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22 February 2008


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Funny, this thread basically formulates an answer to a question I discussed with friends just a couple of days ago - such timely insights are one of the reasons why I value this blog highly.


A comment regarding Serbia from my dear departed (military historian) Father: "Let them kill each other".

The genesis of this statement from an otherwise caring man was his understanding that the Balkans were the flashpoint for world war one, and indirectly world war two.

The critical point is that Russia has a deep and abiding attachment to Serbia because they are regarded as an island of orthodox Slavic Christians in a sea of heathens, exactly like the Christianist right in America regard Israel.

When Putin expresses outrage over Kosovo and support for Serbia he is not joking. To put it another way, this is serious folks.

In discussion about the Balkans with any American, an oft repeated sign that you are dealing with an idiot is hearing criticism of Europe for "not doing something" about the Balkans.

The last time they did, how many was it 40 - 50 million died, and they therefore act with great circumspection since Russian sensitivities are involved. If we are lucky, we will end up with a joint U.N./Russian peacekeeping force and a few hundred dead. If we are unlucky and Putin wants a cause celebre for his own use, Kosovo has just given him one.

As for "the Borg", Bush doesn't have a clue, but I suspect his faceless blood hungry backers do, and they obviously see that a confrontation with Russia over Kosovo and the entanglement of the Europeans as well, would be in their interests.

Sidney O. Smith III

Has anyone asked Obama how he would respond as commander in chief if Russia, along with the Serbians, militarily invaded Muslim Kosovo? Such a question, imo, would answer much. And most definitely someone should pose this question to irascible McCain and fading Hillary. (Maybe this question has already been asked at the debates and I missed it).

But the Obama case is particularly interesting. Based on Prof. K’s rather stunning comment at another thread, odds appear reasonable that several former Russians turned Americans are whispering in Obama’s ear. Based on their collective memory, they may have an axe to grind. And, furthermore, based on the book that Prof. K referenced, I don’t think all of these folks have some needlepoint artwork that says “blessed are the peacemakers” hanging in their offices.

And to hark back to Col. Smith’s thread on the psychology of killing, one must ask: is it possible that they could make the shift from the second psychological state to the first and turn a tribal collective memory into a premeditated killing from afar. How? By whispering into Obama’s ear that he is the new American messiah. Maybe even the first messiah of the global village. Next step is war to spread freedom, of course. And it may even give NATO something to do.

Neoconservatives, particularly Christian neoconservatives, successfully pulled this stunt on Bush in the lead up to Shock and Awe. There is the report of a ME meeting subsequent to the launch of Iraqi freedom when Bush claimed that he heard God speak to him. Sounds like his ego was talking to him, but that’s just my opinion and I have little aptitude for religion. (Maybe someone should send Bush a book on what the religious call apophatic contemplation)

Neoconservatives certainly could pull the same trick on McCain, probably with the greatest of ease. But Obama’s response may be most enlightening. I hope he stands tall.

By the way, the same dynamic is working on the Serbian side as well. Problem is that because of our imperial hubris, we didn’t respect their culture to begin with not did we consider their collective memory. Hence, I think it is safe to call Kosovo a “hot” spot.

It will be most fascinating to see if the Catholic Church recognizes independent Kosovo.


It will be most fascinating to see if the Catholic Church recognizes independent Kosovo.

Why on Earth should the Vatican get involved in this mess? Don't forget that Benedict is a German, and old enough to have known people who remembered what happened the last time "some damned fool thing in the Balkans" stirred up trouble.

It was another German, earlier, who pointed out that the Balkans weren't worth the bones of a single Pomeranian grenadier. Shame his successors didn't remember that advice.



Just out of curiosity,how was the Balkans "indirectly" a "flashpoint" for triggering WWII? And for the record I have my doubts as to how much it triggered WWI. That seems like a fight that was waiting to take place. All parties itching to get into, save the British.

