KLA Becomes NATO’s Proxy

26 April—Prior to the commencement of NATO’s attack on Yugoslavia last month, the Serbian leadership claimed that it would only take their police and military a week to ten days to mop up the Kosovo Liberation Army "terrorists," who controlled almost half of the predominantly Albanian province. As soon as NATO’s bombs began to fall, the Serbs launched a military drive to smash KLA strongholds and depopulate their "base areas." The result was an exodus of hundreds of thousands of ethnic Albanians who poured across the borders into Albania, Macedonia and Montenegro. NATO publicists, and the imperialist media, downplayed the Serbs’ military campaign against the KLA, and depicted the torrent of refugees as a diabolical and unforeseeable tactic devised by Milosevic to embarrass the great powers.

For their part, the Serbs suggested that Kosovo’s Albanians were fleeing NATO’s bombs and noted that some tens of thousands of Serbs had also fled the region. NATO did bomb Pristina, Kosovo’s capital, and a desire not to end up as "collateral damage" doubtless motivated some of the refugees. But the flood of ethnic Albanians was primarily the result of the Yugoslav army’s previously advertised offensive against the KLA. Similar forced population transfers were used by U.S. forces in Vietnam in the 1960s and the Salvadoran military in the 1980s in their drive against leftist insurgents.

The KLA has been regarded by the imperialists as an unsavory bunch of thugs heavily involved in the heroin trade and connected to dangerous Islamic fundamentalists. At points during the negotiations leading up to the Rambouillet "peace" settlement, the KLA assumed a non-compliant posture. This is hardly surprising, as the deal called for KLA units to be disarmed, while NATO’s army of occupation set about constructing a new, suitably tractable, political regime for the region. In the end, the KLA delegation signed the Rambouillet contract hoping that Belgrade’s refusal to cede Kosovo to NATO would lead to an imperialist assault.

Revolutionaries oppose Serbian "ethnic cleansing" and all other crimes against the Kosovo Albanians. The military struggle of the KLA against the Yugoslav army and police was a just one—and their aspiration to gain independence from their Serb oppressors was entirely supportable. The commencement of NATO’s campaign to "degrade" the Serb military did not automatically change this. Yet the configuration of forces made it highly likely that the ethnic Albanians’ struggle for freedom would soon be subsumed by the imperialist assault on Yugoslavia.

The Yugoslav military effectively minimized casualties in their campaign against the KLA by avoiding close combat and instead using tanks and artillery to first surround and then bombard villages held by the insurgents. Equipped only with light weapons, the KLA was unable to offer any effective resistance to Serb armor and was destroyed as an effective military force within a matter of weeks. As the Serb campaign against the KLA wound down, the flood of refugees abated. This was portrayed by the Western media as yet another fiendish and unpredictable trick by Milosevic. At the same time, Belgrade’s attempts to initiate diplomatic contacts with a view to ending NATO’s bombing were rebuffed.

Meanwhile the KLA remnants which regrouped in northern Albania sought a tighter relationship with NATO. In our 30 March statement (reprinted above) we anticipated such a possibility and qualified our support to the KLA accordingly:

"If, in the course of the present conflict, the KLA should become subordinated to, or begin to operate essentially as an auxiliary of, the NATO aggressors, our attitude would change to one of favoring the victory of the Yugoslav army over both the imperialists and their auxiliaries."

It is possible to trace the course of this development through accounts published in the British press. The 12 April issue of the Independent reported:

"OSCE [Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe] officials believe that the KLA has changed its tactics: instead of trying to defend villages from the Serbs it is concentrating on hit-and-run guerrilla attacks against the Yugoslav army, while attempting to protect the huge numbers of displaced Albanians trapped in the hills. Although the West denies that it is arming the KLA, the rebel army acts as Nato’s eyes and ears in Kosovo."

On the same day, another London paper, the Daily Telegraph, reported:

"America has started secret negotiations with the Kosovo Liberation Army about supplying it with specialist weapons to attack Serb ground forces in Kosovo that continue to evade Nato’s air campaign. Frustrated at the lack of progress against Serbian tanks, artillery and armoured vehicles, Washington has started sounding out other trusted Nato partners about arming the KLA with wire-guided missiles. It comes after desperate pleas for help from the KLA by satellite phone to American military advisers. There has been a clear softening of stance by the State Department, which last year was willing to accept descriptions of the KLA as terrorist criminals but now appears to view it as an organisation it can do business with....The equipment being considered for shipment to Kosovo includes wire-guided anti-tank missiles, medium mortars and other weapons useful against armor."

A few days later, on 18 April, the Sunday Telegraph reported:

"Nato is now quietly drafting the KLA into its war against Slobodan Milosevic. It is even considering plans to train them and ease the arms embargo on Yugoslavia to supply them with weapons such as mortars and rocket-propelled grenades. From their remaining enclaves within Kosovo and reconnaissance missions staged from Albania, the rebels already use satellite and cellular telephones to provide Nato with details on Serbian targets."

On 22 April, Robert Fisk, one of Britain’s better informed print journalists, wrote an article in the Independent under the headline: "Nato resorts to war by proxy." The KLA is today exactly that: a proxy for NATO. This relationship is a product of the crushing military setbacks suffered by the KLA on the one hand, and the failure of NATO’s air strikes to deliver a quick and painless victory on the other.

Military defense of Yugoslavia against imperialist attack does not negate the right of Kosovo’s Albanians to resist Serb oppression, nor, on the level of principle, their right to separate from Serbia. The Kosovo Albanians are entitled to determine their own future, like every other people. But the right to self-determination cannot be exercised through NATO occupation. In subordinating itself to NATO, the KLA, which currently constitutes the only visible leadership of Kosovo’s Albanian population, has been essentially transformed into an instrument of imperialist policy. The KLA still talks about achieving "independence," but it is in fact supporting NATO’s drive to turn Kosovo into an imperialist protectorate on the Bosnian model.

We stand in the tradition of Vladimir Lenin who, in the midst of World War I, asserted that: "To be in favour of an all-European war merely for the sake of restoring Poland is to be a nationalist of the worst sort..." ("The Discussion on Self-Determination Summed Up"). Lenin observed that Marxists do not regard the right of self-determination as a categorical imperative:

"The several demands of democracy, including self-determination, are not an absolute, but only a small part of the general-democratic (now: general-socialist) world movement. In individual concrete cases, the part may contradict the whole; if so, it must be rejected. It is possible that the republican movement in one country may be merely an instrument of the clerical or financial-monarchist intrigues of other countries; if so, we must not support this particular, concrete movement...."


The KLA can no longer be considered as any kind of national liberation movement—it is today simply a cat’s paw of imperialism. We have therefore dropped the call for "Independence for Kosovo" as an immediate, agitational, demand because in the present context it can only serve as a cover for the schemes of the imperialists.