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A New World Disorder

NATO'S New Mission: A 'Values' Enforcer

April 11, 1999|Raymond L. Garthoff | Raymond L. Garthoff, retired senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, served as counselor to the U.S. Mission to NATO during NATO's 20th anniversary, and later as U.S. ambassador to Bulgaria. His books include, "The Great Transition: American-Soviet Relations and the End of the Cold War."

WASHINGTON — The North Atlantic Treaty Organization's 50th anniversary had been expected not only to celebrate its successful contribution to keeping the peace throughout the Cold War, but also to herald its expanded role, as Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright said, in keeping the peace for its next 50 years. The Washington summit, on April 23-25, will display all the pomp befitting the occasion. It will reflect the enlargement of membership in Central Europe and reaffirm an open-door policy to more expansion. It will issue a new "vision statement" for the post-Cold War world.

What had not been expected was that the fireworks for the 50th would pale beside a month of NATO's nightly bombing of Yugoslavia. Suddenly, the alliance's new mission, blandly described by Albright at the last NATO summit in December, sounds less reassuring. She spoke of a "new and better" NATO "committed to meeting a wide range of threats to our shared interests and values," and acting "to ensure stability, freedom and peace in and for the entire transatlantic area." Commendable aims, but is it a realistic policy prescription?

The question is whether NATO is to remain an alliance for collective defense or be transformed into a collective security "enforcer," initiating military action against other countries deemed to threaten "the interests and values" of member states. Before the December summit, Washington proposed an explicit statement declaring NATO's intention to act, when "possible," in fulfillment of a U.N. Security Council mandate. Agreement was not reached; whether such a formal statement will be made at the Washington summit is not clear. In any case, NATO has already decided to take military action against Yugoslavia without a U.N. mandate--for it could not obtain one.

Its actions over Kosovo, for better or worse, herald the new NATO. The alliance initiated military action not in defense of its 19 members, but of their "interests and values." This makes a mockery of arguments only recently made to Russia that it had nothing to fear from NATO enlargement, because, after all, NATO was merely a defensive alliance. Little wonder, too, that some Russians see a potential threat if NATO viewed a Russian internal crisis--for example, a renewed conflict in Chechnya--as creating a challenge to its members' interests. That may be far-fetched, if only because Russia has a nuclear arsenal--not the message we want Russia, or potential nuclear proliferators, to draw.

The new NATO mission may be intended to expand international law, but an alliance decision to override traditional interpretations and circumvent the United Nations risks undermining that very international law. If one group of states can assume rights of unilateral military intervention vis-a-vis other members of the international community, so can any other. Is that a pattern we wish to encourage?

The new NATO clearly has constructive aims and a laudable new "vision," but it has not resolved some fundamental issues. If NATO assumes the right to place limits on the sovereignty of nonmember states, without a mandate from the United Nations or consensus of the world community, it should at least have a clear understanding of the repercussions of its actions.

In initiating military attacks on Yugoslavia, the justification was partly self-determination for the inhabitants of Kosovo and partly humanitarian. NATO's own prescribed settlement called for accepting the sovereignty of Yugoslavia over Kosovo, while demanding a grant of self-determination for the Kosovars short of independence. Why give precedence to self-determination that does not lead to independence? Moreover, NATO presented Yugoslavia with an ultimatum, under threat of bombing, not only to accept that redefinition of its own sovereignty, but also to accept NATO's peacekeepers, not those of the U.N. or the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, another sharp diminution of Yugoslav sovereignty.

Bombing Yugoslavia was NATO's action of choice, not because it was most likely to succeed, but because it was the easiest to undertake. The initial explanation was that it would push Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to accept the NATO-proffered settlement. This improbable, but apparently genuine, explanation was quickly supplemented by claims that it would "degrade" Yugoslav capability to suppress the Kosovars.

In some respects, to be sure, the air offensive has been impressively successful. To date, not a single NATO airman has been killed, and only one $45-million warplane was lost. Plus, of course, the loss of much of Kosovo's ethnic Albanian population.

The collateral damage of the NATO attacks to civilians in Yugoslavia has been minimized, but the collateral consequences in Kosovo have been far greater than anticipated. No less important have been the collateral damages in international politics.

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