How do you throw a party in the middle of a war? Carefully—and very tactfully, if the party is to mark the 50th birthday of the military alliance whose war-planes are raining death and destruction on the most benighted corner of Europe. Planners of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s half-century summit this week in Washington have been scrambling to find the right tone for the three-day event. Out with the black-tie gala evenings; in with sober-suited working dinners. Less talk about “celebration” and more about simple “commemoration.” And scratch the flyover by NATO fighter jets that was planned for the opening of the meeting on Friday. Too, well, too warlike.
Before NATO unleashed its fury against the Yugoslavia of Slobodan Milosevic, the summit was set to be the kind of giant confab that delights only aficionados of international security policy. The leaders of 44 countries—NATO’s 19 members and its 25 associated “partners”—were to gather for the largest-ever such assemblage in Washington and pay obeisance to the alliance that prides itself on having won the Cold War without firing a shot. Kosovo changed everything.
For the first time, NATO is fighting a hot war against a sovereign country. Much is on the line—the future of the Kosovars, most importantly, but also the future of the alliance itself. During a conference last week at the state department, the deputy director of the French Institute of International Relations, Dominique Moisi, put it like this: “We are present at what will be either the resurrection of NATO—or its complete loss of meaning.”
As a result the summit will be less party and more council of war. As the leaders of the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Canada and the rest gather in the hall where NATO’s founding treaty was signed on April 4,1949, their air forces will continue to pound Serbian targets. Alliance officials insist that makes the venerable organization more relevant than ever. Far from being the lumbering Cold War relic that its critics dismissed for much of the 1990s, it is on the front lines of the fight against the ethnic hatreds that haunt the century’s closing days. It is, they say, emphatically on the right side of history. For the first time, it inspires admiration from the likes of Elie Wiesel, the legendary Holocaust survivor and champion of the human spirit, who in Washington last week spoke movingly of the “nobility” of NATO’s mission in Yugoslavia. “This time,” he said, “the world was not silent.” War and nobility, though, do not sit easily together. NATO’s aims in Yugoslavia may be just, but last week brought ample evidence that military power in anyone’s hands is at best a clumsy instrument. First, a passenger train was destroyed by a U.S. fighter targeting a bridge 290 km south of Belgrade that NATO said was part of a key supply line for Serb forces in Kosovo. The death toll: at least 10 civilians. From NATO headquarters: regrets.
Then, more horror: a convoy of ethnic Albanian refugees mistakenly attacked by an American F-16 fighter. According to accounts provided by NATO officials, the pilot thought he was targeting Serb military vehicles carrying soldiers fresh from burning villages in southwestern Kosovo. Instead, inexplicably, he unleashed his laser-guided bombs on tractors and carts loaded with civilians on a road between the cities of Prizren and Djakovica. The toll, according to Serbian officials: more than 75 dead, dozens of others severely wounded. From NATO, more regrets and a sombre statement by President Bill Clinton about the tragic inevitability of such “collateral damage” in times of war. ‘You cannot have this kind of conflict without some errors like this occurring,” he said. “This is not a business of perfection.”
The slain civilians handed the Serbs a publicity coup, although it was soon blunted by the sight of tens of thousands of new refugees pouring across the borders of Albania and Macedonia, telling tales of being forced out of their villages by Serb terror tactics. In the days leading up to the summit NATO’s hardliners will be watching carefully to ensure that no members defect from the alliance’s remarkably solid common front. None has—though there are unmistakable differences over how the crisis might be ended. Germany took the lead last week, proposing its own peace plan. It suggested that NATO stop bombing if Yugoslavia starts to pull its security forces out of Kosovo, accepts an international peacekeep-
Kosovo clouds NATO's 50th anniversary
As NATO’s air campaign reached its fourth week, bombers hit Belgrade hard but took heavy political flak for killing civilians in what NATO admitted were mistakes.
ing force there, and allows the United Nations to run the province while a political settlement is worked out The European Union and UN secretary general Kofi Annan suggested something similar—including an international force that could include non-NATO troops such as Russians and so might be more acceptable to Belgrade. The United States, Britain and France, though, quickly nixed those plans. Milosevic, they said, must withdraw his troops, let the Kosovar refugees go home, accept a NATO-led peacekeeping force, and agree to selfgovernment for Kosovo. At the same time, Washington edged closer to declaring that Milosevic himself must go. A permanent peace, said Clinton, “will require a democratic transition in Serbia, for the region’s democracies will never be safe with a belligerent tyranny in their midst.”