Second, there is no objective way I know to prove it but I suspect that Russian leaders have a "deep and abiding attachment" to go out of their way to proclaim to the world that they have a "deep and abiding attachment to Serbia". This facilitates their 'moral' claims when seeking to exercise their geopolitical will in an area they conclude is in their zone of influence.

It is a good question to ask regards what Obama, or any American president might do if the Russians were to enter into Kosovo. First off, I sincerely doubt the Serbs WANT the Russians in their nation. Second, I sincerely doubt that the Russians WANT to go to Kosovo via Serbia. Though I have no doubts that they will want many concessions for their so called restraint. But if I were president, I would let both Serbia and Russia choke on the chicken bone that Kosovo will become to those foolish to go in search of the fight. Of course Obama won't be able to do that. But he would be better served to worry about the chicken bone stuck in OUR throats.

Duncan Kinder

Re: In the main, most Americans have been de-racinated to such an extent that the "obscure" loyalties of far away peoples are simply incomprehensible.

George MacDonald Fraser ( of Flashman fame ) begins his
by stating:

At one moment when President Richard Nixon was taking part in his inauguration ceremony, he appeared flanked by Lyndon Johnson and Billy Graham. To anyone familiar with Border history it was one of those historical coincidences which send a little shudder through the mind: in that moment, thousands of miles and centuries in time away from the Debateable Land, the threads came together again: the descendants of three notable Anglo-Scottish Border tribes--families who live and fought within a few miles of each other on the West Marches in Queen Elizabeth's time--were standing side by side, and it took very little effort of the imagination to replace the custom-made suits with leather jacks or backs-and-breasts. Only a political commentator would be tactless enough to pursue the resemblance to Border reivers bey9nd the physical, but there the similarity is strong.

Perhaps, following Fraser's suggestion, we are not so far removed from our own tribal heritage.

anna missed

Its probably a testament to the depth of our own indigenous tribal identity - exceptionalism - that after the successive failures in:

and Serbia

that they would have gotten a clue by now, that their vision for the world is myopic, if not dead blind. The people of these regions all receive the same generic brute force treatment coupled to the same fantastic expectations. That given the opportunity, they will shed their historic identity and embrace the alien. As if Texans would, under the right imposition, willingly switch to Spanish, wear a sombrero, and embrace Mexican cultural and political life.

What they really miss though, is that the imposition is not simply alien or different, but is easily perceived as a hostile mortal threat. Not unlike the threat all liberal culture presents to traditional culture - that it dissolves the inherited family obligation tribal structure by presenting an alternative to it.

Babak Makkinejad

During the Cold War, Yugoslavia was an un-official member of NATO.

This was a shameful way of treating an ally.

I observe here that in the War of Yugoslav Disintegration the Orthodox Christian states of Russia, Bulgaria, and Greece supported the Orthodox Serbians, Muslim states supported Bosnian Muslims, and EU & US, on the whole, supported the Catholics (i.e. Western Christians).

Furthermore, I think the actions of US, Turkey, UK, France and the other 15 EU members that have recognized Kosovo are going to be rightly perceived as threats to the international system by other state actors.

US, Spain, Canada, Italy, Switzerland, Romania, Serbia, Macedonia, Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon, Ukraine, Russia, Iran, Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, China, Burma, Thailand, Indonesia, India, Vietnam are all candidates for the application of Kosovo principle. And I am not even including African states such as Egypt, Algeria, South Africa, Congo, Nigeria, and many others.

This is madness, in my opinion. Just like it was madness for Australia and the other international do-gooders to take 750,000 dirt farmers and make them, on paper, the independent state of East Timor.

Those who live in glass houses should not throw stones.


I suspect that Bush was more worried about Turkish reaction if we had not recognized Kosovo, instead of Russian reaction if we had.

See the McClatchy article on Kurdish troops surrounding Turks in Iraq and threatening to open fire.


It is a tragedy that we are now caught in a bind between two allies>


Johnst, I say Serbia indirectly was the cause of WWII because WWII was caused by WWI, or rather the treaty of Versailles.

