Updated: 06-Dec-2000 NATO Review

Web edition
Vol. 47 - No. 3
Autumn 1999
p. 4-7

Taking responsibility for Balkan security

Lamberto Dini
Minister of Foreign Affairs of Italy

Italian Foreign Minister Lamberto Dini (right) and his Chef de Cabinet, Silvio Fagiolo, get set to take off in a helicopter from Skopje airport on their way to join the British, French, and German foreign ministers for a meeting with KFOR Commander Lt. General Sir Mike Jackson in Kosovo on 23 June.
(Belga photo 56Kb)

The Kosovo crisis provided a new urgency in European security and defence, while at the same time demonstrating the primacy of human rights in international politics. Foreign Minister Dini argues that the intersection of these two realities has broad implications for NATO and for the entire system of international institutions. These institutions, with the United Nations in the forefront, must become more effective and more inclusive if we are to prevent future Kosovos from breaking out.

I welcome NATO Review's invitation to reflect on the prospects for security and stability in the Balkans in the aftermath of the Kosovo conflict. Even though it only ended a short time ago, the time has come to take stock of the situation, albeit on a provisional basis.

The war that has just ended in Italy's backyard also raises questions about our own future. The events in the Balkans point to the need to improve our crisis prevention capabilities in a world that is necessarily violent, imperfect, and prey to conflicting interests. This is by no means an easy task, but one that certainly cannot be avoided.

Security and defence have once again become a vital priority for Europe. The assumption that the end of the Cold War and the waning importance of nuclear deterrence would make it unnecessary to maintain our military guard and strength has been shown to be wishful thinking. The Kosovo war seems to have given much greater urgency to the need to create a common European defence force, which was only implicitly enshrined in the Amsterdam Treaty.

The Balkans are part of the still unfinished history of the three great fault lines of our century: two World Wars and the collapse of the Communist system. Old and new strains of nationalism are seeking protection against growing pressure from a new, changing, but above all alien, world. And they are being fuelled by the unprecedented liberty we enjoy today. In the Balkans, people still feel centuries-old events as if they had taken place yesterday. They live out their history, even their ancient history, like a recent past that is still closely bound up with the present.

After having been for so many years under the influence of the great empires of European history - Ottoman, Hapsburg and Soviet - the countries in the Balkans need a higher authority which will force them to live together in peace and enable their societies to advance in a civilised manner. They are asking NATO to defend them not so much from some external enemy but from themselves, from their own temptations, and from their own ghosts. They are asking the European Union to lead them to the promised land of a healthy economy and democracy.

Kosovo's lessons

There are many lessons for Atlantic security and European defence to be taken from the unprecedented experience of the Kosovo war, in terms of substance, relevance and complementarity. The psychological value of the conflict - the first to involve the Atlantic Alliance in its 50 years of existence - stems from its geographic location, the circumstances which justified the casus belli, and the manner in which it was brought to an end. Only the Korean war had a comparable impact on Euro-Atlantic security. It was after that war that NATO's integrated structure was created, an attempt was made, albeit unsuccessful, to establish the European Defence Community; the Federal Republic of Germany acceded to the Alliance; and a new doctrine for the use of nuclear weapons, known as "massive retaliation", was formulated.

Today, having come to terms with the collapse of the Berlin Wall ten years ago and undertaken the first large-scale deployment of Allied forces, we are faced with an equally radical change of direction. This new departure was already partly codified at the NATO Summit in Washington last April and by the European Council in Cologne the following June. The Kosovo war coincided with the final drafting of the new strategic doctrine which has enabled NATO to redefine its roles, purpose, geographic boundaries, modalities for operating in relation to the other institutions, and its decision-making powers and internal equilibrium.

Primacy of human rights

Looking ahead to the reconstruction of the whole region I would like to sum up the lessons we have learned from the Kosovo crisis in the following terms: the primacy of human rights in government policies; the need for an updated Alliance strategy; the evidence of Europe's broader ambitions; and the establishment of a new stability through the leading international institutions.

With the Kosovo war over, it will now become increasingly evident that the principles of the United Nations put the individual at the centre of everything, and that the protection of the individual is the real raison d'état in our times. We must certainly improve our prevention capability considerably. And we must more finely tune the instruments for enforcement.

Only a few weeks ago the Italian Parliament ratified the convention establishing the United Nations International Criminal Court. It will be one of our top priorities to urge other countries to do likewise, so that we can soon reach the required 60 ratifying states, allowing the Court to be officially established.

Human rights are paramount, then, but at all times the scale of violations of those rights in terms of their gravity should be kept in mind, as well as the need to bring the culprits to justice, which will sometimes be a quite lengthy process.

Europe's responsibility

Prime Minister Lionel Jospin and President Jacques Chirac of France, and Spanish Prime Minister José Maria Aznar (left to right, in front) hurry to take their places for the group photo with other leaders at the EU Summit in Cologne, Germany, on 3 June.
(Reuters photo 64Kb)

As was again apparent from the Stability Pact Conference in Sarajevo on 30 July, Europe is taking primary responsibility for the post-war situation in Kosovo and in the Balkans. Of course, without the United States the war could not have been won. But it falls above all to Europe to build the peace. This will perhaps be the first real touchstone of a common foreign policy, without which the European Union will never come of age.

