The Militarism of German Foreign Policy and the Dismantling of a State


In the shadow of new wars, the memory of the aggression against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia is more and more fading into oblivion. Those who hoped for an inquiry about this first war in which the Federal Republic of Germany militarily participated are faced with silence. In Germany as in other countries, the US-American filmmaker and author Michael Moore, who takes a stand against Bush’s belligerent policy in Iraq and who supported General Wesley Clark in his Presidential pre-election campaign, is highly celebrated. Clark, who in his function as NATO’s Supreme Commander in Europe led the bombing of Yugoslavia, was the “anti-War Candidate”, as Moore told his leftist audience.

“Collateral damage,” including the bombing of civilians in Varvarin, bodies mutilated by cluster bombs in Nis, employees killed in the bombing of the RTS television station and the Chinese embassy, as well as the “humanitarian” military intervention as such, faced little opposition in the NATO countries — with the exception of Greece. Even the “left” walked into the human-rights trap and supported — although not unanimously — the attack on the “Belgrade regime”.

This first direct participation of Germany in an illegal war of aggression after World War II fundamentally changed German foreign policy: since then (and not since 9/11), wars are seen as a legitimate means of politics. Chancellor Gerhard Schröder himself admitted to being surprised by “how little it has been recognized that the decision for war meant a fundamental change in Germany’s foreign and security policy.”

The German Army, the Bundeswehr, has been transformed into a global intervention force in order to defend Germany even at the Hindukush, as Minister of Defence Peter Struck outlined in his Defence Policy Rules. “This is not about unduly giving room to military logic, but not to put this aspect of foreign politics under a taboo, as it was done for so long”, Schröder said in late 2001.

The first steps in this direction were already undertaken by the then-governing Christian Democrats, CDU/CSU, in their 1992 Defense Rules. In the period prior to the “humanitarian” war against Yugoslavia they had yet to acquaint the public with what those really meant.

“I just think it is wrong to connect the moral too quickly with questions of war and peace without taking the aspect of national interest into considertaion. () For the future I predict a considerable danger that the government, the ruling parties and the Joint Chiefs of Staff will search for or create causes to eliminate the barriers which are still in the way of a reunified German foreign policy. Humanitarian issues serve as a vehicle.”(1) “(German) military operations must not take place where German troops carried out their devastating actions in World War II. I would be glad, if those who advocate it would not always hide behind human rights to enforce this position”, stated Joseph Fischer — in 1994.(2)

Since the NATO war of 1999 for him these principles belong to the past. He clarified that he is not carrying out “Green” foreign policy but “German”.(3) The war against Yugoslavia opened the door for following and future wars. The bombs were still falling on Yugoslavia when NATO passed its new strategic concept, which proclaimed its right to engage in offensive “out-of-area” operations. While breaches of international law were part of a public debate during the aggression on Yugoslavia and had to be hidden under a humanitarian carpet, legal aspects seem to count less and less in the continuing “War on Terror”.

Germany didn’t “slip into” the war

To understand developments in German foreign policy, one should not confine the view to the military peak of the aggression against Yugoslavia in 1999, in which Germany – according to General ret. Heinz Loquai – by no means “slipped into” the role of an allied power, but appeared to be the first country focusing on a military solution as early as spring of 1998.(4)

Yugoslavia was essential for the emancipation of German foreign policy and that change dates back to 1991.

The recognition of Slovenia and Croatia in December 1991 was the first massive appearance of the Federal Republic of Germany on the international stage. Despite all warnings the government of Kohl/Genscher stood forth and thwarted any negotiated solutions that could have prevented the bloody civil wars in which Yugoslavia fell apart. “Regardless of all celebrated declarations to stand for peace and to refrain from striving for power”, given by Germany just one year before in the so-called “Two-Plus-Four”-treaty, “the Federal Republic of Germany interfered massively in the internal affairs of one of the states of the Anti-Hitler-Coalition. Germany, reunified and strong, stepped on the international stage and for the first time since World War II openly pursued great power politics — in the Balkans, where it had already wreaked great mischief twice in this century.(5)

There was an “Independent State of Croatia” once before, in 1941 as a creation of Hitler and Mussolini, supported by the Roman Catholic Church and led by the fascist Ustasha. Half a century later, an independent Croatia was again established through the influence of Germany and the Vatican. Croatia was governed by Franjo Tudjman’s party, which openly revived the politics of the Ustasha who had committed some of the most horrible acts of genocide in the 20th Century under their fascist leader Ante Pavelic, murdering hundreds of thousands of Serbs.(6) To this day, the crimes of the Ustasha are among the least recognized crimes of World War II. Were Serbian survivors and their descendants not the only ones to remember this part of history, the German policy of recognition as well as the presentation of the Croatian conflict in the media could not have happened nor gone unchallenged as it did.