Going back in history, Kaiser Wlhelm gave the Austrians a blank cheque to take on the Serbians, which they did.

As expected, Russia then declared war on Austria. Germany declared war on Russia, France (who was an ally of Russia) then declared war on Germany. The British might have kept out of it if the Germans hadn't invaded via the low countries. (not sure I've got the exact order right)

You are correct in that Germany wanted an early war with Russia and the other players were not averse to war either, but Serbia was the Casus Belli. I don't wish to see it happen again.

Patrick Theros

Some stray comments:

1) Western Europe supported the political descendants of the Nazi Ustashi against a regime descended from Tito's anti-Nazi partisans. In the West obligation extends only to what did you do for me lately?

2) Orthodox Christian soldiers (Russia, Yugoslavia and Greece) killed more Germans in WWII that everyone else put together. Doers anyone care or remember?

3) Oddly, the EU countries in the Balkans (Romania, Bulgaria and Greece) who actually have something to lose do NOT recognize Kosovo. Isn't it possible that they know something more than the western EU states and the US don't?

4) Holbrooke lied on MSNBC last night claiming that Kosovo lived under Serbian oppression for 800 years. The Serbs lost Kosovo to the Ottomans at the end of the 14th century and Albanians did not become a majority until Tito made them a majority in the fifties. Do we want him as the next Secretary of State? (He has told people that Hillary will do so.)


Patrick Theros:

German(ic) policy in the Balkans has been as knee-jerk determinist as any other ethnic group over the last hundred years. Nazi policy preferred the Croats; in 1992 the Germans supported Croatian independence.

Why? Look at the Militaergrenze between Austria and the Ottomans from about 1680 to 1815. It's the border of Croatia today.

Long memories, short on nuance.


There are excellent economic reasons for breaking off Kosovo: it is a virtually bottomless source of mineral wealth and one of the foundations of Yugoslavian industry. Without it, Serbia's industry will slowly grind to a halt, and it becomes a much, much weaker place;

Those mines in Kosovo were auctioned off to France by Serbia just as the NATO bombing campaign came to an end. One of the pillars of that agreement was that Serbia would be included as a partner in any development of the mines.

I don't offer this up as a justification for the Serbian interest; obviously, that is a much more complicated thing. It is, however, a very strategic coup for the forces who wish to isolate the too-neutral, too socialist Serbia within its newly Euro-ized environment.

My friends in the Macedonian military have informed me that the base the United States has built there is situated on one of the most tactically significant mountains in Europe. The ancient mythology surrounding it in the Balkans is that "the person who controls that mountain controls all of Central Europe".

Yes, the Jacobins have broken off Kosovo, and done so against all sane advice.

But they have done so at the urging of a hawkish military, anxious to isolate Russia -- and in the context of such motivations the reasons are unassailable.

Duncan Kinder

3) Oddly, the EU countries in the Balkans (Romania, Bulgaria and Greece) who actually have something to lose do NOT recognize Kosovo. Isn't it possible that they know something more than the western EU states and the US don't?

I don't know what these countries know but I do know that all of them are Orthodox.

BTW: sometime last year I posted a comment on this blog to the effect that one of the "sleeper" issues of international policies that would emerge in the 21st century would be an Orthodox revival. Should this thesis be correct, then this Kosovo controversy will be a major precipitant for it.

An Orthodox revival would have other implications beyond Kosovo. Note that Constantinople ( not "Istanbul" ), is their holy city. And they definitely want it back.


I had several friends who fought in British Special Forces in the Balkans during the 2nd World War. In their politics they tended to be dissident communists - like the Titoist communists they fought alongside (unlike the Yugoslav Moscow communists who sold out entirely to Uncle Joe while they passed the war in Moscow).