But the surprise was not that there are strains in the alliance (Greece, for example, is a traditional friend of Serbia, and Italy’s ruling coalition is divided on the wisdom of bombing). Rather, it was how well the diverse group of 19 countries held together. Three (Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary) formally joined only in mid-March—just 12 days before their new club plunged them into war. And all but one member of NATO’s associated “Partnership for Peace” group, mainly eastern European and former Soviet states, plan to show up at this week’s summit. Only Russian President Boris Yeltsin is staying home to underline his country’s fierce opposition to the NATO campaign.
In fact, the Kosovo crisis has imposed a unity on NATO that it would likely not be able to achieve in peaceful times. Tensions lurk just below the surface on the most basic issue: how should NATO define itself now that the threat it was designed to counter—the Soviet empire—has disappeared? Should it roam further afield to defend its members’ “interests” as well as their territories? How far could that extend? To the Middle East? The Persian Gulf? Or should it stick closer to home, as the Europecentred institution it was designed to be?
Last fall, before Kosovo exploded, the United States clashed repeatedly with its European allies over that issue as they debated the new “strategic concept,” or basic policy statement, that NATO will adopt at this week’s summit. Washington tried to nudge its allies into broadening the alliance’s role, making it a more flexible force able to react to crises anywhere in the world if they had, in the words of Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, “implications for the defence of common interests.” She argued that the alliance should be ready to confront a so-called rogue state developing nuclear or biological weapons, or a terrorist threat from a remote location. The New NATO would protect “democracy, stability and basic human decency” wherever they were threatened.
Sounds good, but to European (and Canadian) ears it suggested turning NATO into a “global cop”—with Washington dragging its allies into conflicts all over the world. France, ever suspicious of American motives, frowned on the whole notion. Its foreign minister, Hubert Vedrine, noted pointedly that “NATO is the North Atlantic Alliance, not the north Pacific alliance.” Albright rather undiplomatically dismissed such suspicions as “hogwash.”
At the same time, Germany and Canada raised another issue— nuclear weapons. The Germans wanted a full-scale review of NATO’s stance with a view to renouncing its long-standing policy of being prepared to be the first country to use nuclear weapons in a conflict. Canada supported a review as well, but Washington and London remain adamantly opposed. The issue will not be addressed at the summit, but Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy told Maclean’s last week that he still hopes to convince other NATO members to agree to a review.
By Saturday, when the alliance issues its updated strategic concept, the sharpest differences will have been papered over. Washington’s vision of a global role for NATO has been trimmed back, though member countries are expected to agree that they face a wider set of threats from outside their territories. In practice, however, they are unlikely to take any actions outside the so-called Euro-Atlantic area, their traditional area of interest. “We’re not heading off to East Timor or Algeria any time soon,” a senior Canadian official involved in the planning said last week. In fact, both military actions the alliance has taken since the end of the Cold War are confined to its European backyard—peacekeeping in Bosnia and the air assault on Yugoslavia.
And Kosovo is proving to be such an enormous problem that many analysts believe it will likely discourage NATO members from even thinking about going farther afield. “Right now every.Tyr-
one is saying, ‘We screwed up Kosovo,’ ” said Robert Hunter, the U.S. ambassador to NATO from
1993 until last year. “Do we really want to do this kind of thing again in Uzbekistan? I think the answer will be no.”
The Balkans crisis has also dampened enthusiasm for inviting any more members to join the club. Nine countries—ranging from tiny Slovenia to Romania and the three Baltic states—have applied. Russia has long been annoyed by seeing its former Warsaw Pact allies signing up with NATO—and Moscow’s anger at the attack on Yugoslavia means that NATO leaders are wary about provoking the Russians even more. “With Kosovo going on there’s going to be even more resistance to taking in more members any time soon,” says David Rudd, executive director of the Canadian Institute of Strategic Studies.
The summit will also endorse an American proposal for a new centre at NATO headquarters in Brussels to co-ordinate information on so-called weapons of mass destruction—nuclear, chemical and biological threats. And the 19 leaders will also propose an ambitious plan to rebuild the Balkan region once the Kosovo crisis ends. It will include financial aid, perhaps through the European Union, humanitarian help and assistance for “democratic development.” Clinton alluded to such a plan last week, saying Western powers should do the same for southeastern Europe as the United States did for western Europe with the Marshall Plan after the Second World War—“to help its people build a region of multiethnic democracies.”
