The United Nations and NATO

Beyond the Kosovo Legacy

Beograd 04
The United Nations and NATO : Beyond the Kosovo Legacy - Christophe Dongmo

In March 1999, political violence and ethnic cleansing in the Balkan states prompted the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to declare war for the first time in its fifty-year history. This historic event, which included the bombing of the Kosovo region and the prosecution of Serbian leader Slobodan Milosovic under the newly formed International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia,1 created new challenges for political analysts. Specifically, from a transatlantic perspective, the conflict created a sort of terra cognita. Events unfolded in the context of a confused international commu­nity, an undecided and uncoordinated Europe and an indecisive United Nations. The latter's failed attempts to manage the conflict presented NATO with a serious dilemma: take action in defense of human justice and dignity or leave the United Nations to contem­plate lengthy diplomatic avenues which did not guarantee peace and could prolong human rights atrocities.

From a broader perspective, the Kosovo crisis also raised many conceptual challenges that could redefine our understanding of international affairs and the global order. It was a defining moment in post-Cold War history, potentially signaling a restructuring of the pattern of international relations through the reorganization of the relationships between regional security organizations and the United Nations, between major Eastern and Western powers, between friends and allies within those camps and between the use of force and diplomacy.2 As the current Iraqi conflict clearly demonstrates, such questions have taken on a new relevance today, not only for the North Atlantic alliance, but also for the entire international connun­nity.3

In addition, the international community's experience in Kosovo provides sufficient ground for the assessment of the Secu­rity Council's traditional role in international peace and security matters. Within the Alliance itself: the possible implications of Kosovo on other future political and strategic interventions deserve further investigation. Beside freezing the traditional bipolar systems that had dominated international politics since the fall of the Communism in Eastern Europe, the Kosovo conflict also highlights the potential lim­its of the Security Council veto system. It is questionable whether the Security Council can be relied upon as the proper structure for the settlement of events threatening international peace and security. In short, the normative, operational, and structural questions raised by the Kosovo operation are likely to have long-term implications for the understanding of international politics, and for the ability of the transatlantic alliance to maintain and secure international peace and security.

This essay will analyze the intrinsic and extrinsic manifesta­tions of the Kosovo intervention in order to further a critical under­standing of the political and strategic significances of the conflict, both for NATO and for other "outside partners," such as the United Nations. The first section provides a brief overview of the United Nations-NATO relationship and assesses the limits of the collective security system. Thereafter, the paper analyzes the normative justifi­cations of the Kosovo intervention - be they humanitarian or other­wise - and the search for credibility or regional stability. Finally, the paper considers the policy and strategy implications of Kosovo on NATO's internal and external political orientation.

Sidelining the Security Council: Limits of the Collective Security System

The Chapter VII provisions of the Security Council's mandate have, for a long time, remained a dead letter. The Kosovo crisis brought these provisions' practical relevance to the forefront of pub­lic debate.

As far as NATO intervention in Kosovo is concerned, the crucial issue concerned the legality of the intervention as defined in the framework of NATO's constitutional powers and mandate, which refer to the United Nations Charter. (Interestingly, whether NATO ought or ought not to have intervened seems a secondary issue, as many analysts denounced the human atrocities in Kosovo at the time.) The NATO treaty specifically recognizes the primary responsibility of the Security Council for the maintenance of international peace and security. In its Preamble, all parties reaffirm their faith in the purposes and principles of the Charter. In Article 1, they accept their solemn Charter obligations; notably, to settle disputes through peace­ful means and to refrain from the use of force in any manner that runs counter to the purposes of the United Nations.4

Unlike the NATO's intervention in Bosnia-Herzegovina, which was in accordance with the United Nations Charter and the provi­sions of the Washington Treaty, the Kosovo intervention contained several areas of legal contention. 5 From the perspectives of interna­tional law and international relations, the legal or institutional basis of the NATO Activation Orders (ACTORDs) of mid-October 1998, which laid the foundation of the "Operation Allied Forces," is still not clear. At the outset, even NATO member states themselves were not able to agree whether military intervention without U.N. approval was backed by international law.6 As events unfolded, NATO had to admit its inability to arrive at an official joint legal basis for the ACTORDs. It also had to end its "sub-contractor status" vis-a-vis the United Nations, although such status was never formally accepted by the Alliance.7