In the recent Balkan Wars these friends tended - unlike most of the West - to stick to supporting the Serbs (partly, I suspect, out of loyalty to a people who had fought the Nazis so unflinchingly). But there is a case to be made for the Serbian side in the seemingly continuing Balkan civil wars. Its best put by Justin Raimondo, who points out that the people who pushed us into Kosovo - a mixture of neo-cons and liberal imperialists - were precisely the people who backed the Iraq fiasco. Not least Hilary Clinton, who is credited with having been the one who persuaded Bill to invade Kosovo:




Strictly as an academic matter, and not an attempt to directly challenge you, I have never bought the Versailles Treaty caused the war meme. Germany, specifically, Nazism, caused the war. Nor, possibly anticipating you, do I think Versailles 'caused' the Nazis. In my opinion



The victory of the Nazis in 1933 in Germany would arguably not have happened but for the humiliation of Germany in the Versailles Treaty at the end of WW1. Other important contributory factors surely were the Great Inflation of the 1920s and the start of the Great Depression following the Wall Street Crash of 1929.

That said, you are right to question the strange assertion that WW2 started from the Balkans. WW1, yes - Sarajevo. But WW2? The Japanese asszault on China in the 30s and on the US at Pearl Harbour have nothing to do with the Balkans. Mussolini's annexation of Libya and Ethiopia have nothing to do with the Balkans. Hitler's ambitions to occupy the Rhineland, reunite Austria with the fatherland, and annex Czeckoslovakia and Poland had nothing to do with the Balkans. When poor deluded Chamberlain made that chill and eerie radio broadcast on September 3 1939 that signalled the start of the war in Europe, no mention was made of Yugoslavia or Albania or Greece or Bulgaria or Romania.

David Habakkuk

Babak Makkinejad,

I agree with you about glass houses.

I would add to your list Georgia, where Abkhazia and South Ossetia are all too happy to see Kosovo as a precedent; Moldova, where Transdniestra is likewise happy; also Azerbaijan, where Nagorno-Karabakh would also like a complete parting of ways with Azerbaijan. In all these cases, the country concerned already does not have effective control. The precedent could thus easily be followed, which would however further open up the wedge towards a more general destabilisation created by Western policy in the Balkans.

Putin made explicit his view that Kosovo sets a precedent in relation to Georgia and Moldova in a recent press conference.

I am however sceptical about the idea that the Russians would want to involve themselves militarily in the Balkans. For one thing, it is an open question quite how much weight traditional links to Serbia actually carry with those currently making foreign policy in Russia. Nicholas Gvosdev had some interesting remarks on the point on his blog last month, suggesting it was 'important that we move away from the old cliches about "Orthodox-Slavic" unity as a motivator for policy.' He went on to point out that:

'Russia is cultivating a whole group of new partners in Europe on the basis of good old fashioned self-interest. Hungarians have discovered they can forgive 1848-49 and 1956 to position their country as a major hub for Russian energy exports in the 21st century. No common cultural ties connect Russia with the Netherlands, the Austrians, the Norwegians, or the Italians; and it bears noting that Russia has more of a business presence in Catholic Croatia than in Orthodox Serbia (although that may change).'

Some time ago, Andrei Tsygankov pointed out the parallels between Putin and Prince Alexander Gorchakov, who managed Russian foreign policy rather successfully after the catastrophic defeat in the Crimean War -- and as Tsygankov puts it 'was brutally honest in his characterization of the weakened Russia as a "great, powerless country."' In concrete terms this implies a realpolitik focusing on diplomacy, obviously with Russia's role in global energy markets at its centre, and eschewing military ventures.


In the longer term, however, I remain worried about how the situation in the Ukraine could develop. My sister-in-law comes from the Western Ukraine -- but, having a Russian mother, is completely bilingual. The Western Ukraine was part of the Hapsburg Empire up till the end of the First World War, then part of Poland. Ukrainian nationalists commonly looked to Germany, so one consequence is that the Ukraine contains people who had diametrically opposite identifications in one of the greatest and most savage wars in human history.

