CEOL - Cracks Emerge Among Post-Kosovo Allies

November 16, 1999
By Douglas Hamilton

Released from the discipline, drive and coherence imposed by the all-out conflict over Kosovo, Western allies are showing signs of division as NATO's most momentous year draws to a close.

With a lame-duck president in the White House, key East-West treaties in doubt and a resurgent Russian military immune to outside warnings against a Chechnya showdown, fresh uncertainty obscures the signposts to the future.

Faster than most would have predicted, the sweet taste of victory over Kosovo has turned sour, generating transatlantic recriminations and raising deeper doubts about where the policy of humanitarian interventions will ultimately lead.

A damning new report on Bosnia nails down in detail what many Balkan observers long knew and even some ranking NATO insiders privately admit - the Dayton peace process is failing and no end to the West's burdensome mission is in sight.

The ultimate status of Kosovo is a taboo question.

The allies are trying to minimize differences over how to deal with the key issue of Serbia, but Europeans are irked by U.S. insistence that Belgrade remain isolated until elections are held, and they may offer more bilateral help to the Serbs.

"A lot of our partners think the time has come to lift (the flight ban or the oil embargo) but we think that is premature," said a senior British diplomat ahead of foreign ministerial talks in Brussels on Monday.

Britain and the Netherlands support the U.S. position, he said, adding: "We're in a minority but we are not alone."

Suspicious Minds

Allies are also treading carefully around a larger issue.

American ambivalence towards creating a European security pillar (ESDI) alongside NATO is once again growing acute, while France warns its partners to beware the growing hegemony, unilateralism and isolationism of a "hyperpower" United States.

"In matters of transatlantic security, NATO should be the first and principal means of collective response, and the European Union should undertake autonomous missions only if NATO so delegates," says a resolution before the U.S. Senate.

The bipartisan bill says the EU must ensure its new role in security affairs does not collide with NATO's primacy, does not promote a conflicting strategic perspective, and does not diminish Europe's military contribution to NATO.

It also insists that improved European military capabilities, not institutions, should have priority and that non-EU allies including Canada, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Iceland, Norway, Poland, Turkey and the United States "will not be discriminated against". Such overtly suspicious language seems aimed at pushing the EU goal of creating a distinct European security capability back into the realm of theory, at the very moment when the EU hopes to finally erect scaffolding for its new security edifice.

A senior EU diplomat called the bill "an exaggerated response to a real concern" but added that "the relationship between ESDI and NATO is crucial".

It was partly a matter of language but also one of understanding, he said. The United States must still feel it is being engaged and "not simply told when the Europeans have taken a decision".

On the other hand, Europe was constructing a European security capability and wanted to make that plain.

Damage Control

"We must prevent this growing into a transatlantic war of words," said a NATO diplomat, noting the frank dismay with which European leaders greeted the U.S. Senate's recent rejection of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Washington's desire to develop an anti-missile defense has also provoked an unwelcome if faint echo of the Cold War arms race in Moscow, with warnings that U.S. violation of the ABM treaty could trigger a build-up of Russia's anti-missile arsenal.

European powers fear that while the proposed missile defense is meant for "rogue states" and terrorists, it could lead in time to the military decoupling of the alliance.

That concern is rejected by senior U.S. military sources, who say NATO allies would together develop a theatre anti-missile shield for the benefit of Europe. For all these reasons, new NATO Secretary General Lord George Robertson is anxious to impress on European Union leaders that they must take extra care at their Helsinki summit next month to reassure Washington the EU is not anti-Atlantic.

Recent leadership changes have slowed the momentum of both organizations. Robertson is still on his introductory rounds and the EU's new executive Commission is only two months old.

While the political climate is evolving, it is not clear whether the basis on which Western powers agreed to organize for the next century is affected.

An EU diplomat said recent disappointments such as the Senate vote against the NPT did not come as a surprise, and the ABM discussion was not new either.

He saw no threat to basic concepts underpinning collective Western policy on security in the uncertain world ushered in by the end of the Cold War.

"It's very rare since the Cold War that we've found ourselves in situations where we can clearly say 'we're here, the enemy is there'," the diplomat noted.

"Marginalized" Russia

Instead of improving quickly after the dust settled in Kosovo and Russian peacekeeping troops deployed alongside alliance soldiers, NATO's fragile post-Cold War relationship with Moscow seems increasingly overshadowed by suspicion.

The dialogue is very narrow and the Russian participants are not of the same caliber as they were before the row over NATO's bombing of Yugoslavia, according to NATO sources.

NATO is uncomfortable with the confrontational tone of a new Russian military doctrine now being drafted, even as Moscow by its own admission is exceeding in Chechnya the force limits set out by the 1990 Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty.

"We are concerned that the draft moves away from the principle of cooperative security, as it paints a darker, more confrontational picture of international relations," Roberston wrote in a Russian newspaper this month.

The draft doctrine views attempts to marginalize Russia in world affairs and to station troops near Russia as major new threats. These are charges Moscow lays at the door of the West, pointing to its policy in Yugoslavia and enlargement of future NATO membership to include candidates on Russia's doorstep.

Yet Western powers remain committed to widening their key institutions, NATO and the EU, to embrace all of what was once communist eastern Europe, where 250 million expectant people are impatient to enjoy western living standards in their lifetime.

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