The Kosovo crisis has highlighted the need to shift the balance in favour of Europe for the future of Euro-Atlantic security by creating a credible common foreign and security policy to give the Union a political language of its own, backed up when necessary by force. The declarations issued by the Cologne European Council must therefore be followed up in practice. Italy and the United Kingdom approved a common document at the recent bilateral Summit in London, under which it was agreed that a Joint Council of Foreign and Defence Ministers would be convened at least twice a year. Looking still further ahead, the Europeans will need to ensure much closer coordination of their research, the structure of their forces and their deployment abroad.

Will the European Union prove itself capable of becoming a de facto political and economic guardian of the Balkans? Will it be able to contribute to ensuring free elections, rebuilding the civil institutions and financing the reconstruction?

The first affirmative and specific answers to these questions are emerging, firstly from Sarajevo at the end of July and then from Bari in early October at the Summit for the Reconstruction of the Balkans.

The Alliance's new missions

British Prime Minister Tony Blair listens to his Italian counterpart, Massimo D'Alema, during a press conference on 20 July, after a British-Italian bilateral summit to discuss European defence policy issues.
(Belga photo 27Kb)

Kosovo was the first time that the Alliance intervened militarily to put an end to wholesale violations of human rights, repressions and expulsions, which had provoked horror and indignation throughout the world, generating a strong sense of moral solidarity with the victims. And herein lies the crux of the new missions which form part of the broader concept of "enhancing the security and stability of the Euro-Atlantic area", which is of prime importance because it defines the future scope of action of the Alliance. These new missions are the natural outcome of updating the mission of collective defence developed by the Alliance throughout its 50-year existence. And they are missions that constitute a dynamic, modern defence which is better able to confront threats that are no longer static or easily identifiable, as was the case during the Cold War.

These new missions are to be carried out within a clearly limited strategic boundary, deal with new types of risks (the proliferation of arms of mass destruction, regional and even local conflicts), and are set within the precise legal framework of the United Nations Charter or international law. In the transition following the end of the Cold War, these new missions, particularly the use of force to protect human rights, are bound to broaden the social consensus within the Alliance. This will confirm NATO's specific character as a community of values, values which it is capable of imposing on others.

Affluent Europe is taking responsibility for a piece of the Continent which would otherwise be cut adrift, to demonstrate to those people that there is a future for them after the war, to indicate the path that will also lead the southern Slavs into Europe, although not immediately. Some people might be astonished to hear the governments of Europe now making such bold promises to such backward countries, despite the slow progress made towards the accession of the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland. But the war has had the effect of accelerating and changing the timing of European construction, and it has also shown how fragile an edifice can be, when its foundations are economics and currency concerns alone.

International institutions

"It was thanks to the G8 that the combination of force and diplomacy was possible." Russian President Boris Yeltsin (front left) is pictured with his G8 counterparts at their Summit in Cologne on 20 June, where they called on both Serbs and Kosovar Albanians to respect the cease-fire in Kosovo.
(Reuters photo 46Kb)

The tragedy of Kosovo has given a whole new lease of life to the system of international institutions. Even at the height of the war, the future of the Balkans was already being debated and when it was over, the debate took the form of the Stability Pact and led the United Nations to take on responsibilities for reconciliation and reconstruction. But similarly, the world economic architecture that has guaranteed our welfare for half a century was launched at Bretton Woods in 1944, well before the Second World War was won. It was a measure of the Allies' far-sightedness that, even without the certainty of victory, they were already preparing the path to lasting peace.

From the failure of Rambouillet to the resumption of negotiations through the G8(1), the Atlantic Alliance was the only international institution involved in the Kosovo crisis. It was thanks to the G8, and at its initiative, that the combination of force and diplomacy was possible, reviving prospects for a political solution and, in the longer term, for bringing Yugoslavia back into the fold of democratic nations.

Recourse to the G8 confirmed that it would have been a grave blunder to have kept Russia out of the process of defining the shape of Europe. Russians, like Serbs, are Europeans, but the empires from which they have both descended were only European in part. The Russians and the Serbs are the two luckless nations of post-Communist Europe, traumatised and wounded in their pride through the collapse of the political systems that they had imposed on others.

But it is precisely because Moscow is no longer ruled by a totalitarian regime that it would have been wrong to push Russia to the sidelines of the Continent, ignoring its security interests and its wish to participate in taking decisions that affect Europe. While the negotiations were triggered by the G8, they were concluded within the context of the United Nations. It was the United Nations that set the seal of a higher authority on the ensuing peace.

More effective, more inclusive

There are two considerations I believe to be important for the future. First of all, the G8 is playing an increasingly prominent role as an instrument for international crisis prevention and management. We saw this in Kosovo, but it has been seen previously in the conflict between India and Pakistan, and in future we may well be seeing it in other unresolved conflicts.

Secondly, the Alliance is right to intervene in crisis situations, and it must be able to act promptly and unhampered by unwarranted UN Security Council vetoes. Yet in the longer term, any lasting peace must inevitably be modelled around the universally accepted rationale of the United Nations. During the Kosovo crisis, it was very instructive to see the way in which the G8 was able to dovetail its work with that of the Security Council.

And this brings us to the last lesson we should learn from Kosovo: the need to push ahead with the reform of the United Nations to enhance its effectiveness and make it more inclusive, particularly with regard
to the institution with primary responsibility for ensuring international peace and stability: the Security Council.


  1. The Group of Seven Industrialised Nations plus Russia.