When my wife and I were in Kiev with her a few years ago, she time and again addressed people in Ukrainian. In every single instance they replied in Russian. This does not mean that the inhabitants of Kiev want to reunite with Russia. But the Donbass and the Crimea may be a different matter - and after all, the Crimea is only in the Ukraine because of Khrushchev's 1954 ukaz transferring the area from Russia.

I think a question worth asking John McCain, for one, would be if indeed he proposes to include Ukraine and Georgia in NATO, what he would do if a few years down the line the local authorities in the Crimea denounce Khrushchev's action as an example of totalitarian arbitrariness at its worst, and announce they want to open negotiations for reunion with Russia?

Suppose at the same time stories begin appearing in the Russian press about technical hitches in gas supplies to Europe -- and maybe maps showing the radius of Russian INF missiles. The Chief of the General Staff, Yuri Baluyevsky, restated the first-use doctrine which the Russian military adopted back in 1993 somewhat stridently at a meeting last month of the Academy of Military Sciences. The organisation is headed by the former Deputy Chief of the Soviet General Staff, Makhmut Ahkmetovich Gareev.

A fascinating paper back in 1995 by the invaluable Jacob Kipp of the Foreign Military Studies Office at Fort Leavenworth made clear that Gareev sharply disapproved of the repudiation of the Soviet-era no first use doctrine
(See http://www.fas.org/nuke/guide/russia/agency/rusrma.htm.) But such reservations seem to have gone out of the window. It is evident we have successfully converted the Russians to faith in Western ideas of nuclear 'deterrence'.



I'm sorry. Perhaps I missed something. Has McCain proposed to include Ukraine and Georgia NATO? That would be sheer insanity from where i sit.


My point is, right or wrong, I have always believed the "humiliation" of Germany as a result of the treaty, overplayed. I don't think it imposed the onerous conditions, either in a geopolitical or economic sense, on Germany that the so many had claimed.

On the other hand the Treaty did a hell of a lot of damage to many other nations and peoples.

David Habakkuk


In the statement he released on February 8, McCain proposed a 'NATO Membership Action Plan'. The relevant section reads as follows:

'Georgia and Ukraine have expressed their desire for a NATO Membership Action Plan. We should offer it to them at the summit. These two nations have every right to aspire to democracy and security as other states closer to the heart of Europe. Ukraine and Georgia have difficult neighbors and domestic challenges; they are young democracies and their road ahead will be difficult. But they should know that we will support them every step of the way, and we can show them this by supporting their aspirations at Bucharest.'

From a piece entitled 'Abkhazia: land in limbo' by George Hewitt on the Opendemocracy website some times back:

(See http://www.opendemocracy.net/democracy-caucasus/abkhazia_future_3983.jsp).

'Georgia's president Mikheil Saakashvili introduced John McCain, leader of a senatorial delegation to Tbilisi in September 2006, as "the next president of the United States," a compliment repaid by McCain's styling the Georgian people America's "best friends." As the senators bade Georgia farewell some days later, they expressed the hope that the peoples of the two territories which have maintained a precarious immunity from Tbilisi's grasp since the conflicts of the early 1990s would "soon learn what it means to live in freedom."

'In offering this view of Abkhazia (which the senators did not visit) and South Ossetia (which they did), leading figures in Washington demonstrate (once again) an abiding ignorance of the cause they proclaim. A month later, the Abkhazians in particular are left to muse on the political calculations behind such visits: and on how far the current crisis threatening their small republic might owe something to stage-management by a US administration working closely with the tyro politicians who head the government of the Georgia from which the Abkhazians broke away in the 1992-93 war.'

I like the comment by Anatol Lieven -- the best British foreign affairs commentator, perhaps partly because of his truly bizarre ancestry:

'Consider, for example, that at a time when the U.S. is facing crises of truly vital importance in the Middle East, it is also drifting toward a dangerous confrontation with Russia, a key player in the Middle East, over … South Ossetia.

