No sacred cows

No sacred cows – the Balkan crisis

Deborah Lutterbeck

The War Lobby

In his farewell address to the nation, President Dwight Eisenhower warned that “unwarranted influence [exerted] by the military-industrial complex” could have disastrous results on national policy. That sentiment was sounded in the wake of the Vietnam War and heard again in the midst of the Persian Gulf conflict. But there is no such talk surrounding the Balkan crisis. With weapons-makers focused on unstable regions with deep pockets, the arms-hungry warring factions in Bosnia have been forced to adopt many of the same lobbying tactics practiced by Washington’s special-interest groups.

Serbians, stymied by a United Nations economic embargo and charges of war crimes, rely on stand-in groups in the United States to make tens of thousands of dollars in contributions to influential lawmakers like presidential contender Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Texas); Rep. Lee Hamilton (D-Ind.), ranking member of the House International Affairs Committee; freshman Sen. Spencer Abraham (R-Mich.); and Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.). The groups also hire well-connected Washington lobbyists.

Bosnian Muslims have been aided by billionaire George Soros. For a time the influential public relations firm Ruder-Finn represented the Croatians.

While it’s unclear what influence an engaged arms industry might have had on the U.S. role in the Bosnian conflict, it is clear weapons-makers have little interest in the war-torn region, which has already witnessed more than 250,000 casualties.

“Our market is in the high-end stuff,” says McDonnell Douglas’s Mark Kronenberg. “The stuff [Bosnian Muslims] would be looking for…could be bought in Pakistan at $20 a pop.”

As a result, the so-called war lobby has been all but absent on the difficult Bosnia issue, which the Clinton administration apparently views as a lose-lose situation, and many in Congress treat as an opportunity to score political points.

“I am not aware of any of the interested parties lobbying us on this,” says a key Senate aide. “I am not aware of any contact with any of the U.S. arms production companies.”

Even so, the Clinton administration has used the cost of lifting the arms embargo as an argument against doing it, says Marshall Harris, executive director of the Action Council for Peace in the Balkans and a former State Department official who resigned because he disagreed with U.S. policy in the region. “To scare off Congress, [the administration] said it would cost $2 billion to arm the Bosnians,” Harris says, calling the estimate inflated.

Without the interest and political support of the leading deep-pocketed arms makers, who arms policy analyst William Hartung says made $4 million in contributions to members and would-be members of Congress in the 1992 election cycle, representatives of Balkan interests have approached Washington policymakers looking more like Mr. Smith than Smith & Wesson.

Bosnian Muslims, with a limited U.S. constituency, have relied largely on Soros’s largess. A portion of his $50 million in philanthropic aid to Bosnia was used to hire such Washington lobbyists as the Sawyer Miller Group and the Wexler Group.

Because Serbians are barred by international law from lobbying in the United States, groups like the Serbian Unity Congress (SUC) have been trying to tell Americans the Serbian side of the story.

But not everyone wants to listen – even when money is talking. On learning of a $1,000 SUC contribution to her campaign, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) gave it back. Rep. Sam Gejdenson (D-Conn.) also returned a $1,000 SUC contribution.

But Federal Election Commission (FEC) records show that Sen. Gramm’s presidential campaign committee has accepted $1,000 from former SUC president Michael Djordjevich. Gramm’s campaign office did not respond to inquiries on the matter.

FEC records show that since January 1991 Djordjevich and his wife have contributed $8,000 to Rep. Bill Baker (R-Calif.), who has voted against lifting the arms embargo. Baker also received $250 from regional SUC vice president Desa Wakeman. “Whoever wants to support Rep. Baker, he’s happy to accept their contributions,” says Baker’s chief of staff.

Former SUC Treasurer Peter Chelovich and his wife contributed $4,000 to Sen. Spencer Abraham (R-Mich.). The senator, who recently voted to lift the arms embargo in Bosnia, “has known Peter Chelovich since 1982,” says Abraham’s spokesperson. “[Chelovich] is a Republican activist in the state,” he adds.

Chelovich donated $3,000 to Rep. Richard Chrysler (R-Mich.), who voted to lift the arms embargo. Rep. Joe Knollenberg, another Michigan Republican, received $5,500 in contributions from the Cheloviches. A spokesperson for Knollenberg says “campaign contributions [had] no beating on his vote” against lifting the arms embargo.

Lee Hamilton, former chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, has been both a recipient of – to the tune of at least $5,00 – and a correspondent with the SUC. Although Hamilton did not respond to questions about the contributions, in a 1992 letter to the SUC he said, “All parties in Bosnia-Herzegovina bear some of the blame for the current tragedy.”

All told, Serbian interests have contributed at least $63,353 to congressional campaigns since January ’91. So far, Gramm is the only presidential candidate to receive their support.

Congressmembers don’t always realize when they’re being lobbied by the Serbs. When former U.N. peacekeeper Maj. Gen. Lewis Mackenzie testified before the House Armed Services Committee last year, members were unaware that the Canadian was being paid by a lobbyist working for Serb interests.

As it stands now, the warring factions in Bosnia aren’t claiming victory in the Balkans or in Washington. Whether the interest of the nation’s arms dealers could have tipped the scales is difficult to measure, says Laura Lumpe of the Federation of American Scientists. “It’s like trying to prove the absence of influence,” she says.

The conflict also raises the question, “What if they gave a war and nobody came?” Bosnia shows that war goes on even when the major arms makers stay on the sidelines.

COPYRIGHT 1995 Common Cause Magazine

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group