Prominent arguments were also presented for the preservation of NATO's freedom of action. The main concern centered on NATO's ability to bypass the United Nations and complete the task that the Security Council could not complete because of a veto threat. In the short run therefore, the United Nations found itself sidelined and supplanted by NATO. Although NATO had never sought - nor ob­tained - a U.N. sanction for a bombing operation in Kosovo, there remained a sense of compelling obligation for European regional peace and security structures to intervene in order to avoid the recur­rence of massive losses of human life. Additional pro-NATO argu­ments concluded that NATO should not let its activities and areas of attention be prescribed/proscribed by the Security Council, or - in other words - by Russia's and China's threat to veto the proposed military intervention.8

During the Kosovo operation, the concept of "international community" gained currency, mainly because the United Nation's blessing could not be obtained and NATO's institutional authority was considered inadequate. Although the United Nations recognized the Kosovo conflict as constituting a "threat to international peace and security,"9 veto threats prevented formal humanitarian interven­tion. However, further developments led to a shift of opinion within U.N. circles. As the crisis grew in intensity and more human losses were accounted for, the legacy of the operation became more appar­ent. As one U.N. press release put it, "there are times when the use of force may be legitimate in the pursuit of peace."10 This may explain why the United Nations later acknowledged the "moral imperatives," from which flowed the legal justification of the Kosovo campaign. Besides adopting a Resolution for such purposes,11 it set up the in­ternational criminal tribunal in order to judge and prosecute war crimes and human rights violations committed in the territory of the former Yugoslavia.

In light of this conflict of interests, one could argue that NATO is not prepared to abandon its prerogative to act alone when its vital interests are at stake.12 This dims the prospect of a world order based on the strict respect of Security Council veto. The overriding public interpretation of the intervention was that force had been put to the service of law.13 Kosovo demonstrates the limits of the system of collective security, in which a social contract between member states allows those states to forego their sovereign right to fight war,· and grants that authority to the Security Council. The very moment this contract goes unheeded because one of the members exerts its veto right, the whole system is in danger. This is exactly what happened as NATO prepared for intervention in Kosovo.

In this partial analysis, one should not underestimate the dan­gers of veto rights and lack of effective action at the level of the United Nations. The transatlantic framework does not replace the United Nations international peace and security machinery, but func­tions outside of the Security Council and its veto system if and when that veto machinery breaks down.14

Understanding the Intervention: Humanitarian Justice and Legitimate Interest

The Kosovo intervention was framed around three major themes: humanitarian concern, regional stability, and NATO's cred­ibility as the cornerstone of transatlantic defense and security. Within this framework, and given the human rights implications of the cri­sis, there was a clear interest for the Alliance to act. In late January 1998, the sixteen ambassadors of the NATO countries devoted their weekly meeting at the NATO headquarters in Brussels to the Kosovo crisis, out of concern for the "potentially explosive" situation in the area.15 The discussions were re-opened in early March of the same year, when the NATO ambassadors observed:

"NATO and the international community have a legitimate in­terest in developments in Kosovo, inter alia because of their impact on the Stability of the whole region, which is of concern to the whole Alliance."16

This reference to "legitimate interest" may have grounded or motivated the urgency of the NATO military intervention. NATO's concern for the potential explosive growing conflict was related to the fear of a possible spill-over to neighboring countries, such as Albania and Macedonia, as well as to the potentially negative conse­quences for the peace implementation process in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Both the United Kingdom17 and the United States emphasized the humanitarian aspects of the crisis. The United States, in particu­lar, had a fundamental interest in peace and stability in Southern Europe, which encouraged the strengthening of those European peace­keeping institutions.18 U.S. foreign policy at the time was driven by Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who managed to convince a distracted U.S. political and legislative class to support the threat and eventual use of force in Kosovo.

From the outset, Albright firmly opposed barbaric acts of eth­nic cleansing19 and seemed driven by a desire to prevent genocide in the heart of Europe. One of the more vocal supporters of "assertive multilateralism"20 and a principled foreign policy, she often pushed for more assertive responses to complex humanitarian emergencies.21 In the end, she managed to demonstrate to the international commu­nity the U.S.'s fundamental interests in preserving Bosnia's progress toward peace, which was likely to be seriously jeopardized by renewed violence in Kosovo.

