Kosovo as Reality Check for Western Allies amid Strikes on Yugoslavia, NATO Gathers to Mark Its First Half

Article excerpt

As NATO leaders meet in Washington this weekend to celebrate the Western alliance's 50th anniversary, a specter stalks the feast.

The unfolding tragedy in Kosovo, and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's bombing campaign to reverse the "ethnic cleansing" of ethnic Albanian Kosovars, looms large over the festivities.

But the month-long war has also yielded valuable signposts for NATO as it plots its course into the 21st century, say alliance planners and diplomats. "Kosovo adds a lot of realism to the theory," says one diplomat here. "The Balkans are a laboratory where a lot of the thinking {about NATO's future} is being tested." And tested hard. The military parades and public displays that had been planned for the Washington summit have been canceled, in light of the fact that the Kosovo campaign offers little to celebrate. NATO's bombs (report from the strike zone, page 7) appear to have accelerated Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's eviction of Albanian Kosovars, and the Serb leader is showing no signs yet of backing down. After winning the cold war without firing a shot in anger, NATO has spent much of the past decade trying to work out what to do, now that the Soviet enemy no longer exists. Wars in the Balkans - first in Bosnia, now in Kosovo - have suggested an answer. Rather than being an alliance for self-defense, fighting only on its own soil, and only in the event that a member state came under attack, NATO is transforming itself into "an alliance interested in a broad idea of security, with a commitment to conflict prevention and peacekeeping," said a top NATO official this week. But this answer has thrown up new questions that have often divided the 19 alliance governments as they have hammered out a new strategic concept to be unveiled Friday. For a start, should NATO reach beyond its original geographical confines, described in its founding treaty as "the North Atlantic area"? To an extent, Kosovo answers that. The alliance has shown it is prepared to undertake "out of area" operations and in the future intends to act "in the Euro-Atlantic area and its periphery," in the words of a European NATO diplomat who, like others interviewed for this story, declined to be named. How far that periphery stretches - into the Middle East, for example, as the US would like - is left undefined. But "the alliance does not see itself as some kind of global policeman" - a role many European nations feared Washington had planned for it - says the top NATO official. The debate over when NATO should act, however, is continuing up until the last momoment before the summit. UNDER its founding treaty, NATO recognizes the United Nations Security Council's "primary responsibility ... for the maintenance of international peace and security." But the Kosovo campaign has thrown that into doubt, since the allies launched the war without a specific UN mandate to do so. …