Balkans in NATO

Article excerpt

Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Yugoslavia

The next round of North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) expansion is due in Fall 2002 at the Prague Summit of the NATO members' heads of state. Not surprisingly, the debate over candidates is already in full swing. However, almost all of the debate has focused on the so-called Vilnius Nine--Albania, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia--named after the Lithuanian capital where their leaders met last year to begin lobbying their cases.

Three European states--Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) and Yugoslavia--were not invited to Vilnius because, at the time, they had not meet the internal-stability requirements to participate. Consequently, they are generally overlooked in the present discussions. Since then, however, all three have voted into office new Western-leaning governments, many for the first time, and thus they deserve a closer look either as candidates for NATO membership or as countries where NATO can play an enhanced stabilizing role.

Croatia was recently included in the Partnership for Peace (PfP) program, the antechamber for eventual NATO candidacy. This is a significant boost for the region's basic security. The advancement of Western security policy in the region should not stop there, however. Croatia should move on to the next stage, not only because it deserves to, but also for the benefit of regional security.

Only two European states now remain without a formal relationship to NATO: BiH and Yugoslavia. BiH presents both a challenge and an opportunity to NATO. With more than 20,000 NATO troops in the country, the Western alliance should seriously consider how it can use those troops and its substantial influence to permanently stabilize BiH, thereby obtaining a long-desired exit for itself. Given the recent political developments in Belgrade, for the first time in a decade a similar opportunity for advancing Western interests may lie in Yugoslavia as well.

Croatia

Croatia's recent inclusion in the PfP program is long overdue. Since we often speak of NATO membership as a reward, the delay here is curious, as perhaps no new state deserves this honor more than Croatia. Since the breakup of the Warsaw Pact, Croatia has done more to benefit Western interests than any other new democracy. The smooth transformation of Zagreb politics from one-party monolith to multi-party government was indeed a welcome harbinger for democratization in the region, but Croatia's positive role in the region predates the January 2000 elections.

To begin, Croatia saved BiH. In the summer of 1995 its military operations, code named Operation Storm, ended a carnage Europe had not seen since World War II-- a humanitarian catastrophe for which the West could not muster an appropriate response. The Western capitals often unfairly take credit for this turnaround; in fact, the peace in BiH came only once the Croatian Army (HV) had established a new balance of power in the region by its summer operations. Everything that followed, from the first exercise of NATO air power to the Dayton-Paris peace agreement, was a filling-in of a diplomatic puzzle.

"All along, the United States and its allies have been looking for a force--other than themselves--that could check Serbian and Bosnian Serb adventurism and produce a military balance on which realistic settlement could be built. Maybe such a force is now emerging: Croatia," wrote The Washington Post three days before Operation Storm commenced. At the end of the operation the Post added, "The Croatians argue they are not the problem but the solution; they claim to have created a new regional 'balance' on which 'proper' peace talks with the Serbs can begin. This line has been enthusiastically adopted by the American government, which is under pressure to show that the quiet political support it extended to Croatia had a legitimate purpose of promoting a negotiation in Bosnia. …