Dr. Sean Gervasi (continued):
NATO in Yugoslavia
Back to the beginning of the article.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization was founded in 1949 with the stated purpose of protecting Western Europe from possible military aggression by the Soviet Union and its allies.
With the dissolution of the Communist regimes in the former Socialist bloc in 1990 and 1991, there was no longer any possibility of such aggression, if there ever really had been. The changes in the former Communist countries made NATO redundant. Its raison d'etre had vanished. Yet certain groups within the NATO countries began almost immediately to press for a "renovation" of NATO and even for its extension into Central and Eastern Europe. They began to elaborate new rationales which would permit the continuation of business as usual.
The most important of these was the idea that, with the changes brought about by the end of the Cold War, the Western countries nonetheless faced new "security challenges" outside the traditional NATO area which justified the perpetuation of the organization. The spokesmen for this point of view argued that NATO had to find new missions to justify its existence.
The implicit premise was that NATO had to be preserved in order to ensure the leadership of the United States in European and world affairs. This was certainly one of the reasons behind the large-scale Western intervention -- in which the participation of US NATO partners was relatively meagre -- in Kuwait and Iraq in 1990 and 1991. The coalition which fought against Iraq was cobbled together with great difficulty. But it was seen by the United States government as necessary for the credibility of the US within the Western alliance as well as in world affairs.
The slogan put forward by the early supporters of NATO enlargement was "NATO: out of area or out of business", which made the point, although not the argument, as plainly as it could be made. (4)
Yugoslavia has also been a test case, and obviously a much more important one. The Yugoslav crisis exploded on the edge of Europe, and the Western European nations had to do something about it. Germany and the United States, on the other hand, while seeming to support the idea of ending the civil wars in Yugoslavia, in fact did everything they could to prolong them, especially the war in Bosnia. Their actions perpetuated and steadily deepened the Yugoslav crisis.
It is important to recognize that, almost from the beginning of the Yugoslav crisis, NATO sought to involve itself. That involvement was obvious in 1993 when NATO began to support UNPROFOR operations in Yugoslavia, especially in the matter of the blockade against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the enforcement of a no-fly zone in Bosnian airspace.
That involvement, however, had much smaller beginnings, and it must be remembered that NATO as an organization was involved in the war in Bosnia- Herzegovina at a very early stage. In 1992, NATO sent a group of about 100 personnel to Bosnia-Herzegovina, where they established a military headquarters at Kiseljak, a short distance from Sarajevo. Ostensibly, they were sent to help United Nations forces in Bosnia.
It was obvious, however, that there was another purpose. A NATO diplomat described the operation to INTELLIGENCE DIGEST in the following terms at the time:
It seems clear that NATO commanders were already anticipating the possibility that resistance to US and German pressures would be overcome and that NATO's role in Yugoslavia would be gradually expanded.
Thus NATO was working to create a major "out of area" mission almost from the time that the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina began. The recent dispatch of tens of thousands of troops to Bosnia, Austria, Hungary, Croatia and Serbia is thus simply the culmination of a process which began almost four years ago. It was not a question of proposals and conferences. It was a question of inventing operations which, with the backing of key countries, could eventually lead to NATO's active engagement "out of area", and thus to its own renovation.
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Last revised: Dec. 29, 1998