Because regional conflict would undermine NATO's credibil­ity as guarantor of peace and stability in Europe, developing a real democracy in Yugoslavia was a crucial step of the whole process. The intervention also found support both in U.S. military22 and po­litical circles.23 Although President Bill Clinton had remained aloof from U.S. foreign policy making during most of the Kosovo con­flict,24 his official speech on March 24, 1999, the night the bomb­ings began, clearly defined his goals for the conflict. He launched a pressing call for unity between the United States and its allies who, in his words, were obliged to "act to protect thousands of innocent people in Kosovo from a mounting military offensive... to prevent a wider war, to defuse a powder keg at the heart of Europe that has exploded twice before in this century with catastrophic results."25

This declaration is best analyzed from a historical perspective. After fighting numerous political battles to expand NATO in 1998, the Alliance could not afford to ignore a political crisis on its door­step, especially in the Balkans. The bitter experience of Bosnia­ Herzegovina was still fresh in the public's mind and NATO leaders clearly did not want to repeat their incompetent performance, replete with transatlantic snipping and internal dissention.26

Yet questions remained: Were humanitarian, stability and credibility arguments truly the sole motivations for intervention? Were there any other 'hidden objectives' justifying the intervention? There may be little reason to doubt NATO's well-founded fear for regional stability and for its credibility. However, to the extent that the crisis risked the production of a large-scale humanitarian crisis, including widespread violence and hundreds of thousands of forcibly displaced persons, these concerns were legitimate. In the final analysis, it is the contention of this writer that though there were either moral, humanitarian and political imperatives justifying the intervention, there is reason to believe that the humanitarian character of the inter­vention superseded all other political or strategic considerations.27 From the same perspective, it is worth mentioning that Kosovo was fought to "enlarge" an international organization; that is, to restructure or adapt its policies in order to make NATO more responsive to crucial challenges so that the organization could recover and take responsibilities as the "eldest" peace and security organization in the transatlantic arena.

Post-Cold War Strategic Thought: The Political Debate and the New Strategic Concept

The Strategic Concept is nothing less than the redefinition of the central role of NATO in international (and European) affairs.28 Although such new duties may pose special requirements, as with the Kosovo intervention, these new roles must be viewed through the historical perspective of post-Cold War Alliance structures and procedures.

The Kosovo operation was the "first visible" challenge to the transatlantic union since the fall of the Soviet Union. The fall of the communist regimes in the 1990s meant that the monolithic, massive and potentially immediate threat, which was the principal concern of the Alliance in its first forty years, had disappeared."29 The elimi­nation of the Soviet threat opened up new areas of responsibility and action for most regional and international arrangements, with the goals to underpin new humanitarian, human rights, peace, and secu­rity challenges. In the absence of any overarching and conflictual ideological divisions, the battle shifted from Cold War security con­cerns to the creation and strengthening of the bases of cooperative frameworks between various regional peace and security providers. As a result of such ideological motives, NATO transformed itself from an organization concerned mainly with collective defense and the deterrence of the Soviet threat into an actor in European security and peacekeeping efforts.

NATO leaders in 1991 took the opportunity to reemphasize NATO's defensive nature, stressing that "none of the weapons will ever be used except in self-defense."30 In the same vein, the Alliance proposed a Joint Declaration with the former signatories of the War­saw Pact reaffirming their "intention to refrain from the threat of the use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state."31 NATO then showed interest in investing additional military resources in peacekeeping and humanitarian interventions. In October 1992, the Supreme Headquarters Allied Forces (SHAPE), NATO's main military headquarters in Europe, started to draft the "NATO Military Planning for Peace Support Operations," MC 327, which was adopted by NATO's Military Committee the following year.32 The document defined "peace support" operations as includ­ing conflict prevention activities, humanitarian aid missions and peace building, using military means to restore peace in an area of conflict under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter."33

The search for a new Strategic Concept within NATO hap­pened against the backdrop of intensified European integration. However, the impact of earlier European unification drives on NATO's policy changes remains unclear. After a decade of rhetoric, E.U. member-states finally started to organize their defense without re­course to U.S. military and leadership resources. At the 1999 Helsinki summit, member states laid the foundations of their new European and Security Defense Policy (ESDP). The summit laid the ground­work for a basic military crisis management mechanism, aimed at strengthening the European Union's foreign and security policies in and around Europe. The European Union's "headline goal" for improved military capabilities was also set at this time. Deployable within 60 days, the European Union declared that a 50,000 to 60,000 soldier force should be sustainable for at least a year of field opera­tions.

