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NATO victory may eventually be its undoing

Knight Ridder Newspapers
Saturday, June 5, 1999

WASHINGTON -- NATO's apparent success in subduing Yugoslavia is sowing fears about further nuclear proliferation and prompting worries about how world leaders will view the use of force and how the U.S. role in Europe may be affected.

Those are among the range of concerns raised by experts in international affairs about the unintended consequences of the NATO effort and triumph.

"When this ends, it's the end of NATO in its current form," said Stephen Fischer-Galati, a University of Colorado history professor and Eastern European expert. "I am quite convinced that the Europeans are going to establish their own security organization, keeping the United States at a safe distance."

William Stuebner, a specialist in international law at the congressionally funded United States Institute of Peace in Washington, D.C., says the bombing is bound to have an effect on other conflicts and on U.S. relations with other countries.

"We can spin this all we want and say that we've won, but there will be serious repercussions from NATO's actions in Yugoslavia," he said.

U.S. ties to China and Russia became strained, as both countries opposed the bombing and China even suffered casualties when its embassy in Belgrade was bombed.

Both Chinese and Russian officials now fear that NATO has become so bold that it could decide to interfere in their internal affairs, Stuebner and other analysts say.

Early on, the NATO offensive stirred China's worst fears about U.S. willingness to use brute military power to get its way. Beijing argued that NATO was really just a pawn of the United States and that the Kosovo crisis was an internal matter for Yugoslavia to resolve.

What really bothered Beijing, China specialists say, was the precedent set by NATO's action. China is particularly worried that the United States may interfere in Taiwan, which China regards as its renegade province and has not ruled out using force to retake.

Many in Russia believe they face a more immediate threat, with NATO already at their borders.

Russia's international role as a peacemaker strengthened in the Kosovo crisis, but Stuebner and others warn that the NATO decision to bomb without official U.N. backing has strengthened radicals inside Russia and heightened distrust of the United States.

"In Russia, even the moderates now say they see NATO as an aggressive alliance right at their door," Stuebner said.

And he said Russians who once advocated cooperating with the United States to reduce nuclear weapons are shifting to the belief that a nuclear deterrent is Russia's only defense against an ever-threatening NATO.

Gary Dempsey of the Cato Institute, a Washington-based think tank worries that more states may rush to acquire nuclear weapons -- as the surest way to preclude NATO's interference in their affairs.

"It's interesting to note, where NATO is not interested in intervening . . . in Chechnya, in Kashmir -- these are places where there are nuclear weapons," Dempsey said.

"The most important result (of the Kosovo crisis), which was foreseeable from the first day of the conflict, was that many countries who don't have nuclear weapons will take a new look at this option," said Martin van Creveld, professor of military history and strategy at Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

"They will say to themselves, 'We want to make certain that nothing like this every happens to us.' Suppose I were an Indonesian, Algerian, or Nigerian: All these countries have severe ethnic problems."

Creveld noted that President Clinton said NATO no longer was a defensive alliance, but one dedicated to promoting democratic values.

"Countries will reevaluate their nuclear option," he said. "Some in Eastern Europe will as well, like Romania. They have a problem with the Hungarian minority. They will say, we don't want it to happen to us."

Some specialists in international conflict resolution are also concerned that smaller nations may find a grave message about the use of force.

"It's an awful lesson that the Pakistanis and Indians are taking seriously," said Jon Western, an expert in regional and civil conflict at the United States Institute of Peace. "Where the resolution of conflicts at this point is no longer dependent upon the conventions of international law and the United Nations, but through violence."

India and Pakistan are now trading fire in the disputed territory of Kashmir.

"And so this is sort of a Pandora's box that has been opened, where it's acceptable now to throw bombs at problems."

"Once again," said Western, "political leaders have come to believe that diplomacy fails and that force works. In the end, force becomes the only viable option for resolving conflict."

Return to the '"Peace" in Yugoslavia?' Alert.

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