NATO has bet its future on the outcome of its war in Kosovo. The resolution of the Kosovo crisis war will almost certainly determine whether NATO continues to expand its membership eastward. And the fusion of the questions of Kosovo and enlargement will in turn determine NATO's relationship with Russia into the coming century.
A NATO decision not to become involved in Kosovo would have raised the same issues. NATO has reluctantly discovered that it cannot hoard the political capital amassed during the Cold War. The multiple crises in the former Yugoslavia pose unavoidable and painful choices for NATO. Each possible choice runs tremendous risks, highly disproportionate to the particular military or economic significance of the successor states of the former Yugoslavia. This disproportion is matched by that between the military power of Serbia and the military power at the disposal of NATO.
NATO has discovered that the basis for the internal cohesion of the alliance changed over the course of the Cold War, a change that NATO publics are slow to recognize and that Moscow simply does not believe. The former communist states of central Europe may have been the first to recognize the transformation: NATO has become the military guarantor of a trans-Atlantic civil society, organized into separate states but ultimately held together by a set of common democratic/multi-cultural values.
These values are respect for human rights on the levels of the individual citizen, ethnic, religious and other minorities. These values have come to constitute an "acquis communitaire" -- a common legacy, just as surely as the European Union has amassed an "acquis communitaire" of overlapping commitments to practical standards for economic, social, environmental and other policies. These commitments have transformed the economic and legal systems of each EU member.
The NATO commitment to the human rights of citizens and minorities, first codified in the Helsinki Agreements of 1975, has both recognized and contributed to the domestic political transformations in its member states, including the United States, in regard to treatment of minorities which in the recent past had been denied full civic equality despite formal legal guarantees. The condition for NATO membership for former communist states set out specific standards for human rights issues that very few of the original NATO members could have met in 1949.
The rule of law in the democracies of NATO has come to be a tangible expression of abstractions about human rights. In turn, the rule of law across national boundaries of NATO/EU members has become the legal substructure of the multiple economic, cultural, scientific and security ties of the NATO states.
To put the argument in its most extreme form: the NATO states can remain indifferent to the deliberate persecution of ethnic and religious groups in a European state, such as Muslims in Bosnia or Kosovars in Kosovo, only at the cost of undermining their own social contracts concerning the treatment of their domestic minorities. For NATO states, the preservation of democratic multi-culturalism at the domestic and alliance levels has required multi-lateral defense of multi-culturalism in the states immediately bordering NATO. Perhaps the best indication of this shift has been the fact that British and German leaders have taken much of the political responsibility for articulating NATO's goals.
It is hard to imagine that the founders of NATO ever envisioned the kind of campaign being fought over Kosovo. Their alliance was primarily an alliance against a common foe rather than an alliance of states to protect common domestic values. From 1950 to 1990 the raison d'etre of NATO was collective defense against a clearly identifiable enemy.
The 1990 Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty (CFE) posited such a residual enemy in establishing a 1:1 force ratio among major weapons systems between NATO and the Warsaw Pact. Within the Warsaw Pact, the USSR was allotted 2/3 of the total weaponry covered by the Treaty. But the Warsaw Pact had for all practical purposes vanished by the time of the treaty signing in November of 1990. And 13 months later the USSR disintegrated, leaving Russia as the principal successor of the Soviet army. But the Russian military and the Russian Federation were so drastically weakened by the upheavals of 1989-91 that the prospect of conventional war between NATO and Russia virtually disappeared.
The sudden absence of a collective defense mission for NATO generated a wide-ranging discussion about various schemes and institutions to bring NATO and Russia into a system for "collective security" in Europe. The concept of collective security, dating back to the creation of the United Nations in 1945 and the League of Nations in 1919, sought to enlist states without regard to domestic systems into several organizations for enforcing regional peace and stability in Europe. The principal argument for a new European system "collective security" is that such a system would pre-empt the exclusion of Russia from "Europe", and thus prevent any reprise of the alliance systems of World War I, World War II and the Cold War. Just as important, such a instead would bring Moscow in as a partner for maintaining arms control regimes, especially in regard to nuclear weapons. But the unwritten essence of collective security was non-interference in the internal affairs of each member state.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), established in 1990, bid for such a role. NATO created a series of overlapping bodies that appeared to address issues of collective security: the North Atlantic Cooperation Council (1991), the Partnership for Peace (1994), the Russia-NATO Permanent Joint Council (1997), The Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council (1997) and the Special Consultative Agreement between Ukraine and NATO. The United Nations remained a potential organization for the conduct of collective security in Europe because every European body for regional security based itself in part on certain provisions in the UN Charter.
But none of these collective security structures-- in particular, the OSCE and the UN, proved capable of an effective response to the series of crises that led to the break-up of Yugoslavia, the Serb-Croat war and the Bosnian conflict. That is to say, none of these organizations have proven capable of dealing with the problems of democratic resolution of intra-state ethnic conflicts, the principal problem faced by several post-communist states in central and eastern Europe.
