Should NATO intervene in the war-torn province of Kosovo?
June 22, 1998
in this forum:
What is NATO trying to achieve in Kosovo? As Kosovo is a part of Yugoslavia, does Russia not see an analogy with its own problems in Chechnya? What is the difference between Kosovo and Bosnia? What are the possibilities of fighting in Kosovo leading to a greater war in the region? Do you think the NATO plan is the right plan for resolving the crisis? Timothy H. Howard of Charlotte, NC, asks: As regards to Russian policy (if one exists) towards the West in the Balkans, how does it tie in with Russian resistance to the expansion of NATO in general? Since Kosovo is an integral part of the rump state of Yugoslavia, does Russia not see an analogy with its problems in Chechnya and possibly other areas of the Caucasus? Might it not fear Western or U.N. intervention in its sphere?
Susan Woodward of the Brookings Institution responds:
Russian policy toward the West is to become part of the West, gaining recognition as a major power diplomatically and gaining economic assistance and relations necessary for its market transition and restoration of major economic status. At each point in the Yugoslav crisis, it has been willing to play the role assigned to it by the United States, beginning in February 1993, namely, to be interlocutor with the Serbs and to get their compliance with Western demands. They have played this role very well.
At the same time, you are correct that they understand well the parallels between Kosovo and Chechnya, just as they understood the problem created for Serbs living in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina once Slovenia and Croatia seceded and Yugoslavia broke apart. The parallels have resulted in a major domestic problem for Russian President Yeltsin, for many Russians (including many parliamentarians) believe that Western action toward Yugoslavia is seriously biased and represents policies they could take at any time toward Russia or Russians now living outside Russia. Russian rhetoric, therefore, always tries to keep a balance between doing Western bidding, but in a bargaining mode so that they get something in return, and keeping a domestic audience that sympathizes with Serbs from becoming a political problem.
NATO policy toward Kosovo is critical in this regard, as the French are emphasizing in particular these days. If NATO policy appears to run roughshod over the new NATO-Russian cooperation or to intervene in Kosovo in ways that give cause to fears in Russia about forceful intervention in the future in Russia or its neighborhood, then the Russian reaction to NATO enlargement will be much more serious a problem for Washington than it is now.
Once again the Yugoslav crisis is a political test case for NATO, American leadership, and European security that in my view is currently being failed. We need a more cooperative approach to instability on NATO's periphery and one that addresses the roots of these conflicts, not just their violent manifestations.
Stephen Walker of the Balkan Institute responds:
Russia has three concerns vis-a-vis Kosovo and NATO. First, there is the concern that, given the parallels between Chechnya (and several other potential Chechnyas in Russia) and Kosovo, a precedent could be set for international intervention in an "internal" Russian crisis. This is why Russia has said it would likely veto a U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing NATO to intervene. In reality, however, it is difficult to imagine NATO intervening under any circumstances in a Chechnya-like situation in Russia. Moreover, it is unlikely that such a crisis would present the kind of real and dangerous threat of a broader regional war that Kosovo does, which is why NATO should intervene there.
Second, Russia is concerned about NATO becoming more and more important in European security and becoming the dominant forum for addressing new crises. This concern, however, is not based so much on any perceived threat to Russian security but rather to Russian prestige.
Which brings us to the third concern, which is that taking a pro-Serb stance in the Balkans has restored some of Russia's prestige and guaranteed it a place at the table and a role as a major power broker in that part of Europe, at least superficially. Russia wants to preserve that role.
In sum, Russia's concerns are not deeply rooted, despite much talk of historic ties between Russia and Serbia. Russia will use the crisis to enhance its own prestige and to try to limit U.S. and NATO prestige, but in the end, as in Bosnia, Russia will yield willingly in the face of a U.S.-led Western consensus to intervene.