Assembling a "European army" is likely to be a step toward a European federation that will not only have the structures in place to speak with one voice, but that will also set political agendas. From a transatlantic perspective, this means that the E. U. defense organi­zation and NATO could act cooperatively. Lord Robertson, NATO Secretary General and former British Secretary of State for Defense, claims that "building a stronger European role in security matters has become necessary to a healthy transatlantic relationship,"34 thus suggesting that a strong European defense will keep NATO politi­cally afloat. Offering an alternative to NATO, E.U. defense initia­tives not only solidify Europe's still-shaky identity, but also encour­age the formulation of European foreign, security and defense poli­cies that are bound to be, at times, at odds with United States. Only if the two partners have an identity of perceptions and policies will NATO be the preferred framework for action.

European Partnership: Perspectives and Limits of a 2010 Cooperation Agenda

The way to a partnership of equals between the European Union and NATO should be marked by a new "Transatlantic Agenda 2010," which must be based on the deepening and broadening of the European integration process, including security policy. This Agenda should project the further evolution of European unification in the coming decades into the transatlantic context. Its goals should be to formulate a set of mutual commitments for the entire spectrum of economic, political and security relationships.35 The Transatlantic Agenda 2010 should then build on a successful accomplishment of the initial European Community Agenda of 2010, which has been drawn up by E.C. summits, culminating with the Helsinki heads-of­-state meeting of December 1999.

The transatlantic dialogue on security policy is a complex issue that must be tackled in a constructive manner. This must be done around three pillars: Europeanisation, emancipation, and effi­ciency. Firstly, europeanisation addresses the need for a clear identi­fication of the currently nebulous European Security and Develop­ment Policy (ESDP). Secondly, emancipation calls for the ESDP to create capabilities for autonomous military and civilian crisis man­agement by the European Union for use in conflicts where NATO as a whole is not engaged. Finally, efficiency will reinforce the overall security and defense capabilities through the strengthening of the European pillar within the Atlantic alliance.

This analysis is premised on the idea that the Europeans' aim is not to build up an independent European defense force without the United States, but to reinforce the Atlantic alliance by accepting more political and military responsibility. Within the transatlantic dialogue, it should be clearly stated that the aim is not a common European defense policy, but a common European security policy. The consequences are twofold: the U.S. side must accept that a greater military contribution by the European Union will give the union a greater political say; Europeans should be alternatively prepared to take on more responsibility by providing the corresponding logisti­cal, military, and budgetary support to make up the new configura­tion - something, which may be neither desirable nor affordable for most European NATO members.36

One may, therefore, want to question the feasibility of this partnership, for the defense-capabilities gap that divides the United States from its European allies is real, and it matters. The gap can be viewed as aggregate of multiple gaps relating to the organization and conduct of large-scale military expeditions. Large transatlantic disparities in the ability to mount such operations became painfully obvious during the Kosovo campaign and spurred commitments on both sides of the Atlantic to narrow the gap. Western European states discovered that the United States will not take the European Union seriously as long as the latter lacks substantial military clout. Lord Robertson, once more, observes:

"The Kosovo campaign demonstrated just how dependent the European allies had become on U.S. military capabilities. From precision-guided weapons and all-weather aircraft to ground troops that can get to the crisis quickly and then stay there with adequate logistical support, the European Allies did not have enough of the right stuff. On paper, Europe has two million men and women under arms - more than the United States. But despite those two million soldiers, it was a struggle to come up with 40,000 troops to deploy as peacekeepers in the Balkans. Something is wrong, and Europe knows it."37

This suggests that efforts to build either a European Security and Defense Identity (ESDI) in NATO or a common European Secu­rity and Defense Policy (CESDP) in the European Union have been pursued under various labels during the past half-century. However, it is unlikely that such common projects have turned the Europeans into unavoidable partners for the United States. Some fundamental and basic obstacles have proven difficult to overcome: an absence of a shared vision of strategic requirements and (on the part of sev­eral European governments) a willingness to reduce defense spend­ing to the detriment of other social and welfare priorities. For these reasons, the military capabilities gap can be interpreted as one of the driving factors behind mounting divergences in the approach to cross­border conflicts.

