Turning 50, organization looks for wider security roleIs Kosovo Nato's future?
By David Phinney
WASHINGTON, April 23 - Kosovo took the first order of business today as NATO began its 50th anniversary summit, with the 19 members sitting down this morning for a three-hour secret session behind closed doors.
The war council cast a solemn cloud over what was hoped to be a celebration of the worlds most enduring alliance.
Working groups, war councils and strategy sessions have largely replaced the previously planned champagne toasts, marches and parties.
The hasty change in schedules tells much about how serious the situation has become, despite constant boasts of unity and successful bombing strikes in the Balkans.
As official host to this weekends gathering, President Clinton delivered remarks this morning that demonized Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic while defending the month-old air war that has become the focal point of the summit.
We send a clear message of unity and determination to sustain our air campaign for as long as it takes, Clinton said as his fellow leaders sat around a large circular table.
Nato's Future Questioned
An Alliance Mired
What was first thought to require only a few days of bombing may soon result in a deadly ground war and a peacekeeping mission lasting years. The deluge of ethnic Albanian refugees and the daunting challenge of safely returning them to Kosovo reflects a present failure more than signs of impending success.
Critics blame NATO itself for a lack of success in the war, made worse by the messy business of forging consensus among 19 members for decisive action on the battlefield. Even after voting on a limited air war against Yugoslavia, several members differed over the scale of the offensive and what targets to strike.
I have never been more fearful for NATOs future, Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on European Affairs, said this week. I fear, if the present trend continues in the war with Yugoslavia, that a belief will arise in Congress and among the American people that but for NATO, we would not be in this fight and because of NATO, we cant win.
Formed as a defensive alliance in 1949 to scare off aggressive saber-rattling from the Soviet Empire, the alliance won the Cold War without firing a shot. The spoils included the recent signing of Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, former Soviet satellite states, as members of the alliance.
Now, with the communist peril along Europes eastern front gone, new times call for new challenges, say some of the leading members who are encouraging the alliance to train its sights on new security risks. Those include terrorism, rogue nations developing weapons of mass destruction, ethnic conflict, drug trade and organized crime.
A New Direction
But attacking those problems will require a new definition of the alliances mission. Many have their beginnings or their roots far beyond the borders of Europe, far afield from NATOs original sphere of influence.
The Clinton administration, in particular, has urged members to face these new concerns by adopting a new mission statement this weekend, called the strategic concept, that would include taking on security challenges far afield from NATOs existing mandate.
Not So Fast
Sen. John Warner, R-Va., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, suggests that the United States take a breather before endorsing a new vision for NATO that may commit U.S. troops and resources in situations similar to the Balkan crisis that are so dependent on decisions of allies.
Rather than adopt a new strategic concept this weekend, the United States should assess the situation in Yugoslavia, he suggests.
Warner is especially concerned that U.S. contributions in the war far exceed those of other members and may set a precedent for future out of area conflicts. Some estimates say the United States has been footing 60 to 70 percent of the Kosovo missions costs.
We are just beginning to learn important lessons from the Kosovo conflict. Each day is a new chapter, he said in a letter to President Clinton this week.
And supporters of expanding NATOs mission hope those lessons, when learned, will not be forgotten.
Americas Nato Agenda
The Clinton administration has six goals for the NATO summit this weekend:
1. Hammer out a concise, non-technical political declaration of NATOs role and purpose to deal with the security challenges of the 21st Century.
2. Address threats from countries developing nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. Work together to fight terrorism, drug trafficking and organized crime.
3. Recruit more NATO members in Eastern Europe.
4. Reach agreement to improve NATOs rapid deployment forces and defense capabilities.
5. Create European military forces more capable of conducting missions on the continent than the ones that already exist.
6. Define a framework for crisis response operations around the world for contingencies that threaten the stability of Europe.