NATO Forges New Role in Europe

By Peter Grier and James N. Thurman, writers of The Christian | The Christian Science Monitor, March 3, 1999 | Go to article overview
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NATO Forges New Role in Europe


Peter Grier and James N. Thurman, writers of The Christian, The Christian Science Monitor


In Kosovo, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization may have stumbled into a conflict that could define the security structure of Europe for a generation, with unpredictable consequences for the United States' role as a world power.

That's because the reasoning behind US and NATO involvement in this troubled corner of the Balkans marks a large change in behavior for the Western alliance.

NATO was born as a defensive shield against Soviet expansionism, but in Kosovo it is dropping bombs to stop a sovereign state from abusing a group of its own citizens. Having crossed this threshold, will the US and its allies now move more aggressively to enforce standards of behavior in troubled areas of Europe, or, indeed, the world? Meanwhile, the bombing campaign is highlighting a number of separate geopolitical trends. These range from Germany's reemergence as an active military force to the ever-increasing Western reliance on air power as a form of antiseptic persuasion. "This is a struggle about the kind of world we're going to live in in the future," said Gen. Wesley Clark, supreme allied commander, Europe, in a March 28 broadcast interview. "Are we going to have old-style Communist dictators that rule by propaganda and fear and terror ... or are we all going to move together into a 21st century that has the right values and the right standards for all people?" It is the end of the cold war that has made the issue of humanitarian intervention acute for the US and its NATO allies. During the standoff with the Soviet Union, the leaders of the West had larger geopolitical fish to fry. Virtually every diplomatic action was weighed in terms of its importance to that long struggle. But the collapse of the Soviet regime has allowed - some would say forced - the West to pay attention to others' need for help. At the same time, it has left the North Atlantic alliance looking for new reasons to justify its existence. In interventions in Somalia and Haiti, the United States has already grappled with some of the difficulties of trying to play the role of heavily armed good guy. But the Yugoslav bombing campaign is of a much larger scale. It involves the whole NATO alliance, largely united. And it is taking place without official United Nations approval. Centuries of traditional international law have drawn a distinction between the importance of a nation's external aggression versus its internal affairs. Yet in the Kosovo campaign, NATO is trying to coerce strongman Slobodan Milosevic to end atrocities against a Kosovar Albanian minority that the West has said should remain a part of the Yugoslav nation.

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