Cassandra has moved. Ugo Bardi publishes now on a new site called "The Seneca Effect."

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

21 Years Ago: The end of the Bombing of Serbia. And the Start of the Decline of the Western Empire

Nato Bombing of the city of Novi Sad, Serbia, 1999 (image from Wikipedia)

21 years ago, on June 10, 1999, the NATO campaign against Serbia ended after 78 days of bombing. We still don't know exactly the number of victims, civilian and military, nor the amount of damage and it would be difficult to say who actually "won" the bloody mess. But the bombing of Serbia was a turning point for many reasons.

In 1991, the collapse of the Soviet Union marked the end of the "cold war" and gave rise to expectations of a "peace dividend" once the old enemy of the West had folded out. Needless to say, that never happened. It appeared clear with the Serbian campaign that saw the whole Western world allied against a single state of less than 8 million inhabited.

There was nothing special in the Western Empire taking an aggressive posture after the fall of the rival Soviet Empire. It is the way empires work: they are military organizations dedicated to shifting economic resources from the periphery to the center. So, empires last as long as the cost of their huge military apparatus can be paid for by the resources they can control. Since resources are never infinite, they tend to be overexploited and empires suffer of a classic economic problem: diminishing returns. That's the reason for the cycles of growth and collapse of empires in history.

One peculiarity of empires is their capability to mask their mechanisms of operation. After the end of WW2, the Western Empire had managed to paint itself as a "non-empire," a force for the good of humankind. Within some limits, it was not wrong: The Imperial Government in Washington did a lot to rebuild Western Europe, to restore peace and justice, to promote democracy, to keep in check the rival Soviet Empire. Up to the 1990s, it was still possible to believe that, although it required a certain degree of faith.

We can say that the turning point of the way the empire presented itself was the bombing campaign of Serbia. With the best of good will, the idea of "humanitarian bombing" sounded hollow and absurd, no matter how many times it was repeated by the mainstream media. The bombing of the Chinese Embassy of Belgrade, on May 7, 1999, was the turning point in the perception of the campaign. Perhaps, it was also the turning point that led to the end of the bombing about one month later.

Again, no big surprise: the declining trajectory of empires in history starts when their propaganda ceases being believable -- and believed. It had to happen, and it did. It is the moment when the empire starts discovering that it is not so mighty as it believed to be. It is when the imperial coffers start being emptied by the gigantic expenses of keeping alive a monstrously overgrown military machine that has become not only too expensive but also obsolete.

21 years after the end of the Serbian campaign, we have moved to a point in which the decline of the Western Empire is evident. Mr. Trump as a noisy and despised emperor who seems to be unable to keep the empire together among external and internal problems. The main problem may simply be that the Empire is not believable anymore as a force of justice and democracy. There is nothing that can be done about that, it is history moving onward. And we all move with it


Ugo Bardi is a member of the Club of Rome, faculty member of the University of Florence, and the author of "Extracted" (Chelsea Green 2014), "The Seneca Effect" (Springer 2017), and Before the Collapse (Springer 2019)