Kurt Köpruner, a businessman who travelled to Yugoslavia many times in the 1990’s and was thus an eye-witness to that tragedy, concluded from heated debates on the impending disintegration of the country end-1990 in Croatia: “If it really comes to the dissolution of Yugoslavia, this cannot possibly happen without horrible bloodshed and hundreds of thousands of deaths”.(7) He began to realise why this was the common view when he read about the course of World War II in the Balkans. For the first time, he learned about mass slaughters by the Ustasha, Muslim and Albanian SS divisions.

Tudjman, who became President in the first Croatian multi-party-election in 1990 and who led the country into independence with the help of Germany in 1991, had in 1989 already played down the Holocaust in general and the Ustasha crimes against Serbs at the death camp of Jasenovac in particular. Under Tudjman’s rule a revival of Ustasha symbols and ideals took place. A new constitution did not contain a single word regarding the rights of Serbs living in Croatia. Terror against Serbs started, “systematically and controlled from the top”. In masses, they were dismissed from work, and “messages urging them to leave the country were stuck on the doors of Serb houses.”(8) In a referendum — declared as illegal by Tudjman — the Croatian Serbs voted to remain in Yugoslavia.

Months before German recognition and the outbreak of the war, on May 2nd, 1991, the “Dalmatian Kristallnacht” took place.(9) Supported by the local police, 2,000 Croats destroyed 116 Serbian shops and houses in Zadar in an action lasting several hours. On October 16th, 1991 the “Night of the Long Knifes” followed, with more than hundred Serb civilians tortured and executed.(10) The Western media remained silent. Only the New York Times reported in December 1993: “The government of Croatia has forced thousands of its opponents from their homes and from the country, according to the new Zagreb office of Human Rigths. The actions have been directed mostly against Serbs, but also against Croats opposing the politics of President Tudjman. Since 1991, the Croatian authorities have blown up or razed tens of thousands of mostly Serb houses, but also houses of Croats. … Whole families were killed. All in all, about 280,000 Croatian Serbs have fled the country.” According to Susan Woodward, the Croatian government had already expelled all Serbs that were under their control by 1993.(11) One should wonder whether this was the “democracy, that the Serbs, as indigenous people, living in one-third of communist Tito-created Croatia, had to accept”, asked the New York Times and added in April 1997: “Did the West become so sick as to allow Croatian fascism to live its afterlife?”

How much the Croatian people really supported Tudjman’s policy, forseeing the bloodshed, remains unclear. At least the referendum on independence should not be used to measure the support since it was quite the opposite of the “clear and overwhelming will of the Croatian people”, as Westerners celebrated it. The voters were considerably pressed to make the right choice in the ballot.(12)


The distorted image of Serb expansion

Germany’s recognition of Croatia should be questioned not only in the light of the political powers it brought to the fore, but also from a legal point of view. While the majority of international law experts agree that Slovenia’s secession was an execution of the peoples’ right to self-determination, it is considered illegal in Croatia and Bosnia, where a main part of the Serbs outside Serbia have been living for centuries in coherent areas.(13)

Slobodan Milosevic repeatedly pointed out this problem. He did not oppose the right to self-determination, but he demanded this right for all peoples. “He pointed out that there are more than six hundred thousand Serbs living in Croatia, who represent the clear majority of the population in some areas of Krajina and Slavonia. The right to self-determination would have to be acknowledged to them as well. The existing borders between the Yugoslav republics were mere administrative borders.”(14)

Serbia showed a willingness to negotiate new borders and warned all parties not to confront others with a fait accompli — as happened short thereafter due to German recognition — which would lead to an out of control escalation. To give up their historical ground was an impossible demand for the Serbs. They “said good-bye to Slovenia. They would also have let Croatia go without the Krajina. Since it was the will of the Krajina Serbs, Belgrade intended to tie the Krajina to the motherland. But Croatia and later Bosnia wanted to take historical Serbian areas into independence.”(15)

Charles Boyd, former Deputy Commander in Chief of the US European Command, in 1995 opposed “the popular image of this war (as) one of unrelenting Serb expansion” in Foreign Affairs: “Much of what Zagreb calls the occupied territories is in fact land held by Serbs for more than three centuries The same is true of most Serb land in Bosnia, what the Western media frequently refers to as the 70 percent of was Bosnia seized by rebel Serbs In short, the Serbs are not trying to conquer new territory, but merely to hold on to what was already theirs.”