MISSION: 'HUMAN SECURITY’
Foreign Affairs Minister Lloyd Axworthy has long championed the idea of ‘‘human security’’—that international organizations must accept the need to forcefully intervene whenever civilians are threatened. As NATO's 50th anniversary summit drew near, Axworthy talked to Maclean's Ottawa Correspondent John Geddes about how the concept fits with the alliance's mission in the post-Kosovo era. Excerpts:
Maclean’s: Are you optimistic that your human security agenda will be an explicit part of NATO's new strategic framework? Axworthy: However you describe it, there is clearly a recognition that this is what we’re having to respond to—the protection of individuals against a variety of risks, including the risks of government repression. The Kosovo situation has strongly focused the spotlight on this issue. I’ve been labouring on this for two years. The land mines treaty is one example; it was about protecting people against this kind of victimization. The Washington summit is being defined these days in the fields of Kosovo. Maclean’s: Some observers see the United States pushing NATO towards a more
expansive role in the world, while the European view is more conservative. Where does Canada stand?
Axworthy: I think we’re in between, as we are in a nuiájlper of things. We’ve certainly been actively promoting the idea that NATO has to begin addressing humanitarian-standards issues. But we do not agree that NATO should be an international policeman.
Maclean’s: What should the role of the United Nations be?
Axworthy: We’ve been arguing at the United Nations that so much of security management is now taken on by regional organizations. But where the United Nations has a very fundamental role to play is to start setting criteria, markers, rules to decide
when humanitarian interventions are allowable, when there is a mandate for them. If NATO becomes the regional expression [of a security concern], or the Organization of American States, or any other of these regional groups, it shouldn’t be an ad hoc thing, or something that happens on a caprice. It should be based on some international rules.
Maclean’s: Should NATO, a military alliance, be involved in the rebuilding of the Balkans when the Kosovo conflict is over? Axworthy: Yes. What’s happening is that international organizations are beginning to develop constellations. The old vertical model was that NATO does this, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe does this and the European Union does this. Now, they are beginning to merge lines. There is an emergence of a 21st-century international system that is very different from the Cold War system.
That, in fact, will likely be the most significant achievement of the weekend since it holds out the possibility of heading off yet more crises in the Balkans. And, said Hunter, it could blunt criticism of the Kosovo operation by showing that NATO has a long-term plan to bring stability to the most troubled corner of Europe. The alternative, he added, “is to condemn the West to more episodic interventions under crisis conditions.”
For Canada, the summit will represent something of a rediscovery of NATO. Almost as soon as the Cold War ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Ottawa pulled its troops out of Europe. In 1993, it closed Canada’s two military bases in southwest Germany. NATO seemed oldfashioned. Canada redirected its attention to peacekeeping through the United Nations, and became more enthusiastic about nonmilitary institutions like the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.
A senior Canadian official describes the feeling like this:
“There was a certain euphoria at the beginning of the ’90s that with the end of the Cold War a period of milk and honey and harmony among nations would occur, where the requirement for any sort of military organization wouldn’t pertain.” That faded—in large part because the bloodbath in Bosnia showed that conflict in Europe was far from over. And other organizations, like the UN Security Council and the OSCE, proved unable to stop it.
“Once again,” adds the official, “there was acknowledgement that there was only one political-security organization that had the capacity for effective action”—namely NATO.
Hence the new enthusiasm shown by once-skeptical politicians like Axworthy and Germany’s foreign minister, the ex-student radical Joschka Fischer.
In the meantime, though, the business at hand is the business of war. The existential debates that NATO’s strategists hold so dear have suddenly come down to earth in Kosovo. In the short run, the alliance is committed to doing more of the same—persisting in its bombing of Yugoslavia until Milosevic’s government has had enough. NATO’s supreme commander, American Gen. Wesley Clark, made that clear last week when he asked for another 300 U.S. aircraft to help fight the campaign, boosting the total to more than 1,000. The Pentagon announced it wants to call up as many as 33,000 reserve soldiers to strengthen the attack on Yugoslavia. Ottawa said it was considering sending another six CF-18 fighterbombers to join the 12 already flying sorties from Aviano, Italy. NATO summits are usually dismissed as talking shops. That, at least, will not be the criticism directed at this one. □