime in Serbia, slavishly devoted to its foreign masters, nonetheless began to look elsewhere when it became blindingly obvious that Uncle Sam’s coffers were oh so very empty.

On October 20, Russian president Dimitry Medvedev visited Belgrade. The occasion was the anniversary of the Soviet Army’s liberation of Belgrade during World War Two, but Medvedev’s visit was only partly ceremonial. He brought money, a military cooperation deal, and an offer of friendship — all of which have so far been the exclusive prerogative of Serbia’s Western overlords.

Meanwhile, over in Bosnia, the U.S.-EU initiative to fundamentally change the Dayton Peace Agreement ended in a fiasco, with all three ethnic communities rejecting the proposals presented, albeit for different reasons. Although Washington and Brussels theoretically have near-absolute power in Bosnia, through their "High Representative" and de facto viceroy, the improvised and half-baked nature of the Butmir proposals illustrated the very real limitations of that power.

Fiasco in Butmir

When it was first announced that the Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt and the U.S. Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg would be coming to Bosnia with a super-secret proposal for constitutional reform, this was hyped as the Second Coming of Dayton. Even the location chosen for the talks — a NATO base near Sarajevo — seemed to have been chosen to echo the events of November 1995, when the Bosnian War was finally brought to an end at Wright-Patterson AFB outside Dayton, Ohio. Based on the parallels with Dayton, there were even rumors in the local media that Bildt and Steinberg would sequester the seven Bosnian politicians at the Butmir base and not let them leave until an agreement was reached.

Imagine everyone’s surprise, then, when the "talks" adjourned after just one day, when it turned out that Americans and Europeans weren’t reading from the same script.

By October 20, when the talks reconvened, the supposedly revolutionary plan was revealed as a rehash of the "April package," a set of constitutional reforms that failed three years ago. Back then, the much-stronger Empire managed to coerce the Bosnian lawmakers to vote on a set of constitutional amendments changing the nature of all three branches of Bosnia’s government. At the last minute, though, a motley coalition led by the Empire’s protégé, Muslim nationalist Haris Silajdzic, put together enough votes to scuttle the bill. Though it would routinely sack or even arrest Serb and Croat officials accused of obstruction, this time around the Empire did absolutely nothing. Silajdzic went on to win the Muslim vote in the presidential elections that fall.

Though the legions of foreign do-gooders employed in Bosnian nation-building most often point at Bosnian Serb Prime Minister Milorad Dodik as their principal adversary, it was their failure to react to Silajdzic’s April adventure that fatally undermined the "international community" in Bosnia.

Not surprisingly, while the Serbs and the Croats rejected the "new" set of proposals because they would have stripped them of autonomy guaranteed by the Dayton agreement, the Muslims — Silajdzic in particular — also rejected the proposals, complaining they did not go far enough in giving them control. Not much has changed since Dayton, then. There, an American diplomat "who had devoted years of his life to the search for ways to help create a Bosnian state" declared, "These people are impossible to help." 

The second round of talks adjourned on Wednesday. They will supposedly continue, and the viceroy has tried to put the best face on them, but the failure of the latest grand initiative to remake Bosnia is more than readily apparent.

Even the most devoted partisans of Bosnian nation building agree. One longtime interventionist demanded that the answer to this "clear failure" be a renewed commitment to viceroy’s personal rule — what this column has termed democratorship. To them, everything boils down to triumph of the will; yet it is far from certain that the Empire has much will left, as its political, economic and military capital continues to dwindle.

The Bear Cometh

One of the chief differences between the Butmir talks and Dayton was the glaring absence of Russians. Though Moscow had sent an ambassador to Dayton, and formally has a seat on the Peace Implementation Council — a committee run by the Empire officially overseeing the Bosnian protectorate — under Yeltsin Russia’s role in the Balkans has been that of an observer, giving legitimacy to Imperial designs but unable to affect them in any way.

That role has shifted over the past decade, first with the withdrawal of Russian troops from NATO missions in Bosnia and Kosovo, and then with Moscow’s support for Serbia regarding the status of its occupied southern province. Ironically, though the Western media have insisted on Serbia and Russia being "traditional allies" (just as they have insisted on inflating the Bosnian death tolls), the last time that was actually the case was in 1917, before the Red revolution.

The current Serbian government, a ragtag coalition of former Communist fractions re-branded as progressives, democrats, and liberals, came into being as a quisling regime of the EU and the U.S. Now, however, as the influence of both is on the wane, they have welcomed Medvedev in Belgrade.

In addition to pledges of continued support for Serbia’s territorial problem, Medvedev brought a $1 billion loan and reaffirmed Moscow’s commitment to the South Stream gas pipeline. Earlier this year, a new and pro-Washington government in Bulgaria halted its participation in South Stream in favor of the American-sponsored Nabucco. That doesn’t seem to have discouraged Moscow any.

Belgrade has also made overtures to Beijing, which President Tadic visited in August. Following the visit, he spoke of China and Russia as two of the "pillars" of Serbian diplomacy — the other two being Europe and the U.S., presumably. What has prompted this seeming departure from a policy of unconditional sycophancy to the West?

One explanation is that the EU integration, major investments and incentives the quisling government promised the voters last year have completely failed to materialize. Having promised the people a better life in exchange for Kosovo and liberty, the government is in a position where it cannot deliver. Hence the desperate search for friends (and lenders) from Beijing to Moscow. Ideologically, Tadic and his cohorts still wish to be a province of the Empire. Reality, however, demands they go with where the money is.

Devotion for Sale

The American Empire asserted itself at the end of the Cold War by the power of its consumerist economy as much as by the force of arms. Now the arms are stuck to the tar babies of Iraq and Afghanistan, while consumer dreams are sinking along the toxic assets and fictitious derivatives that made them possible. Even in the Balkans, where the Empire first asserted itself and claimed the power to change reality with mere willpower, that weakness is beginning to be felt. The downside of creating client states is that they expect their charity check on a regular basis. When the Empire can no longer pay up, it will find the friendship and devotion of its Balkans "allies" for sale to whoever can. Whether that is Moscow, Beijing or someone else, only time will tell.

Author: Nebojsa Malic

Nebojsa Malic left his home in Bosnia after the Dayton Accords and currently resides in the United States. During the Bosnian War he had exposure to diplomatic and media affairs in Sarajevo. As a historian who specializes in international relations and the Balkans, Malic has written numerous essays on the Kosovo War, Bosnia, and Serbian politics. His exclusive column for debuted in November 2000.