In 1995, the US led NATO into the conduct of a short air war against the Bosnian Serbs, supplemented by conventional forces of Bosnian Muslims and Croats. The result was the imposition of the Dayton agreements, president over by a NATO-led coalition, first named SFOR and then later IFOR. The critical dynamic was a partnership between NATO and Russia, which made possible an international military force that included other non-NATO European contingents plus some non-European forces drawn from several Islamic states.
As the Yugoslav crises developed in the early and mid 1990s, NATO responded to pressures from the "Visegrad states' ( Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary) for formal membership in NATO. They sought membership mainly as a proof to their own citizens and to foreign economic partners that these states were going to become part of "Europe" - and were on the fast-track to membership in the European Union. They accepted a definition of "Europe" as being democratic politically, market-oriented economically, and respectful of every dimension of human rights, at both the domestic and multi-lateral levels.
NATO rejected the Slovak application on the grounds that its authoritarian Prime Minister (until October, 1998), Vladimir Meciar, was engaged in fomenting ethnic conflicts between Slovaks and the Hungarian minority in Slovakia. In March, 1999, Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary officially joined NATO. The practical effect of membership has been to pre-empt the possibility of a fusion of nationalism and militarism under the auspices of a ruling political party in these states. The terms of NATO membership have placed national defense ministries under the dual surveillance of their respective national parliaments and NATO agencies.
Russia had protested the enlargement of NATO-- and warned that it could not accept NATO expansion to include states that had been components of the USSR- in particular, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. But in 1996 it agreed to participate in the multi-national SFOR operation in Bosnia and in 1997 it accepted the NATO-Russia Permanent Joint Council, even as NATO extended membership offers to Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic. In other words, Russia found common interests with NATO, even as NATO expanded its membership and its involvement in the former Yugoslavia. But this practical cooperation did not directly confront the question of whether NATO was a collective security organization or a federation of states sharing common political values.
At the celebration of NATO's 50th anniversary in April, 1999, for all practical purposes the question of future enlargement became fused with the question of the Kosovo war. The alliance announced a Membership Action Plan, intended to speed the applications of states bordering the former Yugoslavia. And the alliance also affirmed its commitment to defend the Kosovars against the Milosevic regime. This fusion put NATO on a possible collision course with Russia, opposed both to NATO actions in Kosovo, and to the intensified demands of the Baltic states for NATO membership as the only reliable security organization in Europe. President Guntis Ulmanis of Lativa recently argued in Prague that the Baltic need for NATO membership was even more urgent, given the tensions between Russia and NATO over Kosovo.
The outcome of the NATO campaign over Kosovo is by no means clear. Milosevic has held Serbia hostage to NATO air-strikes, just as he has held the Kosovars hostage to his paramilitary and security forces. These units have driven nearly 700,000 people out of Kosovo and displaced several hundred thousand more within Kosovo. Milosevic has gambled his survival on the willingness of Serbs to support ethnic warfare against Kosovars and their would-be NATO protectors. NATO has bet its survival as an alliance on its capacity to defeat Milosevic. And it is also betting its survival on its capacity to export democratic values to its prospective members.
For Russia now, the NATO action in Kosovo is not NATO defense of human rights or minority groups but NATO aggression against state sovereignty. In the views of Russians across the political spectrum, such actions and the prospect of further enlargement of NATO portend the infringement of the sovereignty of the successor states of the USSR, including Russia itself.
For its part, NATO members are at a loss to define the outer limits of the zone in which it feels compelled to act in defense of human rights. And at the same time, officials of both NATO and Russia are aware of the possible outbreak of domestic conflicts over human rights and minority rights in several states presently members of OSCE. And given NATO's confusion over these issues, the request for NATO membership have intensified.
The initial NATO response to such possibilities has been to accelerate the program for NATO enlargement, particularly in regard to the Balkan states that have supported the NATO campaign in Kosovo: Slovenia, Romania, Bulgaria. In addition, the members of NATO, plus the members of the European Union as well, have virtually committed themselves to a major economic and political reconstruction of the greater Balkan region as well. Albania and Macedonia will probably be the major economic beneficiaries of this tacit commitment, and perhaps even Montenegro, a member of the present Yugoslav federation.
The costs of war and reconstruction in the Balkans will probably be well over ten billion dollars, a sum roughly equal to half the annual state budget of the Russian Federation. And the costs of Balkan reconstruction could run much higher if NATO accepts financial responsibility for rebuilding the infrastructure of Serbia. Russia will no doubt find such "security" expenditures an insult, given the domestic needs of Russia and the Western stake in Russian cooperation on weapons of mass destruction.
There may be a rough analogy between the war in Kosovo and the Korean War. The Korean conflict had the accidental effect of converting the North Atlantic Treaty of 1949 into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization of 1950. At the time, the economic and political costs of the Korean conflict seemed grossly disproportionate to the importance of Korea-and provoked enormous controversy both within the Atlantic Alliance and within the US itself. But the final impact of the Korean War in Europe was the consolidation of NATO, the admission of three new members ( Greece, Turkey in 1952 and West Germany in 1955) and the division of Europe into two zones.
Christopher Jones is Associate Professor at the Jackson School of International Studies, University of Washington