Dr Predrag Simich
Although envisaged by today's most powerful military alliance as a quick and spectacular operation against a relatively small country and as a prototype of "a new strategic concept," since its very onset the NATO aggression against Yugoslavia took the opposite direction, threatening the Alliance with not only a political, but a military fiasco as well. This has prompted Zbigniew Brzezinski to conclude that the U.S. interests in this conflict go much further than Kosovo: "They were dramatically changed the very day the bombing started. To say that NATO's failure would mark the end of NATO itself as a credible alliance and undermine the leading role of the U.S. in the world would not be an overstatement."

The failure of the air campaign to attain NATO's political goals in the first two months of the war, prompted Brzezinski to call for a total war and ground invasion of Yugoslavia. Such plans, at least for the time being, were suspended in the face of opposition by Russia, Germany, most European allies, and the U.S. Congress. Though at the NATO Washington summit the U.S. preserved the coalition's unity and blocked Russian and Chinese motions in the U.N., rifts in the Western Alliance have become quite noticeable: except for Great Britain, Europe is once again asking itself whether it still needs the U.S. and NATO, or it is capable of taking care of its own security without them.

The bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade has drawn China in the conflict, which is the only remaining member of the U.N. Security Council that had attempted to stay uninvolved. Thus, from a "fly in a glass of champagne" during the celebration of NATO's anniversary, the crisis in the Balkans has become a political problem where the interests of a number of countries and international organizations intersect, but also a problem wherein the internal policies of the U.S., Russia, Germany, France, Italy, Greece, the Czech Republic, and others are reflected.

The U.S., whose aircraft account for 90 percent of the forces in the aerial war against Yugoslavia, entered the conflict intending to consolidate NATO and its own leading role not only among the allies, but also in regard to chief partners and potential rivals such as Russia or China. Whether in doing so it believed that Yugoslavia would immediately give in faced with a military threat is at this point of no such importance as the fact that not even after two months of war not one of NATO's main political objectives has been attained. Moreso, the engagement of a great number of aircraft, warships, and the most advanced military technology the new NATO's strategic concept is based on, could not cover the alliance's political weaknesses and the fact that enormous military power in itself is not sufficient without a clear and widely accepted political goal such as the one NATO used to have at the time of its founding half a century ago.

By acting beyond the U.N. Charter and its own founding documents, contrary to the interests of Russia and China, and despite hesitancy of its European allies, Washington embarked on a risky military operation whose debacle would not only jeopardize the incumbent administration in Washington but also the privileged position of the U.S. in the post-bipolar world. Owing to support from Democratic Party congressmen and, especially from some Republicans, the Clinton Administration has retained the support of Congress, but U.S. legislators do not back a ground war and sending U.S. troops into the Balkans.

EU members responded to the crisis individually, guided by their respective obligations towards NATO, but also by their own, political, priorities. The government of the German chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder, found itself in a most sensitive position. The discontent of its coalition partner -- the Green Party -- over the NATO intervention came down on its leader and German foreign minister, Joschka Fischer, threatening to even split the Greens. According to the German deputy foreign minister, the Greens would not be capable of accepting NATO's demand for sending ground troops in Yugoslavia, and such a turn could bring the German government down. Similar are other foreign policy challenges this country is facing over the war in the Balkans. The conflict has brought Germany in a position to choose between loyalty to NATO and the U.S., and its own interests in relations with Russia and China.

"The near confrontation between NATO and Russia over Kosovo was a sobering experience for the Germans. For a few days, they looked into the abyss and the abyss stared back at them. Members of the Red-Green coalition in Bonn are inherently suspicious of both the United States and military adventures. They spent the last month trying to demonstrate that they could be good citizens of NATO, putting aside their ingrained, 1960s sensibilities. They emerged with a clear sense that they were right to mistrust American leadership and to worry about military adventures," said a recent analysis of the Texas-based think-tank Stratfor.

