"Balkans Syndrome" - We Told You So

In April of 1999, at the beginning of NATO's brutal air war against Yugoslavia, we produced the article Is NATO using Depleted Uranium in Yugoslavia? - The long term effects of the war. Now, our predictions have tragically come true.

In April of 1999, at the beginning of NATO's brutal air war against Yugoslavia, we produced the article Is NATO using Depleted Uranium in Yugoslavia? - The long term effects of the war. In it we warned that "militarily, politically, economically, and socially, the war in Yugoslavia will undoubtedly have a lasting effect on the Balkans. But what are some of the other possible consequences of this military action? If the past sheds any light on the present situation, the use of high-tech weapons by the NATO alliance may have some serious, lasting environmental and health effects on the people of the Balkans."

More specifically, we explained that the use of depleted uranium (DU) ammunition had wreaked havoc on the environment and population in Iraq, that it had been used in Bosnia, and that it was most likely being used in Yugoslavia. For a full explanation of DU, and its effects, please see our earlier article. Now there is a huge controversy over what is being called "Balkans Syndrome". Yet even before there was any conclusive proof of its use we said:

"Now the United States and its NATO allies are waging an undeclared war on Yugoslavia, with supposed 'humanitarian' intentions. Much has been made recently of the fact that NATO forces are attacking units responsible for the 'ethnic cleansing' of Kosovo - troop concentrations, armored personnel carriers and tanks. It is interesting to observe that on one side of the battlefield, the Yugoslav Army uses the same Soviet-era equipment that the D.U. rounds were developed to destroy. On the other, the US is using the A-10 'tank-busting' planes to go after many of these targets. It does not take a genius to put two and two together - it is highly likely that this radioactive anti-tank ammunition is part of NATO's arsenal in Yugoslavia.

"But even more unsettling is the significant evidence that laser and satellite-guided bombs and missiles may also be produced using DU These high-tech weapons are well known to hit residential areas as well as "military targets" such as automobile factories and heating plants with 'pinpoint accuracy'.

"Is this the 'humanitarian' mission of NATO? For all the talk of returning the Kosovar Albanians to their homes, the question must be asked - what sort of homes will they be? Many villages have already been bombed and burned to the ground by NATO or Serb paramilitary forces. Must they also face the prospect of living in a land poisoned by radioactive waste?

"While not yet substantiated, several governments, as well as environmental groups have alleged that the D.U. round is in fact being used in Yugoslavia. Moreover, there is compelling evidence that D.U. ammunition was used by NATO in the 1995 bombing of Bosnia. According to the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency, when bombing military and civilian targets in the Serb Republic, NATO forces "used special ammunition made of depleted uranium that exposed the armed forces, the civilian population, and the whole environment to the danger of radioactive contamination."

We also explained at the time that "The United States and its allies are perfectly aware of the danger posed by leaving these expended rounds in the environment."

Now these predictions have tragically come true. NATO has admitted that U.S. attack jets fired some 31,000 rounds of depleted uranium (DU) ammunition during its 1999 bombing campaign. About 10,000 rounds were also fired in neighboring Bosnia in 1994-95. At least seven Italian and five Belgian soldiers who served in the Balkans died of leukemia. Thousands of other Balkan veterans have fallen ill, with a range of symptoms from cancer to fatigue and hair loss - symptoms which have been likened to Gulf War Syndrome.

So far they have only voiced concern (and not much at that!) for the NATO soldiers stationed in the region. Yet what about the civilian population they were "protecting" during these wars? It seems that not only did they "accidentally" bomb hundreds of civilians in their campaign of terror, but they have left a nice little present for future generations - radioactive waste.

Even though their NATO allies have called for increased research and a moratorium on these weapons, Britain and the United States are opposed, and deny that there is any link between DU coated ammunition and the high rates of cancer among these veterans. They produce a number of "experts" with a long list of letters after their names who tell us that there is no danger whatsoever. Of course, these "objective" scientists' salaries are paid for by the government and defense contractors, so it is no surprise that they find nothing out of the ordinary! So, according to British Defense John Spellar, in spite of public outcry and objections from many of NATO's members, "DU will remain part of our arsenal for the foreseeable future."

And why? As we explained in our earlier article:

"Ironically, there is an alternative to the use of DU in the manufacturing of armor-piercing shells - tungsten. Yet even though tungsten is almost as effective as DU, and without the risk of radioactive poisoning, it is more expensive, and must be imported. Thus, as in all cases of capitalist 'morality' and 'public safety', it comes down to profit. As Bill Arkin, a columnist for The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists who has consulted on DU for Greenpeace and Human Rights Watch says, 'It's just a cost issue.'"

We have explained time and again that the capitalist system thrives only off profits - at the expense of anything in its way. It is like a juggernaut, crushing anything and anyone that gets in its way. The environment is being destroyed? Millions are malnourished and starving? Millions can't read or write? Thousands a year are killed or crippled in war? Millions are homeless? Chemicals and disease in our food? Millions of unemployed? Who cares! We can make more profit by cutting corners and squeezing the life out of the rest of humanity! This is the attitude of the ruling class of all countries towards the workers of the world. The use of DU ammunition and its horrific, long-lasting effects is just one example among countless others. There is nothing mystical in the fact that we "predicted" this tragedy in advance. Under capitalism human wll-being will always be subordinated to profit. We have said it so many times that we almost needn't repeat ourselves - the only lasting, genuine solution to the ills of humanity is a World Socialist Federation with a democratic plan of production, distribution and exchange in harmony with the environment!