The Milosevic administration demanded the right of self-determination for the Serbs as well and warned of a repetition of the crimes of World War II. “When the Croats declared independence, they did not give the Serbs in their own country — and there are 600,000 of them — any guarantees whatsoever. It was therefore understandable that for this reason the Serbs were very worried. First of all, if we bear in mind the villainy of the Ustashas during World War II”, Lord Carrington stated. But when a settlement for the Krajina and Slavonia question was just about to be achieved, “the European Community decided end-1991 to recognize Slovenia and Croatia. Croatia received what it wanted, Slovenia as well, and they had no longer a desire to go on with the peace conference. Hans Dietrich Genscher wanted international recognition for Slovenia and Croatia. Practically all the others opposed it.”(16)

But the fears that arose in the minds of the Serbs were ignored and depicted as an aggressive plan for “Greater Serbia”.(17)

Soon, foreign states started to interfere in the conflict. German military instructors were serving in Croatia, and the Bundeswehr participated in air control missions and the Rapid Reaction Force in Bosnia. Illegal arms deliveries to Slovenia and Croatia followed, partly carried out through the German secret service.(18) The US opposed the Serbs and supported the Croats and Bosnian Muslims. “Finally, the NATO powers supported Croatian nationalism, and in 1995 Tudjman’s army, trained by US commanders and illegally equipped by the ‘International Community’, was in a position to complete the ethnic cleansing of the Krajina Serbs which had begun with the help of the Nazis in 1941.”(19) According to the distinguished military journal “Jane’s Defence Weekly”, the so-called “Operation Storm”, the most brutal campaign of ethnic cleansing in the time of Yugoslavia’s destruction, had been planned and executed not only by the Croat Ante Gotovina but also by the Kosovo Albanian Agim Ceku who later became head of the KLA.

In the case of Bosnia, it was the US that pressed for diplomatic recognition. Again, the conflict was depicted as the result of Serb aggression. But former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger defined the conflict as a three-sided civil war and not an invasion being waged against a souvereign state. “Croatia and Serbia support their compatriots in Bosnia. The most irresponsible mistake in the current Bosnian tragedy was the international recognition of the Bosnian state under the authority of the Muslims. Blindly following the precedent of Germany’s premature recognition of Slovenia and Croatia, the international community created all the former Yugoslav republics as independent states.”(20)

The NATO operation in Macedonia, where Albanian rebels operating out of Kosovo intensified their fighting in 2001, was highly disputed in Germany. A “decision against the deployment of the Bundeswehr would have been an important and valuable step towards a change in German politics and would not have lacked its meaning for future European politics and even the position of the US”, Knut Mertens of the Green Party said.(21) But on August 30th, 2001 the German Parliament approved the operation called “Essential Harvest”, which was not a peaceful arms collecting mission, but clearly meant as military intervention by NATO and the Bundeswehr respectively.(22)

Although the Social Democrat Gernot Erler promoted the deployment of German soldiers by affirming that it would only be temporary, the paraliament eventually approved the following operation “Amber Fox” on September 27th, 2001. Almost invisible to the German public, Germany took over the lead of the NATO mandate in Macedonia in the shadow of 9/11.


Who is responsible for the Kosovo violence?

Following the NATO aggression of 1999 German troops were deployed in Kosovo under the auspice of KFOR. As NATO and the UN stand by, it is not only organized crime that is flourishing. In a continuous and planned campaign and its massive recent escalation, Kosovo is being ethnically cleansed of all non-Albanians.