This was one of the reasons why Moscow and Bonn shifted the focus of international diplomatic activities from the Contact Group to the G8, in an attempt to restore the U.N. as the main international crisis-solving center. Similar to this is the situation in Italy, and, to some extent, in France, whose coalition governments are under pressure from leftists to stop NATO's aggression against Yugoslavia and which are unprepared to expand the conflict from an aerial campaign into a ground war. In these countries, much like in Greece and some other NATO and EU members, there is pressure by prominent intellectuals and public personalities who consider the intervention not only a war against Yugoslavia, but also against Europe. In France, Germany, Italy, and numerous other European countries the war in the Balkans has revived anti-American sentiments from the times of the Vietnam War and, according to a prominent Greek diplomat, years of efforts to renew Greek-American ties in the wake of the fall of the dictatorship have been destroyed after only a few days of bombing.

Therefore, Italian Foreign Minister Lamberto Dini warned on several occasions that consequences of the NATO military operation in the Balkans should be interpreted in Europe as a warning that the issue of European security must once again be put on the agenda of the EU and WEU. In general, the interest of Germany and other western European countries is to play an active role in the final settlement of the crisis as well as to prevent sidelining Russia on the European political scene.

Thus Russia remains NATO's greatest dilemma, this country being the West's chief partner and its possible adversary if the Balkan crisis escalates. Though Moscow turned a deaf ear to Belgrade's calls for military assistance, observing the U.N. embargo on arms shipments to Yugoslavia, western analysts estimate that after the initial six weeks of the NATO campaign against Yugoslavia, Russia has emerged as the biggest political and moral winner. Except for the significant financial support (US$4.5 billion) it was granted in this period by the IMF, its international influence also went up, because it became a chief communications channel and a diplomatic mediator between the West and Yugoslavia. Much like in the case of the U.S., the Balkan crisis has become a major domestic policy issue over which not only the parliament, the president, and various political parties are crossing swords (which was confirmed by the attempt to impeach Boris Yeltsin in the Duma), but one whose stakes are running high in the upcoming presidential elections in the country.

The U.S. rejection of mediation efforts by Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov and the acceptance of Viktor Chernomyrdin could be seen as resulting from these elements. Fierce reactions of the Chinese government and public over the bombing of this country's embassy in Belgrade have brought relations between the U.S. and China to the very brink of diplomatic conflict which, for the time being, has been avoided, but which has revealed all the complexity of relations between the two countries. It appears that the war the U.S. and NATO are waging against Yugoslavia will deeply affect relations between these two and Russia and China, and will make the latter more suspicious of Washington's future intentions and declared goals. With NATO's attack on Yugoslavia, the Kosovo crisis has come to the top position on the list of international problems, jeopardizing not only NATO's credibility and the leading role of the United States, but also the position of the U.N., EU, OSCE, and other leading international organizations and institutions.

Thereby, much like the crisis in Bosnia and Herzegovina before it, the Kosovo crisis has become the subject of conflicting interests and influences, most of which have no direct links to the conflict in the southern Serbian province, but whose resolution directly depends on them. However, this is only a fraction of the numerous, though rarely loudly spoken questions, raised by the NATO attack on Yugoslavia which could be answered in two ways. The first one is the growing opposition to this war by all those who, directly or indirectly, are threatened by it and view it as a violation of moral, legal, and political norms and principles that served to build the international community in the wake of World War II. Violations of international law and undermining of the U.N. role in the name of humanitarian law would unavoidably return the role of western values to where they used to stand before WWII, and consequently affect NATO itself which, it should be recalled, is based on exactly those values.

The other possibility is to continue the policy promoted by NATO's "new strategic concept," to continue the war against Yugoslavia and other countries that may happen to find themselves in the way, and to place NATO above international law and its norms with all the ensuing political, legal, and social consequences that will have, making the world less safe than it was during the Cold War. Instead of resting on a system of universal and collective security that had supported both attempts to build the world organization of the 20th century -- the League of Nations and the United Nations -- in that event, international relations would go back to the old, Westphalian system of balance of power. Failure of the latter was an immediate cause of two world wars in this century, only to bring about the collapse of the bipolar order, following the failures of the U.S. military intervention in Vietnam and of the U.S.S.R. in Afghanistan.

(The author is an associate od the Institute for international policy and economics)


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