'What next, we wonder? Massive U.S. involvement in a Chilean-Argentine conflict over control of the Beagle Channel? A huge commitment of U.S. energy and resources to help Paraguay recover the Gran Chaco?'

(See http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/la-oe-lieven11oct11,0,3605684.story?coll=la-opinion-center.)

Babak Makkinejad

David Habakkuk:

Thank you for your comments.

I agree that Russia will not do anything positive on behalf of Serbia in the matter of Kosovo. [The negative exertion was prevent the affirmation of Kosovo's independence through UNSC.]

In regards to Ukraine, you are preaching to the Choir. In my opinion, Russia will reclaim much of Ukraine and Northern Kazakhstan over the next few decades. It is just a matter of time.

Kosovo & Bosnia will keep the EU do-gooders occupied for a few more years until like all men (really boy with toys) they get tired of playing nation-builder in that part of the world and move on to a new toy (Global Warming anyone?).

Eric Dönges


when you write "I have always believed the 'humiliation' of Germany as a result of the treaty, overplayed. I don't think it imposed the onerous conditions, either in a geopolitical or economic sense, on Germany that the so many had claimed.", do you have any idea what the treaty of Versailles actually contained ?

Take a look at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Treaty_of_Versailles and tell me again that this treaty was not unduly onerous, and completely unacceptable to any sovereign nation. Add to this the fact that France and the UK did everything in their power to make the life of the democratically elected German governments miserable (like the French occupation of the Rhineland, for instance), and then you realize that part of the reason for the rise of Nazism is to be found in London and Paris.

The French realized that this was a very bad idea after WWII and decided that the best way to deal with Germany was to bind it closely to France economically and politically - which in my opinion, has been a great success for both countries.



Yes, I read most of the treaty. I find your comments in your second paragraph to be factually incorrect. I would suggest, if you are interested, regarding one, but only one, source for my contentions, you might try

A Global History of World War II by Gerhard L. Weinberg. I do not wave this title at you as a shibboleth. I offer that this is a very,very technical argument and it does not lend itself to comments on a blog.

As to last paragraph, I agree. But you will note, the embracing took place after, and only after, the Allies split Germany in two. It was easier, and wiser, to embrace the German Shepard puppy, than the full grown Shepard. And, I will bet, that those who split up Germany, thought they were going to stay split a lot longer than they actually did. After Versailles, however onerous, and however poorly, you say the German state was treated....here is what we know. It stayed one nation. And, within less than two decades Germany had righted itself to the extent that she nearly conquered the combined forces of all of Europe. Blaming Nazism on London and Paris is an old trick. And it has fooled many a man, and many a historian, you want to believe it? Fine. Not I....

Duncan Kinder

Speaking of "Collective Memory," the role of oral tradition is important.

The leading text on Oral Tradition is Albert Lord's The Singer of Tales.

In The Singer of Tales, Lord analyzes the oral poetry of Jugoslav Muslim oral poets to assert that Homer uses similar techniques to compose the Iliad and the Odyssey.

Lord, a Harvard professor, was the leading disciple of Millman Parry. Parry, who died in an automobile accident in 1935 and who has been compared to Darwin in terms of his intellectual importance, advance the thesis that Homer's poetry was composed orally rather than written down - hence is not "literature" in the same sense that, say, Virgil's Aeneid is. The Singer of Tales is the most concise presentation of the Parry Lord thesis.

For purposes of our present discussion, The Singer of Tales - through its extensive discussion of Balkan bards - provides much information about how collective memory actually has operated in the Balkans.

Eric Dönges


please read my comment again. I claimed that part of the reason for Nazism is to be found outside of Germany - but only part. That is not "blaming Nazism on London and Paris".

And the reason that Germany was able to start WWII was because Hitler simply ignored the Versaille treaty. The British and French didn't lift a finger to stop him - probably because they belatedly realized that the only thing standing between France (and thus the English Channel) and the Soviet Union was a militarily completely emasculated Germany. By the time they realized that Hitler couldn't be bargained with, it was too late to do anything about it.

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