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The British Peace Assembly brings everyone gathered here greetings of solidarity and peace.
We thank the Belgrade Forum for a World of Equals and the World Peace Council for organising this most significant and timely conference commemorating the 20th anniversary (on March 24) of the start of the catastrophic Nato aggression, under the title “Lest we forget!”
We pay our respects to the many hundreds killed during the 78-day bombing campaign and to their families.
We particularly think of the 89 youngest victims, whose lives and potential were so prematurely cut off. Their poignant memorial stands in Tasmajdan Park, here in Belgrade, bearing four simple words — “We were only children.”
We recall with horror the orchestrated terror and devastation inflicted purposefully and mercilessly on the people of Serbia by the US and its allies, including by the right-wing Labour government of Britain and the neoliberal Establishment in whose interests it acted.
We remember the enduring legacy — a country divided, an economy and infrastructure destroyed, the reduction of so many to enduring poverty and deprivation, exposure to further imperialist intervention and the erection of barriers preventing the people from freely determining their future. These have been the lasting consequences of Nato’s operation Allied Force.
This is what we remember here today, but we have a duty and responsibility also to revisit and re-examine what took place and its significance, not only for the people of Serbia, but for all peace-loving people everywhere in their struggle against imperialist aggression and war.
After the end of the cold war and the demise of the Soviet Union, the socialist states of central and eastern Europe and the Warsaw Pact, US-led imperialism had hatched new strategic plans for Nato, its military arm, in order to block the advance of socialism and maintain its hegemony across the globe.
But it needed a credible covering narrative now that the so-called “threat” to the West from the socialist world no longer provided a viable means of convincing public opinion and winning broad support for its interventions and conflicts. It had to find different ways of operating, more efficient methods of waging war and new strategies for exploiting resources, labour and markets for what was envisioned as an exclusively neoliberal universe.
In Yugoslavia, imperialism saw not only the opportunity of ridding Europe of any last vestiges of socialism, splitting the country into controllable and exploitable statelets and securing access to high quantities of mineral resources, including the valuable lignite deposits of Kosovo, but also of testing the potential strength of the Nato alliance, its strategies, its military hard and software and its potential to win the support of the majority of the population of member countries.
Operation Allied Force was a deadly experiment, the harbinger of what was soon to come — a blueprint for future devastating interventions in countries and situations around the world.
At the time, this was the largest military operation it had ever undertaken and it saw many terrible “firsts” that revealed the true face and intent of the most reactionary powers on the planet.
For the first time force was used against a sovereign state without UN approval in violation of international law. The new imperialist approach to combat was tried out — no “boots on the ground,” sole reliance on air power, the most advanced technology and deadly weaponry.
Large-scale use of satellite technology made its missile-guiding debut in an arena of conflict. B2 stealth bombers made their first appearance in live combat.
Operation Allied Force was a deadly experiment, the harbinger of what was soon to come — a blueprint for future devastating interventions in countries around the world
Events in Kosovo posed no discernible threat to the national security of any Nato member country, yet public opinion in the West was won on the basis of a sophisticated and highly effective web of lies — that Belgrade had not responded to the allies’ overtures and the attack would take place on “humanitarian” grounds, there being no alternative.
The day before the first bomb fell, prime minister Tony Blair told Parliament that Britain was ready to take military action “primarily to avert what would otherwise be a humanitarian disaster in Kosovo.” The military objective of weakening the army and so increasing its costs that it would be forced out of the province altogether, leaving it prey to Kosovan big business and its Western backers, was never mentioned.
The aggression was long-planned and nothing Belgrade did or did not do could have changed the mind of Nato’s generals.
In Britain, due to deceptive news coverage, few people were aware or have since become aware of what truly took place. They have little idea of the sheer scale of death and injury, of the numbers of refugees and displaced people, of the destruction of thousands of homes, of schools, hospitals, roads, bridges, airfields, oil refineries, factories, power and water plants, public buildings, the state broadcasting facility and national telecommunications networks.
They are largely unaware of the poisoning of the environment by toxic emissions from bombed industrial sites and the widespread and long-lasting effects of depleted uranium.
They do not know that all strategic military targets were destroyed within three days of the start of the campaign yet bombing continued for a further eleven weeks, with lethal cluster bombs rained down on civilians from early April.
Neither do they know that civilian targets and places where it was known that civilians would be casualties were deliberately attacked and that subsequent rescue attempts and medical teams attending the injured were subjected to secondary “terror” bombing. There was no exposure of war crimes and carnage nor were there calls for justice and reparation.
For Nato, the aggression — with its testing of the strength and capability of the alliance, of strategic and tactical innovation and of military hard and software — was a success by any measure.
For the military-industrial complexes of the West, it was a vindication of investment, with the promise of trillions of dollars’ profit to be had from coming wars and threats of war. But for the people of the world, it was a tragic precursor of a whole new order of imperialist aggression — in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Mali and Syria — a prefiguring of its contemporary warmongering and a chilling warning to all peace-loving people.
Britain played a full and significant part in Operation Allied Force — in mobilising support for military action from the summer of 1997 and in detailed planning from then on in. During the campaign, from the outset, B52 bombers left from bases in England. HMS Invincible operated Sea Harrier jets and an array of British destroyers, frigates and war planes gave support throughout. British-made weapons, including cluster bombs, were dropped indiscriminately.
The British Peace Assembly and the wider peace movement in Britain must use this anniversary to ensure that the people of Britain understand fully what was done in their name and will be repeated time and again unless we are strong, united and vigilant.
It is the role of the World Peace Council, its affiliates and the peace movement in every country to expose imperialism and Nato for everything they have been, are and plan to be, so that people everywhere know and understand why we say “No to Nato” and “Yes to peace.”
We must never forget, but we cannot forget what we did not learn in the first place. It is our duty to bring the past and its significance alive to new generations of those in struggle.
We must ensure that when we say, “Never again!” we understand where the roots of aggression lie and are thus better equipped to struggle against the forces of imperialism and together for peace, democracy and progress.
While imperialism continues, there can be no “world of equals.”
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