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
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. …