Kosovo and the crisis in the Atlantic AllianceIn the aftermath of the Kosovo War new evidence is continually emerging in the public record making it clear that explosive tensions existed inside the NATO alliance while the war was in progress.
In a British BBC television programme on August 20, US Deputy Foreign Minister Strobe Talbott declared the differences of opinion had become so pronounced "there would have been increasing difficulty preserving the solidarity and resolve of the alliance" if Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic had not given up on June 3. "I think it was a good thing the conflict ended when it did," he said.
The NATO Supreme Commander, US General Wesley Clark, said in the same programme that he had partially ignored objections raised by the German, Greek, French and Italian governments to the bombing of civilian targets such as TV stations and government buildings: "I didn't always defer to those who wanted targets withheld," he admitted.
During the war foreign policy experts already came to the conclusion that the unity of NATO hung in the balance and its preservation was one of the most important reasons for the continuation of the war.
Peter W. Rodman, a former leading White House and US State Department official, declared in Foreign Affairs: "NATO's unity of purpose in entering the war will not preclude transatlantic finger-pointing and recriminations if the outcome does not live up to the high standard that was set. The strategic stake for the alliance has become enormous."
According to Rodman, should the results of the war not measure up to expectations, the differences between America and Europe would inevitably deepen: "Before the crisis, the EU was already moving toward a Common Foreign and Security Policy to assert its autonomy from the United States. Disillusionment in Kosovo will lead them to step up these efforts with vengeance." He continued: "A success in Kosovo would guarantee the primacy of NATO in Europe's future. There would be no doubt that NATO was the pre-eminent and indispensable security institution on the continent."
The military journal Jane's Defence Weekly came to similar conclusions immediately after the end of the war: "In the event that NATO had not achieved its objectives, it is not hard to imagine the tenor of recriminations.... The political debris of the failed campaign would have matched the physical debris of a battered Serbia and destroyed Kosovo.... It would have been hard to avoid the conclusion that NATO was a busted flush led by a lone superpower which refused to take risks. Future threats would have been unimaginable. Western influence over the conduct of international affairs would accordingly have been diminished."
According to these sources Belgrade's surrender, which was primarily in response to Russian pressure, saved NATO from a profound crisis and rescued the Atlantic Alliance from a possible break-up.
Milosevic's climbdown was greeted with relief on both sides of the Atlantic. In the US as in Europe the ruling circles are in general committed to maintaining NATO. For the US the Alliance remains the single "institutional link" to Europe, which, according to Peter W. Rodman in the above-mentioned article, "remains a vital interest for the United States". For Europe, conflict or even an open breach with America raises enormous risks at the present time. For the realisation of their political and economic interests on the world arena, the European governments are still dependent on military collaboration with the US. A break-up of NATO would sooner or later bring with it the risk of an armed confrontation with the United States.
The question remains, however: Has success in the Kosovo War resolved the tensions within NATO for the long term? Has the victory over Belgrade genuinely strengthened the Atlantic Alliance?
Three months after the end of the war it is possible to answer these questions with an unequivocal "no". The friction, conflicts and mutual recriminations inside NATO have re-ignited in full. The call for Europe to "free itself from the thrall of NATO" (Süddeutsche Zeitung, 17 August) resounds ever more loudly.