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East/West: Analysis From Washington -- After The Bombing Stops

  • Paul Goble

Washington, 26 April 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Even as NATO continues its air strikes against Yugoslavia, ever more Western leaders are beginning to focus on what the Western alliance should do in the Balkans after the bombing has stopped.

Such discussions are likely to intensify now that the alliance has issued a communiqu that suggests its member states are at least as interested in a diplomatic resolution of the conflict as in continuing to use military power to achieve its original aims.

So far, most of these discussions have revolved around some kind of Marshall Plan for the Balkans. Such a program, named for and modeled on American assistance to Western Europe after World War II, would apparently involve massive but multilateral aid from NATO countries to the war-ravaged states of the former Yugoslavia.

By invoking the name of the largest and most successful foreign assistance program in history, officials in NATO countries clearly hope not only to put additional pressure on Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to settle but also to redirect the efforts of the Western alliance into a non-military direction.

But there are at least three reasons why a new "Marshall Plan for the Balkans" would have to be very different than its model if it were to help bring peace and stability to that turbulent region.

First, the original Marshall Plan was funded and directed by one country, the United States. A new one for the Balkans would be funded and directed by a group of states and thus subject to the kinds of decisions by committee that appear to govern much of NATO's activities.

That would almost certainly guarantee that any program announced would suffer from inevitable differences of opinion within the alliance, differences that might make it impossible for any program announced ever to be realized.

Second, the original Marshall Plan took shape to counter a single, overriding threat to Western Europe. While the U.S. had hoped to extend assistance to all of Europe, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin's veto of that probably had the unintended consequence of making the Marshall Plan more successful than it would otherwise have been.

On the one hand, it meant that American assistance was focused on a smaller number of countries and thus had a bigger impact than would have been the case if it had been spread more widely. And on the other, Soviet opposition had the effect of generating more domestic American support for it because Washington was able to point to the way in which the Marshall Plan was contributing to American security interests in Europe.

Any aid package to the Balkans will not have that external disciplining factor. Not only will that mean that the domestic constituencies in many countries will be reluctant to fund a new plan at the levels that would be needed, but that lack of an external threat will almost certainly guarantee that the members of the alliance will stay less united on this issue just as they are on so many others.

And third, the original Marshall Plan was intended to restore the economies of the countries of Western Europe, not to create something fundamentally new. Any aid package to the Balkans would have to address the far larger and more complicated issues of nation building and economy creation, issues that few foreign aid programs have been successful at resolving.

In many ways, these discussions about a new Marshall Plan for the Balkans reflect the difficulties of finding a solution to the conflicts in that region. Obviously, the people there will need massive amounts of aid to overcome the tragedies visited upon them by Milosevic and his supporters.

But before the West can design an aid package that will help them, these conflicts will have to be addressed and some resolution found. Once that occurs, a genuine assistance program can be developed to meet the specific needs of the people and political structures that will then be in place.

And in thinking about the future, those proposing a new Marshall Plan for that region should remember that the original Marshall Plan was not proposed until more than two years after the bombs had stopped falling.