Since Kosovo, two major crises have occurred to test the will­ingness of the NATO-European Community states to respond to­gether as a team to threats to international peace and security outside the Atlantic Alliance: the 2001 U.S. intervention in Afghanistan to topple the Taliban, and the U.S.-led coalition in the March 2003 war against Iraq. The Afghan and Iraqi crises have presented a different challenge to the conceptions and decision-making patterns left over from the Cold War concerning the response to out-of-area threats to international peace and security. These crises were decisive moments for the Alliance to cooperate for a negotiated military or diplomatic action, alongside the United Nations Security Council.

These developments have also led to tension and disagree­ment with the United States over the future path of the peace pro­cess, as well as on the measures required to move the process forward. Without significant progress from today's situation, transat­lantic differences in cross-border conflicts will remain detrimental to the unity and interests of the Transatlantic Alliance. Divisions among the allies not only reduce the likely effectiveness of each side's policies, but also undermine the cohesion of the Atlantic alliance at a time when its unity is no longer guaranteed by a common threat.38

It is clear that elaborate procedures and common stance have remained hollow in the absence of joint decisions and commitments to joint military action. The future of NATO is, therefore, a matter of concern. If the United States comes to see Europeans as free-riding appeasers of states that threaten the global expansion of U.S. eco­nomic and strategic interests- and Europeans see Americans as sim­plistic crusaders trying to assert unilateral authority over their allies, even against the will of the international community-then NATO's unity and future will be threatened. Many U.S. analysts and officials see the organization as a potentially anachronic body unless it be­gins to address d 'un commun accord peace and security threats be­yond Europe's borders. Should the Alliance succeed in pursuing com­mon political, economic and military strategies, it will be a strong, credible and respected force in international politics. If it fails to do so, it will wither.39

In Lieu of Conclusion: Harmonizing Positions in International Conflicts

The Kosovo intervention provides clear evidence of the ex­isting structural deficiencies that are likely to hamper the proper func­tioning of the United Nations Security Council in situations of inter­national conflicts. It poignantly illustrates the implications of veto rights in humanitarian intervention situations. Besides calling upon the Security Council to be more responsive within its Chapter VII powers, Kosovo laid the foundations for future concerted actions among regional powers. It also highlighted the idea that, should the veto rights prevent U.N. action, some entities (such as NATO) can reinterpret and implement, on a case-by-case basis, the United Nation's prerogatives to sanction the use of force in matters threatening international peace and security.

Two major criticisms have been leveled against NATO inter­vention in Kosovo. First, Kosovo seems to have sealed Europe's de­pendence on the United States for peace and security matters; and secondly, the humanitarian basis of the intervention has been under­mined by the human suffering it has caused, such as collateral dam­age, refugee flows and destroyed infrastructure. Although the hu­manitarian dimension may have, to a great extent, justified the inter­vention, it is clear that it could not be the only or even the dominant driving factor to justify the intervention. In any event, close analyses of the operations suggest that Kosovo was driven primarily by con­cerns over NATO's credibility and relevance, as well as by the con­cern for regional stability in the Balkans.

From a political strategy perspective, Kosovo has been a major step for the redefinition or reorientation of NATO's policy from that of collective defense to one of a peace enforcement mechanism. As NATO steps into this new role, Alliance debates on topical issues such as NATO's future relationships with the United Nations, NATO enlargement, the development of a European Security and Defense Identity and the future of arms controls should be taken seriously. Only cooperative approaches are likely to foster the establishment of the desired 'peace haven' in the transatlantic area.

Another important lesson of the Kosovo conflict is the power of norms in justifying the use of force. If the international commu­nity shares common norms, and if solidarity can override strategic thinking, then the Kosovo conflict may be seen as a harbinger of the emerging international society. Such an international society must be a legal community and would inculcate a sense of global respon­sibility in international citizens, possibly through international orga­nizations such as the United Nations.40 The international commu­nity must be more responsive and the Security Council must not use veto rights as instruments of ideological and political prosperity. If multilateralism is the grounds upon which an international society based on human dignity, justice, and equality rests, then it is the contention of this paper that the world's leading powers must refer to the guardian of such values, the United Nations. As the current Iraqi crisis shows, the Security Council must be the proper forum for the adjudication and resolution of international conflicts. However, it remains to be seen how internal divergences and U.S. unilateralism will affect security and peace building mechanisms alongside the United Nations.