Despite official anouncements to disarm the KLA and restore a multi-ethnic society in Kosovo, it is mainly the US and Germany that have financed the ongoing terror in Kosovo after the NATO aggression by supporting the Kosovo Protection Corps. All other countries had withdrawn their support for the Corps which is manned by former KLA fighters after evidence had emerged that they were responsible for murders and violent attacks.(23) Following a 1999 Executive Order by the US President, the KLA was trained in terrorist tactics, obviously inspired by the idea to instigate a new crisis in case President Milosevic would win the elections.(24)

Whether foreign powers directly backed the recent coordinated acts of violence and expulsion or just stood by, in any case they share responsibility. In the same way already predominant in 1998 both sides are held accountable for the terrorist violence of the Albanian fighters who have always stood for an “ethnically pure Kosova”. In an absurd distortion of the facts, the UN Security Council “called on all communities in Kosovo to stop all acts of violence” ­ as seen in 1998.

Anyway the restoration of a multi-ethnic Kosovo ever since has been one of the fairy-tales only believed by those who thought that NATO had intervened for “humanitarian reasons” in 1999.

CATHRIN SCHÜTZ, born 1971, studied political science at J.W.-Goethe Universtity in Frankfurt/Main. She is a contributing writer for the German daily junge Welt. She is author of the book “Die NATO-Intervention in Jugoslawien. Hintergründe, Nebenwirkungen und Folgen”, published in 2003 with a preface of Member of German Parliament Willy Wimmer by Wilhelm Braumüller Verlag, Vienna.

The article was published in a slightly shortened version on March 26th 2004 in the German daily Neues Deutschland


1. “Die Woche”, 12-30-1994
2. Fischer as quoted in: Horst-Eberhard Richter, “IPPNW zum Jugoslawienkrieg”,
3. Cf. “Stern”, 03-24-1999
4. Cf. Heinz Loquai, “Weichenstellungen für einen Krieg”, Nomos, Baden-Baden 2003, pp44-45
5. Ralph Hartmann, “Die ehrlichen Makler”, Dietz, Berlin 1999, p13
6. After World War II Pavelic fled to Argentinia via Rome and died in a German hospital in Madrid in 1954, having been personally blessed by Pope Pius XII. Until today the genocide of the Serbs commited by Croats has been neither condemned adequately nor seriously studied. At the opening celebration of the Holocaust Museum in Washington, history was perverted: not the Serbs, but the Croats were invited. That and further information are following the work of Diana Johnstone, “Fool’s Crusade, Yugoslavia, NATO and Western Delusions”, Monthly Review Press, New York 2002
7. Kurt Köpruner, “Reisen in das Land der Kriege”, Espresso, Berlin 2001, p27
8. Malte Olschewski, “Von den Karawanken bis zum Kosovo. Die geheime Geschichte der Kriege in Jugoslawien”, Braumüller, Vienna 2000, p34
9. Köpruner, pp44, Olschewski, p34
10. Cf. Olschewski, p38
11. The other part, living in Krajina and other parts of Croatia that were not controlled by Tudjman, was expelled in Operation Storm in 1995 with the support of the US government.
12. Cf. Köpruner, pp51-53
13. Cf. Olschewski, p14
14. Köpruner, p31
15. Olschewski, p14
16. “Profil”, 12-01-1993
17. To this day there has been no proof for the allegation that Slobodan Milosevic planned to create a Greater Serbia. Ralph Hartmann shows that Milosevic’s Kosovo Polje Speech could only be used as evidence for his “aggressive” and “nationalistic” line by quoting out of context to change the meaning
18. Cf. Olschewski, p78,80
19. The US involvement in Operation Storm was openly mentioned in a hearing of the US Congress on 02-28-2002. Cf. “The U. N. Criminal Tribunals for Yugoslavia and Rwanda: International Justice of Show of Justice?”, Hearing before the Committee on International Relations, House of Representatives, 107th Congress
20. Washington Post, 05-17-1993
21. Knut Mertens, “Neues NATO-Protektorat oder ehrliche Friedenspolitik?”, “Zeit-Fragen”, 08-20-2001, p1
22. Cf. Tobias Pflüger, “Krieg, und zwar richtig”, “junge Welt”, 08-23-2001
23. Cf. Interview with Member of Congress Dennis Kucinich by CATHRIN SCHÜTZ, “Wird Sanktionspolitik bald beendet? “, “junge Welt”, 10-07-2000.
24. Cf. Dennis Kucinich, “What I learnt from the War”, The Progressive, August 1999

The article was translated from German by Sebastian Bahlo and Gregory Elich. Quotations originally appearing in English were re-translated from German.

The author would like to thank Diana Johnstone for providing urgently needed material and Sebastian Bahlo and Gregory Elich for translation.