Small Success in Bosnia

HAMBURG: If the Balkan War had you worried about NATO’s ability to cope with conflict in Europe, you can, apparently, relax. Since NATO finally decided to show its teeth, in particular since IFOR troops entered Bosnia to secure a fragile peace, Western politicians have hailed this as proof that the crisis in the alliance is over. Now they run the risk of fooling themselves by believing what they say.

Addressing an international gathering that included Russia’s First Deputy Minister, US Secretary of Defense William Perry summed up the optimists’ version: "It is in Bosnia where we are sending the message that NATO is the bedrock on which the future security and stability of Europe will be built. It is in Bosnia where future NATO members are showing themselves ready and able to shoulder the burdens of membership. And it is in Bosnia where we are showing that we can work as partners with Russian forces. Bosnia is not a peacekeeping exercise. It is the real thing." NATO’s new Secretary General, former Spanish Foreign Minister Solana, echoed these sentiments: "In Bosnia we have opportunity not only to end a war in the Balkans, but to lay the foundations for an enduring structure of peace across a now undivided and democratic Europe."

Bosnia the answer to NATO’s prayers? To a lack of common purpose; to feckless American leadership; to membership for East European democracies; to cooperative relations with Russia? After years of frustrations, politicians may be excused for surrendering to the temptations of oversell. But none of the fundamental questions facing the Western Alliance have been answered in Bosnia.

Does Bosnia provide NATO a common purpose lacking since the disappearance of the Soviet Union? Many who hope that this new purpose will take the form of more peace - missions like to think so. They forget how long it took NATO to get its act together in Bosnia, and how many conditions had to fall into place before the allies took the plunge: mounting pressure in the United States; irritation between Europeans and Americans; realization that NATO passivity will mutate into irrelevance. They also blind themselves to a fact of post-cold war international security: instead of one major threat that unites an alliance, there are a multitude of dangers which, because they affect countries differently, disunite allies. After Bosnia, who can be confident the allies will act decisively together if another conflict erupts?