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Commentary | PERSPECTIVE ON KOSOVO

The View From Romania

Bombing by NATO, an alliance in which we have so much faith, ensures wrong results while abandoning fundamental precepts.

May 10, 1999|ADRIAN NASTASE | Adrian Nastase, a former foreign minister of Romania, is vice president of the Romanian Chamber of Deputies and first vice president of Romania's largest opposition party

Romanians have a message for NATO--one that is decidedly pro-NATO, but also may be unpleasant. It is a message of "tough love."

Halt the bombing of Yugoslavia and declare a cease-fire. Negotiations must be relaunched without any prior conditions on either side, taking into account the tragic evolution of events that has already occurred on the ground.

As an applicant for NATO membership and member of the Partnership for Peace, Romania has opened its air space to alliance aircraft. We are fully supportive of an embargo that pressures Belgrade to cease its actions in Kosovo. We are adamant that Kosovar Albanians should be allowed to return to their homes with their rights guaranteed. War crimes should be investigated and prosecuted.

But, most Romanians now think that the use of force, including the long-term continuation of airstrikes or any forcible ground intervention, will lose everything NATO seeks.

Kosovo will be destroyed; Slobodan Milosevic will remain in power as a wartime leader reinforced by a siege mentality; Macedonia and Albania will be destabilized by refugees and foreign military presence, and anti-Americanism will rise to fever proportions in Greece, Italy and elsewhere.

We want NATO to win politically and morally. We want peace to be ensured by a great alliance and its strongest members. We want dictators to be removed by popular action, and minority rights preserved by diplomacy, incentives and law.

Romanians dream about becoming part of NATO. Our dream has been to enter an alliance that occupies a moral high ground, not one that, by mistake, kills refugees and civilians. We believe that the alliance's principles have mattered. For years during the communist period, Romania rejected intervention in sovereign states and distanced itself from the Soviet-dominated Warsaw Pact. Now, an alliance in which we have put so much faith has erred by acting in a manner that ensures all the wrong consequences while abandoning fundamental precepts.

It seems as if NATO now believes that, after destroying Serbian infrastructure, and waiting until all Albanians are expelled from Kosovo, it can recreate order and peace from nothing. Winning militarily from 5,000 meters is being confused tragically with political success.

Romanians have learned important lessons from our own contributions to peacekeeping missions in Angola, Albania and Bosnia. Among these are that preventing conflict is far easier than stopping it and that recreating a status quo is a Gordian knot. We fear, however, that these lessons are being ignored. NATO's potential to keep the peace and to prevent ethnic cleansing before resorting to war, was belated and half-hearted. We hoped for more, and have watched with increasing anxiety as air power is unleashed; destroying without solving anything.

Regional capacities to reduce the potential for or intensity of conflict have been ignored. Romania's participation in two costly U.N. embargoes against Iraq and Yugoslavia, plus peacekeeping missions in Angola, Somalia, Albania and Bosnia exhibit Romania's awareness of its role and a willingness to sacrifice for principles in which it believes.

Those qualities, however, elicited little interest in Brussels or Washington, where resorting to force seemed preordained.

NATO appears to have changed into an organization prone to use bombs in lieu of diplomats. And, instead of using expansion to address security needs in Europe's most insecure regions--the Balkans and the Baltics, for example--NATO told such countries to wait for security guarantees until war was at our doorstep.

We think that many opportunities for mediating roles have been lost. As the only country bordering on the former Yugoslavia without antagonistic relations with Belgrade, Romanian NATO membership could have increased the probability of successful negotiations with the Serbs.

The denouement of Europe's most recent Balkan war has yet to be scripted. From the neighborhood, however, we can foresee a very discomfiting future: a broken but unrepentant Serbian nationalism, a heavily armed Albanian nation seeking retribution, an embittered Russia harboring imperial memories now convinced of NATO's antipathy, and ample instability.

To say we don't look forward to such a 21st-century environment is far too mild. We are deeply troubled. We thought we were at the gates of an alliance that would preserve peace in our corner of Europe. And, we never, never imagined that negotiations and peacekeeping efforts would be jettisoned to inaugurate a war of such duration and intensity.

But, a way out exists. NATO can declare that it has inflicted sufficient punishment, and is prepared to contribute, but not necessarily command, a peacekeeping force in part of Kosovo to which Albanian refugees are returned and from which Serb army and police units are evacuated. Establishing the size and location of the two zones, and the nature of the international force must be negotiated, but such diplomacy, not cruise missiles, are the path away from disaster.

Romanians are prepared to fulfill useful roles along such a path. But, we must begin to travel down it soon lest NATO becomes its own nemesis.

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