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Europe Steps Up

It Has a Peace Plan--and a Will to Enforce It

April 18, 1999|Martin Walker | Martin Walker, a contributing editor of Opinion, is European editor of Britain's the Guardian

BRUSSELS — As Serbia's gleeful propagandists sifted the carnage of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's blundering attack on a refugee convoy Wednesday, there seemed no chink of light in the gloomy fog of war engulfing Kosovo. Yet, light there may be, bringing hope of eventual inclusion for all the Balkan nations in the stabilizing prosperity machine of Europe. For Americans, it carries the intriguing prospect of a Europe taking its first tottering steps to a self-generated security maintained without the familiar security blanket of U.S. troops. There may at last be the prospect of a better future for that ethnic crucible where Catholic, Orthodox and Islamic faiths collide.

It began with U.S. special envoy Christopher Hill, who earlier this year was trying to keep the wheels from coming off that temporary settlement of last October, as NATO bombers were first threatening to strike Serbia. That deal--for a cease-fire monitored by a corps of 2,000 civilian observers while diplomats hammered out some autonomy for Kosovo--was proving impossible to pin down.

Hill said he was getting nowhere, because he had "no carrots to dangle" before the Serbs. He only had, as a distant stick, the threat of NATO airstrikes. The one carrot he could envisage, Hill stressed, was the prospect of all Balkan nations being absorbed into the prosperity machine of the European Union, while safeguarded by the security machine of NATO.

Last week, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer presented his own version of Hill's message, a plan for a "Stability Pact for South-East Europe." It is based on a dramatic postwar offer to Yugoslavia, and all other Balkan countries, of eventual membership in both NATO and the European Union, as the incentive "to anchor them firmly in the Euro-Atlantic structures."

The German plan calls for a top-level international conference on the Balkans, designed to bring in the Russians, whose President Boris N. Yeltsin has called for just such a meeting on the wider Balkan crisis. It also proposes a separate "donor and reconstruction conference" to sort out costs, priorities and responsibilities in rebuilding the region. Moscow's special ambassador for Yugoslavia, Viktor S. Chernomyrdin, cautiously embraced the German plan Thursday, saying it was "worth supporting."

German officials noted this "learns one key lesson" from the failure of Western aid in Russia, insisting on a fixed system of rewards and punishments for Balkan countries that accept or refuse the EU and NATO-imposed rules. The plan demands "clear signals: participation paves the way into the Euro-Atlantic structures, nonparticipation blocks it off."

Last week, NATO foreign ministers, meeting in Brussels, heralded the German plan and stressed the key principle of "a comprehensive approach to the stabilization of the crisis region in Southeastern Europe and to the integration of the countries into the Euro-Atlantic community."

But there are two overwhelming difficulties in the plan, whose vision of a Europeanized Balkans stands in stark contrast to the current realities of airstrikes and devastation in Yugoslavia. The first is that an independent Kosovo is ruled out: The plan upholds the inviolability of borders. The second hurdle is that Yugoslavia itself has to cooperate, and fewer and fewer EU and NATO leaders see Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic as an acceptable interlocutor.

The plan also seeks a long-term transformation of the Balkans toward a European social-capitalist model and calls for widespread privatization of industry and "strengthening competitive and internationally integrated private sectors."

Fischer, author of the stability pact, told me he was thinking "in terms of 20 to 30 years" for it to unfold. But already in Brussels, EU commission officials and think tanks are working on the intermediate steps, to offer the Balkan nations associate status to the EU with free trade, access to EU aid and investment mechanisms. One scheme, devised by a top EU think tank, proposes a guarantee of monetary stability through joining the euro, the EU's new single currency.

There are three intriguing features to these developments that hold out for Americans the happy prospect of breaking that sad 20th-century tradition in which Europe's tribal wars are only resolved by U.S. intervention. It happened in 1917, in 1941, throughout the Cold War and now in Bosnia and Kosovo.

The United States has no serious national interest in the Balkans, except to preserve the reliability of the NATO alliance and prevent Europe's crucible of wars from spilling bloodily over again. But if a mechanism could be found through which Europe had the confidence and ability to handle its own security brush fires, while preserving the essential NATO alliance, Americans might be spared the recurrent need to send the 7th Cavalry across the Atlantic to the rescue.

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