NATO Finds New Purpose as Old Foes Simply Fade Away

Article excerpt

NATO appears to be gaining a new lease on life as the United States reasserts its leadership and sets the Atlantic alliance on a new post-cold-war course.

After months of waffling, the alliance is suddenly making tough decisions, just like the old days.

If Clinton officials are correct, Sept. 20 is the day that best symbolizes NATO's newfound purpose.

To many Western officials and analysts, that day proved that NATO had put behind it months of internal disputes over dealing with Europe's worst crisis since World War II: the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina. But on a broader level, they say, it showed that the defense pact founded to contain Soviet aggression is beginning to adapt to new, post-cold-war challenges.

In 24 hours, the pact's 16 members achieved much: They approved guidelines for admitting former Communist bloc states; began planning an unprecedented peacekeeping operation in Bosnia; and agreed to accommodate a Russian demand for adjustments to the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty.

The unusual cooperation was crowned at 10 p.m. by a final satisfaction: confirmation that the Bosnian Serbs had capitulated to NATO air attacks by completing a withdrawal of heavy artillery from around the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo.

"Sept. 20 might have been the most remarkable day in NATO's history," says a senior US official. It underscored that "we have a grip on security conflicts in the future."

Agrees Ed Kolodziej, a European security expert at the University of Illinois in Evanston: "NATO is going to be the organization of preference for security in Europe."

Experts attribute the "revitalizing" of NATO to the US decision to take control of Balkan peacemaking efforts. The previous US policy of watching UN and European Community failures not only brought humiliation to the Clinton administration, but fueled deep doubts about US leadership of NATO and its commitment to European security.

That NATO's new cohesion depends on US leadership constitutes the underpinning of President Clinton's insistence on US participation in a Bosnian peacekeeping force. …